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From the archive of a Protestant family

She was born in the Vatican during the Second World War, Christina, granddaughter of Wernher von Braun

Family histories have visible and hidden aspects, they are passed on out loud or sometimes silently. In her book Stille Post (2007), Christina von Braun deciphers the messages transmitted especially in the female line of the family, from grandmother to mother, mother to daughter. Through the sources of this family archive - memories, letters, diaries and unpublished memoirs - Christina von Braun initiates a dialogue with history. The result is a complex overview of German history in the first half of the twentieth century.

With her book, Christina von Braun creates a monument above all to her  maternal grandmother, Hildegard Margis. The latter, who had Jewish roots, as a result of contacts with the communist resistance, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and died in prison. As a successful entrepreneur and promoter of women's rights, Margis was in the twenties one of the first women to stand for the Reichstag.

Her courage and commitment were representative of a whole generation of women, Christina von Braun told us: "There was a strong atmosphere of departure. As if they were waiting on the starting blocks finally to set off and be able to say: look at what we are capable of doing. "

Christina von Braun was born in Rome in the same year in which her grandmother died. Daughter of the German diplomat Sigismund von Braun, who from 1943 was in service at the German embassy to the Holy See, before moving to Germany together with his family. For some time she lived in the protected world of the Vatican: "my homeland was a concept that I connected to the sun in the Vatican gardens, and not to Germany with its cold, darkness, and the destruction caused by the bombing. In some ways this sensation has never left me. "

After the arrival of the Allies in Rome, the Holy See received the families of many diplomats, including von Braun who were evangelicals. How the family was welcomed into the Catholic atmosphere of the Vatican, was recorded by her mother Hilde in her diary, in which she also recounts that Monsignor Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, visited the young Christina just shortly after her birth.

At the time of the deportation of Jews from Rome, Sigismund von Braun saved the lives of many people. One of his tasks was "to prevent German units from searching or even occupying the buildings belonging to the Vatican state," explains Christina von Braun. Her father was fully aware of the fact that in its buildings and its monasteries, the Vatican also housed many people who were in danger of being arrested, "It was by no means a risk-free action. If the German authorities had found out about them, they would certainly have been arrested. "

How many different ways of living history there can be in the same family. Christina von Braun’s book also speaks of this:  in Berlin her grandmother Margis fell victim to the Nazi regime, while in Peenemünde, her uncle Wernher von Braun, built rockets for Hitler.

The rockets during the Second World War, caused great destruction in many cities. For their production inmates of concentration camps were used. Christina von Braun says in this regard: "Wernher, in my opinion, did not ask political questions. And if they presented themselves to him in an undeniable way, well I think he may have just dismissed them."

Christina von Braun, however, does ask herself these questions. And she goes even further: asking why they are often not asked. As a scholar of culture and film producer, she has  devoted herself to issues that have marked the life of her grandmother: the emancipation of women, the role of religion, the power of ideologies, and all this even before becoming acquainted with the life of Hildegard Margis: "This is one of the insights I gained in writing the book: that we are part of one of these chains of memories and therefore we also have a certain duty to pursue them."




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 28, 2020