Maria Lazar

Maria Lazar (née Maria Franziska Lazar. After marriage, Maria Franziska Strindberg. Pseudonym: Esther Grenen. November 22, 1895 – March 30, 1948) was an Austrian-Jewish writer.

Oskar Kokoschka, Dame mit Papagei, 1916

Born in Vienna to a wealthy Jewish family who had converted to Catholicism, Lazar lost her father when she was 13. She attended the progressive Schwarzwaldschule, in Vienna, where her interest in literature was encouraged. There, she also met two women who would become her lifelong friends, Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer and Helene Weigel.

The school had been founded by pedagogue Eugenie Schwarzwald, who also ran a famous Viennese salon, where Lazar met numerous prominent personalities from the Viennese cultural scene at the time, such as Elias Canetti, Hermann Broch, and Oskar Kokoschka (who portrayed her in his painting Lady with a Parrot, in 1916). After graduating from high school in 1914, she studied history and philosophy for eight semesters at the University of Vienna, and worked as a teacher at one of the Schwarzwaldschulen in Semmering.

She published her first short story, Die Schwester der Beate (‘The Sister of Beate’), in 1919, in the magazine Der Friede. In 1920, Lazar published her first novel, Die Vergiftung (‘Poisoning’). A year later, in 1921, her one-act play Der Henker (‘The executioner’) premiered at the Neue Wiener Bühne, but her work was mildly received by both readers and critics.

On April 17th, 1920, Thomas Mann wrote in his diary: “Ging gestern Abend wieder in den Park, saß zum ersten Mal wieder lesend unter einem Baum. Begann mit einem Roman Vergiftung von Maria Lazar, den Karin Michaëlis geschickt, lese aber nicht weiter. Penetranter Weibsgeruch.”  (“Went to the park again last night, sat reading under a tree for the first time. Started with a novel, Poisoning by Maria Lazar, which Karin Michaëlis sent to me, but read no further. Penetrating womanly smell.”)

Maria’s sister, Auguste Lazar (who was also a writer), wrote in her memoir Arabesken: Aufzeichnungen aus bewegter Zeit (1962, ‘Arabesques: Notes from turbulent times’) that their family saw the book as a roman à clef and felt exposed and attacked by it.

In 1923, Maria married the Swedish-German journalist Friedrich Strindberg, and thereby also became a Swedish citizen. They had a daughter, Judith Lazar, in 1924, but Strindberg fled to Berlin soon after the birth of their daughter, to live with another woman, and Maria started to live as single mother in Vienna.

After the cold reception of her books, Lazar did not publish anything for some years, and worked as a translator of works from Danish, English and French into German. In 1927, she separated from her husband, and, three years later, she started to publish again – this time, under a Nordic pseudonym, Esther Grenen, to bypass the anti-semitism of her day. In 1930, she published the novel Der Fall Rist (‘The case Rist’), in the Berlin magazine “Vorwärts”. In the following year, in 1931, Lazar published the novel Veritas verhext die Stadt (‘Veritas Bewitched the City’), in the periodical “Kuckuck”. Both were bestsellers.

In 1933, her anti-war play Nebel von Dybern (‘Mists of Dybern’) premièred in Stettin, but it was soon blacklisted and cancelled by the Nazis. Shortly thereafter, at the invitation of the Danish writer Karin Michaëlis, Lazar went into exile on the Danish island of Thurø, together with Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel. Lazar lived there until 1935, and then moved to Copenhagen with Judith, where they lived until 1939.

Lazar published a novel of exile, Leben verboten, in 1934, in London, under the English title No right to live. In 1937, she published the novel Die Eingeborenen von Maria Blut (‘The natives of Maria Blut’) in the magazine Das Wort, edited by Bertolt Brecht and Lion Feuchtwanger in Moscow. This novel is perhaps her best-known work, and had been previously rejected by Austrian and Swiss publishers due to its political nature: the book describes the rise of Nazism in Austria.

During her exile years, Lazar wrote numerous articles for Scandinavian and Swiss newspapers and periodicals, and worked as a translator of literary works from Danish and Swedish into German. In 1939, she moved to Sweden with her daughter, where she worked in an archive in Stockholm.

Lazar continued to publish books in exile. In her collection of quotes “Det tyska ansiktet” (1943), she juxtaposed German classics with Nazi sayings. In the novel “Det kom af sig selv” (1946), she described the Danish resistance against the German occupation forces in 1943.

After being diagnosed with an incurable bone disease, in 1946, Lazar lived with her sister Auguste in London for a year. Faced with a terminal illness, Lazar committed suicide in Stockholm, on March 30th, 1948.


  • Die Schwester der Beate (1919). In: Die rote Perücke. Prosa expressionistischer Dichterinnen, ed. H. Vollmer (2010)
  • Die Vergiftung (‘The Poisoning’, 1920, novel)
  • Der Henker (1921, play)
  • Der Fall Rist (1930, novel)
  • Veritas verhext die Stadt (1931, novel)
  • Der Nebel von Dybern (1933, play)
  • Leben verboten! (1934, novel)
  • Die Eingeborenen von Maria Blut (1937, novel)
  • Der blinde Passagier (1938, play)
  • Det kom af sig selv (1946, novel)

About her

  • Lexikon deutschsprachiger Schriftstellerinnen im Exil 1933 – 1945, by Renate Wall (2004)
  • Dramatikerinnen und Zeitstücke: Ein vergessenes Kapitel der Theatergeschichte von der Weimarer Republik bis zur Nachkriegszeit, by Anne Stürzer (1993)
  • Exil in Dänemark: deutschsprachige Wissenschaftler, Künstler und Schriftsteller im dänischen Exil nach 1933, ed. Willy Dähnhardt and Birgit S. Nielsen (1993)
  • „Maria Lazar. Eine Exilschriftstellerin aus Wien“, by Birgit S. Nielsen, Text und Kontext, 1983, pp. 138-194.
  • „Invasion – Differenz – Exzeß: Xenotopien des Weiblichen in Texten österreichischer Autorinnen der zwanziger Jahre“, by Brigitte Spreitzer. In: Zerfall und Rekonstruktion: Identitäten und ihre Repräsentation in der Österreichischen Moderne, ed. Hildegard Kernmayer (1999), pp. 137-168.
  • Genies sind im Lehrplan nicht vorgesehen, by Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer (1979)
  • Die österreichische Moderne der Frauen, by Brigitte Spreitzer (1999)
  • „Perspektivenwechsel: die österreichische Moderne der Frauen“, by Ingrid Habersack, Unizeit / Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, Nr. 3, 2000, pp. 14-15.

This post was written for German Lit Monthhosted by Lizzy and Caroline.

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