Interesting Women : Arletty

From “La Defence” to Paradise, and back. *
Léonie BATHIAT (1898-1992) (Ger., Eng., Fr.) was a French actress … and much more is in her biography.


She was born into a working class family in the Parisian suburb Courbevoie (Ger., Eng.), near the old fortress La Defence (Ger., Eng.) – later the ambiguous title of her autobiography. Her  father worked in the tramway repair shops and died early from a work accident. Through WWI young Léonie was working in the war industry, later she became a revue girl. She was twenty at the end of The Great War.

She had learned the typewriter and was eager for independence, and soon she entered the stage, singing nice and not so nice chansons, best together with her friend Sacha GUITRY (Ger., Eng.). She spend time in the Berlin of the late twenties, and finally made it from the boulevard theatre stages into the film industry, her first role 1930, later she was filming in Babelsberg (Ger., Eng.). Her friend in those days (and until his death in the 1960s) was a certain Jean-Pierre DUBOST, whom she refused to marry despite his offers. She said that she did not want “husband or sons slaughtered in the next war” – right she was : the next war came right to her front door in Paris.
When her fees increased she lived in a luxurious hotel, the Lancaster near Champs Elysée, and in 1941 a Luftwaffenoffizier named Hans Jürgen SOEHRING (1908-1960) (Ger.) crossed her path. Ten years her younger, it was passion, and they lived it.


SOEHRING was by no means a super-aryan-yippyayeah-nazi burning for the Fuehrer, but a well-educated and cosmopolitan man.
He was born in Istanbul, the son of a German diplomat went to schools all over Europe, even in Germany. Finally he studied Rechts- und Staatswissenschaften in Leipzig, Berlin, Grenoble ; he had visited the London School of Economics, later was trained in Santiago de Chile & Valparaiso ; he spoke of course English, Spanish and French with a small accent, and came to Paris in the rank of an Oberstleutnant (Ger., Eng.). In fact he was a Feldrichter, a judge responsible for inner-Luftwaffe jurisdiction.
He was not an opportunist, he simply wanted to survive, at least that is my opinion about him. They met & and made the best out of it.
SOEHRING did not wear his uniform at social occasions, only when it was not to be avoided. ARLETTY sure realised how many poisoned glances & glimpses she got, (” J’étais la femme la plus invitée, je suis la plus évitée.” she said after 1945), and SOEHRING was not too dumb to ignore it.

The French society of forties’ Paris did not like this liaison, the German command either. So at the end of 1943 Hans Juergen was degraded (for what reasons ever) to NCO and shown the direct path to the front. He served in Italy (Montecassino, spring 1944, no fun) and was promoted there from Unteroffizier to officer again (Leutnant, later Oberleutnant). Finally he was transferred back to the Reichskriegsgericht (Ger.). His job at this institution was to put together files about the Bund Deutscher Offiziere (Ger.) and the Nationalkommitee Freies Deutschland (Ger., Eng.). I guess one could call this intelligence work.

ARLETTY and SOEHRING always held contact, even managed to see each other, but their ways parted. She made him write, and that is what he did. And interestingly enough Hans Juergen SOEHRING is a founding member of the famous Gruppe 47 (Ger., Eng.) – he was there at the very first meeting in Bannwaldsee.
While SOEHRING was fighting, ARLETTY had the most important role of her life : She was Garance la beautè / la reine in Les Enfantes du Paradis (Ger., Eng.) – one of the most important films of European cinema – no matter whether you like European, especially French, cinema, or not – this is one of the most important fillums ever made – how and why and what is a novel in its own right. And ARLETTY is an important part of it.


Life moves on – and while Les Enfants was shown in France, ARLETTY was doin’ time : She sat in Drancy (shortly before used by the Nazis for the Jews, Ger., Eng.) for some months and later had to appear before a tribunal d’épuration, a court for cleansing. They had her hair not shaven, and seemingly were not quite clear about the points of accusation – she had not collaborated, never had appeared in a German (propaganda-)film, never visited Berlin to meet Goebbels – she had had an affaire with a German officer, was a star, and it did not feel right.
And ARLETTY was not shy. She told the judge “Si mon cœur est français, mon cul, lui, est international !” – as fine at this is, it does not help in the face of a humiliated nation. She was sentenced, banned from appearing on stage, and was not allowed to come near Paris at a distance of 80 kilometers ; for two years. She could not reconnect to her pre-war success when she had stared for example besides a young Jean GABIN (in Le jour se lève, 1939 ; Jean would then go to Hollywood, where Marlene was waiting, nervously, perhaps) – she returned into business, but it was not the same as before.

SOEHRING married (perhaps, was married ; two sons) and joined the German Foreign Office in 1951. He became Consul in Luanda (Ger., Eng.) (Angola) in 1956, then (seemingly in the same year) Generalkonsul in Leopoldville, today Kinshasa (Ger., Eng.), and finally in June 1960 full ambassador, after the founding of the Republic of Kongo (Ger., Eng.).
The family went to a swim in the Kongo River (Ger., Eng.), Sunday 9th of October 1960. Hans Juergen SOEHRING simply vanished in the river and never was found – heart attack, maelstrom ? Possibly a crocodile.
ARLETTY had a good relationship with the family, of course she visited. She had no more major success in film or on stage. In 1966 she received an injury from an accident and lost her eyesight totally. She lived in Paris, at last in some social housing, near to poverty and basically forgotten, until her death 1992. Here she is (via).
What an interesting woman.


This post is largely based on the article Eine Liebe in Zeiten des Krieges by Klaus HARPPRECHT (Ger., about), in : Die ZEIT, 8. X. 2009 (32, 2009) (here).


Interesting Women: Peggy Guggenheim

David’s cracking (since 2008 btw), armer Hund. Three hundred years leaning at an angle in front of the signoria ; all that bird crap ; then brought into a house & cleaned with distilled water ; today stared at by thousands and thousands of people every day, who make the bottom shake in veneration, no wonder the ankles give in : Stronger men crumbled earlier.

I am not yet finished with the autobiography of Peggy GUGGENHEIM * (Ger., Eng). Her first name is Marguerite. (Beautiful.)
I have followed her through her childhood (the beloved father, who sank with the Titanic), her Backfischjahre – until she decided that virginity is overrated and that her later first husband (Ger.) should work through all the positions she had seen on those Italian postcards of the Pompeian frescoes -, right into her first, stormy, marriage.
I confess that I flipped through her book a bit and especially had a look at the chapter that deals with her return to America from war ridden “old Europe”, finally on 13th of July 1941 on board of a clipper (Ger., Eng.) : “Wir waren elf Leute: ein Ehemann, zwei Ex-Ehefrauen, ein zukünftiger Ehemann und sieben Kinder” / “We were eleven people: one husband, two ex-wives, one future husband and seven children.”
What surprises and touches me is that she was a beaten wife. Her first husband, Laurence VAIL, the father of her two children Sindbad ** and tragic Pegeen (Eng.), was a beater, who, when drunk (pretty often) liked to make a scene and punch his wife in public and in private.
Being part of la boheme and at the cutting edge of avantguarde does not automatically make a man recognise that women are equal human beings, no punching bags & not just the mothers of children, who also do a little painting & writing ‘n stuff. I had to understand this a new. The cultural history of the Western & European societies through the 20th century is dominated by groups of painters, writers, artists etc. that are male dominated – at least thinking of it right now, I can not come up with a female dominated group. Not even a female group. I think the more important is the exhibition “31 Women” GUGGENHEIM curated in the 40s. (Look at this blog for them, read more there.)
Maybe it is time to do something along this lines now, at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century ? I may be out of touch – and I am really not involved in gender history – but would it not be interesting to have an overview over women’s art since the second world war, at least in the West ?
Possibly someone already did this – please point me in the right direction, dear readers !

Peggy’s husbands – as far as I read now – were disappointing: Number one was a beater ; number two an alcoholic, who died after a surgical procedure (I have not found out, what they were doing ; it was carried out in their private home, and is always referred to as a “minor intrusion” ; the doctors went away after telling her that her husband was dead ; yeah, there’s really nothing left to do then … ) ; number three was an idiot ; number four was Max ERNST (Ger., Eng.), I still have to read about this marriage.
She really lived it all, came a very long way, and she is definitely a very – very – interesting woman, this strange Marguerite GUGGENHEIM.

* GUGGENHEIM, Peggy: Ich habe alles gelebt. Bekenntnisse einer Sammlerin aus Leidenschaft, Bern und München, 3. Aufl. 1980 (zuerst: Out of this Century – Confessions of an Art Addict, 1946)

** I found nothing about him on the web. Am I too lazy ?

Interesting Women: Countess Lanckorońska

“Polish art historian” – this is really a bit too sparse as description for this woman.
Karolina Maria Adelajda Franciszka Ksawera Małgorzata Edina Gräfin LANCKORONSKA (1898-2002) (Ger., Eng., obit.) was the child of count Karl LANCKORONSKI (Ger., Eng.) (1848-1933) and his third wife Margarethe (1863-1954), a born LICHNOWSKY. The brother of Karolina’s mother was the count LICHNOWSKY mentioned here. Karolina had a sister Adelajda, and a half-brother from her father’s first marriage, Anton (1893-1965), none of the siblings married.
She grew up in Vienna, where the family lived in a pretty large palais (Ger., Eng.) that sadly & unnecessarily was destroyed after the war. The large art collection left little Karolina with no other choice but to seriously study art history.
The countess was a romantic patriot. She learned the Polish language from a gouvernante, her father wanted her to speak English and French, her Prussian mother preferred to converse in German. So when in 1919 the Polish state finally came into being she became a Polish subject. She stayed in Vienna, studied art history and did her doctorate about Michelangelo in 1926. Ten years later she habilitated at the university (Ger., Eng.) of Lemberg (Ger., Eng.), today Ukraine, where she received an assistant professorship – thus she became the first Polish habilitated art historian altogether. Her brother took care of the family estate in Galizia.
In 1939 Poland was not only attacked, but divided and Lemberg was occupied by the Red Army. The palais in Vienna (and everything in it (!) ) was seized by the then German gouvernement. The family estate in Galizia was lost to the communist state. To escape the imminent Stalinistic deportation (think Katyn (Ger., Eng. !) she went into the German occupied area in March 1940. She had already contact to the Polish resistance and in Krakow she met the head of the Armia Kraiowa (Ger., Eng.) KOMOROWSKI (Ger., Eng.), aka general BOR. She worked for the RGO, a Polish caritative organisation, and as courier for the AK.
At the beginning of 1942 the countess came to Stanisławów (Ger., Eng.), today in the Ukraine, where the local head of the Gestapo, Hans KRÜGER (Ger.) had her arrested. KRÜGER was a bloody murderer, and during an interrogation he bragged about his involvement in the massacre of the Lemberg professors (Ger., Eng.) of July 1941. This was a part of HIMMLER’s plan to eradicate the “Polish intelligence”. KRÜGER btw was jailed for other murders and crimes he committed, not for the Lemberg massacre, even the SS itself had him arrested for a year; the countess tried in vain to reach his conviction for this crime in 1968.
Countess LANCKORONSKA stayed in Gestapo jails until she was sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp, yes – full circle, where she arrived at the beginning of 1943. She was not executed in the Ukraine because the Italian Royal family had turned to HIMMLER in her favour. In March 1945 she was put on a transport to Switzerland, after the head of the Red Cross BURCKHARDT (Ger., Eng.) had intervened – I think these transports must be seen in the light of HIMMLER’s attempts to negotiate; he seemingly seriously thought that he could get away. So the countess and other people survived because the head of the SS used them as jetons, tokens.
The countess now was a Polish emigrant for the rest of her life. She first lived in Switzerland and later settled in Rome, where she helped survivors (Ger., Eng.) of the Anders (Eng.)-Armee (Ger., Eng.).
She did not accept a call to Fribourg university (Ger., Eng.), but stayed independent, kept on publishing, took care of the remains of the family’s art collection – she donated it after 1989 to the free & democratic Polish state – and founded the Polnische Historische Institut in Rome.
“Formidable, frugal and fit”, as the obituary describes her, she survived all of them. Interesting woman.

Interesting Women: Wilhelmina Bohemica

Innocently reading through an introduction to European mysticism* I found a strange person mentioned, Wilhelmine von Böhmen. In the chapter about Italian mystics the usual suspects are listed like Dante, Francisus, Angela da Foligno (Ger., Eng.), Katharina da Siena (Ger., Eng.; book) et al. In the last paragraph Guglielma (Vilemina, Wilhelmine) Bohemica is called a stigmatised. The list of catholic stigmatised people is pretty long I guess, but I have never heard about a Bohemian Wilhelmina.
As WEHR says she appeared in Milano (Ger., Eng.) around/after 1260, formed a group of followers, and died there 1279 (according to wikipedia 1281). The group believed that the holy ghost was embodied in Wilhelmina, and that the new æra of the renovated ecclesia spiritualis (what would start according to Joachim von Fiore (Ger., Eng.) in the year 1260) would be dominated by the charismatic woman, she’d be the new pope.
The  body of source material is very thin, it seems to be only one report: The Carthusian monk Matteo VALERIANO (I could find nothing about him) went into a grocer’s store (Where? When?) “in the 16th century” and noticed that the goods were wrapped in sheets of written pergamentum. He bought the “wrapping paper”. It was the file on the process of the Wilhelminiten by the notarius Beltramus SALVAGNIUS (no further info), sadly not complete. There must have been another report, the second notarius was Manfredo da CERA (no further info), but it is seemingly lost.  The wikipedia-article mentions that “in 1788 the archive in Milano burnt down”, but I do not know what archive is meant, and could not verify this.
Wilhelmina** was the daughter of king Ottokar I. Premysl (Ger., Eng.) from Bohemia and his second wife Constance from Hungaria (Ger., Eng.). She was born 1210 and died on the 24th of August 1281 in Milano. She was first buried in the cemetery of San Pietro all’Orto, later her body was brought into the abbey of Chiaravalle (Ger., Eng.). Her successor was Mayfreda PIROVANO of the cloister in Biassono (Ger., Eng.).
The idea was that the renovatio of the church, the already mentioned start of the new æra, would be led and dominated by females and that the holy spirit was embodied in Wlhelmina. Her successor Mayfreda acted as pope to their adherents and they formed not only a loose group, but a real sect. Mayfreda  teached, preached, and administered the sacraments. Her followers called her in letters “dominus meus dominus vicarius”, a formula reserved for the pope, they also kissed her foot and hand. In 1284 the inquisition  took notice of the group, some members were interrogated; they renunciated their errors, received a symbolic punishment and that was that.
In 1296 pope Bonifacius VIII. (Ger., Eng.) signed the bulla S[a]epe Sanctam Ecclesiam (aka Nuper ad Audientiam***), where in the first part practices were described as heretic that the Guglielmites seemingly had accepted: Women preaching, solving and binding, hearing confession, giving absolution, wearing the tonsur (Ger., Eng.). The final blow came 1300. Mayfreda held the Easter liturgy on the 10th of April. She was called before the inquisition on the 19th; a new process started on the 20th of July, and in September Mayfreda, together with Jacoba BASSANI, Bellacara CARENTANO, Andreas SARAMITA, and the remains of Wilhelmina, was burnt to death. The rest of the group survived.
Sister Mayfreda belongs to the important Milanese VISCONTI family, cousin of a Matteo VISCONTI, and interestingly a Galeazzo VISCONTI is among the members of the heretic group. Whether there is a connection to “Aradia di Toscano” (Ger., Eng.) is imho at least doubtful.

* WEHR, Gerhard: Europäische Mystik zur Einführung, Hamburg 1995 (Zur Einführung 121)
** I follow the German wikipedia article.
*** I cite this bulla following the aformentioned wikipedia-article, but am unable to verify this: I have not found such a bulla. Maybe it is another papal instrumentum; if anyone can shed some light on this, I’d be very happy to complement this!