In 1985, Lisa Fittko`s  Mein Weg Über Die Pyrenäen  was published in Germany to rave reviews.  The book was translated into French, English,  Spanish and Japanese, Portuguese  and  Italian.  It was selected as best political book of the year in Germany (1986) and received the Prize of the FIAT- Institut de France, Paris, in 1988.   In 1985 Jürgen Habermas called her life and work "worthy of that of the White Rose"(1).


Mein Weg (the American edition, Escape through the Pyrenees, was translated by David Koblick  and published by Northwestern University Press in 1991) is an autobiographical memoir chiefly devoted to describing the author's experiences in the wake of the defeat of France in 1940-41.  At the time she lived as a German exile in France and the fear of the Nazi advance forms the backdrop to this account which treats the dramatic experience of those who had fled Hitler and were now declared enemy aliens by the French authorities.  Writing almost 50 years after the event, Fittko describes, in a surprisingly immediate but matter-of-fact manner, the chaos of defeated France and the atmosphere of danger and persecution prevailing in this period of mass flight and internment; it includes one of the most complete descriptions ever written of life in Gurs, the concentration camp for women set up on the Spanish border.  Further chapters highlight her experiences and those of her husband Hans in Vichy France, revealing the arbitrary nature of bureaucracy and the manoeuvres essential to survival and escape, ending with the successful flight and passage to Cuba.


Perhaps the key episode in this first book, certainly the one the most commented upon by reviewers and historians alike, is the first passage with Walter Benjamin across the Pyrenees.  The tragedy is well-known; once over the mountains after a dramatic journey, Benjamin was told by the Spanish authorities that he would have to return to France, where the Gestapo was a short step behind him.  He committed suicide that night.



Following the success of this first book, called by one journalist ein "Renner der Exilbiographik", " the hit of exile biographies",(2) the publisher requested a second memoir. Solidarität Unerwünscht: Erinnerungen 1933-1940 " came out seven years later (Hanser Verlag, München, 1992)  and was translated as Solidarity and Treason: Resistance and Exile,1933-1940 by Roselyn Theobald in collaboration with the author (Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Press, 1993).   It provides a pre-history for Mein Weg, describing Fittko's life in the Berlin underground after 1933 and details resistance activities in left-wing groups.   It then recounts her flight from Germany to Prague, and immerses the reader in the details of emigré life and resistance activities in Czechoslovakia, Switzerland Holland and France.   Both books were republished as paperbacks in German and English and a German version was re-issued in October, 2005, shortly before her death.(3)




Lisa Fittko was born in 1909 as Elizabeth Ekstein in Uzgohrod, a small town  on the eastern border of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy that became part of the Soviet Union after World War II and is today part of Ukraine.   The family, German-speaking middle class Jewish intellectuals from Bohemia, moved to Vienna where her father, Ignaz, published an antiwar literary magazine during and after WWI. (DIE WAAGE, “The Balance” 1916-1919).  The name of the journal was changed to "WAGE!” (Dare!) in 1918 to reflect the enthusiasm of the revolutionary moment.(4)









Having used up the family funds on this idealistic project, the Eksteins moved to Berlin in 1922, where Ignaz became involved in import-export activities and no longer participated directly in politics. Yet the left-wing intellectual and political milieu in which the young Lisa was raised, in Berlin as in Vienna, deeply influenced her.  Her early interest in the Youth Movement in Vienna, where she was particularly involved in progressive pedagogical movements(such as the Montessori movement) gave way to her engagement in the political struggles in Berlin in the late 20's and 30`s.(5)


As a member of a left-wing youth group, Fittko was early

involved in demonstrations and then in the street fighting which was characteristic for political life in this period.

As we learn from her second book, Solidarity and Treason, Fittko was not only witness but also an active participant in the episodes surrounding the Nazi take- over on the streets of Berlin.  This book is organized chronologically, according to the well-known sequence of events of the Nazi "revolution": the Nazi torch-light parade on the day of the seizure of power, the Reichstag fire, the boycott of Jewish stores, the nightly arrests.  



She describes her life in illegality - a no-man's land; she lives behind a candy store - where she types flyers calling for the fall of the regime while the phonograph player is set on loud and plays AIDA.


The book deals with the day-to-day problems involved in living underground.  It discusses learning how to behave under secrecy and the threat of denunciation; risking one's life so that newspaper editorials and leaflets can be published and distributed.  We learn how the young people build a network;  they are spied upon by the Gestapo, one after another in the group is caught.   Some are children of simple working class families whereas others come from a well-to-do milieu.


Lisa Fittko's parents left immediately upon Hitler's takeover, but she herself was determined to stay and resist.  Although her parents were by no means typical - they picked up and left everything , saying they could not live in a country which was conducting an official boycott of the Jews - Fittko's decision to remain reflects the optimism of the young leftists, who were convinced they could still persuade the  German masses  to oppose the Nazi take-over.  It was only when placed in immediate danger that she was forced to flee across the Czech border.  She was now 24 years old.


In Prague we are witness to the life of the German émigrés: locating a soup-kitchen; finding friends and contacts.  Stories of solidarity, but also of betrayal; being a foreigner, feeling homesick,  an atmosphere of alienation but also of frenzied partying (for example in the circle around the photographer John Heartfield).  Some crack, one commits suicide.  Yet Lisa Fittko and her friends share an undeviating belief that the Nazi barbarism cannot last, that continuing political resistance and contact with friends back home is essential.

Lisa Fittko meets her future husband Hans, and after a few months they are faced with expulsion by the Czech government.  Hans had been organizing resistance activities on the Czech-German border until  this activity became known to German officials who now put pressure on the Czech government and he was forced to leave.  Lisa decided to go with him, thus leaving the first of the countries which offered her refuge from Nazism.(6)









They now move to the strategic German-Swiss-French corner of Basel in Switzerland where it is possible to send literature into Germany on a regular basis.  They also collect information from Germany which is included in their brochures.

Once again there is strong support by individuals and then eventual betrayal by the authorities when a warrant for Hans´s arrest is honoured by the Swiss government.  Escape is once more made possible  with the aid of friends and Hans and Lisa are able to slip over the border to France and then to Holland.



 Border resistance activities continue, this time in Holland.  Again a temporary existence is created and they experience trying living conditions, but political activity is the highest priority:  publications are smuggled across the border to the Reich -or as they still called it, back home. The goal is to keep up contacts, keep up spirits and fight the Hitler dictatorship.  Then some of their contacts over the border are arrested.  They have to get out immediately.


In Paris, a metropolis for the refugees from Nazism, Lisa and Hans are latecomers and have to scrounge even more than those who arrived earlier.  There is a reunion with the family, but cramped quarters and financial difficulties make everything more difficult.  The political quarrels among the Left continue. It is the typical experience of exile, of frequently changing beds and miserable jobs if any can be found. 

Opportunities for resistance are limited, but Hans Fittko is asked to write scripts for a Resistance station that broadcasts from France to German troops; he has an opportunity to address German soldiers about the coming horror of the war, about the Nazi Terror.



Fittko communicates the tension, fear and uncertainty of the situation and describes a variety of reactions on the part of the French population.  There were those who helped and those whom one had to fear.    Always one had to take care not to put well-meaning persons in danger. It was only possible to survive thanks to those in France "whose humaneness gave them the courage to take in these driven strangers, to hide them, to feed them." (p.79 of the English edition, 1991).


With the outbreak of the war, France interns the German and Austrian refugees along with all others from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia - those with or without a German passport,  whether pro-Hitler or anti-fascist.   Lisa Fittko and her husband Hans are then sent to the unoccupied South, Lisa to the camp for women at the foot of the Pyrenees, Gurs, Hans to Vernuche.  The description of the life of the women in Gurs is one of the best available eye-witness accounts.  It emphasizes how the women were slowly able to take matters into their own hands and create a certain kind of human and intellectual solidarity in this misery.





As the German troops began to approach the South of France, the  possibility of flight opened up.  But it took some courage to take advantage of the chance to escape from this "camp de concentration". Many feared finding themselves alone on the outside.  Yet Lisa Fittko and a group of internees dare to leave and find their way through the chaos of Vichy France.









Fittko details the maze of red tape and the papers which took on the greatest importance for the fleeing émigrés, the expired or forged documents, the exit, entry or transit visas and the consequences of not having working papers or ration cards.

With great modesty, she describes the resourcefulness necessary in order to pull people out of the grasp of the Gestapo.       


An important part of Mein Weg recounts Fittko's work setting up a secret route for illegally crossing of the Spanish border, thus making it possible for innumerable endangered refugees to reach neutral Portugal and the ships to the new world in 1940-41.

  By the terms of Article 19 of the armistice signed by the newly installed French government of Marshal Pétain,   foreigners on French soil were to be "surrendered upon demand" to the Nazi regime.

