Post by Dr Christopher Barenberg

The Centre for German and Austrian Exile studies is currently documenting the life and work of Jewish Austrian actors – Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert-Miller. The project will culminate in an exhibition entitled ‘Theatrical Lives from Vienna to London: Treasures from the Miller Archive’ tracing the Millers’ lives from pre-war Vienna, across Europe, to London. This work has been made possible by a generous grant from the Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert-Miller Trust.

Exhibition details
Senate House, Monday to Saturday, 9:00 to 18:00
Wednesday, 19 June – 30 August 2013. Admission free


About the project:
The aim of this project is to sort, arrange and catalogue the collection on the University of London’s online catalogue, making details of it available to the academic community and other researchers interested in exile history and the performing arts.

Tracing an extraordinary journey…
The extraordinary story of Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert-Miller will resonate with many other family histories of flight and exile. Despite the success they both enjoyed in post-war Britain, the difficult journey which led them here should not be forgotten. It is a poignant reminder of the struggle many refugees experience today.

Martin Miller in Der Führer spricht (Laterndl Theatre, 1940). Photographer unknown

Hannah was a promising young graduate of the famous Reinhardt drama school in Vienna, and Martin had a well-established acting and directing career, built over 17 years of working in German-language theatres across Central Europe.

Leaving Austria in 1938, Hannah moved first to Paris to find work in film and then to the UK, to which she was only admitted at her second attempt in 1939. Martin, meanwhile, moved from Vienna to the very heart of the Third Reich to work in the last Jewish theatre still functioning in Germany: the Jüdisches Kulturbund in Berlin. He later described his performances there as an attempt to keep ‘something alive in the very jaws of death’.

Martin was granted asylum in the UK in March 1939 and, despite being labelled an ‘enemy alien’ by the government at the outbreak of war, he and Hannah were driven by a desire to fight the National Socialist regime. They became central figures in the Austrian exile theatre, the Laterndl, whilst also writing and presenting anti-Nazi propaganda material for the BBC’s German-language radio for secret listeners in Nazi-occupied Europe.

The Millers continued their theatrical work in post-war Britain, with Hannah working for the BBC’s German Service, and Martin establishing himself on the British performing arts scene.

The forthcoming exhibition at Senate House
Using a selection of scripts, photographs, letters, theatre programmes and other items from the Miller Archive at the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies (IGRS), this exhibition will follow the fascinating journey of the Millers taking them from Nazi-occupied Europe to the heart of the West End. Many of the items in the collection are only now being systematically identified and contextualised, and this is the first time that they will be displayed.

The exhibition is designed to open the Miller Archive to the public and particularly to introduce it as a tremendous resource for researchers across a diverse range of disciplines. Once fully catalogued, researchers of history, exile studies, memory studies, film and theatre studies can utilise it for their work.

Further details and a fascinating insight into project archivist – Clare George’s work on the archive can be found here
The most recent article about the project by Clare George can be found on our blog here.

The exhibition runs at Senate House from Wednesday, 19 June 2013 to coincide with Refugee Week (17-23 June), until Friday, 30 August 2013.  Admission is free. Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 9:00 to 18:00.

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About the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies:
The Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies is one of the ten institutes of the School of Advanced Study. The Institute’s purpose is to promote and facilitate the study of the cultures of German-speaking and Romance language countries across a range of disciplines in the humanities. It fosters and contributes to national and international collaborative, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural research by means of seminars, lectures, workshops, colloquia, conferences and a fellowship programme organised through its five research centres. The Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, established in 1995, focuses on the history of German-speaking émigrés who found refuge in Britain. A generous grant from the Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert-Miller Trust has enabled us to explore and catalogue the papers of the Millers archived at the Institute’s library.