Bielenberg, Christabel (1911—)

views updated

Bielenberg, Christabel (1911—)

English writer. Born Christabel Burton in Totteridge, England, of Irish ancestry; married Peter Bielenberg (a lawyer), on September 29, 1934; children: John (b. 1935), Nicky (b. 1936), Christopher (b. 1942).

In 1932, while Christabel Bielenberg was studying to become an opera singer in Hamburg, she met her husband Peter, a law student, and they applied for a marriage license two years later. But when Christabel traded in her British passport, the German Embassy official remarked casually, "You've not made a very good swap I'm afraid."

The Bielenbergs were concerned about the country's unrest and the rise of Hitler. Settling in Hamburg, they enjoyed the friendship of liberals and intellectuals, including their best friends Adam and Clarita von Trott zu Solz, and Helmut Moltke. In 1939, naively thinking that the German generals were near revolt and that a political battle to oppose Hitler was still possible, the Bielenbergs moved to Berlin. Over the next 12 years, as they witnessed the cruelties of the Reich and desperately tried to enlist Allied support to start a revolution from within, they became tangentially involved in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944. When Peter was arrested, Christabel did all she could to secure his release.

Christabel Bielenberg chronicled her story in The Past Is Myself (1968), reprinted as Christabel (1984); it was adapted for "Masterpiece Theatre" in 1989. At the time of the book's reissue, Doris Lessing wrote in The Guardian that the book, published 16 years earlier, had "lost nothing of its value." The Bielenbergs managed to survive the war intact and eventually moved to Ireland.