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Elisabeth Leithäuser (1914-2004), journalist – biographies in the permanent exhibition No. 2

17. August 2005 – 27. November 2005

The Schwules Museum participates in this season of commemorating the end of WW II by paying tribute to a journalist of the first hour, Elisabeth Leithäuser. In Summer 1945 she joined the Berliner Rundfunk, a radio station licensed by the Russians. Her decision, three years later, to switch to RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) was politically motivated. She initiated a political youth program, wrote radio plays, provided a forum for contemporary issues and especially women’s concerns.

Leithäuser explored lesbian love from an early age and lived with women friends, though she married twice and had a daughter. In the early post-war years she had several likeminded colleagues forming a discrete yet supportive network. In the 1950s while employed at the liberal daily newspaper Telegraf, Elisabeth Leithäuser had a regular column as Frau Renate. She also organized popular excursions that were featured in a book on the paper’s 10th anniversary.

Essentially, Leithäuser was a non-conformist with progressive convictions. As a Young Communist she undertook action against the new Nazi regime and was tried in 1934 for high treason. Her group was acquitted thanks to a sympathetic police officer who supplied a false but favorable testimony. In Berlin, where she went to live with her girlfriend soon after the trial, the Gestapo still kept an eye on her. Their interest in her politics and involvement in lesbian circles prompted her to withdraw into strict privacy while working freelance as a secretary.

During the war Leithäuser attended lectures at university, but acquired most of her skills through learning by doing. A male friend introduced her to journalism and broadcasting. Aged over 50 she made a radical switch and led a psychiatric rehabilitation clinic.

In the 1970s Elisabeth Leithäuser joined the women’s liberation and lesbian movement; later she welcomed the introduction of registered same-sex partnerships. In the last few years of her life Leithäuser was among those interviewed by Claudia Schoppmann for a publication on lesbian life in the Nazi era.

The Schwules Museum presents an overview of the main stations in Elisabeth Leithäuser’s life through photos and documents. The display is part of the permanent exhibition, Self-awareness and persistence – 200 years of gay history. It belongs to the basic concept of this exhibition that individual biographical components are exchanged at regular intervals to shed a light on homosexual women and men with a wide range of strategies and modes of living.