Eva Baruch, Actress, Activist or Spy – Part 3

Melbourne and Back to Berlin

In Chapter 2, after producing two anti-Nazi radio plays, a now pregnant Eva has to escape from Shanghai with her cohorts, and spend the rest of the war in Australia.

In 1946, a year after the Japanese surrendered and the war was over, Eva was able to reunite with her actress mother, Kaete Horsten and bring her to Australia. During the war, Kaete occasionally found roles in the Shanghai theater. She’d been living alone for the past five years since her husband, and Eva’s beloved father, Siegfried, passed away in 1941, just a few months before Eva escaped to Melbourne.

KaetheReg_crop
Kaete’s Australian Registration

Happily together again in Melbourne, Eva helped her mother register with the Australian authorities and lined up work for her at the same garment shop where she’d been working. Then, a short time later, Eva and Kaete decided that now it was time to go back home to Germany, to pick up where they had both left off in the Berlin theater

Eva’s frustration with the theater and life in Australia was certainly aggravated by her inability to find work. At the end of the war she wrote a letter to the highly respected German stage director, Fritz Wisten in which her anger was palpable. She’d  worked with Wisten ten years earlier in Berlin when he had directed her in a play for which she had received rave reviews. Now she was voicing her disgust with what she found in Australia and was desperate to come home and rejoin the German theater. Here’s a small part of what she said, “Professionally, one can only do enough to get by – as the theater here is very backward and only run by amateurs. It doesn’t exist as a real profession.”

Ready to return immediately, Eva and Kaete were hoping to enlist Wisten’s help.

 A Marriage on the Rocks

But Eva found herself embroiled in a domestic situation and couldn’t leave yet. Peter Micheal was six years old now, and had been raised solely by his mother for most of his young life. Eva was desperate to take him with her. But Josef would not allow it, even though Peter Micheal had been in his mother’s care ever since the split. Josef was adamant in his refusal. Then the fight got nasty when it went public, and turned into a bruising custody battle that led to a very messy divorce. Closely followed by the daily newspapers, it only served to make the battle for Peter Micheal that much more painful.

Josef Schwarcz, Eva's Husband
Josef Schwarcz Eva’s Husband

But Eva lost the fight and had to leave without her little son. On July 24, 1947, both she and Kaete were on an Air Australia flight bound for Berlin. Curiously on their departure documents, both Eva and her mother had listed their occupations as “Home Duties” meaning “house wives”.

I was surprised by Eva’s choice to return to East Berlin, and not West. But then I realized that it all made sense. She and Kaethe were following the same path back to Germany as were so many other deported Jewish artists. They all had similar reasons: In part it was familiarity because most of the progressive writers, directors and actors that they had worked with before the war were returning to East Berlin; they feared the overwhelming antisemitism that existed in the West which had forced them into exile; and consequently they all shared strong anti fascist beliefs. So the East’s Socialist/Populist ideology seemed like a good fit.

Bertolt Brecht Returns

The following year their choice was rewarded with the return of that influential practitioner of 20th century theater, Berthold Brecht, who, after spending the war years in Hollywood, quickly reconnected with his old troupe of Berlin actors, and reopened his prewar “Theater am Schifbauerdamn”.

Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht Platz and his Berliner Ensemble

East Germany was fast becoming a mecca for returning exiles, most of  them drawn to Brecht.

Eva’s prewar mentor, Fritz Wisten, was one of them who continued working in East Berlin while he reestablished his former “Volksbuhne” or People’s Theater there. He later became its long term director.

This environment was a perfect fit for her because it appeared to offer the ideal opportunity for her to reestablish her career by working with her favorite colleagues, and in her favorite venues where she had performed before the war. It also gave her comfort politically…at least for awhile.

With the experience she gained in Shanghai, in addition to the theater, she began to work in East German radio as a producer, writer and translator. Then adding to her resume, she also started working as a drama coach and even found some small roles in East German movies.

It was while working in an East German radio station that she met George (Peter) Puder, a disc jockey and radio personality, who was a rising star and would become her second husband. Life seemed to be going well for Eva…

The Workers’ Revolt

Then on June 16, 1953, the (east) German Democratic Republic (GDR) erupted in a series of workers’ riots and demonstrations that threatened the very existence of the Communist regime in East Germany. The spontaneous outburst shocked the GDR’s ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) and their Kremlin sponsors, who were still reeling from the death of Joseph Stalin three months earlier.

East German protestors throwing rocks at Russian tanks.
East German protestors throwing rocks at Russian tanks.

It began simply as a demonstration of the workers discontent over the government’s demands for longer hours and lower wages. But it soon spread from Berlin to over 400 cities, towns and villages throughout East Germany. As it escalated, it became more and more political, calling for labor reform and free elections.

Always the populist, Eva had sided with the demonstrators and was brought up on charges by the authorities. Her punishment: She was fired from her post in the SED, and was banished from ever working in Berlin again.

Exiled Again!

So, here she was, exiled once again and no longer able to perform in what she liked to call, “the real theater”. Forced to find work in smaller towns and cities, at first she found jobs in radio as program director, voice coach and occasionally actress. Then for awhile she was back on the air as a spokesperson for East Germany’s Communist state radio. But as those dried up, she could only find work at more menial jobs like teaching, and coaching.

It was during this time that she picked up some work with East German Publishers, editing and translating many books on theater, including five of them for her Australian idol, Mona Brand.

Escape #3

Finally after eight long years of unrewarded toil in the hinterlands, Eva decided she’d had enough. No longer able to live under the oppressive stranglehold of the GDR, she had to get away. So, in March 1961, just as the East Germans began erecting the “Berlin Wall”, She and George made their escape to West Berlin.

The Berlin Wall under construction.
The Berlin Wall under construction.

Now safely on the Western side, she quickly found work landing a job with “Deutsche Welle Radio”, the German equivalent of our Voice of America. And so she began a renewed career as an international radio voice for broadcasts to Austria and England, which she also produced. Meanwhile she also found some small roles in West German cinema.

As Eva’s career was resurrected, her husband’s career was also on the rise. West Germany was offering him bigger opportunities. As a result, he took a job working in Cologne at station ZDF, where he became a TV personality, hosting his own show.

After moving there, Eva was offered a new radio job at the German National Broadcasting Company, Deutschefunk, which was also in Cologne. Her new show, which she wrote, produced and hosted, was a lighter form of non-political entertainment and was broadcast throughout Germany and parts of Europe.

But sadly this is where my research ended. Eva died in 1968 in a hospital in Freiburg, Germany, succumbing to complications that resulted from an operation for Tuberculosis. She was only 46 years old. A sudden and sad end to a life that was all too short. Yet I’ll be ever grateful to my cousin because she provided me with a research experience that felt as wild and tumultuous as her turbulent life. In Chapter 4, I will share with you those wonderful people who helped me uncover the details of Eva Baruch’s story”.

Author

2 thoughts on “Eva Baruch, Actress, Activist or Spy – Part 3”

  1. You have written a wonderful history of your cousin and sharing it with others makes our world a better place. Thanks, Pete!

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