in The Third Reich was never as strong as in the occupied countries of
Europe. Nevertheless, there were a few brave souls who risked everything
to defy Hitler and the Nazi Régime, among them the perpetual rebel
Countess Maria von Maltzan. She battled on to the end and was prepared to
pay the ultimate price to rescue Jews.
Maria Helene Francoise Izabel von Maltzan was born on March 25th,
1909, to enormous wealth in Silesia, Germany, and was raised on a private
estate - 18.000 acre - as the youngest of eight.
decided to study veterinary medicine, quite unusual for a girl during this
time. Her family was strictly against the idea, but her teachers supported
her and she got the permission. In 1928 she made her exam in Berlin and
five years later she got her doctorate in natural sciences.
sense of justice made her join different resistance movements against
the Nazis as early as 1933 and for years she worked as an
underground-fighter. As the brutality of the Nazi Régime accelerated with
murder, violence and terror, the seeds of their plan for the total
extermination of the Jews dawned on Maria von Maltzan in all its horror -
and she immediately decided to act ..
always responded to calls for help and took the Jews into her own home,
fed and protected them, right under the noses of the Gestapo. Throughout
the war Maria von Maltzan provided a safe haven for more than 60 Jews,
arranging for them to escape to safety. She falsified official
visas and other documents and helped many Jews escape from Berlin in
trucks that she often drove herself.
WW2 she got to know the Jewish author Hans Hirschel, the former editor of Das
Dreieck, an avant-garde German literary journal founded in 1925. From
1942 to the end of the war she sheltered Hirschel in a special hiding
place inside a couch in her living room, thus saving his life at the peril
of her own.
According to The Simon Wiesenthal Center Hans Hirschel
managed to continue to write in his hiding place because of Maria
von Maltzan: Hirschell
also had a great deal of specific work - more, ironically, than he had
ever had in normal times - articles, book reviews, radio plays, even short
books. It was Maria who would obtain the assignments, ostensibly for
herself. She would then give them to Hans to do, along with the research
the Nazi Gestapo came to the flat and Hans Hirschell was hiding in the
couch. Maria had fixed the couch so that it was impossible to open, and
covered his hiding place with a thin material. She drilled holes in it for
air, and every day she put a glass of water in there with a little codeine
to suppress a cough. The SS officer asked, 'How do we know nobody is
hiding in there?' Maria answered, 'If you're sure someone is in
there, shoot. But before you do that, I want a written signed paper from
you that you will pay for new material and the work to have the couch
recovered after you put holes in it.'
SS officer didn't do a thing. He left ...
became pregnant with Hans's baby. She later recalled how the new-born baby
was placed in an incubator and the hospital was bombed. The electricity
running the incubator stopped and the baby died. Shortly afterwards she
adopted two little girls of a children's camp.
the war Maria married Hans Hirschel but the marriage failed. They
separated after two years, then remarried in 1972. Hans Hirschel died in
the post-war-years Maria had many difficulties, but grateful Jews, who
never forgot her heroism, helped her survive bitter years. Because of the
horrors of the war she became addicted to drugs and she later recalled how
she was thrown in an insane asylum and had to scrub floors day after day.
Maria von Maltzan spent many years in a Berlin slum, and in an interview
she told about her life in Berlin:
quite engaged in social things now because this part of Berlin is a
perfect slum. They don't like me to say it. I really stand up for this
part of Berlin, Kreuzberg. They've shoved everybody into this area -
Turks, colored people, Poles, everyone stuck into this corner! We have
houses with eight flats on one floor with one w.c. on the staircase. The
police, you can't imagine how brutal they are down here, beating. If I see
it - because you can see I have big corner windows with a clear view - I
go down and get hold of the police and say, "Why are you beating
these people?" And the silly police say to me, "Perhaps you like
colored here!" "Well, " I say, "I prefer them to
perpetual rebel Countess Maria von Maltzan died on November 12th, 1997.
Block and Malka Drucker spent three years interviewing rescuers from ten
countries. In their book Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust
they tell about their meeting with Maria von Maltzan, who acted with such
humanity in a time of barbarism:
"The taxi asks us to
check our address in West Berlin - this is not a good neighborhood.
But we soon learn that Countess von Maltzan, born to enormous wealth in
Silesia, in Germany, lives in this primarily Turkish 'slum,' as she calls
it, with pride and conviction. Although the apartments around her have
been burglarized, hers is left unharmed because neighbors know her as a
friend of the weak and powerless .."