Maria von Maltzan

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Maria Helene Françoise Izabel Gräfin[1] von Maltzan, Freiin[2] zu Wartenberg und Penzlin (March 25, 1909 – November 12, 1997) was an aristocrat who, as part of the German Resistance against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party, saved the lives of many Jewish people in Berlin.

Biography[edit]

Countess Maria von Maltzan was born into an enormously wealthy family at Militsch Palace, Silesia, Germany (today Milicz, Poland) and was raised on the family's 18,000 acres (7,300 ha) estate, the youngest of eight children. After completing grade school in Berlin in 1927, she decided to undertake studies in zoology at the University of Breslau, quite unusual for a girl during this time. Her family was strictly against the idea, but her teachers supported her and she got permission. In 1928 she enrolled at the University of Munich where she received her doctorate in natural sciences five years later.[citation needed]

When the Nazis seized power in 1933, Maria's sense of justice made her join different resistance movements against the Nazis almost immediately. For years she worked as an underground-fighter. As the brutality of the Nazi Régime accelerated with murder, violence and terror, the seeds of their plan for the total extermination of the Jews dawned on Maria von Maltzan in all its horror - and she immediately decided to act. Back in Berlin since 1935, she always responded to calls for help and took the Jews into her own home, fed and protected them, right under the noses of the Gestapo. Due to her well-known political attitude she had to get by with numerous jobs before in 1940 she began studying veterinary medicine, graduating in 1943. Throughout the war the Countess von Maltzan in cooperation with the Swedish Church provided a safe haven for more than 60 Jews, deserters and forced labourers, arranging for them to escape to safety. She falsified official visas and other documents and helped many Jews escape from Berlin in trucks that she often drove herself.

Before World War II she got to know the Jewish author Hans Hirschel, the former editor of Das Dreieck, an avant-garde German literary journal founded in 1925. From 1942 to the end of the war she sheltered Hirschel in a special hiding place inside a couch in the living room of her appartement in Wilmersdorf, thus saving his life at the peril of her own. Maria became pregnant with Hans's child. She later recalled how the new-born baby was placed in an incubator and the hospital was bombed. The electricity running the incubator stopped and the baby died. Shortly afterwards she adopted two little girls of a children's camp.

After the war Maria married Hans Hirschel but the marriage failed. They separated after two years, then remarried in 1972. During the post-war-years Maria had many difficulties, but grateful Jews, who never forgot her heroism, helped her survive bitter years. Because of the horrors of the war she became addicted to drugs and at times lost her approbation as a veterinarian. She later recalled how she was even brought to a psychiatric hospital and had to scrub floors day after day to afford a living.

After Hans Hirschel died in 1975, Countess Maria von Maltzan, aged 66, decided once again to build up a new existence with her own veterinary practice in Berlin, from 1981 on located in the Kreuzberg district, where she became famous for the cost-free treatment of dogs owned by local punks and her struggle for improvement of the living conditions of immigrants. In 1986 she published her memoirs which made her biography known to a wider public and she received the award of a Righteous among the Nations one year later.

Additional information[edit]

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Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Regarding personal names: Graf is a title, translated as Count, not a first or middle name. The female form is Gräfin.
  2. ^ Regarding personal names: Freiherr was a title, translated as Baron, not a first or middle name. Before 1919 preceding the first name, former titles are with people alive after 1919 dependent parts of the surname, thus preceding the main surname and not to be translated. The female forms are Freifrau and Freiin.

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