Litten, Irmgard (1879–1953)

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Litten, Irmgard (1879–1953)

German anti-Nazi activist and author of memoirs, Beyond Tears. Born Irmgard Wüst in Halle/Saale, Germany, on August 30, 1879; died in East Berlin on June 30, 1953; married Fritz Julius Litten (1873–1939), a noted University of Königsberg law professor; children: Hans Achim Litten (1903–1938); Heinz Wolfgang Litten (1905–1955); Rainer Litten (1909–1972).

Born in Halle/Saale, Germany, on August 30, 1879, into a respected academic family, Irmgard Wüst studied art history and married Fritz Julius Litten, a noted University of Königsberg law professor of Jewish origins who had converted to Lutheranism. Her son, Hans Achim Litten, became a well-known attorney who specialized in defending controversial Leftists in the often biased courts of Weimar Germany. As a consequence of her family being perceived by Nazis and nationalists as both racially and politically "un-German," even before 1933 Irmgard Litten began to feel the effects of xenophobia and ideological intolerance. The Nazi seizure of power was a catastrophe for the Littens: Fritz was dismissed from his academic post, and much worse, her son Hans was thrown into Dachau concentration camp as a "Marxist sympathizer." Litten used all the stratagems at her employ to secure her son's release. In the early years of the Nazi regime, world opinion was still deemed important, because the fragile German economy could be threatened by boycotts. As a consequence, Litten hoped for sufficient foreign pressure to effect her son's liberation from Dachau. For several years she worked to free him, using her contacts within Nazi Germany, as well as bringing the case to the attention of the foreign press. At times, it appeared that her son might indeed be released, but in February 1938 she and her husband received word that Hans had "committed suicide" while in Dachau.

Their struggle over, the Littens immigrated to Great Britain, where Irmgard wrote a book about her long battle. Appearing simultaneously in Paris, London, and New York, Beyond Tears:A Mother Fights Hitler contained few revelations about the nature of Nazi rule, but impressed critics with its humanity and the tenacity of its author. A Spanish-language edition appeared in Mexico City in 1941. In England, where her husband died soon after their arrival, Litten received assistance from the Quakers and, despite her age, became active in the exile community's anti-Nazi work. She joined the German branch of the writers' club PEN, also becoming active in groups led by the author Kurt Hiller and in the Communistdominated Free German Movement (FDB). She withdrew from the FDB in 1944, when the party line and her own viewpoints clashed over policy for postwar reconstruction of Germany. After the war, Litten returned to Germany, settling in East Berlin but eschewing a public life other than supervising the first German edition of her book in 1947. Her two surviving sons, Heinz and Rainer, both of whom had chosen careers in the theater, returned from exile to be with their mother in the German Democratic Republic. Irmgard Litten died in East Berlin on June 30, 1953.


Litten, Irmgard. Beyond Tears. NY: Alliance Book Co., 1940.

Röder, Werner, and Herbert A. Strauss, eds. Biographisches Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration nach 1933. 4 vols. Munich: K.G. Saur, 1980.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia