Angelika Schrobsdorff (1927-2016)

Angelika Schrobsdorff was the granddaughter of the architect Alfred Schrobsdorff (1861-1940) who built much of the Charlottenburg suburb in Berlin. She spent her teenage years (from 1938 onwards) as an exile from Nazi persecution in Bulgaria because her mother, Else Kirchner, was a Jew. She returned to West Germany in 1947; he mother died of multiple sclerosis in 1948. In 1961 Schrobsdorff’s novel Die Herren; The Men caused a sensation in West Germany because of its candid depictions of female sexual experiences and female infidelity. In 1971 she married Claude Lanzmann and moved to Paris with him; the marriage lasted a decade – Lanzmann would later go on to direct the epic documentary film Shoah (1985). Schrobsdorff moved to Jerusalem in 1983 and lived there for over two decades, writing about her experiences there. In 2006 she left Israel because of the political situation and returned to Berlin, the town of her birth, where she died after a long illness at the age of 88.

Die Herren; The Men (1961/1986)

This epic autobiographical novel tells the story of Eveline Clausen from the age of fourteen (in the early 1940s) to the age of thirty (in the late 1950s). Each of the ten chapters recounts the story of her relationship with a different man in her life. Told as a first-person narrative, the novel presents a clear and unvarnished view of relationships between the sexes in this period.

Eveline Clausen is the daughter of a well-known German architect and a Jewish mother (like the author herself). The novel begins in Sofia in Bulgaria in 1941, where Eveline, her mother and her sister Bettina are staying in order to avoid persecution by the Nazis. (During World War Two, Bulgaria refused to deport its Jews to Nazi Germany, and many Bulgarian Jews survived).

After the end of the war, Eveline Clausen begins her career as a typist in the American mission in Sofia. Her sister Bettina is interned in a camp by the communist regime. Eveline marries an American lieutenant in order to get out of Bulgaria. She moves to Munich, and embarks on an affair with film director Werner Fischer. Her lesbian maid Ute shoots a gun at her husband and is arrested. Eveline divorces her husband and embarks on an affair with a married man, an aristocrat. She dumps the film director and falls in love with a journalist, Franz-Ludwig Schulenburg. The two of them have a son, Alexander. She torments Schulenburg with her infidelity and he beats her up. In Stuttgart, she prostitutes herself for Schulenburg and she sleeps with his boss so that Schulenburg can keep his job. At the end of Chapter 8, she leaves Schulenburg. This is where the first edition of the novel ends.

When the novel was first published in 1961, it caused a scandal because of its explicit depictions of sexual experiences. However, the last two chapters were not even published until 1986 because they were considered too politically explosive: in Chapter 9, set in 1956 at the height of the Suez Crisis, the protagonist travels to Bonn where she encounters an anti-Semitic West German MP who is involved in selling weapons to Syria to use against Israel. And in Chapter 10 she falls in love with Robert Schütz, a half-Jew who is planning to emigrate to Israel.

Although the novel was a landmark and a bestseller at the time, it has been largely ignored by scholars and critics, partly because of its popular success and partly because it is told in an aesthetically conservative, traditional style. However, the content of the novel is genuinely shocking and full of psychological insights, with its lucid descriptions of the battle of the sexes and of post-war life in Munich from the outsider perspective of a ‘half-Jew’. Because of this, the novel towers above much of the anodyne fiction and cinema of the post-war period. With its assured dissection of the political accommodations and gender battles of 1950s West Germany, the novel anticipates the difficult subject matter of authors such as Ingeborg Bachmann, Hubert Fichte, and the film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

English Translation

Angelika Schrobsdorff, The Men, trans. by Michael Bullock (London: Collins, 1963)

Further Reading in German

Rengha Rodewill and Beatrix Brockman, Angelika Schrobsdorff: Leben ohne Heimat, ed. by Agentur Wort + Kunst (Berlin: be.bra Verlag, 2017)

Web Links in German

Interviews with the author around the time of her eightieth birthday in 2008

Obituary in Die Zeit, 1 August 2016

Trailer for the film Ausgerechnet Bulgarien [Bulgaria of all places] (2006), about the author and her family