Home » Life before the UK
Category Archives: Life before the UK
There are only a few documents relating to Hannah’s first year of exile, but using the oral history interview she gave in 1995 it is possible to fill in the gaps between the records to reconstruct, at least partly, her path from Innsbruck in March 1938 to London in August 1939.1
After the German annexation of Austria in March 1938, Hannah’s family joined the 36,000 other Jews in Germany and Austria who decided to leave their homelands and seek sanctuary elsewhere in 1938. For the Nussbaums, the obvious first choice was the UK, where Otto Nussbaum had business connections and which the family had visited a number of times. In fact Otto had begun preparations to emigrate a some time before by registering his firm in England, but with the upsurge in violence against the Jews following the Anschluss and the ‘aryanisation‘ of his business in Vienna, the need to move had become urgent.
The visa requirement for Jewish refugees from Austria to the UK was only introduced after the Anschluss in March 1938, so, after a phone call to her parents in Vienna, and in the belief that she would not need a visa, Hannah set off by train for England alone. With her money confiscated on the Austrian-Swiss border, Hannah relied on friends in Switzerland to help her travel via France and on by boat from Boulogne. At the UK border, however, to her surprise and disappointment, she was refused entry. In her 1995 interview she described the ‘very cool, tall, blond gentleman with a moustache’, who, despite her pleas, simply apologised as he put her back on the boat to France.
Upset at her treatment at the UK border, Hannah made a spur-of the-moment decision that, rather than waiting around with the increasing number of refugees refused entry to Britain who were gathering in Boulogne, she would head back to Paris. Through the acquaintanceship of a lawyer for MGM Films, she established contacts in the film industry there, made friends and found herself a place to live. The above ID shows that she was given the right to reside in France from 29 March until 29 June 1938, although the stamp at the top of the form made clear that she was not supposed to work (‘Ne doit occuper aucun emploi salaré’).
Photographs from the collection indicate that this bar on employment did not actually stop her from trying to work, however. Written on the reverse of the photo above, the following notes suggest that she probably intended to send it to French acting agencies: ‘Hanne Norbert, 28 Quai de Béthune, Odéon 40-13. Parle: français, anglais, allemand’. In fact, as Hannah admitted in 1995, she managed to land herself a small part in a Sacha Guitry film whilst she was there, and she had a second film part lined up for herself which she was only prevented from taking by the outbreak of the Second World War.
Hannah remained in Paris until August 1939, successfully entering the UK only shortly before war was declared, when the borders were closed to further refugees from Nazi-occupied territories. Thankfully, her parents were by that time safely settled in London, having landed at Croydon Airport on 15 September 1938, and she was permitted to enter the UK on the visa they had managed to arrange for the family in Vienna. The above postcard was sent to Hannah from a French friend, Jean Peltzer, who had run a film club (Ciné 200) of which Hannah was a member while she was in Paris. It is the last record to document Hannah’s connection with pre-war France.
Dated December 1939, the postcard illustrates the rapidly changing circumstances of individual lives within those few short months. It has been redirected from Hannah’s Paris address to her parents’ address in Maida Vale, London, and Jean has now joined the army, and writes to Hannah as follows: ‘Dear friend, how is life? I hope that this little note finds you in good health and hope that events have not made you unhappy. For me, after these few months of war, morale is good and I am being patient… I would be very happy to hear your news. A friend who forgets nothing, with my friendship, Jean Peltzer’.
Whether Hannah had any more contact with Jean after this is not clear, but I would be delighted to received any further information about Jean Peltzer or the Ciné 200 club that he ran.
After leaving Reichenberg in 1931, Martin continued to tour theatres in Austria and beyond for a further three years. He was based at the Stadttheater in Aussig (by then, Ústí nad Labem in Czechoslovakia) from 1931 to 1933, at the Deutsches Theater in Mährisch-Ostrau (Ostrava, Czechoslovakia) from 1933 to 1935, and at the Theatre Municipale in Strasbourg from 1935 to 1936. The newspaper reviews in the collection of the productions in which he performed give some indication of the diverse linguistic communities to whom he was performing.
Shown above are: a Czech review of a production of Jakob Wassermann’s Lukardis in Mährisch-Ostrau in 1934, in which Martin played a Russian revolutionary; a French review of a production of Fritz Schweifert’s Marguerite durch drei in Strasbourg in 1935/36, in which he played one of the leading lady’s three deceived suitors; and a Yiddish review of a production of Die Grenze. Ein Schicksal unter 600.000 (The Border. One fate amongst 600,000), translated from Danish and adapted by Awrum Halbert (under the pseudonym Albert Ganzert), performed at the Jüdische Kulturtheater in Vienna in 1936. In this play, the Jüdische Kulturtheater’s most successful production, Martin played a respected businessman who provides a role model for his grandson when his Jewish background is exposed and he is hauled before the courts in Nazi Germany.1
Martin had maintained professional and family links with Vienna over the years that he worked away. From about 1935-1936 until his exile in 1938, he worked on a more steady basis in Vienna. By this time he was not just acting but also directing the plays he was in, for example at the Neues Theater in der Praterstrasse and the Theater der Schulen in der Volksoper. The image below shows some of the reviews he kept of the productions on which he worked at this time.
In 1936 Martin joined a small number of actors who performed regularly at the Jüdisches Kulturtheater in Vienna. The theatre had only just been established, and it employed mainly German Jewish actors in exile from Nazi Germany. It had one of the most politically active repetoires in Vienna at that time; its plays (like Die Grenze, mentioned above) often dealt with antisemitism and events in contemporary Germany.2 In 1937 Martin starred here again in another play focusing on anti-semitism: Ashley Dukes’ adaptation of Lion Feuchtwanger’s novel, Jüd Süß. The image below shows Martin Miller as Herzog Karl Alexander and Lisl Einberger as Naemie, the daughter of Josef Süss Oppenheimer. The caption reads ‘Naomi evading the hands of the Duke’; the first line is written in Yiddish and the second in Hebrew.3 The newspaper source is not known.
As well as acting in regular plays, Martin also organised events at which he performed as a solo artist reciting from poems or acting out characters from plays. Perhaps this allowed him to focus on the character portrayals for which he had become known. The invitation below is for just such an evening at the Jüdisches Kulturtheater on 23 May 1936, at which Martin read and acted out characterisations of a range of Jewish figures in literary sources from Shakespeare to the Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler. The handwritten message from him reads ‘it would be nice if you were there!’; unfortunately it is not known to whom this is addressed. A review in the collection praised this exploration of Jewish suffering over 400 years, and suggested that Martin was one of the best character actors of Jews in Vienna.
As well as his work at the Jüdisches Kulturtheater, Martin now also began to perform in Vienna’s cabaret scene, which was rapidly becoming one of the few public spaces where political dissent could be expressed.4 Below is a review of a 1936 cabaret show in which Martin worked alongside Jura Soyfer, Friedrich Torberg and Peter Hammerschlag at the cabaret theatre, Literatur am Naschmarkt. The reviewer’s comments on Martin’s individual contribution roughly translate as
Martin brings forth a storm of laughter with his stunningly successful dramatic parodies of actors from Ferdinand Onno to Hans Moser, Alexander Moissi and Werner Krauß and to Max Pallenberg and Albert Bassermann.
The objects of Martin’s impressionist skills were all successful German or Austrian theatre actors in the 1930s, well-known at that time. Of those who had been based in Germany, all except the antisemitic Krauß had already left the country and gone into exile in Austria. Krauß, by contrast, had by this time had been honoured by the Nazis with the status of Staatsschauspieler (actor of national importance); he was soon to lend his acting skills to the Nazis by starring in one of the most antisemitic propaganda films ever made, Jud Süß. It can perhaps be expected, then, that he of all them came off worst from Martin’s cutting satirical impressionist talents.
From September to November 1937, Martin performed at the ABC Theater in the cabaret show ‘Von Bagadad nach Vineta’. The central pieces of the show were Jura Soyfer’s sketches Vineta, die versunkene Stadt and Der treuste Bürger Bagdads. However, Martin’s individual contribution was also very well received by the liberal critics (possibly from the liberal Wiener Tag) who reviewed the show: ‘eine erlesene Delikatesse ist ein Vortrag Martin Millers, der vollendet kleine Wortkunstwerte Polgars bringt’ (Martin Miller’s presentation, which perfectly conveys the aphorisms of [Austrian journalist Alfred] Polgar, is a choice delicacy of the show).
Time was, of course, running out. Jura Soyfer, as mentioned in a previous post, had already been imprisoned in Dachau. Following the annexation of Austria in March 1938 Martin, as a Jew, was immediately forbidden to participate in the theatre. Cultural institutions in Vienna were were very quickly reorganised and ‘Aryanised’. On 11 March the Jüdisches Kulturtheater was looted and closed.5 According to Yates, ‘in the course of the summer of 1938 everyone working in the theatre had to provide documentary evidence of his or her ‘Aryan’ descent’.6 Eight months later, on 1 November 1938, Martin emigrated to Berlin.
1 Brigitte Dalinger, Verloschene Sterne: Geschichte des jüdischen Theaters in Wien (Vienna: Picus Verlag, 1998), p. 116.
2 Brigitte Dalinger, ‘Jiddisches Theater in Wien, Berlin und Prag’, in Berlin – Wien – Prag : Moderne, Minderheiten und Migration in der Zwischenkriegszeit. Modernity, minorities and migration in the inter-war period, ed. by Susanne Marten-Finnis and Matthias Uecker (Bern: Peter Lang, 2001), pp. 271-287 (p. 285).
3 Many thanks to Rachel Bracha, Archive Co-ordinator at Archive Coordinator, World ORT, for her translation of the caption for this photograph.
4 W.E. Yates, Theatre in Vienna: a Critical History 1776-1995 (Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 222.
5 Salzburg University, ‘Österreichische Schriftstellerinnen und Schriftsteller des Exils seit 1933’, http://www.literaturepochen.at/exil/lecture_5003_18.html, accessed 3 April 2013.
6 Dalinger, ‘Jiddisches Theater’, p. 224.
There are sadly no documents from Martin’s very early years in the collection, but it is possible to piece together an outline of his childhood and youth, mostly from newspaper articles and interviews published at the height of his success as an actor in the 1950s and 1960s. He was born Rudolf Müller 2 September 1899 in Kremsier (now Kroměříž) in Moravia, to Jewish parents, Heinrich Müller and Regine Müller (née Kulka). Kroměříž, at that time a town of around 14,000 inhabitants in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, lies to the east of Brno and south of Olomouc, about 120 miles from Vienna.1 His mother was then 25 years old, and was originally from Prerau (now Přerov), another Moravian town about 12 miles to the north.
In 1913 the Müllers relocated to Vienna and eventually settled in the middle-class district of Wieden. Their move was part of a wave of migration to the city by Jews from the Austro-Hungarian provinces which took place between 1850 and 1918. Vienna offered such immigrants greater economic and cultural opportunities than the provinces, as well as an escape from provincial antisemitism.2 The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the establishment of the new Czecholslovakian state in 1918 brought an end to further immigration from Moravia, which was now outside the new Austrian state’s borders.
According to one newspaper article, it was his German teacher who first inspired Martin to think about acting as a career, with his crisp praise for Martin’s classroom recitation of Goethe’s poem Der Vogel: ‘Sie singen wie der Vogel singt – setzen!’ (‘You sing like a bird – sit!). In a talk he wrote for the BBC’s German Service in 1950, Martin revealed that his early passion for the theatre was shared by his father Heinrich: ‘when as a child I raved about the [actor Walter] Wassermann, my father said to me, “you should have seen [the actor] Alexander Girardi”‘.
Despite these early indications of what would later become his life’s preoccupation, Martin’s first career path took him into watchmaking rather than on to the stage. It took a chance performance in an amateur production in Prague, where he was working for his watchmaking firm in 1918, for his acting talents to be spotted by critics. He was then taken on for a series of plays in the 1921-1922 season at the Raimundtheater in Vienna by the respected actor and director Rudolf Beer, who had just become Artistic Director there. As the cast list below shows, he was at this time already using the stage name ‘Martin Miller’.
The work brought Martin into immediate contact with some of the best-known Austrian intellectuals and artists from Vienna’s theatre scene. The first of the plays, Florian Geyer, was produced by the prolific film and theatre director Karlheinz Martin, introduced on the opening evening by the renowned journalist Alfred Polgar, and attended on its première by the author, Nobel Prize-winning dramatist Gerhart Hauptmann.3 It starred the German actor Eugen Klöpfer, later star of the Nazis’ antisemitic propaganda film Jud Süß, and Oskar Homolka, famous for playing opposite such Hollywood giants as Ingrid Bergman, Marilyn Monroe and Ronald Reagan after his emigration to the US in the late 1930s.
