Cataloguing the Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert Miller Archive

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June 2019
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The survival of the smuggled scripts

Under the Austrofascist regime established by Austria’s ultra-right-wing Fatherland Front Party in 1934 and lasting until the German annexation in 1938, small unofficial theatres were one of the few public arenas in which criticism of the regime and the growing influence of Nazi Germany could be voiced from within Austria. Large theatres with auditoriums for more than 50 people were strictly regulated through a system of licensing, which compelled managers and artists to comply strictly with the regime’s cultural policy and present an uncritical view of social and political events.1

However, those theatre workers prepared to make do with simple, low-budget productions on makeshift stages with audiences of less than 50 could avoid the heaviest penalties imposed by the censor and perform plays by writers critical of events in Nazi Germany and Austria. Such theatres included the avant-garde ‘Theater für 49’, where Hannah Norbert-Miller performed in the expressionist play ‘Das Leben des Menschen’ in the spring of 1937, as well as the political cabaret theatre,  ABC Regenbogen Café, where Jura Soyfer was the in-house author.2

Feodor Weingart and Hanne Norbert in Das Leben der Menschen  at the Theater für 49 in Vienna, April 1937

Miller 3/4/1/6 Feodor Weingart and Hanne Norbert in Das Leben des Menschen at the Theater für 49 in Vienna, April 1937

Unfortunately many of the records from this fascinating aspect of Austrian theatre history have gone missing without a trace.3 This is particularly true for the political cabaret scripts, which, given the political circumstances of their creation and the fact that they were written for immediate performance, were rarely published or made more broadly available. In the case of the highly political scripts of Jura Soyfer, many were confiscated and lost for good when he was arrested in November 1937. Under National Socialism, moreover, the possession of his work was a great risk, and some of the records of his writing were burnt by his parents and friends out of fear.4 Consequently only fragments of some of his work from this time have survived. For example, much of Soyfer’s novel, So starb einer Partei, which was the work he most valued, was lost. The image below shows a leaf from one of the surviving bundles of typescripts which found their way into the Millers’ possessions.

So starb einer Partei003

Miller 1/2/4/2. Page from surviving fragment of Jura Soyfer’s novel, So starb einer Partei

So how did his writing survive and his theatre plays end up being performed in London less than a year after his death in Buchenwald? Above all, it was because some of his friends, family and colleagues bravely risked their lives to carry the manuscripts beyond Austria’s borders. Otto Tausig, the leader of the exile theatre company, the ‘Austrian Youth Players’, later wrote that in the suitcases of some of those who emigrated after 1938, handwritten poems, a newspaper article or an almost complete play could lie hidden between the shirts or books.5 

One of those courageous people who transported them was Helli Ultmann, Soyfer’s girlfriend. Ultmann made her way to exile in the USA via Paris and London, where she was in touch with Martin Miller and met him to pass on copies of Soyfer’s work. The letter below in the Miller Archive written by her in October 1939 to Martin Miller captures the moment when she arranged to pass on the smuggled material to Martin for the Laterndl:

Letter from Helli Ultmann

Miller 2/126. Letter from Helli Ultmann to Martin Miller, October 1939. By kind permission of Monica Andis, daughter of Helli Andis (née Ultmann).

Roughly translated, the letter reads:

I can come to London, I would very much like to attend your performance. Also let me know by return of post what I should copy down for you, I will then bring it with me, as I’m expecting my luggage to arrive tomorrow at the latest. I can actually bring you the chansons a few hours before the performance, so you’ll still have enough time to prepare them.

In all, two of Soyfer’s theatre scripts and seven of his song lyrics (such as the one below) ended up in the Miller collection. We cannot be sure which of the lyrics are the chansons referred to Ultmann in her letter, but for me the letter wonderfully captures a moment of triumph against Nazi oppression: when the bravery of those determined keep alive the memory of Soyfer and his political message won a small victory with the knowledge that his work would again be performed and celebrated in public.

Wenn der Himmel grau wird

Miller 1/2/4/1/7. Script of ‘Wenn der Himmel grau wird’ by Jura Soyfer

1 Barbara Nowotny, ‘Theater im Souterrain: Das politische Wiener Theater der 1. Republik’ (unpublished master’s thesis, University of Vienna, 2010), p28.
2 Viktoria Hertling, ‘Theater für 49: Ein vergessenes Avantgarde-Theater in Wien (1934-1938)’, in Jura Soyfer and his time, ed. by Donald G. Daviau (California: Ariadne Press, 1995), pp. 321-335.
3 Nowotny, p. 5. Hans Weigel also discusses this issue at multiple points in his book Gerichtstag vor 49 Leuten (Austria: Verlag Styria, 1981), for example, p. 33, p. 120 and p. 159.
4 Horst Jarka, Jura Soyfer: Leben, Werk, Zeit (Vienna: Löcker Verlag, 1987), p.498.
5 Jura Soyfer, Vom Paradies zum Weltuntergang, ed. by Otto Tausig (Vienna: Globus Verlag, 1947), p. 9.


Refugee life and organisations

The Millers were most closely associated with the Austrian exile theatre company, the Laterndl, but their papers also contain documents relating to a number of other political and cultural organisations established by members of the 30,000-strong Austrian refugee community.1 The organisations shown here had various aims, including helping other potential refugees still in Nazi-occupied territory to escape, improving the daily life of the refugees in the UK, and focusing attention on how to build a better Austria after the war. Such organisations would also have fulfilled a much-needed social function for the members themselves, as they created a sense of community and helped refugees overcome feelings of loss, hardship and alienation.2 

Letter from Austrian Self-Aid, 1938

Miller 2/151. Letter from Austrian Self-Aid, 1938

Probably the earliest document in the Miller collection relating to the refugee organisations is the above letter, which documents some of the desperate attempts by refugees already in the UK to help more victims of Nazi persecution to emigrate, as the wave of Nazi terror in Vienna increased in 1938. It was written by the founders of ‘Austrian Self-Aid’, a ‘charitable, non-political organisation with the aim of providing assistance and information for other Austrian refugees in Britain’.2 Although the exiles who established it were mainly Communist Party members, they gave their political views a low profile in order not to alienate members of the general refugee community and to avoid difficulties with the British authorities. Unfortunately the second page of the letter is missing so the reason for writing is not certain, but since it was written in English and describes the difficulties of dealing with the immense demand for help given the group’s limited resources, it seems likely that it was intended for British supporters of the Austrian cause to request financial support.

British Council carol concert programme (front), 1939

Miller 5/3/3. British Council carol concert programme (front), 1939

British Council carol concert programme (inner), 1939

Miller 5/3/3. British Council carol concert programme (inner), 1939

Another document in the collection, which illustrates one way in which the British authorities interacted positively with the refugee groups, is the above programme for a carol concert held at Sadler’s Wells Theatre on Christmas Eve 1939. The concert was organised by the Resident Foreigners’ Committee of the British Council, which had recently been established to provide educational and cultural support to refugees and allied service personnel.3 As the programme shows, the concert included performances by Czech and Polish choirs, an ad hoc group of German-speaking actors (most of whom were members of one or other of the established German-language exile theatre companies in London) led by Martin Miller, as well as the well-travelled British singing group, Fleet Street Choir 4 Below is a letter from the British Council to Martin sent after the event, congratulating him on the success of the production and thanking him for the Austrians’ hard work.

Letter from the British Council, 1939

Miller 2/17. Letter from the British Council, 1939

For many Austrian refugees, the heart of the exile community was the Austrian Centre (AC). Located in Westbourne Terrace in Paddington, London, it was set up by Communist refugees as a self-help organisation to provide support for the community. The above flyer for the AC, dated 30 July 1942, gives information on the Centre’s events, facilities and publications. It shows, for example, the range of Austrian specialities on the menu of the Centre’s restaurant, such as ‘Fridattensuppe’ (broth with sliced pancake), ‘Polsterzipf’ (sweet pastries) and ‘Faschiertes mit Spinat’ (minced meat with spinach). It lists entertainment events organised by refugees at the AC, such as the Laterndl’s production Spiel im Schloss and the première of a farce by Franz und Paul von Schönthan: Raub der Sabinerinnen. It also notifies readers of forthcoming information events concerning the British internment of refugees as enemy aliens, and of a new translation service provided by the AC for members needing to have their documents translated into English.

Austrian Centre info sheet, Jul 1942

Miller 1/2/3/2. Austrian Centre info sheet, Jul 1942

Also advertised on the AC flyer is the Centre’s own German-language newspaper, the Zeitspiegel, which was claimed to be ‘unentbehrlich für jeden Emigranten’ (‘indispensible for every emigrant’). This was a weekly paper focusing on topics of most relevance to the refugees, such as antisemitism, the internment situation, and events in Austria and Germany. For example, this edition from the collection (below) reports on developments in Vienna, where hunger, exhaustion and sabotage were apparently dramatically reducing war production.

