“Hindsight: An Autobiography” by Charlotte Wolff— Jewish and Gay in Weimar Germany and Elsewhere

hindsightWoolf, Charlotte. “Hindsight: An Autobiography”, Plunkett Lake Press, 2013).

Jewish and Gay in Weimar Germany and Elsewhere

Amos Lassen

We have had several memoirs from gay men who survived the Holocaust but not much from gay women. Charlotte Woolf helps to fill that gap. She was an outsider, a person without a country, a Jew and a gay woman. In fact, she tells us that she had been a lesbian for as long as she could remember. She also tells us that in her family this was a non-issue.

Woolf writes sensitively about her Jewish identity as well as history, medicine, psychotherapy and her sexuality. What she has to say about being a woman without a country was important to her and shows how it affected her psyche. She tells us of the women she loved from Danzig in the 1910s to the women she meet in Germany, France and England. She had been a party girl and a physician in Weimar Germany, was a friend of the Benjamins (Dora and Walter) and was deeply interested in the study of hands (chirology) and sexology. Woolf was attracted to friends who had glamorous lives– the fashion journalist Helen Hessel (Kathe of Jules and Jim) and Baladine Klossowska (mother of the painter Balthus) in Paris. She was in a wartime refugee colony in Sanary, France and she knew Quakers, the Manns (Thomas and Heinrich) and the Huxleys (Maria and Aldous).

In 1936 Woolf moved to London where her medical degree was not accepted so she read palms to finance herself. (She read Virginia Woolf, the Duchess of Windsor, and Sybille Bedford). Then she moved on to do research at London’s University College). In the 60s she began her entrance into same-sex groups and she published “Love Between Women” in 1971. She was invited to come back to Germany and she went and was wonderfully received. She died in 1986 and today people know little about her. She published “Hindsight” six years before her death.

Woolf had had quite a life. As a young woman she studies philosophy with Heidegger and Husserl. She published poetry but her love was medicine and she practiced as a doctor in Berlin of the 1920s. Her study of the hand gave her the chance to meet distinguished international artists, writers and she was even photographed by Man Ray.

As I said earlier, she had always known she was attracted to women and when she was an adult in the Berlin of the Weimar, she found the perfect place to experience and express erotic love. With the fall of the Weimar, she knew she had to flee Germany for Paris and ultimately settling in London where she lived until her death at the age of 88.

Because she had not been unable to practice as a doctor for so long, Woolf channeled her interests into hand reading and sexology. Her best friends were Quakers and Christians and even though Judaism did not influence her daily life, she lived life as a Jew. She regarded herself as an international Jew but she was also a person without a country. She did not care for religion as an institution but she tells that when she had to deal with anti-Semitism, she was stressed. She prayed at those times and by doing so she sent the problem on and freed herself. When she wrote poetry, she attributed the Biblical prophets; the Jews of Spain and Maimonides were her inspirations. Her life came full circle when she returned to Berlin in the late 70s and was honored by the new generations of German feminists and gay women. We do not often get reads like this and this is one to be treasured.