An Unknown Tale of Love and Loyalty.

by yu jessler
Visiting a cemetery in Berlin-Stahnsdorf, I recently came across the little-known story of the Gottschalk-Wolff couple:

In May, 1931, the 26-year-old successful theater actor, Joachim Gottschalk, married his colleague, the Jewish actress Meta Wolff. In February, 1933, their son, Michael, was born. With the establishment of the Reichstheaterkammer six months later, Meta, who had been baptized to marry Gottschalk, was no longer allowed to work as an actress. Gottschalk himself, though, could continue to work, thanks to a “special license of the Reich Ministry for Propaganda”, and he kept his personal life as private as possible.

The booming film industry and UFA made him a star.


Film partner Brigitte Horney, a well-known stage and film actress, wrote in her memoires:  “Gottschalk could be so wonderfully silly! We kept thinking, ‘Time will tell. In a few years, Hitler is gone.’” He wasn’t, and Meta was no longer even allowed to enter a cinema. During Kristallnacht, when the synagogues were burned, she sat in panic with little Michael at home in Grunewald, while Joachim was working in Libya.


The more successful the “German Clark Gable” became, and the more the racial fanaticism escalated, the greater the pressure on Joachim became. Gottschalk was ordered to divorce, which he opposed, in order not to leave Meta and Michael unprotected. Meta wrote to a friend, “How will this all end? I’m, of course, ready to get divorced, if there is no other way, but Jochen wants to try everything to avoid it – it will be difficult for us to diverge.”


Gottschalk still worked with famed Austrian actress Paula Wessely, performed  Goldoni at the “Volksbühne”, but he was banned from the stages of Berlin in 1941. In April, his last film, “The Swedish Nightingale” with Ilse Werner, was released. Gottschalk, it is said, showed up with Meta for the premiere. Goebbels kissed her hand and later went into a rage when he realized who she was.


An emigration ban for Jews was issued, and in October, 1941, the deportation order for Meta and Michael arrived. Meta wrote, in the night of November 5th, to her friend Fanny, “You don’t have to grieve for us, you know we are happy …” Meta and Joachim gave their son a dose of Veronal, which  they also took themselves later on. Joachim wrote some last words to his mother: “Meta and the boy are already sleeping …” And then he turned on the gas.