Löwenstein, Helga Maria zu (1910—)
Löwenstein, Helga Maria zu (1910—)
Norwegian-born anti-Nazi activist, lecturer, and principal organizer of the German Academy of Arts and Sciences in Exile. Name variations: Princess Helga Maria of Loewenstein or Lowenstein; Princess Löwenstein. Born Helga Maria Schuylenburg in Norway on August 27, 1910; daughter of Dutch parents; married Prince Hubertus zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg (whose full name was Hubertus Maximilian Friedrich Leopold Ludwig Prinz zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg), in 1929; children: Elisabeth Maria (b. 1939); Konstanza Maria (b. 1942); Margareta Maria (b. 1948).
Although usually overshadowed by her husband, the anti-Nazi activist Prince Hubertus zu Löwenstein, Princess Helga Löwenstein was an effective propagandist in the cause of German freedom and a hard-as-nails enemy of the Hitler regime in her own right, on many occasions acting as an equal partner with her spouse in their common struggle against Fascism. Both members of this remarkable husband-wife team were born into the highest ranks of European nobility. Prince Hubertus, who was born in 1906 in a castle near Kufstein in the Austrian Tyrol, was part of a family from the Franconia region of Germany who had for many centuries played important roles in the history of the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg monarchy, and the German Reich. His mother Constance Baroness de Worms (1875–1962) was from a prominent family of British aristocrats being the daughter of Lord Henry Pirbright. Although his parents divorced in 1912, Hubertus remained strongly attached to his mother, an intelligent, strong-willed woman of markedly liberal ideas. It is more than likely that his easy acceptance of his wife's strongly held views harkened back to the example set by his mother, who feared no one when it came to expressing her ideas either in public or private. The Löwenstein family history, with connections throughout Europe, helps to explain at least in part his later defense of freedom and hatred of all forms of national chauvinism and racial intolerance. His grandmother, Baroness Todesco , was a Viennese aristocrat with Jewish family roots, and like most members of the highest circles of the pre–1914 European nobility, the young Prince Hubertus grew up in a sophisticated, cosmopolitan milieu free of racism and prejudice.
Helga Maria Schuylenburg grew up in an aristocratic environment similar to that of her future husband. She was born in Norway on August 27, 1910, during a visit to that country by her Dutch parents (her birth took place in a house that had once been occupied by the composer Edvard Grieg). The young princess grew up in Norway but from the start of her life considered herself to be a citizen of Europe, learning to speak flawless Dutch, Norwegian, German, French, and English as well as Danish and Swedish. Her family tree was at least as distinguished as that of her future husband, for she was a direct descendant of the duke of Alba, the harsh ruler of the Netherlands in the 1500s. Her parents were very forward-looking for their day, believing that their daughter deserved an education that would develop both her intellect and personality. Accordingly, young Helga Maria was sent to the Wickersdorf Academy, a famous school run along progressive lines in Thuringia, Germany. It was here that she met and fell in love with Hubertus Löwenstein, four years her senior and already involved in the political life of Weimar Germany. Helga and Hubertus were married in Palermo, Sicily, in 1929. At the time of her marriage she was still a Protestant, and one journalist described her as being "the first heathen princess of the Holy Roman Empire since the days of Widukind." In 1932, she converted to Roman Catholicism.
After Hubertus completed his doctoral degree in 1931, having written a dissertation dissecting fascist political theories, he became ever more engrossed in the turbulent political life of Germany in the depression-ridden 1930s. Helga helped with his correspondence, organized the research materials for his prolific newspaper articles, and entertained the many friends who stayed late into the night arguing over the best ways to save German democracy. Husband and wife were devout Catholics, but they did not share the views of many Catholics and Protestants who hated Marxism so much that they turned a blind eye to the violent and dictatorial nature of a Nazi movement that claimed that through "strong leadership" it alone would be able to save Western Christian civilization from Bolshevism and chaos. Although aristocratic and born to privilege, the Löwensteins were deeply committed to democratic ideals both politically and socially. A magazine article of 1936 described Princess Löwenstein as being "tolerant and democratic in the extreme." Their circle of friends extended from left-wing Socialists to monarchists, but all shared a belief in the necessity of democracy and the preservation of individual human rights. The busy couple put off having children in the early years of their marriage, the demands on their time being too great. By 1933, having a family presented a couple with grave responsibilities and burdens, for in that year the Nazis took over in Germany.
