Partner Lilli Wolff, Eva Zilcher
Annagasse 8, 1010 Wien, Austria
Zentralfriedhof Vienna, Wien Stadt, Vienna (Wien), Austria
Dorothea Neff (born February 21, 1903 in Munich, † July 27, 1986) was an Austrian actress. In the late 1930s, Volksoper actress Dorothea Neff moved into an apartment opposite the Tabarin, in which she hid her Jewish girlfriend Lilli Wolff. To confuse the Gestapo, Neff wrote a suicide note and signed it 'Lilli' and left it in her apartment. Neff allowed Lilli to live with her for a short time and later Lilli moved in with Mati Driessen and Meta Schmidt. In 1979, Dorothea Neff was awarded to the list of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in recognition of the risk to her own life, in hiding a Jew during the Holocaust. Since 1967 to her death, Neff was blind, but still worked as an actress. Unlike in the Third Reich, the ban on homosexuality in section 129 of the Civil Code of the national socialist Ostmark remained in force until the 1970s. It was not until its repeal that Dorothea Neff revealed her experiences during that time, and of the need to hide for almost her entire life as the “greatest acting role” she ever played.
After training in Munich, Dorothea Neff's stage career led to Regensburg and Aachen in roles of the youthful heroine and lover, then as a character actress at the Staatstheater Munich and on to the Deutschevolkstheater in Vienna via Cologne and Gera in 1939. Dorothea Neff was engaged by Walter Bruno Iltz, who had already been her director in Gera. Here she played, among others, Elisabeth in Friedrich Schiller's Maria Stuart at the side of Judith Holzmeister, the Queen Isabella in the play of the same name by Hans Rehberg and in Franz Grillparzer's A Faithful Servant of his Lord at the side of O. W. Fischer. From 1941 to 1945, Dorothea Neff hid her Jewish friend Lilli Wolff, who was threatened with deportation, in her apartment in Annagasse in Vienna's first district, endangering not only her theater career, but also her life. She was supported by the then young doctor and later psychiatrist Erwin Ringel, who looked after Lilli Wolff in case of illness. On September 2, 1944, all theaters in Vienna were closed and Dorothea Neff was divided into a factory in Wurmsergasse, where uniform parts and shirts were produced for soldiers. She cared for Lilli Wolff all the time, bribed the caretaker and stayed in the apartment with Wolff, even though air raid sirens sounded. With her help, Lili Wolff was able to emigrate to the United States after the war, where she settled in Dallas.
After the war Dorothea Neff continued her career at the Volkstheater in Vienna, first under Günther Haenel,then under director Leon Epp. She played the mother in Karl Kraus' The Last Days of Humanity (1945), the village midwife Képes in Julius Hay's Have (1945), (a performance, which caused a theatrical scandal when Neff hid poison under a Madonna statue), Franz Grillparzer's Medea (1946) and the grandmother in the Austrian premiere of Ödön von Horvath's Tales from the Vienna Forest (1948), a performance in which the biggest theatre scandal after the war occurred when Neff announced in the last picture the death of her little grandson. In the 1962/63 season, the Volkstheater ventured with Mother Courage and her children to a play by Bertolt Brecht. For many years, this could not be performed in Austria against the background of the Cold War under the leadership of Hans Weigel and Friedrich Torberg in the so-called Brecht boycott. The press spoke of the "Blockadebrecher" premiere on February 23, 1963 with Dorothea Neff in the title role and directed by Gustav Manker. Neff was awarded the Kainz Medalfor her portrayal in this play and for her role as Colonel Hühnerwadel in Frank Wedekind's music (director: Gustav Manker). Later, Neff also played at the Academy Theatre and the Burgtheater, but had to end her acting career because of her gradual blindness and gave only private acting lessons.
Dorothea Neff has remained silent about the fact that she kept her friend Lilli Wolff hidden in her apartment for four years at the risk of her life. Only insiders knew about it. It was not until 1978 that a Viennese journalist learned about it and was able to win her over for an interview about this time. This interview appeared in the weekly newspaper Die Furche, in the monthly congregation of the Jewish Community and in The Jewish Rundschau in Basel. While there was no reaction to the two articles published in Vienna, the then Israeli ambassador to Vienna read the Basel article and forwarded it to Yad Vashem. Dorothea Neff was honoured on 21 February 1980 at the Academy Theatre by the Israeli Ambassador and in the presence of President Rudolf Kirchschläger, at which Dorothea Neff was awarded the Medal of Yad Vashem as "Righteous Among the Nations" (Yad Vashem on Commons, 29 May 2017). A particularly important consequence of this award for Dorothea Neff was that she was able to resume her acting career despite her blindness.
In 1986 Dorothea Neff was buried in the Vienna Central Cemetery (Group 33G, No. 72) in an honorary grave of the city of Vienna. The actress Eva Zilcher, her long-term partner, is also buried there as well. In 2007 a new park corner Seidengasse/Bandgasse was named after Dorothea Neff in Vienna's 7th district. In 2018, the Dorothea-Neff-Weg was named after her in the 12th district of Vienna, Meidling.
The Tyrolean author and playwright Felix Mitterer was commissioned by the then Volkstheater director Michael Schottenberg to write a play about Dorothea Neff's spontaneous decision to hide her friend Lilli Wolff from her and the following years. The world premiere of Du bleibst bei mir (You stay with me) took place on September 9, 2011; Neff was portrayed by Andrea Eckert, who still had acting lessons with Neff and Zilcher. Felix Mitterer wrote about the prehistory of the play and its difficult origin story in the introduction to the program for the premiere. The question of why Dorothea Neff had remained silent for so long remained unanswered. One reason could be that the love affair between her and Lilli Wolff had failed because of the tensions of the years in hiding. Lilli Wolff never re-entered Austrian soil after emigrating to the United States. The decisive factor, however, was something else: as a result of the announcement of the honoring of Dorothea Neff, the historian, political journalist and author Ines Rieder, who has dealt with the history of gays and lesbians, began to deal in principle with the question of "lesbian submarines" never dealt with in research during the Nazi era. It also became clear that homosexuality was prosecuted in Austria until 1971 – which also affected the relationship of Dorothea Neff and Eva Zilcher.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE