Category: world war ii history

DECEMBER 23: Christa Winsloe (1888-1944)

German novelist and artist, Christa Winsloe, was born on this day in
1888. She is most well-known for having penned the play Gestern und heute,
which was eventually adapted into the iconic lesbian film Mädchen in Uniform.

An undated photograph of a young Christa Winsloe (x).

Christa Winsloe
was born on December 23, 1888 in Darmstadt, Germany. Her mother died when she
was just an infant and she was put in the care of distant family. However,
there was little love there and Christa was sent off to a notoriously strict
boarding school – Kairserin-Augusta-Stift in Potsdam – as soon as she was of
age. She was married off to a rich Hungarian writer named Ludwig Hatvany as soon
as she left the school.

During the
first years of her marriage, Christa wrote her very first novel. Das Mädchen Manuela (“The Child
Manuela”) was based on her years spent at Kaiserin-Augusta-Stift and her
desire to see the piece published caused strain on her young marriage; Ludwig,
a popular writer in his own right, wished for Christa to simply be his wife, not the independent artist she saw herself as. The marriage eventually ended in divorce
and in 1933 Das Mädchen Manuela would finally be published. Christa’s magnum
opus would be the play Gestern und heute
(“Yesterday and Today”). It first premiered on the stage in Leipzig
in 1930 and would be renamed to Children in Uniform when it was performed in
London in 1932. The play’s success resulted in an iconic film adaptation that
we have covered multiple times on the blog.

Christa’s first
lover was an American newspaper journalist named Dorothy Thompson. The two met in the years leading up to World War II when Dorothy was
reporting from Berlin, the same city where Christa had found a home in the Weimar era
lesbian subculture. Their relationship eventually fell apart when the Nazis
rose to power and Christa was forced to flee to France. There, she joined the
French Resistance and found a new lover in fellow freedom fighter Simone
Genet. The two women would die together on June 10, 1944 when they were gunned
down by four Frenchmen in the country town of Cluny after the men falsely
believed them to be Nazi spies.


NOVEMBER 25: Myra Hess (1890-1965)

The English composer and pianist
Myra Hess passed away on this day in 1965. Although her lesbianism has often
been shrouded by the history books, she is most well-known today for her “blackout
concerts” performed during the London Blitz.

Myra Hess photographed playing Mendelssohn (x).

Myra Hess was born on February 25,
1890 in Kilburn, London. She was the youngest of 4 children born into the Hess’s Jewish middle-class home and she began taking music lessons at the young age of
5. Two years later, she would begin her formal education at The Guildhall
School of Music. She eventually went on to study at The Royal Academy of Music,
debuting in 1907 with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. Throughout the 1920s
and 1930s, she toured Europe and found special success
in America as an ensemble player for many major jazz bands of the day.

Her legacy was cemented just weeks
after the beginning of the Second World War. Due to the London Blitz, all the
concert halls in the city were put on blackout so as to avoid being targets for
German bombers. Myra found a way around this by putting on what she called
lunchtime concerts – performances that were put on in the concert halls during
the day rather than at the traditional time of the evening. Over the course of six
year, Myra put on over 2,000 lunchtime concerts for the people of London.

Myra remained unmarried throughout
her life and maintained close relationships with other openly lesbian composers
and musicians of her day such as Maude Valerie White and Irene Scharrer. With that said, little
is known about the truth of Myra’s sexuality. Most historians accept the fact
of her “intense relationships with women,” and yet are reluctant to label her
as a lesbian historical figure. However, whichever label Myra would have chosen
for herself if she were living in contemporary times, it is undeniable that by
the time of her death on November 25, 1965, she had lived a life as a “woman
identified woman.”