Pauli, Hertha (1909–1973)

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Pauli, Hertha (1909–1973)

Austrian-born writer, actress, literary agent, and screenwriter. Born Hertha Ernestine Pauli in Vienna, Austria, on September 4, 1909; died in Bay Shore, Long Island, New York, on February 9, 1973; daughter of Wolfgang Pauli and Bertha Schütz Pauli; sister of Wolfgang Pauli, who won the Nobel Prize in physics; married Ernest B. Ashton (Ernst Basch), in 1951.

In 1909, Hertha Pauli was born in Vienna into an assimilated Jewish family of great talents. Her father Wolfgang Pauli was both a successful physician and a pioneering investigator of the emerging science of biochemistry, while her mother Bertha Schütz Pauli , a descendant of the dramatist Friedrich Schütz, was a regular contributor to Vienna's leading bourgeois newspaper, the Neue Freie Presse. Hertha's brother Wolfgang Pauli would be awarded the 1945 Nobel Prize in physics.

Hertha studied drama and acting at Vienna's Academy of Arts and after graduation became a member of the Lobetheater in Breslau, Germany (today Wroclaw, Poland). Noticed by the leading German theatrical producer Max Reinhardt, she performed successfully in the early 1930s in Berlin at his Deutsches Theater. In 1933, the anti-Semitism of the new Third Reich ended Pauli's German career, and she was forced to return to Austria. In Vienna, she struggled to support herself, working as a freelance writer and establishing a literary agency, the "Österreichische Korrespondenz." Among the literary mediums Pauli mastered during this stage were poetry, short stories, radio scripts, and Feuilletons (literary essays for the Viennese press).

In 1936, Pauli published Toni: Ein Frauenleben für Ferdinand Raimund (Toni: A Woman's Life for Ferdinand Raimund), a historical novel set in the 19th century. The following year, she published a biography of the great Austrian pacifist Bertha von Suttner , entitled Nur eine Frau (Only a Woman). Not surprisingly, a book that denounced all wars was banned in a Nazi Germany feverishly preparing for one.

In March 1938, on the day German troops marched into Austria, Pauli fled to Paris, where she earned a precarious living as a publisher's representative and shared the uncertainties of other refugees from Nazism. Friendships with a number of gifted fellow writers—including the brilliant but alcoholic Austrian novelist Joseph Roth, with whom she spent hours at his Stammtisch at the Café Tournon—helped ease the misery of exile. Pauli also developed strong friendships with Lois Sevareid and her American journalist husband Eric Sevareid.

In June 1940, with German troops marching into the French capital, Pauli made her escape on foot to the south of France, finally arriving in Marseilles. Now with little money, she lived in a room in a cheap hotel. She made a small income and wrote anti-Nazi messages that she hoped would be smuggled into Germany. After several months in Marseilles, it became clear to Pauli and most of the other refugees that sooner or later they would wind up in the hands of the Germans unless they could escape from Europe.

The arrival in the south of France of the American Varian Fry, representative of the Emergency Rescue Committee, proved providential for Pauli and many hundreds of others whose lives were in danger because they were Jews or anti-Nazis, or both. Supported by Thomas Mann and Eleanor Roosevelt in his efforts to rescue as many of Europe's endangered intellectuals as possible, Fry set up an escape route over the Pyrenees for refugees to flee southern France, which was controlled by the pro-Nazi Vichy regime. Accompanied by another refugee, Carl Frucht, Pauli was able to cross the frontier into Spain in seven hours of climbing via an old smugglers' path. On the night of September 3–4, 1940, she sailed for New York from Lisbon on a Greek vessel, the Nea Hellas.

Unlike some immigrants who remained psychologically torn between their old and new homes, Pauli set out to Americanize herself once she arrived in New York. She quickly mastered American English which she was soon able to write in clear, idiomatic prose. Determined to succeed as an author in her new homeland, in 1942 she published a biography of the founder of the Nobel Prize, Alfred Nobel: Dynamite King, Architect of Peace. The following year, she published a book for young readers, Silent Night: The Story of a Song. This book's success convinced Pauli that she had found her métier, namely writing books for a juvenile audience. For the rest of her life, Pauli would produce a large number of books for this market, including The Most Beautiful House and Other Stories (1949), The Golden Door (1949), Lincoln's Little Correspondent (1952), Three Is a Family (1955), Bernadette and the Lady (1956), The First Easter Rabbit (1961), The Two Trumpeters of Vienna (1961), Handel and the Messiah Story (1968), and Pietro and Brother Francis (1971). The success of Silent Night also encouraged her to write more books for the Christmas market, including The Story of the Christmas Tree (1944), St. Nicholas' Travels (1945), Christmas and the Saints (1956), The First Christmas Tree (1961), America's First Christmas (1962), Little Town of Bethlehem (1963), and The First Christmas Gifts (1965).

In 1948, Pauli published a history of the Statue of Liberty, I Lift My Lamp: The Way of a Symbol, a subject that was likely of particular interest to her as a refugee. Written in collaboration with her husband Ernest B. Ashton (originally

Ernst Basch), this book would be reprinted in 1969. The same subject matter appeared in a 1965 version for young readers, Gateway to America: Miss Liberty's First Hundred Years.

Writing full-scale novels remained a challenge for Pauli, and in 1957 she published one entitled Cry of the Heart. This was followed in 1959 by Jugend nachher (Youth Afterwards), written in German and published in Vienna. The idea for Jugend nachher had been sparked by children in Nazi concentration camps and the emergence of alienated, violent youth in the presumably contented, prosperous European world of the late 1950s. In 1965, she published The Secret of Sarajevo (1965), an accurate, detailed account of the assassination that started World War I.

Despite her painful memories, Pauli found it possible to occasionally visit Austria after World War II. In 1967, the Republic of Austria awarded her its Silver Medal of Honor. In 1970, she published her autobiography in Vienna, Der Riss der Zeit geht durch mein Herz (The Fissure of Our Age Tears Through My Heart), which appeared in 1972 in the United States as Break of Time. An active member of PEN, Hertha Pauli listed her avocational interests as "dogs, cats, and swimming." She died in Bay Shore, Long Island, New York, on February 9, 1973.


Patsch, Sylvia M. "'Nur eine Frau': Hertha Pauli zum 80. Geburtstage," Illustrierte Neue Welt [Vienna]. August–September 1989, pp. 33–34.

Pauli, Hertha. Alfred Nobel: Dynamite King, Architect of Peace. NY: L.B. Fischer, 1942.

Spalek, John, Konrad Feilchenfeldt, and Sandra H. Hawrylchak, eds. Deutschsprachige Exilliteratur seit 1933, Vol. 4: Bibliographien: Schriftsteller, Publizisten, und Literaturwissenschaftler in den USA, Part 3: N–Z. Bern: K.G. Saur Verlag, 1994.

Stern, Guy. "Hertha Pauli," in Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes und Dokumentationsstelle für neuere österreichische Literatur, eds., Österreicher im Exil 1934 bis 1945: Protokoll des internationalen Symposiums zur Erforschung des österreichischen Exils von 1934 bis 1945. Vienna: Österreichischer Bundesverlag, 1977, pp. 495–508.

Wall, Renate. Lexikon deutschsprachiger Schriftstellerinnen im Exil, 1933–1945. 2 vols. Freiburg im Breisgau: Kore Verlag, 1995.

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