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Her father was a high official in the Pomeranian government, and her mother was Jewish. Maria completed her Abitur at a Gymnasium in Stettin (now Szczecin in Poland) in 1931, after which she studied law in Freiburg (Baden-Württemberg) and Munich. During her studies, she got to know her future fiancé Helmut Himpel, who was a dentist. However, under the Nuremberg Laws, she was deemed to be a "Half-Jewess" ("Halbjüdin"), which meant that the outlook for her getting a job as a junior attorney (Rechtsreferendarin) was rather grim. She and Himpel were forbidden to marry. After giving up her studies, she lived with Helmut Himpel in Berlin after her father had lost his job in 1933 after the Nazis had come to power. In a German-Swiss textile company, she found a job as a secretary.
The devout Catholic, along with Helmut Himpel, helped Jews in hiding, to whom they furnished identification and ration cards. There arose contacts with the Red Orchestra group about Harro Schulze-Boysen. Terwiel wrote illegal handbills and put up posters against the Nazi propaganda exhibition "Soviet Paradise".
After her arrest on 17 September 1942, Maria Terwiel was sentenced to death on 26 January 1943 by the Reichskriegsgericht ("Reich Military Tribunal"). She was put to death at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin.
- Roloff, Stefan (2002). Die Rote Kapelle. Die Widerstandsgruppe im Dritten Reich und die Geschichte Helmut Roloffs (in German). Berlin: Ullstein. ISBN 3-548-36669-4..
- Pruß, Ursula (2014), Maria Terwiel. In: Helmut Moll, (ed.), Zeugen für Christus. Das deutsche Martyrologium des 20. Jahrhunderts, Paderborn, vol. I, pp 146-149. ISBN 978-3-506-78080-5
- Tuchel, Johannes (1994), Maria Terwiel und Helmut Himpel. Christen in der Roten Kapelle. In: Hans Coppi junior, Jürgen Danyel, Johannes Tuchel (eds): Die Rote Kapelle im Widerstand gegen den Nationalsozialismus, Berlin: Edition Hentrich. ISBN 3894681101, p. 213-