Prince Löwenstein's outspoken anti-Nazism since the late 1920s made him persona non grata in the nascent Third Reich, and Helga too suffered from the fury of the Nazis in April 1933 when a group of stormtroopers broke into their Berlin apartment, verbally assaulting her with threats. She took the next train to Austria, renting Neumatzen, an ancient castle built on Roman foundation stones near Brixlegg in Austria's Tyrol province. Here the Löwensteins continued their anti-Nazi activities despite growing hostility toward them by local Nazi militants who regarded them as "Jew-lovers" and "traitors to the New Germany." A number of incidents made clear that despite their living in a castle, the couple's views exposed them to considerable physical danger. Particularly in 1933, when the Austrian government had little success in preventing German Nazis from crossing over the mountain passes to assist their Austrian comrades in destabilizing the Vienna regime, the province of Tyrol was swarming with brown-shirted stormtroopers spoiling for violent confrontations. On one occasion when a unit of Nazis laid siege to Neumatzen castle, the prince told Helga to remain in a safe room with some trusted servants while he made an attempt to break out and seek assistance. This he did by running out of the castle, leaping into his American automobile, and flooring it out of the castle grounds past the startled Nazi besiegers. After what seemed like an eternity to Helga, who waited patiently in the darkened ramparts, she greeted Hubertus the next day at the head of a force of friendly police. The Nazis fled.
On another occasion, Princess Helga made newspaper headlines throughout Europe. Driving her Duesenberg through the streets of Innsbruck, she was surrounded by a squad of about 50 Nazi toughs, mostly students, for whom the Löwensteins were "dangerous Reds." They were particularly incensed by the fact that the car had attached to its radiator cap the black, red and gold colors of German republicanism, first flown in the revolution of 1848 and the official flag of the now hated (by the Nazis and their allies) Weimar Republic. A Nazi on a bicycle rode by and tore off the flag, but he had not reckoned with Helga Löwenstein, who whipped out a revolver and fired a number of warning shots into the air. The Nazi youths fled, the cyclist dropped his stolen banner, and Helga drove home with the feeling that if only diplomats behaved in a similar fashion, Nazi aggression could be nipped in the bud. Newspapers throughout Europe reported the incident, while in Germany the Nazi-controlled press shrieked that "the shooting princess, wife of an anti-national emigré, threatens patriotic pedestrians."
Despite infrequent moral victories, the next years were not easy for the Löwensteins. Their situation in tiny, weak Austria was precarious, given the fact that the impoverished Alpine republic was situated between the Mussolini and Hitler dictatorships and lacked a strong democratic tradition after the destruction of Vienna-centered Social Democracy in February 1934. Although family wealth insulated them from material worries, the psychological uncertainty of emigration sometimes weighed heavily on the couple. Hubertus had long been regarded as an outlaw by the Nazi state, and a bounty of 5,000 marks was offered to any German citizen who returned him to Germany. This situation became even more acute in November 1934 when the Nazis stripped the prince of his German citizenship, turning him into "a man without a country." The Löwensteins fought off depression by keeping intensely busy, he with lecture tours and the writing of books and newspaper and magazine articles, and she by reading, critiquing her husband's manuscripts, and organizing his busy schedule. Her contacts with an ever-growing circle of refugee artists, scholars and scientists made it clear that there was a pressing need to coordinate the cultural, educational and academic goals of the many thousands of anti-Nazis scattered throughout the world. Working with her husband, Helga founded the German Academy of Arts and Sciences in Exile. Since this organization received most of its funding from individuals and organizations in the United States, and since many of the refugees were in the U.S., another organization, the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom, became the de facto body to coordinate these efforts. With Thomas Mann and Sigmund Freud as honorary presiding officers, these bodies did much good by providing a forum for anti-Nazi discussions. More practically, they gave grants to refugee writers and artists and often assisted in the process of emigration and initial settlement in a new and strange cultural environment.
