Mathilde Danegger

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Mathilde Danegger
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-78024-0028, Berlin, VII. DFD-Bundeskongress cropped.jpg
Mathilde Danegger addressing the 7th Congress of the German Democratic Women's League (Demokratischer Frauenbund Deutschlands) 27 November 1960
Mathilde Deutsch

(1903-08-02)2 August 1903
Died27 July 1988(1988-07-27) (aged 84)
Other namesMathilde Leusch
Political partyKPD
Spouse(s)1 Herbert Waniek (1897–1949)
2. Walter Lesch (1898–1958)
3.Herbert Crüger (1911–2003)
ChildrenKarin Lesch
Parent(s)Josef Danegger, Snr
(real name Josef Deutsch)
Bertha Danegger
(real name Bertha Deutcsh, known professionally by her maiden name Bertha Müller (1866-1938)[1]

Mathilde Danegger (real name, Mathilde Deutsch: 2 August 1903 – 27 July 1988) was an Austrian stage and movie actress.[2] Sources may also identify her by the pseudonym, Mathilde Leusch.[3]


Mathilde Danegger was born and attended school in Vienna. Her father was the Austrian character actor and stage producer Josef Danegger [de]Snr, (real name, Joseph Deutsch: 1865–1933) who later took over as director of the City Theatre in Zürich.[2] Her mother, Bertha Danegger (real name Bertha Deutcsh, known professionally by her maiden name Bertha Müller, was an Austrian actress of stage and silent film.[3]

Like her elder brothers Josef Danegger [de]Jnr, and Theodor Danegger, she decided on a stage career early in life. She started her performing with children's roles, making her debut in 1912 at Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater in Berlin, with a further youthful appearance there in 1914.[2] She would continue to return to the Berlin stage throughout her career, but by 1919 she was, with her parents, based in Zürich. In 1919/1920 she had engagements at the City Theatre in Vienna. From 1921 till 1924 she was working, primarily, at the Popular Theatre in Vienna, and between 1924 and 1928 at the Theater in der Josefstadt.[3]

Mathilde Danegger's first marriage was to Herbert Waniek (1897 – 1949) whose theatre career during the 1920s was focused on the same Vienna theatres as those of his wife. Waniek also had connections with the "German Theatre" at Brno in Czechoslovakia, where until 1933 Mathilde Danegger was making regular guest appearances. There were also frequent guest appearances at theatres in Berlin and Vienna.[3] Around this time she also married her second husband, the Swiss drama producer Walter Lesch (1898 – 1958).[3]

With the German change in government at the start of 1933, Mathilde Danegger, a staunch antifascist, fled to Switzerland where she worked at the National Theatre in Zürich with Wolfgang Langhoff, like her a political exile from Nazi Germany. She took part in political cabaret, between 1934 and 1938 appearing in the "Cornichon" cabaret established by her husband.[3] In 1939 she got together with Herbert Crüger who subsequently became her third husband.[3] She was also one of the founders in Switzerland of the National Committee for a Free Germany.[2]

Two years after the war ended, in 1947, Mathilde Danegger returned to Germany. Sources differ as to whether she settled in the American occupation zone[3] or in East Berlin,[2] which was in the central part of what had been Germany, and was now administered as part of the Soviet occupation zone. In reality, it was several years before the political division of occupied Germany would be matched by physical barriers. Between 1947 and 1951 she was working at the Hessische National Theatre in Wiesbaden.[3] In East Berlin, supported by the dramatist's wife and business manager, Helene Weigel Danegger was recruited by Bertolt Brecht to work at the Berliner Ensemble where she was employed between 1951 and 1953.[2] During these years she was active in the peace movement. In December 1948 she joined the German Communist Party. Between 1948 and 1951 she also wrote, as Cultural Editor, for "Unsere Stimme", a regional communist news magazine based near the frontier with Switzerland, at Schwenningen.[3]

In 1953, four years after the foundation of two separate German states, and with the border between them becoming less permeable, she formally relocated with her husband to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).[3] There followed a long period as a star of the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. Among others, she took part in productions by Wolfgang Langhoff, Wolfgang Heinz, Benno Besson and Adolf Dresen [de].[3]

In parallel with her theatre work, from 1960 she built up an extensive repertoire of cinema and television roles in productions by the state-owned film studio, DEFA, and Deutscher Fernsehfunk, the state television broadcaster. She had already undertaken a significant amount of acting work in front of the camera during her time in Switzerland. Of particular note was her portrayal of Frau Holle in the 1963 film of the eponymous fairy tale by Gottfried Kolditz and her television role in "Mutter Jantschowa" (1968).[2]

She remained politically engaged throughout. In 1957 she wrote a letter to the party defending dissident Wolfgang Harich following his arrest.[3]

Family matters[edit]

By her second husband she was the mother of the actress Karin Lesch.[4]

Her third husband, the university lecturer and author Herbert Crüger, became caught up in the political persecution that was a feature of East Germany in the 1950s. In 1956 he was overheard criticising the arrest of Bernhard Steinberger in the aftermath of the remarkable party conference of the Soviet Communist Party, and in March 1958 Crüger was himself arrested by the Ministry for State Security (Stasi). At a secret trial in December 1958 he was found guilty of "high treason" ("schweren Staatsverrats") and sentenced to an eight-year jail term. In the end he was released in 1961 and rehabilitated by the High Court in May 1990.[5]

Filmography (selection)[edit]

Cinema films

Television films

Documentary films (Narrator)

Theatre (selection)[edit]

Awards and honours[edit]


  1. ^ "Biographisches Lexikon der Theaterkünstler – Bertha Denigger, geb. Müller – Schauspielerin".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Renate Seydel; et al. "Mathilde Danegger Biographie". Schauspieler; Das große Lexikon der DDR-Stars. Katrin und Uta Zutz i.A. DEFA Sternstunden ( Retrieved 19 July 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Bernd-Rainer Barth. "Danegger, Mathilde (Ps. Mathilde Leusch) geb. Deutsch * 2.8.1903, † 27.7.1988 Schauspielerin". "Wer war wer in der DDR?". Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin & Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur, Berlin. Retrieved 19 July 2016.
  4. ^ "Karin Lesch ... Tochter der Schauspielerin Mathilde Danegger". Kathrin Miebach, Meschede i.A. "Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel". Retrieved 19 July 2016.
  5. ^ Bernd-Rainer Barth. "Crüger, Herbert * 17.5.1911, † 17.1.2003 »Säuberungs«-Opfer". "Wer war wer in der DDR?". Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin & Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur, Berlin. Retrieved 19 July 2016.