(Gertrud Victoria Victor [Birth name], Victoria Wolf [1st married name], Victoria Wolff [2nd married name], Pseudonyms: Ellinor Colling, Claudia Martell, Hans Baysen )
born on December 10, 1903 in Heilbronn, Germany
died on September 16, 1992 in Los Angeles, California, USA
German-US writer and screenwriter
120th birthday on December 10, 2023
Gertrude Victor, nicknamed Trude, was born in Heilbronn in 1903 to an affluent Jewish family. She started writing while still a schoolgirl, but as there were no male heirs, she was expected to obtain a university degree and then enter management of the family’s tannery business, Lederfabrik Heilbronn Gebrüder Victor. She was one of the first girls to attend the boys' secondary school in Heilbronn, and after graduating she dutifully began studying the natural sciences at the universities in Heidelberg and Munich. But she lost interest by the end of the first three semesters and decided to drop out. She was determined to devote herself to her one true passion: Writing.
In 1927, she married Alfred Wolf, a textile manufacturer. Around the same time, she began writing her first reports and travel articles for the Heilbronner Neckar-Zeitung, the local liberal newspaper. Various trips in her own automobile took her to numerous countries in Europe as well as to Russia in the early 1930s, and she was soon writing for the arts and culture sections of newspapers such as the Frankfurter Zeitung, the Stuttgarter Neues Tageblatt, the Kölnische Zeitung, as well as for the women’s magazine Die Dame in Berlin. She also wrote copy for the Stuttgart office of a public radio station, the Süddeutscher Rundfunk.
Her first book, published in 1932, was a fictionalized biography of the writer George Sand (Eine Frau wie du und ich). Her second novel appeared a year later and was based on her brief time at university; Mädchen wohin? also appeared as a preprint in the Kölnische Zeitung that same year. Both books met with a promising level of interest and sold well. Wolf decided that her third novel was to focus on ordinary working women, and, as she wanted to portray their lives as authentically as possible, she prepared by going undercover and briefly working as a sales clerk in the ladies' clothing section of a large department store in Cologne. Eine Frau hat Mut sold out within two months of its publication in 1933.
Wolf applied for membership in the Third Reich’s Association of German Writers shortly thereafter in order to continue to be able to publish. With membership summarily denied due to her Jewish origins, she saw no possibility to publish again in Germany. All of her previous books were officially banned in 1939.
After the Nazis called for a nation-wide boycott of all Jewish-owned businesses on April 1, 1933, Wolff realized it would be impossible to continue to live and work in Germany; she moved that spring with her two children to Ascona, a Swiss municipality she knew and loved from previous vacations. Her husband remained in Heilbronn and visited her only on weekends.
Ascona had become a refuge for exiles from Germany and Italy and Wolf found what she had missed in Heilbronn: support and collaboration. In this respect, the years she spent in Ascona were inspiring. She formed especially close friendships with the writers Leonard Frank, Erich Maria Remarque and Ignazio Silone, as well as with the actress Tilla Durieux. Exchanges with them were stimulating, and her writing flourished. Five novels were published over the course of these productive years: Die Welt ist blau (1934), a light summer read; Gast in der Heimat (1935), an autobiographical novel describing the rise of the National Socialists in a small Swabian town and the inevitable emigration of the main character; Drei Tage (1937), a hospital romance; Glück ist eine Eigenschaft (1937 under the pseudonym Ellinor Colling); and Das weiße Abendkleid (1938), which also appeared in serial form in the Basler National-Zeitung. She reworked her novel Drei Tage into her only play. However, the performance in Vienna had to be cancelled following the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938.
Victoria Wolf was required to submit an application with the Swiss immigration authorities for an extension of her residence and work permit every year; this was granted every year until 1938, but the permission limited her to publishing in book form only. She was denounced in 1938 for having illegally published in Swiss newspapers and magazines both under a pseudonym and anonymously, and she was expelled from the country on July 1. She went to France with her two children, where she was suspected of espionage and subsequently imprisoned with her children for six weeks. Only with great difficulty and the help of friends and relatives did she manage to escape in February, 1941 via Spain and Portugal to the United States. She would later write about this ordeal in a novel whose title, Keine Zeit für Tränen, translates as “no time for tears.”
She settled her two children with her sister in Los Angeles, while she herself remained in New York to attend lectures on English literature and seminars on short story writing.
Unlike many other exiles who had tried their luck in Hollywood, Wolf enjoyed immediate success. She wrote the screenplay for Tales of Manhattan, the 1943 film adaptation of Das weiße Abendkleid, which had already been translated and published in London in 1941 under the title The White Evening Dress.
She had divorced her first husband in 1945, and in 1949 she married Dr. Erich Wolff, a cardiologist. After a nerve-wracking lawsuit over copyrights, she withdrew from the film business in order to focus once again entirely on her writing.
Her novel Das weiße Abendkleid was reissued in Germany as early as 1951 and gave her renewed access to the German book market. Over the years that followed, Wolff was able to publish nine additional and successful light novels before she died in Los Angeles on September 16, 1992.
Awards: 1972: Certificate of Merit for Distinguished Historical Biography, London Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Los Angeles).
(Text from 2013; translated with DeepL.com; edited by Ramona Fararo, 2023)
Please consult the German version for additional information (pictures, sources, videos, bibliography).
Author: Doris Hermanns
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