Eva Baruch – Actress, Activist or Spy: Chap. 1

Berlin to Shanghai

When the full story of my cousin Eva Baruch’s life was finally revealed to me, it played like the old movie serials, where the heroine always got caught in a life-threatening situation at the end of the current chapter, only to escape at the beginning of the next one. That’s how Eva lived much of her life.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

It was in 1999 when I first became curious about my family’s history. It all began with the five or six family photo albums that my mother left me. With both my parents gone, I had no other relatives that I knew of. So I began hoping that maybe my cousin Eva Baruch might still be alive since she would be the last one who had shared my parents’ history.

But, other than her photographs I knew very little about her. What I’d seen were mainly pictures of her as a very cute little girl and as a lovely teenager. Mom was quite fond of Eva and always referred to her as Evchen. In 1925  my mother began attending nursing school in Berlin. For the next two years she lived with her relatives, the Baruchs. That’s when she got to know her little cousin.

Eva Collage
Eva Baruch at age 6, 8 and early teen

Uncle Siegfried Baruch was a successful publisher in Berlin, and the brother of my grandmother, Bertha Rehfisch, Mom’s mother. Aunt Kaethe was Siegfried’s second wife. A well known actress in German theater, she was known as Kaethe Horsten. Their children were Eva and her older brother, Berthold or Bari.

L-R: Uncle Siegfried, Bari, Eva, Aunt Kaethe
L-R: Uncle Siegfried, Bari, Eva, Aunt Kaethe

First Escape

But my search didn’t start in Berlin. It began in China. On one occasion when Mom showed me her photo albums, she mentioned that the Baruchs moved to Shanghai before the war. But it wasn’t until later that I learned the real details. Like so many other German Jews in 1938, they were compelled to flee from their homeland, right after Kristallnacht.

I began searching for Eva through the Jewish Genealogical Society’s many data bases. Failing that, I was able locate some other Jewish refugees who also fled to China before the war. But no one knew anything about her. I got very frustrated since my search turned up nothing for nearly a year. Then one day I received an unexpected reply from a JewishGen member that directed me away from China, and back to Germany.

It told me that Eva had a successful career in German theater. It was a real surprise because I never expected that she would become an actress like her mother. Fortunately my questions reached a person who knew that on stage Eva used her married name: Eva Schwarcz .

Theatrical publicity shots: Kaethe and Eva
Theatrical publicity shots: Kaethe and Eva

Then armed with her stage name and doing a simple Google search, I was able to find her biography. But that’s what directed me back to Germany.

Actors & Artists in Exile

What turned up was a link to the library at the University of Hamburg, and a collection called, “Actors & Artists in Exile”.  Suddenly, there it was – Eva’s bio. What an amazing story! It gave me goose bumps just reading it. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

Before she and her family fled from Germany, as a young actress in Berlin, she had already starred in both Jewish and Classical Theater. That’s where she met a young Czech scenic designer by the name of Josef Schwarcz. The two fell in love and married a short time later.

In prewar German theater, she was still known as Eva Baruch. But in Shanghai, there was another German actress named Inge Baruch. So, in an attempt to avoid any confusion, Eva chose to use her married name. And it stuck.

Brother Bari

Later I learned, through the same library source, that Eva’s older brother, Bari, had already been in trouble with the Nazis. He’d been imprisoned twice, only to be bailed out on both occasions by his father, Siegfried. Father and son worked together in the publishing business, but Bari was gay, and most likely arrested under the Nazi’s ruthless Paragraph #175, which made any homosexual act a crime. By 1937 he was already in Shanghai, undoubtedly part of Siegfried’s agreement with the Nazis in order to gain his release the second time.

Ten years earlier, my mother lived with the Baruchs while she attended school in Berlin. During that time Bari had become a dear friend and a safe escort for her on numerous occasions, whether going to restaurants in Berlin, or to the family’s favorite seaside resorts of Arendsee and Wyck.

My mother and Bari having tea, and in the surf at Arendsee.
My mother and Bari having tea, and in the surf at Arendsee.

By 1938, Shanghai was already known as “The Paris of the Orient”. It was an international enclave with an exotic blend of refugees and expatriates. When the new wave of Jewish exiles began arriving, they must have found it to be a dubious haven, with all of its strange smells, strange food and even stranger customs. They also found themselves in a turbulent mass of humanity – an ethnic and cultural mix of Germans, Russians, Italians, French, Americans, Japanese and Chinese, teeming with espionage, political intrigue and murder.

When Eva, her husband and her parents first arrived in Shanghai, they must have gone through the same culture shock that thousands of other Jewish refugees already had. But because of the city’s strong European influence, she found starring roles almost immediately in the city’s excellent theaters, which were already well established by Jews and other foreigners who had arrived at a much earlier time.

Eva the Movie Star

By 1940 Eva was well known in theatrical circles, and as a result she won a starring role in a movie about the Jewish Exiles in Shanghai. Her co-star was newcomer, Isaac Goldmann. But for whatever reason, she reverted to her maiden name, Eva Baruch.

Newspaper photo "Under Exile" - Eva and Isaac Goldmann
Eva with Isaac Goldmann. A newspaper photo from the set of “Under Exile”

Gertrude Wolfson, formerly a film director in Germany, organized the effort. It was a co-production with the CFC, the China Film Co., and was titled, “The Driven People/Under Exile”.

The plan was to raise money for Jewish and European war relief by releasing it into the English and American markets

It was well publicized in the German-speaking press, and filming began in March. But by the end of September, with principal photography nearly done, the Japanese Army ordered a halt to production.They had just signed “The Axis Pact” with Germany and Italy. As a sad consequence the film was never finished.

Meanwhile Eva had taken on a double life. She began secretly working with the BMI, the British Ministry of Information, about the same time as her husband, Joseph, found a job with the British Consulate.

In her second career, she was employed as a producer, actress and announcer for radio station XGDN in Shanghai. Since the station operated under the supervision of the British Consulate, it  was really an extension of the BMI. Now responsible for producing a weekly radio series called “Frie Deutsche Buehne” or “Free German Theater”, this was the perfect opportunity for Eva to get back at the Nazis.

In Chapter 2, we learn what happened to Eva, as a result of her last two radio shows for station XGDN. We also learn who her BMI colleagues were, plus much much more.


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