 Instead of fleeing abroad with their preciously obtained visas, she and her husband - both  without passports and he on the Gestapo wanted list -  took on the task of helping others in danger.


The route, a former smugglers trail which was used by the Republican General Lister to bring his defeated troops out of Spain, was sketched for Fittko by the Socialist mayor of the small border town of Banyuls sur mer.  The Fittkos spent seven months passing groups of three to four people - famous and not so famous, Jews and political activists - as often as three times a week from Banyuls.  In late, 1941, when foreigners were banned from the  border region, the Fittkos began to prepare their own escape.


The first of the refugees Lisa Fittko accompanied across the Spanish border was the philosopher Walter Benjamin. The fatal outcome of his crossing is one reason the detailed and moving story of Benjamin`s flight across the mountains comes to form the keystone of Lisa Fittko´s book.  

She tells of the physically weakened Benjamin and the briefcase which he indicated was more valuable to him than his life.(7)



To the young activist, "the old Benjamin" (he was 48 years old) is seen as a cavalier from the old school, but totally inept in those qualities of resourcefulness which were now essential for survival (the ability to "se débrouiller").


Like most of the German refugees, Benjamin had come to Marseille to find a way out of the trap which France had become.   In September, 1940, he ran into Hans Fittko on the Canebière (a study should be made of the effective news network among the refugees in the middle of the chaos of occupied France: it was remarkably reliable!)- they knew each other from the French internment camp but also from the building at 10 rue Dombasle in Paris where the Eksteins and Benjamin had  both rented apartments.  Hans Fittko explained that his wife Lisa was currently at the border between France and Spain,  exploring ways to get out of France. It was September, 1940 and she was at Port Vendres, near the Pyrenees border, with her sister-in-law and baby niece; the men in her family - her husband and brother- were intending to leave Marseille secretly by boat.   When Benjamin knocked upon their door in Port Vendres, Lisa agreed to take him across - this being her first, experimental, crossing.


When he first knocked on her door in the mountain village he introduced himself:


 "Gnädige Frau," (gracious Madam) he said. "Please forgive the intrusion-I hope this is not an inopportune time."

“The world is falling to pieces, I thought, but Benjamin`s courtesy is unshakable."

"Your honoured spouse," he continued, "explained to me how I could find you.  He said she will take you over the border to Spain."(8).


Fittko then describes how Benjamin, who intimated that he had a weak heart, laid out a singular strategy for climbing the mountains:


"Benjamin travelled slowly and steadily; at regular intervals - I think it was ten minutes - he halted and rested for about a minute.  Then he continued on at the same constant pace.  As he told me, he had thought it out and calculated it during the night: "I can go all the way to the end using this method.  I stop at regular intervals    - I must pause BEFORE I´m exhausted.  One must not completely overspend one´s strength."


What a remarkable man! I thought.  Crystal-clear thinking, an unfaltering inner strength, and at the same time a hopelessly awkward, clumsy fellow."


I remember that we were all in a good mood, and now and then we talked a little.  We spoke mainly about problems of the moment: the slippery path, the warming sun, and how much farther to the border.


Today, when Benjamin is acknowledged to be one of the most important scholars and critics of our century, I am occasionally asked: What did he say about the manuscript?  Did he tell you anything at all about the contents?  Did he have therein a new system of philosophy?


Heavens above!  I had my hands full guiding our little group upward. Philosophy had to wait until we were over the mountain.  I was busy rescuing some human beings from the Nazis, and here I was with this odd character, Old Benjamin, who under no circumstances would let himself be parted from his ballast, the black leather briefcase.  And so, for better or worse, we had to drag that monstrosity over the mountains."



The tragic end is well known: The Spanish border guards in Port Bou informed the escapees that the regulations had once again been altered.  Out of fear of being sent back, Benjamin took his life.  His manuscript was never found.(9)


As can be seen from the fact that those who were with him and also later refugees succeeded in making their way through Spain, we can conclude that these "new regulations" were not necessarily irreversible: money, good words or cigarettes could change the mind of a border guard.



Directly upon her return, and long before news of Benjamin's suicide came through, Lisa found a telegram telling her that she must return to Marseille immediately to renew the Portuguese visa which was about the only legal document she possessed.  Upon arrival, Hans explained that a meeting had been scheduled that evening with the American, Varian Fry.





