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6 June 2018

Days of Masquerade – Life Stories of Lesbians during the Third Reich

Claudia Schoppmann Offered Readers the First In-Depth Account of the Life-Stories of Lesbians during the Nazi Reich

Dr. Claudia Schoppmann’s Days of Masquerade was another ground-breaking text when the English language edition was published in 1996. The slim, under 200 page book first appeared as a German-language publication three years earlier. It was pivotal for introducing readers to the life stories of ten lesbians who lived through Germany’s Weimar era and survived the Nazi Reich.

I met Claudia Schoppmann in November 2006 when she visited Toronto as part of the annual Holocaust Education Week program. During a public program  at the Metropolitan Community Church she shared her research , discussed her book and shed light on aspects of survival during the Reich that captivated the audience. Later during her visit she spoke to students at York University and offered an analysis of lesbian culture in Weimar era Berlin. In Days of Masquerade Schopmmann writes: “The image that lesbians had of themselves was generally modeled after the ideal of the financially independent working woman, often the androgynous “garçonne” type as personified by Marlene Dietrich (2). Of course Dietrich’s carefully constructed silhouette -wearing a man’s tuxedo and tophat – was heavily influenced by Josef von Sternberg for her 1930 breakout film Blue Angel. Frequently adopted as a signature look by lesbians in Weimar era Berlin demonstrates the not just the changing and evolving representations of gender during that period, but also the confidence that many women must have felt. National Socialism destroyed this burgeoning culture as cafés and meeting places were closed down, identities were concealed, and some women tried to secure visas and passage to other countries.

The life stories Schoppmann includes in Days of Masquerade are rich in detail and enable readers to catch a glimpse of an era that has long passed. They represent accounts or experience that are impossible to hear first-hand today. For example, one interviewee, Ruth Margarete Roellig was born in 1878, another, Gertrude Sandmann (seen in image on the right, p.78)  was born in 1893, and Claire Waldoff was born in 1884. Schoppmann’s work has been essential for making their life stories available for generations of readers and scholars who can read their lively descriptions of life in Weimar Germany. It also provides us with gendered perspectivies of how National Socialism affected the lives of women, how they responded and how they were able to survive a regime that aimed to end lesbian culture in Weimar Germany.

I could continue to write and  comment upon this remarkable work; it contains rich narratives that draw the reader into another time. One of my personal favorite vignettes is from Annette Eick (image left, p.115 courtesy C. Schoppmann). Describing the role of luck or fate in her survival she describes an encounter with an elderly Prussian official working at a government office. She needed an extension to her passport in order to leave for England. Even though it was illegal under the Nazi regime for her to receive a passport extension, the Prussian bureaucrat quietly authorised it. A reminder that in the midst of the darkness, there are shards of light and people willing to help others. Like all the resources I am recommending during Pride Month, I strongly recommend reading it for yourself.



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Carson Phillips, Ph.D.

Written byCarson Phillips, Ph.D.

Carson Phillips holds a Ph.D. in Humanities from York University, Toronto, Canada and is Managing Director of the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre. He served as a Canadian delegate to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance from 2009-2014 and currently continues as an advisor to the Funding Review Committee. In addition, he is an adjunct faculty member in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Gratz College, USA.

He is the recipient of numerous scholarly awards including the 2013 BMW Canada Award for Excellence from the Canadian Centre for German and European Studies. His research interests focus on post-Holocaust conceptualisations of gender, Väterliteratur and cultural representations of the Holocaust in screen and visual culture.