Miller 5/4. "Zeitspiegel" (no. 46, 15 November 1941)

Miller 5/4. “Zeitspiegel” (no. 46, 15 November 1941)

Finally, this flyer from 1941 highlights some of the key political issues that were considered of particular importance by at least some of the Austrian refugee community at the time. It advertised a series of public debates organised by the association, ‘Das kommende Österreich’ (‘The coming Austria’), at the Mary Ward Settlement in Tavistock Place, London. The discussion topics included the position of the Austrian Communists with regard to unity in the fight against Hitler; the prerequisites for a Central European federation; and the legal position of Austrian refugees and their incorporation into war production and civil defence.

Miller 5/3/7. Flyer for a series of discussion evenings hosted by the association, 'Das kommende Österreich'

Miller 5/3/7. Flyer for a series of discussion evenings hosted by the association, ‘Das kommende Österreich’

This figure is from Anthony Grenville, ‘The Emigration of Austrians to Britain after 1938 and the Early Years of Settlement: a Survey’, in Immortal Austria: Austrians in Exile in Britain, ed. by Charmian Brinson, Richard Dover and Jennifer Taylor, Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, 8 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006), pp. 3-17 (p. 3).
2 Andrea Reiter, ‘Introduction’ in ‘I didn’t want to float; I wanted to belong to something.’ Refugee Organisations in Britain 1933-1945′, ed. by Anthony Grenville and Andrea Reiter, Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, 10 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008), pp. ix-xvi (pp. x-xi).
3 Charmian Brinson, ‘Eva Kolmer and the Austrian Emigration in Britain, 1938-1946’, in German-speaking Exiles in Great Britain, ed. by Anthony Grenville, Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, 2 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000), pp. 143-169 (p. 145).

Hannah’s journey into exile

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.

Récépissé de demande de carte d'identité (provisional ID) for Hanne Nussbaum), issued in Paris 29 March 1938

Récépissé de demande de carte d’identité (provisional ID) for Hanne Nussbaum), issued in Paris 29 March 1938

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’).

Hanne Norbert in Paris, 1938

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.

Postcard from Jean Peltzer (front), December 1939

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.

Peltzer postcard back

Postcard from Jean Peltzer (back), December 1939

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.

1 Archive of the Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London, Exile Archive, Interview with Hannah Norbert Miller by Charmian Brinson, December 1995.

Life before 1938: Hannah in Vienna

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.

Hannah Norbert aged about 20, c1936

Hannah Norbert aged about 20, c1936

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!1

File:Thimig hugo august.png

Hugo Thimig, German actor and theatre director. Photographer: Josef Székely, via Wikimedia Commons

File:Burgtheater um 1898.jpg

Vienna’s Burgtheater in around 1898. Photographer: August Stauda [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Rather 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.

File:Ernst Deutsch, 1931 Variante 1.jpg

Ernst Deutsch, Austrian Jewish actor 1931. Photographer: Waldemar Titzenthaler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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’).

Letter from Ernst Deutsch to Herr Nußbaum c1932

Letter from Ernst Deutsch to Herr Nußbaum c1932

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.

File:Schlosstheater Schoenbrunn.tif

Schlosstheater Schönbrunn. Photographer: Gruppe80 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Hannah’s application to the school was successful, and she spent two years as a student there, from 1933 until 1935.

Reinhardt Seminar (College) ID card(1), c1933

Reinhardt Seminar (College) ID card(1), c1933

Reinhardt Seminar ID card(2), c1933

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.

Performance of Schiller's 'Mary Stuart', Solothurn, 1935

Performance of Schiller’s ‘Mary Stuart’, Solothurn, 1935

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).


Contract with the Wiener Kammerspiele 1937

Contract with the Wiener Kammerspiele 1937

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.

Hannah Miller's contract with Stadttheater Innsbruck, 1938
Hannah Miller’s contract with Stadttheater Innsbruck, 1938

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.

Performance of 'Elisabeth Kaiserin von Österreich', Innsbruck 1938

Performance of ‘Elisabeth Kaiserin von Österreich’, Innsbruck 1938

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.

Remembering family and friends

To mark Holocaust Remembrance Day last Sunday, this week I will post two blogs highlighting some of the papers in the collection which relate to the Nazi genocide, during which both Hannah and Martin lost family members.

Hannah explained what happened to members of her family who remained in Austria in an interview in 1995.1 At the age of 91, her grandfather (on her mother’s side) was taken to Theresienstadt where he later died. Hannah’s aunts and cousins on the same side of the family also disappeared. Hannah’s grandmother on her father’s side refused to leave Vienna with her son, saying that ‘nothing will happen to an old woman’. Despite her age (she was over 80), she too disappeared, together with her daughter, who had refused to leave her. When Hannah returned to Vienna in 1970, for the first time since 1939, it was a ‘completely strange town’, empty of all her former family or friends.

Although the details of Martin’s family’s fate are not as clear, there is some material in the collection which illuminates the life story of one of his relatives who remained in Vienna. By matching her personal details with data collected by the Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes (DöW – the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance), it has been possible to piece together what may have been her ultimate fate.

Katharina Müller was born on 23 March 1883 in Hullein (now Hulín in the Czech Republic), just six kilometers away from Kremsier (Kroměříž), in what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Martin too was born here, 16 years later in 1899, then Rudolf Müller.2 Unfortunately I do not know the exact relationship between Martin and Katharina.3

Katharina’s parents were Heinrich and Sofie Müller. As the copy of her birth certificate below shows, her birth was registered with the records of the Jewish Community of Kremsier. Note that the certificate itself is dated 21 October 1907, so it must have been created retrospectively.

Katharina Fried's birth certificate, 1907

Katharina Fried’s birth certificate (copy), 1907

Katharina’s marriage certificate (also a copy) indicates that, in June 1918 at the age of 35, she married Victor Fried, a Landsturm-Kanonier (private in the reserve forces) of Field Artillery Regiment 157 of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The marriage was registered by the Imperial Jewish military pastoral ministry, and the wedding took place at a garrison synagogue in Vienna.

Wedding certificate of Katharina Müller and Victor Fried, 1918

Wedding certificate of Katharina Müller and Victor Fried (copy), 1918

The next document relating to Katharina’s life shows that in July 1934 her main place of residence was Prague. The document below is a copy of the certificate of residence that was issued to her by the authorities of the Czechoslovak Republic, a state which was itself only to survive another four years. No details of her occupation are given, and she is described as ‘married’. Interestingly, the form does not require her nationality or religion to be given. Katharina would have been one of around 35,500 Jews living in Prague at this time.

Katharina Fried's certificate of residence, 1934

Katharina Fried’s certificate of residence (copy), 1934

The final document on Katharina is a medical certificate dated 3 August 1939. By this time Katharina was back in Vienna, aged 55. The certificate is signed and stamped by a doctor who was only permitted to treat Jews. Katharina’s health was described as good and she was apparently fit for work. Presumably Katharina arranged to get a certificate in the hope that it would enable her to move to England. At the bottom of the certificate, the words ‘1. England’ are written.

Katharina Fried's medical certificate, 1939

Katharina Fried’s medical certificate, 1939

Sadly, it appears that Katharina did not manage to escape to England. The records gathered by the DöW state that on 27 April 1942 a Katharina Fried, born 22 March 1883 in Hullein, was deported to the Jewish ghetto of a small Polish town near Lublin called Wlodawa.  She may have died there or may have been one of the many who were transported from there to the extermination camp at Sobibor, only 11km away. Further details of what happened can be found here: It is not known how her certificates were passed on to the Millers.

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 Martin Miller was initially just a stage name.
3 Since writing this blog I have been told that Katharina was one of Martin’s older siblings. Thanks very much to Daniel Miller and to Anonymous who commented on this post for letting me know.

The Laterndl re-alights at 153 Finchley Road

Three months after the government’s enforced closure of theatres at the start of the Second World War, the rules were relaxed as it appeared there was no immediate danger of bombing raids. In January 1940 the Laterndl reopened in new and larger premises at 153 Finchley Road in Hampstead, north London. The company’s first production there was their second Kleinkunst revue-style show, Blinklichter (or Beacons), which was composed of sketches by Albert Fuchs, Karl Stefan, Rudolf Spitz and Peter Preses. One sketch in particular was to spread Martin Miller’s name far beyond the bounds of the Laterndl and its audiences. His impersonation of Hitler at the Laterndl in this show led to his invitation to broadcast the speech on BBC radio.1

<em>Blinklichter</em> programme, 1940 (photocopy)

Blinklichter programme, 1940 (photocopy)

It was at 153 Finchley Road that Hannah first became actively involved with the Laterndl. Until then, Hannah had only been to the Laterndl as an audience member and had only met Martin briefly whilst working on a play in Austria. She accepted the role of English language conférencier (the term for ‘master of ceremonies’ in European cabaret) for Blinklichter, a job for which Fritz Schrecker and Martin Miller had tracked her down specially, knowing that she spoke good English.2 She then went on to take her first acting role on a London stage in two of the sketches in the company’s third Kleinkunstprogramm: Von Adam bis Adolf in February 1940.

