Maria Leitner

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Maria Leitner

Maria Leitner (born January 19, 1892 in Varaždin , Hungary ; † March 14, 1942 in Marseille ) was a German-speaking Hungarian journalist and writer . From around 1920 she used a passport with the date of birth December 22, 1893 and used this information officially until the end of her life.


Maria Leitner was the daughter of Leopold Leitner, a building materials dealer, and his wife, born Olga Kaiser. She had two brothers and grew up in a bilingual Jewish environment in Budapest . There she attended the 'Hungarian Royal Higher Girls' School' from 1902 to 1910. She then studied art history in Vienna and Berlin and completed an internship in Paul Cassirer's Berlin gallery , which resulted in the translation of William Hogarth's Notes (1914) into German. From 1913 she worked for the Budapest tabloid Az Est (The Evening). After the outbreak of World War I she reported from Stockholm as a correspondent for Budapest newspapers.

During the war, large parts of the revolutionary-minded Hungarian youth joined the anti-militarist movement. Maria Leitner and her brothers Johann, (also: János Lékai / John Lassen. 1895–1925) and Max / Maximilian (also: Miksa 1892–1942?), Actively participated in the socialist-pacifist Galileo circle . János Lékai was appointed head of the Hungarian Union of Young Communist Workers and was a co-founder of the Communist Youth International (KJI). Swept away by the revolutionary enthusiasm, the brothers joined the Communist Party of Hungary in 1919 and Maria Leitner expressed her solidarity with them. With the fall of the Soviet Republic under Béla Kun , all three had to leave their home country forever. They emigrated to Vienna and Berlin.

From Vienna, Maria Leitner traveled to Moscow in the summer of 1920 as an observer for Hungary to the II. Congress of the KJI . At this meeting she met Willi Munzenberg , who at the time was a member of the Executive Committee of the KJI. She then worked for the publishing house of the Jugendinternationale in Berlin, among other things as a translator. In 1923 the collection of Tibetan fairy tales , which she translated, edited and provided with an afterword, was published by Axel Juncker Verlag Berlin, and the English-Hungarian translation of Jack London's novel Die eiserne Heze in the Hungarian workers' newspaper Új Előre in New York .

In 1925 she traveled to the USA on behalf of Ullstein Verlag . For three years she crossed the American continent from New York via Massachusetts , Pennsylvania , Virginia , Georgia , Alabama , Florida , to Venezuela , British and French Guiana and the Caribbean islands of Haiti , Curaçao and Aruba . She took 80 different positions to report from her own experience on the working conditions of the people. She worked as a maid and cigar turner, visited penitentiaries and South American diamond mines. The focus of her socially critical reports was the America of the common people on the flip side of the American Dream .

Back in Berlin in 1929 Maria Leitner published the novella Sandkorn im Sturm in der Welt am Abend on the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic . In the story she described the tragic experiences of a village community at the time when the counter-revolution smashed the Soviet republic.

Hotel Amerika , memorial to the book burning on Bonn's market square

In 1930, the writer joined the League of Proletarian Revolutionary Writers , whose members included Bertolt Brecht , Johannes R. Becher , Andor Gábor , Erich Mühsam , Erich Weinert and Anna Seghers . In the same year, her first socially critical novel 'Hotel Amerika' was published by Neuen Deutscher Verlag. Embedded in a criminal act, the story of the Irish laundry girl Shirley O'Brien is thematized, parallel to the social grievances for the workers in a New York luxury hotel. Hotel America found a large readership and also appeared in Spanish and Polish translations. In 1933 the book was added to the list of books to be burned .

Maria Leitner has summarized her social reports from America in the report collection Eine Frau travels durch die Welt , which was published by Agis Verlag in Berlin in 1932 and immediately received a lot of attention. In 1934 the book was translated into Polish and two years later it was repeatedly published as a language exercise text in the Soviet Union .

As part of anti-fascist campaigns, Maria Leitner went on a voyage of discovery through Germany in 1932 and reported for Die Welt am Abend and the Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung on the social and political situation in small towns and villages in which the National Socialists already determined politics. In the report , for example, in the jug of a Hitler village , she looked for answers on how the NSDAP managed to win the majority of votes in the remote villages in the Reichstag elections in July 1932 .

The problems of women were always close to Maria Leitner's heart. In January and February 1933, the series of articles Women in the Storm of Time was published , in which the reporter describes the difficult life of eight Berlin women "between work and stamp office", as it is called in the subtitle.

Until 1933 she published articles in various, not only left-wing, press organs of the Weimar Republic . After the National Socialist seizure of power in January 1933, Maria Leitner lived illegally in Germany for a while before going into exile . Her path took her via Prague and Saarland in 1934 to Paris , where she stayed until April 1940.

There is evidence that she returned illegally to Germany several times and reported, among other things, on the secret war preparations. These reports appeared from 1936 to 1939 in the Moscow exile magazine Das Wort , the Paris daily newspaper and the Prague magazine Die Neue Weltbühne . Through her publications she communicated essential facts about the conditions in National Socialist Germany, for example about the situation of workers at IG Farben or the explosion at the explosives plant in Reinsdorf near Wittenberg, and thus continued her voyage of discovery in Germany from 1932. In 1938, as a foreigner in Düsseldorf , she had the Heine memorial room, forbidden for Germans, unlocked for the now ostracized poet and reported on the visit to Heinrich Heine in the magazine Das Wort.

In her novel Elisabeth a Hitler Girl , published in 1937 as a serial in the Paris daily newspaper , she tells the love story of a Berlin shoe seller and an SA man who advanced to become an officer. The protagonist Elisabeth, experiences the everyday fate of a young girl in the Third Reich, she is a member of the Association of German Girls , is sent to the labor service and does gas protection exercises in "her" department store, she dreams of romantic afternoons at the Waldsee, but the Hitler Youth only wants off-road exercises and accept night marches. The novel can be assigned to the employee novel that was widespread in the Weimar Republic and at the same time represents a counterpart to the youth novels of National Socialist character in that it shows methods of attempted manipulation of young people by Nazi propaganda and organizations.

In May 1940, Maria Leitner was interned by the French authorities together with other German exiles in the Camp de Gurs camp in the French Pyrenees. She managed to escape via Toulouse to Marseille , where she lived in extremely poor conditions underground. She tried in vain to obtain a visa for the United States through the mediation of the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom , the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) of Varian Fry and the American writer Theodore Dreiser . On March 4, 1941, she wrote what was probably her last appeal for help. In the spring of 1941 she was seen again by Luise Kraushaar in Toulouse and by Anna Seghers and Alexander Abusch in Marseille. Now it can be proven that the employees of the Emergency Rescue Committee and the American Guild for Cultural Freedom tried to get a visa for them. She died of physical exhaustion in Marseille on March 14, 1942.

Maria Leitner is an early representative of reportage literature . Her work is characterized by the fact that the author did not rely on the outside view when describing the living conditions of the workers , but at times entered the milieu to be described and z. B. gained experience even as a low labor force.

As a socialist, Maria Leitner had made it her business to use her language to represent and change the living conditions of the population class and the marginalized social groups . Your reports are part of proletarian revolutionary literature.

Factory selection


  • William Hogarth : William Hogarth's records , Berlin 1914
  • Tibetan fairy tales , Berlin 1923
  • Jack London : The Iron Heel. (The iron heel) (A vaspata.) Roman, translated into Hungarian. Új Előre, New York 1923.



  • Bénédite, Daniel: La filiére marseillaise, About his work in the aid organization, Paris 1981 (therein: Maria Leitner, p. 295).

Translations into other languages


  • Hotel America. Traducción de ER Sadia. Madrid: Editorial Cenit, 1931.
  • Hotel America. Una novela-reportaje. Edición, traducción y notas de Olga García. Santander: El Desvelo, 2016.


  • Лейтнер, Мария. Женщина путешествует по свету : Пер. с нем. / Мария Лейтнер; Обраб. Е.К. Аплиной. 2-е изд., Испр. Москва: Изд-во лит. на иностр. яз., 1937.
  • Лейтнер, Мария. Женщина путешествует по свету : (по очеркам М. Лейтнер): немецкий язык со словарем иар.имим Матинески граммаменерки граммаменерки мямматинески мямматически граммаменески мямматически мямматически. Лейтнер; обработка Е. К. Чаплина. 4-е испр. изд. Москва: Издательство литературы на иностранных языках, 1940.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Julia Killet: On the 70th anniversary of the death of the proletarian revolutionary writer and reporter in exile Maria Leitner , Junge Welt, March 16, 2012
  2. Short biography on Frauen-Kultur-Archiv