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Loebinger, Lotte (1905—)

Loebinger, Lotte (1905—)

German actress who had a long and successful career on the stage and survived the great upheavals of the 20th century. Name variations: Charlotte Loebinger; Lotte Wehner-Loebinger (used in USSR and preferred by Loebinger even after her 1952 divorce); Lotte Loebinger-Wehner. Born on October 10, 1905, in Kattowitz, Upper Silesia, Germany (now Katowice, Poland); daughter of a physician; sister, Traute; married Herbert Wehner, in June 1927; children: one daughter.

In 1905, Lotte Loebinger was born, the daughter of a bourgeois physician, in Kattowitz, Upper Silesia. The privations of World War I and her father's death at the end of that conflict brought considerable changes to her family's circumstances. In 1920, Lotte moved with her mother and sister to Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein, where she began to work as a kindergarten teacher before switching to a job in retail sales. Secretly, she took lessons in elocution, hoping one day to become an actress. Lotte's older sister Traute, who had become an ardent member of the German Communist Party (KPD), persuaded her to join the Rote Hilfe organization, a KPD auxiliary which rendered assistance to political prisoners and other foes of the German capitalist state and society. Lotte's acting aspirations found at least a partial outlet when she began to participate in KPD agitprop (agitation and propaganda) activities, which included acting in impromptu plays and other forms of guerilla theater. In 1925, she set the basic direction of the remainder of her life when she joined the KPD, accepting its ideology and discipline. The same year, she began her acting career with a theater engagement in Breslau, Lower Silesia (now Wroclaw, Poland). Her performance was a success and soon brought her to Berlin.

There, she came to the attention of one of Germany's most innovative stage directors, Erwin Piscator. Working with him, Loebinger was an apprentice at the Volksbühne (People's Stage) where fellow apprentices were Heinrich Greif and Steffie Spira , actors who were also destined for distinguished careers. By 1929, Loebinger had become a highly regarded member of Piscator's ensemble, and for several years she toured Germany and Switzerland in Carl Crede's play Paragraph 218 (Women in Distress), a powerful attack on the German law that criminalized abortions. In 1931, Loebinger traveled to the Soviet Union, where she participated in Piscator's plan to make a motion picture based on the bestselling novel by Anna Seghers , Der Aufstand der Fischer von St. Barbara (The Revolt of the Fishermen of St. Barbara). There, she experienced the energies of a society in rapid change, while also being struck by its poverty, inefficiency, and the growing tendency of the Stalin dictatorship to stifle artistic creativity. But for Loebinger and her contemporaries in the theater, the enemy in the early 1930s was not Stalinist repression but the growing Nazi movement in Germany.

Back in Berlin, Loebinger continued to act in various theaters, earning critical plaudits. In her spare hours, she engaged in lively political debates and worked to create a coalition of actors from various political backgrounds in order to more effectively combat fascism. During this period, she often appeared on stage as a member of a non-socialist actors' collective, the Spielgemeinschaft Berliner Schauspieler (Performance Collective of Berlin Actors). Due to her marriage in June 1927 to Herbert Wehner, a Dresden-born KPD functionary, she was close to the center of KPD politics on the eve of the Nazi takeover. Almost from the start of their marriage, however, Loebinger did not live with her husband whose Communist activities, centered in Dresden, took up virtually all of his time and energy. In 1929, Wehner began living with Charlotte Treuber , and his marriage to Loebinger became no more than a matter of document. In 1937, they would meet for a final time in Moscow's Club for Foreign Workers. Frightened by the purges then underway, Wehner tore up a picture of himself that Loebinger had continued to display. He also requested from her a gold brooch that she had been given by her mother, in order to use the gold to replace the Soviet nickel metal in his dental fillings, thus eliminating all evidence that he had lived in the Soviet Union before his return to the capitalist West. Their marriage would not officially end until its termination by a civil court in Hamburg during November 1952.

In December 1933, Loebinger fled Nazi Germany to Poland, from which she was soon expelled as an undesirable foreigner. After a brief time in Czechoslovakia, she immigrated to the Soviet Union, where she first found work as a member of Gustav von Wangenheim's German theater troupe "Kolonne Links" (Column Left), a Moscow-based ensemble composed of emigré agitprop performers. In 1936, she collaborated with von Wangenheim to produce the anti-fascist motion picture Kämpfer (Those Who Struggle). In Moscow, she met a German refugee physician with whom she had a daughter, but within a few years he was arrested in the purges and died in a Gulag camp. Loebinger supported herself and her daughter by working as a German-language announcer in the foreign branch of Radio Moscow, where along with Heinrich Greif and Maxim Vallentin she became one of the best known among the personalities personifying "the good Germans." Loebinger was also active as a reader of German literature at meetings, and she taught the German language to some of her Russian comrades. Occasionally, she performed as an actress on the radio, as in 1940 when she took a role in the Johann Strauss, Jr., operetta Eine Nacht in Venedig (A Night in Venice). Unlike many of her fellow German exiles, Loebinger was not imprisoned in the Gulag. Herbert Wehner too was fortunate. He was sent on a mission to wartime Sweden, where in 1942 he would be expelled from the KPD. Wehner was able to recreate a life in politics, becoming one of the most influential Social Democratic leaders in postwar West Germany.

In 1945, Loebinger was among the first of the Soviet-based German emigrés to return to a war-shattered Berlin. In 1945–1946, she appeared on stage at the Deutsches Theater in several plays and also was featured in the first post-Nazi films made in occupied Germany. From 1947 through 1950, she appeared at several different theaters in Soviet-controlled East Berlin. Starting in 1952, and continuing well into the 1970s, she was one of the featured actresses of East Berlin's Maxim Gorki Theater, which produced mostly Russian and Soviet plays. In these, Loebinger customarily took the roles of warmhearted maternal personalities, and she became one of the favorite actresses of East Berlin theatergoers. By the end of her career at the Maxim Gorki Theater, Loebinger had more than 60 roles in her repertoire. She also served occasionally as a director, mainly producing the Soviet plays she had come to cherish during her years in Moscow. In 1975, she was honored with a commemorative article in the Socialist Unity Party (SED) newspaper Neues Deutschland, which congratulated her on several achievements that year, including her 70th birthday, the 50th anniversary of her having become a member of "the Party of the Working Class [KPD, later SED]," and her 50 years of work in the theater.

In her last years as an actress, Loebinger made appearances in two GDR television films, both directed by Thomas Langhoff, "Ich will nicht leise sterben" (I Will Not Die Quietly), and "Guten Morgen, du Schöne" (Good Morning, Beautiful Lady). On October 10, 1995, having survived governments, purges, wars, friends, and foes, she celebrated her 90th birthday in Berlin.

sources:

Diezel, Peter. Exiltheater in der Sowjetunion, 1932–1937. Berlin: Henschelverlag Kunst und Gesellschaft, 1978.

Haarmann, Hermann et al. Das "Engels" Projekt: Ein antifaschistisches Theater deutscher Emigranten in der UdSSR (1936–1941). Worms: Georg Heintz, 1975.

Freudenhammer, A. and K. Vater. Herbert Wehner: Ein Leben mit der Deutschen Frage. Munich: C. Bertelsmann Verlag, 1978.

Loebinger, Lotte. "Ich war Wehners erste Frau," in Bild am Sonntag. June 24, 1990, pp. 4–5.

"Lotte Loebinger," in Theater der Zeit, Vol. 50, no. 6. November–December, 1995, p. 103.

Pike, David. German Writers in Soviet Exile, 1933–1945. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1982.

Thompson, Wayne C. The Political Odyssey of Herbert Wehner. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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