Scripts for <em>Laterndl</em> shows 2 and 3, 1940

Scripts for Laterndl shows 2 and 3, 1940

The Laterndl’s new premises also saw the start of a programme of organised evenings dedicated to particular writers who had taken a critical stand against the growing National Socialistst threat to Austria in the 1930s. A series of evenings was held for Jura Soyfer, for example, who was an Austrian Jewish socialist journalist who had written plays for the cabaret stage in Vienna in the 1930s. Soyfer was known personally to some of the Laterndl players, and after his death in Buchenwald in February 1939 they were determined to keep alive his memory through the staging and reading of his works.  The three Welttheater shows performed in January 1940 were composed of his plays Der Lechner Edi schaut ins Paradies, Vineta, die versunkene Stadt and Der treueste Bürger Bagdads. For more information on Soyfer see

<em>Laterndl</em> events programme January 1940

Laterndl events programme January 1940

The last show to be performed at 153 Finchley Road was Brecht’s Dreigroschenoper in May 1940, one of a number of a number of full-length dramas the company would produce as part of their Weltliteratur evenings. However, the players were now confronted with a problem facing all refugees from Germany and Austria in 1940: the internment of enemy aliens.  Rehearsals saw the part of Mack the Knife played by three different male actors, as the first two actors were interned and had to be replaced. The loss of its main actors made it too difficult for the company to continue, and the Laterndl closed again, this time for 15 months.

1 Charmian Brinson and Richard Dove, ‘«Just about the best actor in England»: Martin Miller in London, 1939 bis 1945’, in Exilforschung: ein internationales Jahrbuch, ed. by Claus-Dieter Krohn (Munich: Text und Kritik, 1983- ), XXI: Film und Fotografie, ed. by Claus-Dieter Krohn and others (2003), pp. 129-140 (p. 130).
2 Archive of the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, University of London, Exile Archive, Interview with Hannah Norbert Miller by Charmian Brinson, December 1995.

Welcome from Project Archivist, Clare George

Hello, and welcome to my blog about a project to catalogue the papers of Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert Miller. Martin and Hannah were Austrian Jewish actors, active in the theatre in 1930s Vienna, who came to London as refugees in 1939. The couple were pivotal figures in German exile theatre in the UK during World War 2, and after the war they stayed in London and made it their home. While Hannah mainly worked for the BBC’s German language radio service, Martin featured in many British theatre productions, films and TV programmes alongside such important post-war theatre and film figures as Michael Redgrave, Peggy Ashcroft and Richard Attenborough. One of his best-known character roles was as the Führer himself, whom he parodied in numerous BBC radio and theatre sketches during the War.

After Hannah’s death in 1998, Daniel Miller, the couple’s son, deposited the papers that the couple had accumulated at what was then the Institute of Germanic Studies (now the Institute of Germanic & Romance  Studies, or IGRS), part of the School of Advanced Studies at the University of London. The IGRS is the home of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, whose work focuses on German-speaking émigrés to Britain in the 1930s, and which was in contact with many exiles who had remained in the UK after WW2, including Hannah.

The aim of this project is to sort, arrange and catalogue the collection on the University of London’s online catalogue, thereby making details of it available to the academic community and other researchers interested in exile history and the performing arts. I was delighted to be appointed as project archivist in charge of cataloguing and publicising this collection, a post which  is generously funded by the Miller Trust. Below you can see some of the collection as it is now – before any sorting and rehousing takes place.

Items from the collection

Items from the collection

For me this is a wonderful opportunity to open a window onto the lives of a couple who brought the tradition of political satire from the Austrian stage to UK theatres, and who continued to use it here as a means of opposing Hitler. The importance of the Millers’ role in maintaining the spirits of the refugee community, and allowing them to feel that they could in some way fight back against the Nazi regime, should not go unrecorded. Their actions seem to me to have been particularly admirable given how uncertain the refugees must have felt about their future, and what they must have feared for those friends and relatives who had not been able to emigrate.

In this blog I plan to reveal what I think are the highlights of this most fascinating collection. I will also use it to document my progress with the cataloguing process and set out some of the issues and questions which arise in connection with the collection’s arrangement and description. I would also love to hear from readers with any comments or suggestions about the issues raised in my blog posts, and I can contacted email on I would be particularly interested to hear from people who came to the UK as exiles themselves or their children of such people.  For further information about the archive collections held at the IGRS, please see our website or the Senate House Library catalogue