Following what must have been a baptism of fire for Martin at the Raimundtheater, he spent 1922 at Vienna’s Theater in der Josefstadt and then much of the 1920s and early 1930s building up his experience by touring with repetory theatre companies outside the city. From this point onwards, Martin’s life is better documented in the collection, with contemporary newspaper reviews and theatre programmes (albeit mostly copies) indicating where he was working and revealing his growing popularity. In 1922, for example, they show that he was employed at the Kurtheatur in Bad Ischl in Austria by Josef Jarno, a leading Viennese director of the time. In 1926 he played the part of Hugo Hecht in Carl Mathern and Otto Schwartz’s farce, Der Meister Boxer, at the newly-opened Kurtheater in Reichenau an der Rax, Lower Austria.
As well as performing in regional theatres in Austria, he also spent a considerable period of time in Czechoslovakia and Poland, where the German-speaking audiences he was performing to had recently become linguistic minorities in newly-created states. In 1924-25 he performed as der Wirt (the landlord) in Lessing’s Minna von Barnhelm at the Thalia in Łódź, Poland, with directors Konrad Stieber and Robert Lohan. In 1926 with Vienna’s Lustspiel-Ensemble, he toured Königshütte (Chorzów), Kattowitz (Kattowice), Tarnowitz (Tarnowskie Góry), all of which were now in the new Silesian Voivodeship under Polish rule.
It was at the Stadttheater in Reichenberg, by then Liberec in Czecholoslovakia, that Martin really established his name as an actor. Reichenberg was at that time regarded by the Germans as their unofficial capital in Czechoslovakia, and numerous singers and actors who went on to be successful on the German and Austrian stage had begun their careers in the city. This included the popular film actor, Hans Moser, whom Martin would later caricature in his impressionist routine in Vienna.
In five seasons between 1926 and 1931, Martin’s popularity with his critics and audiences seems to have grown ever stronger. Just a selection of the roles he played include Marinelli in Lessing’s Emilia Galotti; Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest; and a character he was to play again in exile in London, the soldier Josef Schwejk in an adaptation of Hašek’s satirical novel by Max Brod and Max Reimann. The postcard below sent from Reichenberg in 1927 shows Martin in Der sprechende Affe (The Monkey Talks), a play with a rather unconvincing-sounding storyline about a man who impersonates a monkey in order to make money from exhibiting at freak shows.
Roughly translated, the back of the postcard reads:
Dear loved ones, thanks very much for your New Year card and the lovely detailed letter I received today. There is not much more to tell you other than that things are going very well; my new room is a charming home with nice people. (The photograph is poor; a colleague took it. A better one will follow.) Yours affectionately, Miller
It was also whilst based at Reichenberg that he gave what may have been his first radio broadcast; one newspaper review reports that Martin gave a reading of Schiller’s incomplete drama, Demetris on Prague’s German language radio, in his capacity as a member of Reichenberg Theatre. It is not clear whether he then became regular on German language radio, but he did at least one further broadcast in 1932, this time a recitation of two scenes from Swedish writer August Strindberg’s Historical Minitatures.
Martin remained in Reichenberg from 1926 until 1931, before moving on again to new theatres and new audiences. By the time he left Reichenberg he had established his reputation locally as a brilliant character actor who could captivate audiences with his performances. He had also gained considerable experience of working across borders as a peripatetic actor and of performing to German-minority audiences, a background which may have prepared him well for his work in exile theatre in London just eight years later.
1 http://www.deutsche-schutzgebiete.de/kuk_kremsier.htm, accessed 14 March 2013.
2 Hillary Hope Herzog, “Vienna is Different”: Jewish Writers in Austria from the Fin de Siècle to the Present (New York: Berghahn Books, 2011), p. 11.
3 John Warren, ‘Berlin comes to Vienna: Theatrical Interaction 1918-1933’ in Vienna meets Berlin: Cultural Interaction 1918-1933, ed. by John Warren and Ulrike Zitzlsperger (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2005), pp. 79-92 (p. 86).
In the next two blog posts I want to go back to Martin and Hannah’s pre-emigration days, to look at some of the records that survived from these years and see what they reveal about their early lives, before the upheaval caused by Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938. In this post I will focus on Hannah.
There are no records in the collection relating to Hannah’s early childhood, but her 1946 Austrian passport informs us that she was born Hanne Nußbaum in Vienna on 25 February 1916. What we know of her teenage years comes mainly from an interview she gave in 1995 with Charmian Brinson, Exile Studies Research Centre member, in which she stated that she had wanted to be an actress from a very early age. Her determination in this can be seen from the fact that, at 14 years old, without her parents’ knowledge, she sought out Hans Thimig to ask for advice and approval. Thimig was the son of the well-known theatrical director of the great Burgtheater, Hugo Thimig, and was himself an actor at Vienna’s Theater in der Josefstadt. He encouraged her to pursue her passion for the stage, telling her ‘you are talented and you should learn’. However, Hannah’s interview comments suggest her father was a little suspicious of this seal of approval for his pretty daughter, and questioned Thimig’s motives!1Rather than taking Thimig’s word for it, Herr Nußbaum appears to have written to another well-known Austrian actor, Ernst Deutsch, to ask his opinion of Hannah’s potential. Deutsch is now best known to English-speaking audiences for his role as Baron Kurtz in the 1949 film produced by Carol Reed, ‘The Third Man’, in which both Hannah and Martin had minor acting roles.
At that time, Deutsch was best known to German-speaking audiences as an actor in expressionist films and on the stage in Berlin, where he was based in the 1920s. He also performed in Vienna, including a season at the Burgtheater in 1931-1932, and after the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933, he worked mainly in Prague and Vienna before emigrating to the US in 1938. It was probably during the early 1930s in Vienna that he got to see something of Hannah’s acting talents, and responded to Hannah’s father with the letter now in the Miller collection. Promising her father not to mention the letter exchange between the two men to Hannah, Deutsch confirmed his firm belief in her potential as a budding actress: ‘ihre besondere Begabung … ist für mich ohne Zweifel’ (‘I have no doubts about her special talent’).
As a teenager, Hannah had attended the Döblinger Mädchenmittelschule, a local girls’ secondary school to which the wealthy families of the Cottageviertel sent their daughters.2 As Hannah approached the sixth form, Paul Kalbeck, then Director of the Theater in der Josefstadt, whom Hannah saw for drama lessons, recommended that she try to get a place at the prestigious Reinhardt Seminar, Austria’s main drama school. The school had been opened in 1929 by the theatre director, Max Reinhardt, and was at that time located in one of the wings of the former palace of the Habsburgs, Schloss Schönbrunn. Reinhardt Seminar students practised on the palace theatre, once the Habsburgs’ private theatre.
Hannah’s application to the school was successful, and she spent two years as a student there, from 1933 until 1935.
After leaving the Reinhardt Seminar, Hannah was quickly successful at gaining parts in theatres in Switzerland, Vienna and Innsbruck. The photograph below shows her playing Mary, Queen of Scots in a production of Schiller’s ‘Mary Stuart’ at the Städtebundtheater Biel-Solothurn. The scene shows Mary on her knees in front of Queen Elisabeth, who was played by another Austrian actress, Isolde Milde.
In 1937, Hannah was engaged by the Wiener Kammerspiele, a studio theatre attached to the Theater in der Josefstadt, to play the part of Ruth in a play by Ernst Vadja called ‘Das Geständnis’. The contract below shows that she was paid 10 Schillings a day, except for days on which there was a matinée performance, which would earn her an additional third on top of the standard daily rate. This was slightly more than the average worker earned in 1937 for a single work shift (8.90 Schillings).
Hannah’s last stage performances in Austria before the German takeover in March 1938 were in Innsbruck. The contract below shows that she was engaged to play the parts of ‘Liebhaberin und Salondame’ (lover and a kind of ‘femme fatale’ character) in an unspecified play at the Stadttheater there from 3 February until 3 April 1938. Her wages were 300 Schillings a month.
It is not clear whether she actually played the above roles however, as she herself stated that she was at this time playing the leading role in Georg Rendl’s 1937 play, ‘Elisabeth, Kaiserin von Österreich’, and the photograph below seems to confirm this. The other two actors in this photograph are Louis Victor, playing Franz Joseph, and Franziska Frey as Erzherzogin (Archduchess) Sophie. Her contract was abrupted terminated on 12 March 1938 with the Nazi Germany’s Anschluss: Hannah was summoned to the director’s officer and told that she could not continue working.
1 Archive of the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, University of London, Exile Archive, Interview with Hannah Norbert Miller by Charmian Brinson, December 1995.
2 Ruth Barton, Hedy Lamarr: the Most Beautiful Woman in Film (Kentucky: University of Kentucky, 2012), p. 12.
3 International Labour Office, ‘World Indexes of Employment’, International Labour Review, 40 (1939), p. 107.