Etta Federn-Kohlhaas (1883–1951)

Author of Goethe : Sein Leben

Includes the names: Etta Federn

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Marietta "Etta" Federn was born in Vienna to a middle-class Jewish family. Her older brother Karl Federn became a lawyer and author, her brother Paul Federn was a noted physician and psychoanalyst, and her brother Walter Federn became a journalist. She attended a gymnasium for girls and then studied Greek and German literature, literary history, and several foreign languages in Vienna and Berlin. In Berlin she completed her graduate studies with a thesis on Goethe's Faust. She earned a living first as a private teacher and then as a translator from English, French, Danish, Russian and Yiddish. Among the authors she translated were Hans Christian Andersen, Alexandra Kollontai, William Shakespeare, and the classical Greek poet Anakreon. She also worked as a literary critic for the Berliner Tageblatt. She wrote biographies of Christiane Goethe and Christian Vulpius, among others, as well as essays, short stories, poems, and a play. In 1916, she married Max Bruno Kirmsse, with whom she had two children; after they divorced, she married Peter Paul Kohlhaas and had another son; that marriage also ended in divorce. She joined the German anarcho-syndicalist movement and made many social revolutionary friends, including Emma Goldman, Mollie Steimer, Senya Fléchine, Rudolf Rocker, and Milly Wittkop. Her 1927 biography of Walther Rathenau, who had been assassinated five years earlier, was a success but also brought her death threats from the rising Nazi Party. It became nearly impossible for her to get work from newspapers and publishing houses. In 1932, she left Germany for Spain accompanied by her two sons. Back in Nazi Germany, her books were burned and she was placed on the party's blacklist. In Barcelona, she wrote articles for the Spanish press and her home became a meeting place for exiles from Germany. During the Spanish Civil War, she joined the anarchist women’s movement and taught at its cultural center. She helped to found and direct four schools in the Catalan city of Blanes to train teachers as well as to teach children. In 1938 she fled the massive bombing raids on Barcelona for Paris. She turned her experiences into Spain into a novel written under the pseudonym Esperanza, unfortunately lost. From 1940 to 1945, she lived in hiding near Lyon and worked with the French Resistance doing translations and propaganda. She died in poverty in Paris.
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