  Fry in his memoirs,(also recently translated into German, thanks to the popularity of Fittko's book)(10) describes how he arrived in  Marseille with money and a list of some 200 people, political fighters, artists and intellectuals who needed to get out of Hitler`s Europe and for whom he could get American visas.  The task proved to be much more complicated than he expected. 


Fry was the representative of a group of organizations in New York, formed to help save people in direct danger of being caught by the Gestapo.  It is important to emphasize that the committee in question, the Emergency Rescue Committee, was initially formed to help political refugees.  Initiated by Karl Frank, a German labour activist whose main interest was in saving fellow labour and left-wing activists who were in imminent danger, the committee only later - to some extent with the aim of appealing to Eleanor Roosevelt and the American arts community - included the names of famous artists and writers.(11)



 It was Fry's collaborator, Albert Hirschmann, who decided that the Fittko's might be helpful.  He realized that an effective escape route was necessary. He had most probably heard about the new route that Fittko and Benjamin had used.  Frank Bohn, from the American Federation of Labour, was also present at the meeting.  The Fittko's urged that an organized system be worked out with adequate security precautions; that this would require a permanent person at the border to take people across.  It was not at all their intention to play this role themselves, but at Fry's urging they agreed to delay their own escape plans and do this for a few weeks.  These weeks stretched into over seven months.



Fittko describes the scene in the café in Marseille when Hans and Lisa were taken aback when Fry suggested that they become co-workers for the Committee and spend months passing refugees across the Pyrenees:  Fry saw the hesitation and asked “Combien?”  “How much?”

Hans turned to Herman (Albert Hirchmann) and asked “What does he mean?”  Combien what?

“Listen a moment,” said Hermant.  „He doesn´t know you, he scarcely knows who you are.  You can´t expect him to understand people of the German Resistance.  He´s heard that racketeers are doing a booming business smuggling folks over the border; he doesn´t want to deal with them.  But he finds it perfectly all right if you want to be paid.”

Hans regarded Fry thoughtfully.  “Do you know,” he said, “that assisting men of military age in illegal border-crossings now rates the death penalty?  And you offer us money.  We would have to be insane indeed. Do you actually know what an anti-Fascist is?  Do you understand the word Überzeugung, conviction?” (12) 



It was this organized system of getting people in peril across the Pyrenees by foot, which became the "F" route in Varian Fry's book of memoirs, written in 1942 but not published until 1945.  He used "F" rather than Fittko in order to protect their families.


When rescue operation on the French-Spanish border were rendered impossible in April, 1941 because the French, following instructions from Germany, banned all non-natives from the border area, Lisa and Hans Fittko took up Varian Fry's offer of passage to Cuba.  They arrived in Cuba on the SS Colonial 10 days before the attack on Pearl Harbour.


  A series of stories written by Fittko in the last few years deal with some episodes concerning the eight years of exile in Havana.(13)    They convey a difficult period of waiting and hope of returning "home";  of dismay with corruption and intrigue and yet a certain solidarity among the émigrés.


The Fittkos had planned to travel from Cuba directly to Germany but this became impossible as the only way was via the United States which at this point allowed immigrants to enter but not to use the US as a transit land.


In 1948 she and her husband (they were now finally able to legally wed) left their Cuban exile to go to the United States, to Chicago where she lived until her death, in March, 2005, at age 96.












The Fittkos choose Chicago, over New York where they originally intended to live, for family reasons. Her brother was now living there, with his family, and most important, it finally became possible for their parents to immigrate to the US.  The now elderly Eksteins had survived the war in the small Mediterranean village of Cassis, where local socialists had organized food rations and safety from Nazi razzias throughout the entire War. The decision not to return "home" to Germany - this had always been their aspiration - was largely based on her husband Hans' feeling that as a journalist he would not be granted the political freedom to write as he wished in either of the two Germanys.  A serious illness prevented him from developing a career in America and he died in 1960.


Lisa Fittko first began to write after her retirement.   She had been employed all of her life - working in four languages.  In exile - in Cuba and Chicago - she worked as a secretary-stenographer-translator and office manager.  She became the chief breadwinner  as well as caretaker when her husband fell ill and her aged parents arrived in Chicago from France.   She had little time for politics or writing about the past, yet at the time of the Vietnam war,  she began to be active, once again, in the peace and civil rights movement in Chicago.



Fittko began to write her memoirs more than forty years after the events. That she was nonetheless able to capture the suspenseful atmosphere of the times  has fascinated many; further, the series of vignettes have been praised for providing a kind moral challenge to the reader, who is called upon to reflect on how he or she would have reacted in a similar situation.


Lisa Fittko first  came to write the story of "old Benjamin" after having visited a niece who was spending a sabbatical year at Stanford University in California in 1979-80 and who had come into contact with visiting Professor Chimon Abramsky of University College in London.  When the story of Fittko taking Walter Benjamin across the Pyrenees was recounted, Abramsky  realized that here was probably an important link...  Lisa had mentioned a Benjamin briefcase.   Abramsky immediately contacted his friend and Benjamin-intimate, Gershom Scholem, and shortly thereafter Scholem called Fittko: the story about  Lisa`s first trip across the Pyrenees became major news: Suhrkamp Verlag sent people to the Franco-Spanish border to search for the missing briefcase - and possible manuscript.   Scholem spoke to Fittko while his wife took the story down in Hebrew (which he claimed was a sort of shorthand) from the telephone conversation.  He asked if he could publish the story.  Lisa said no, she was writing the story herself.  Thus began her career as a writer.  Contacts were made with Michael Krüger of Hanser Verlag and the book was published in 1985. Christoph Buchwald, who became her editor, played an important role in the final structuring of the book.


Fittko's writing appeared at a time when autobiographical accounts of the emigré experience of people in the resistance and the persecuted were first beginning to be published in greater numbers. (From 1976 to 1995 the number of autobiographies appearing in Germany was equal to the number published in the thirty years before that.(14)


A new and important phenomenon which helped to account for the great interest in her work was the fact that, apart from  an important novelist like Anna Seghers, women were just beginning to write their own accounts of flight and exile.   The women's movement had awakened in many an interest in the life stories of their own mothers.  In addition, the surge of interest in social history, "Alltagsgeschichte" and oral history had  helped generate a new public for memoir literature. (Previously many women`s stories had been absorbed into the mainstream male sagas.  Varian Fry, for example, specifically mentions Johannes Fittko but does not mention Lisa in his autobiographical volume,  Surrender on Demand.)  Of course the link with Walter Benjamin, whose work was just beginning to become recognized among the educated public in Germany and France, rendered her story particularly compelling to reviewers and critics in the more intellectually ambitious press.



Lisa Fittko seems to be speaking to the next generation when she writes; she includes passages where her niece asks questions about the meaning of her political experiences.  In other passages she seems to be attempting to awaken  political awareness,  working to put to rest simplistic ideas, for example, the popular thesis that fascism could only succeed in Germany and nowhere else. Questions of political import are posed and repeatedly the reader is brought to wonder just what he or she would be capable of doing in her place.



Fittko writes about politics and her writing is political in the deepest sense.  She describes the resistance activities of her friends and comrades as well as the extraordinary conduct that became the mainstay of everyday existence in the face of adverse circumstances.  She writes about the friendships and solidarity that made political activity and mere survival possible. This also includes the aid of innumerable honourable bystanders.


Although Lisa Fittko sees herself primarily as a political émigré,  she is  also aware of being persecuted for being Jewish.  Fittko often draws the distinction between those who were persecuted for their religion and those who suffered victimization for their active involvement in fighting racism and anti-Semitism.  In response to an interviewer's question on this issue, Fittko was quoted as saying “I often had the impression that many Jewish émigrés regarded Nazi persecution as something personal:  I lived in another world with my friends who were involved in active resistance and who saw anti-Semitism and racism, as did I, as a manifestation of fascism.“(15).


 Given that Fittko has lived in the Americas since 1942, she began her autobiographical writing in English:  it was only when she read the German translation of her first story (the Benjamin story, first published in the literary magazine in Munich, the Merkur 403, 1982) that she decided that she could do better and returned to the German of her youth.  This meant, incidentally, that she was quite isolated while writing in the US.  Apparently the chief editorial assistance she received came from an American writer-friend, to whom she read the English out loud, just translating the stories as she went along.



Although some reviewers have questioned the authenticity of the dialogues and have expressed surprise at her ability to recreate the atmosphere of panic and fear after a forty-year lull, it should be mentioned that historians have praised her sober retelling of the historical event and have frequently commented on the reliability of her accounts. This point was made in a conference on exile in Paris in 1997 by Patrik von zur Mühlen.(16)


In a recent interview, Fittko said the writer she most admires (in style, not in content) is Ernest Hemingway  and in fact one detects a simplicity of expression accompanied by a journalistic style that recalls some of Hemingway`s better stories.


Fittko's work is a mixture of documentary report and description including some dialogue.  Gripping and lively, it conveys the atmosphere of fear, emergency and chaos as well as hope that existed, for example, in Marseille in 1940-42.  It explores important aspects of the emigration story -  of flight, internment and resistance and raises issues about the meaning of reliability and political cooperation






In 1986, almost a half a century after the Nazi regime had taken away her citizenship, Lisa Fittko was awarded the Distinguished        Service Medal, First Class, of the Federal Republic of Germany.(Bundesverdienstkreuz, l. Klasse, 25.6.1986).

Lisa Fittko wrote a letter to the Bundespresident Weizäcker, thanking him for the prize but protesting the lack of public information and recognition of the German resistance movement as a whole.  An English translation of this letter is included as an afterward in the 1993 English edition of Solidarity and Treason.

Apart from the prizes mentioned in footnote one, Fittko was also granted a fellowship (Stipendium) by the Deutsches Literaturfond e.v., Darmstadt, for one and a half years:1991-93.


In May, 1994, Lisa Fittko was flown to the Franco-Spanish border at the crossing point Port Bou in order to be an honoured guest at the ceremony inaugurating the monument erected by the Israeli artist-sculptor, Danny Karavan, called  "Passagen" ,an "Hommage" to Walter Benjamin. (17).



Books and plays about the Benjamin story:

Two plays based on the Benjamin story have appeared, by Christoph Hein and by Craig Eisendrath and Roberta Spivek.(18)   A novel based on her book by Jay Parini was widely reviewed.(19)


Two films have appeared on Lisa Fittko's life (20) and a third full-length documentary is in the making.(21)  Several other filmmakers have incorporated interviews with Fittko in their documentaries about the époque.(22) Fittko also gave a long interview for the Steven Spielberg Shoah project.(23)







1.  The book has had several German editions: Lisa Fittko, Mein Weg über die Pyrenäen. Erinnerungen 1940/41 (München/Wien:Hanser Verlag, 1985)

Mein Weg über die Pyrenäen. Errinerungen 1940/41.  Preface by Frederik Hetman(Ravensburg Taschenbuch: Otto Maier Ravensburg, 1992) and Mein Weg über die Pyrenäen. Errinerungen 1940/41 (München, DTV: Reihe Hanser, 2004).


The American edition:  Lisa Fittko, Escape through the Pyrenees, translated by David Koblick (Northwestern University Press, 1991).


also translated into French,Le Chemin des Pyrénées. Souvenirs 1940-41. Trad. Léa Marcou (Paris, Marin Sel, 1987).  A Japanese edition exists, as well as a Spanish  edition, in which both books are included in one. The Italian version: Lisa Fittko, La via dei Pirenei (Roma, Manifestolibri, 1999).


Shortly after its German publication in 1985, Lisa Fittko's first book, Mein Weg was named Political Book of the Year. (Das Politische Buch des Jahres: 14.5.1986 von Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Verleger, Buchhändler und Bibliotheken in der Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung zum Sachthema Politische Exilliterature.)


Prix sur la Fondation FIAT-Institut de France,

Paris, 28.8. 1988, Academie des Sciences morale et politique.


Mein Weg has been called a "an exemplary case of personal history writing „Musterbeispiel individueller Geschichtsschreibung" (Veronika Maas: Im Niemandsland der Bedrohung (Rez. zu Mein Weg) In: Stuttgarter Nachrichten, 9.10.1985.

and "one of the most important authentic reports of a horrible époque" (Hermann Glaser in Nürnberger Nachrichten, 27.11.1985.


Jürgen Habermas in his speech upon receiving the Geschwister Scholl Prize of 1987,  called Fittko`s book "a life story worthy of the White Rose conspiracy group." "Es gibt gewisse Bücher, auch heute noch, hinter denen eine der Weißen Rose würdige Lebensgeschichte steht.  Lisa Fittkos Erinnerungen sind von dieser Art."(Jürgen Habermas, EINE ART SCHADENSABWICKLUNG (Surkamp, Frankfurt a.M., 1987) p. 14.9


In 2001, referring to a monument which was erected to Hans and Lisa Fittko in Banyuls, initiated and financed by Georg Reuthner, the Prasident of Germany, Johannes Rau said: the time has come for honouring the German resistance-and not only in a French village.”

“Es ist an der Zeit, daß sich nicht nur ein französisches Dorf des deutschen Widerstands erinnert“ („ here exist unsung heroes who have saved others, who have placed their lives in danger - Hans and Lisa Fittko have done this.“)       „Es gibt diese unbesungenen Helden, die Menschen gerettet haben, die haben sich selber aufs Spiel gesetzt, und Hans und Lisa Fittko haben das getan.  Wir tragen die Last leichter,  wenn wir auch an diese Menschen erinnern, ohne damit die Gräueltaten beiseite zu schieben, die andere begangen haben.“


(2) Mittag, Gabriele, "Nur nicht drängeln zu den Engeln," Rez. zu Fittko, Mein Weg (1985) in TAZ (Berlin) 7.5.1992.

she calls the book ein "Renner der Exilbiographik".


(3) Solidarität unerwünscht. Meine Flucht durch Europa. Erinnerungen 1933-1940   Hanser Verlag (München/Wien, 1992)

Solidarität unerwünscht. Meine Flucht durch Europa. Erinnerungen 1933-1940 (Frankurt a.M.:Fisher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1994).

Solidarity and Treason: Resistance and Exile, 1933-1940 Transl. by Roxlyn Theobald in collaboration with the author(Northwestern University Press: Evanston, 1993).

Paperback printing, Northwestern University Press: Evanston, 1995).

Lisa Fittko died March 12 in Chicago at the age of 95.


(4) Die Waage:Eine Wiener Wochenschrift 1916-1919 (Redaktion, E.K.Stein, Margaretenstr. 60, Wien).



(5) The Youth Movement in Vienna  in which Fittko was involved was called Pfadfinder and it was for girls.  The pedagogical movement that she was involved in was the Montessori Kindergarten movement.  She also worked for a while in an institute in Vienna for blind children, using Montessori methods.


(6) Johannes Fittko (1902-1960) was active in left wing circles and published as a journalist, for example in Franz Pfemferts Die Aktion. 

Shortly after the Nazi takeover of power, anyone who was considered an “intellectual initiator of a capital crime” was subject to the death penalty.  When in Berlin a member of the Nazi party was murdered- in fact it turned out he was killed by other Nazis- the blame was attributed to Fittko.  Fittko was thus forced to flee the country and when in Prague he learned that he had been sentenced to death.


Johannes Fittko was awarded the Yad Vashem Medal for the Just among the Peoples for his resistance activities. Lisa Fittko accepted this reward in  honor of those non-Jews who helped to save Jews and participated in resistance to the Holocaust for her husband in July, 2000.  Varian Fry had been the first American to be honoured by this reward a few years earlier.  In the acceptance ceremony Warren Christopher, Secretary of State at the time, used the occasion to apologize for the lukewarm attitude of the State Department towards Fry and other Americans who tried to help the refugees.






(7) It is now thought that it might have contained Benjamins last manuscript, a copy of which was preserved in Paris.  See Gershom Scholem`s note and the “remarks of the editor: background history (Zeugnisse zur Entstehungsgeschichte” in Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, (Complete Works) edited by Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhauser, with Theodor W. Adorno and Gershom Scholem (Frankfort/M. Suhrkamp, 1985) Bd. V/2, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, p. 1081-1205, especially

p. 1194.


(8) Mein Weg (1991) p. 103 ff.


(9)  See Gershom Scholem`s note and theremarks of the editor: background history“ (Zeugnisse zur Entstehungsgeschichte” in Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, edited by Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhauser, with Theodor W. Adorno and Gershom Scholem (Frankfort/M. Suhrkamp, 1985) Bd. V/2, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, p. 1081-1205, especially p. 1194.


(10) On Fry and Emergency Rescue Committee see articles in this Lexicon by Wolfgang D. Elfe, “Das Emergency Rescue Committee,” in Deutsche Exilliteratur seit 1933. Bd. I: Kalifornien, edited by john M. Spalek and Joseph Strelka (Bern/München, Franke, 1976), pp 2114-219.

 Anne Klein "Conscience, Conflict and Politics. The Rescue of Political Refugees from Southern France to the United States, 1940-1942,"  in LEO BAECK YEARBOOK, 1998, pp 287-311.

Andy Marino, A Quiet American: The Secret War of Varian Fry (New York, 1999, ST. Martin's Press)  Significant is the dedication to Varian Fry`s book Surrender on Demand (Random House, New York, 1945), German translation by Jan Hans and Anja Lazarowicz, Auslieferung auf Verlangen: Die Rettung deutscher Emigranten in Marseille 1940-41 edited by and annotated by Wolfgang D. Elfe und Jan Hans (Hanser Verlag, München, 1986) which reads "Für Anna Caples und Paul Hagen, die den Anstoß gegeben haben." (for Anna Caples and Paul Hagen, who initiated it all.)  Paul Hagen is one of Karl Frank's many pseudonyms, and Anna Caples was his American wife.


(11) see ft.10 above for the details on Varian Fry's book.


(12) Do you understand the word Überzeugung, conviction?”  Mein Weg, 1991 English edition, p.119.


(13) Stories written in the last few years include: “Charlie und Lola,” SS Colonial,” “Tiscornia” “Prenatal” “The Wedding” “Brigadier” “Adria” “Nikolo” “Le Grand Rabin” “Die Blaue Donau”.  


(14) Ursula Seeber-Weyrer, "Autobiografisches Schreiben über das Exil heute: Lisa Fittko und andere Beispiele," in Anne Saint Sauveur-Henn (edit.), Zweimal verjagt. Die deutschsprachige Emigration und er Fluchtweg Frankreich-Lateinamrika 1933-1945 (Berlin, Metropol, 1998).



(15)See Dorothea Dornhof, "Nur nicht stillschweigen müssen zu den Verbrechen seines Landes"  Gespräch mit Lisa Fittko, Chicago, 14, Dezember 1992" 229-238, citation from p. 231, in FRAUEN UND EXIL: EXIL FORSCHUNG: EIN INTERNATIONALES JAHRBUCH BAND II; Herausgegeben im Auftrag der Gesellschaft für Exilforschung (Edition text + kritik, München, 1993).


(16) This point was made in a conference on exile in Paris in 1997  by Patrik von zur Mühlen (Zweimal verjagt. Die deutschsprachige Emigration und er Fluchtweg Frankreich-Latein Amerika 1933-1945 (Berlin, Metropol, 1998).






(17) The project, costing 980,000 DM, was originally to have been sponsored by the German Bundestag.  However, in  1992  the project was called off on the grounds that "es sei nicht zu verantworten "eine Million in einen abgelgenen Ort mit sehr geringem Nutzwert" zu stecken. (It is irresponsible to put a million in a far-off place with little use.)

In the face of this refusal, the Bundesländer, the Catalone government and the communities of Banyuls sur mer and Portbou, along with private sponsors, managed to mount the project themselves, under the organization of the Arbeitskreis selbständiger Kulturinstitute (AsKI).


The ceremony took place in Portbou May 15, 1994. 

At the cemetery above the sea, the memorial for Benjamin, created by Danny Karavan, was inaugurated. Those who had made it possible, Hans Eichel from Hessen and Erwin Teufel from Baden-Würtemmberg were there, together with the president of Catalonia Jordi Poujol i Soley. 

Without making any dramatic changes in the landscape, Karavan gathered created a monument using several themes symbolizing the hopelessness and yet calm of Benjamin's situation - an olive tree, a fence over the bay and the whirl of white water at the foot of the cliff.

At the bottom of a narrow staircase made of grey-red rusted steel a glass panel - preventing one from falling into the sea- is engraved with the following words from Benjamin's writings: "Schwerer ist es, das Gedächnis der Namenlosen zu ehren als das der Berühmten.  Dem Gedächtnis der Namenlosen ist die historische Konstruktion geweiht." ("It is more arduous to honour the memory of the nameless than that of the renowned.  Historical construction is devoted to the memory of the nameless.")(WB, Gesammelte Schriften, I,S. 1231).


(18) Hein, Christoph, Passage: Ein Kammerspiel in drei Akten (Berlin,1988).

 Craig Eisendrath and Roberta Spivek, The Angel of History" (unpublished ms., 1988).


(19)Parini, Jay, "Benjamin`s Crossing: A Novel" (New York, 1997).


(20)Das letzte Visum Passage unbekannt (Varian Fry und das Emergency Rescue Committe). Ein Film von Karin Alles. Hessicher Rundfunk, 1987.


 Wir, sagten wir, wir ergeben uns nicht.... Constanze Zahn,(Berlin 1989)


Lisa Fittko, Katrin Seybold, Director; Catherine Stodolsky, Co-Author (München, 2000).


(21) An excellent recent film is Resisting Paradise: a film by Barbara Hammer (2003).


(22)"Interview with Lisa Fittko,” Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation  January, 1999.