In April 1936, Princess Helga visited the United States to alert the American public to the Nazi threat and to raise funds for the work of the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom. Interviewed at the pier by The New York Times, she took advantage of the occasion to inform the citizens of New York of her scheduled appearance at Madison Square Garden on a program of the Committee for the Relief and Liberation of Victims of Persecution in Europe. Her 1936 tour, which raised sufficient funding to carry on the work of her organizations, also alerted many Americans to the Nazi danger.
In 1939, Helga Löwenstein gave birth to her first child, Elisabeth Maria, in the United States, where Hubertus had taken out his first citizenship papers in 1938. Two more daughters would be born: Konstanza Maria in the United States in 1942, and Margareta Maria in Germany in 1948. Despite the responsibilities of a young family, Helga spent the war years in the United States actively assisting her husband in his work and vigorously participating in German exile politics and culture in her own right. Until 1941, the Löwensteins lived in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, moving in January of that year to an 18th-century farmhouse Helga had discovered in the small village of Newfoundland, New Jersey, about 30 miles from the George Washington Bridge. She quickly turned the picturesque house into a home that was often filled with European refugees arguing into the night about various political and cultural controversies of the day. Newfoundland became a place of spiritual rejuvenation for the prince when he returned from lecture tours, and a small piece of Central Europe for refugees. For Helga and Hubertus, however, there were few doubts in their minds about the future. They returned to Germany in 1946 when that country was occupied by its victors and still in ruins. Over the next decades, they often traveled together to nations around the world as representatives of the new democracy that had arisen in the Federal Republic of Germany. Their partnership ended only with the prince's death in Bonn in November 1984.
Princess Helga continued their work of fostering European reconciliation by maintaining their old personal ties in Europe and the rest of the world, working with scholars studying the history of the anti-Nazi resistance in which both had played such an important role. She also appeared at conferences and ceremonies commemorating the struggles of the 1933–45 period when freedom in the West was menaced by several varieties of totalitarianism. Her old friends from these difficult years were delighted to see Princess Helga Löwenstein as guest of honor on many of these occasions, including the one that took place on May 15, 1994, at Port Bou for the unveiling of a monument to the German writer Walter Benjamin, who had committed suicide on the nearby French-Spanish border while fleeing the Nazis in July 1940. Had it not been for Helga and Hubertus Löwenstein, there would have been many more cases of suicide among the German refugee intellectuals of the 1930s.
"Exiled Princess Here," in The New York Times. April 17, 1936, p. 13.
Gibson, Michael. "A Memorial to Walter Benjamin," in International Herald Tribune. May 21–22, 1994, p. 7.
Helmond, Toke van. "'Dem Gedächtnis der Namenslosen,'" in Neues Deutschland. June 11–12, 1994, p.13.
Löwenstein, Hubertus Prinz zu. Abenteurer der Freiheit: Ein Lebensbericht. Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein Verlag, 1983.
——. Botschafter ohne Auftrag: Lebensbericht. Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1972.
Mammach, Klaus. "Deutsche Emigration in Österreich 1933–1938," in Jahrbuch für Geschichte. Vol. 38. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1989, pp. 281–309.
Pace, Eric. "Prince Loewenstein, Hitler Foe, Dies in Bonn at 78," in The New York Times Biographical Service. December, 1984, p. 1653.
"Princess Unterrified by Nazi Spies," in Literary Digest. Vol. 121, no. 18, May 2, 1936, p. 21.
Röder, Werner, and Herbert A. Strauss, eds. Biographisches Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration nach 1933. 4 vols. Munich: K.G. Saur, 1980.
John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia