Sixties icon Marianne Faithfull is transported back to the Roaring Twenties to learn about her mother's early life in Berlin. However, as the singer discovers, the party didn't last forever...
In the 1960s, Marianne Faithfull was at the epicentre of the counterculture. As a singer and actor, and as Mick Jagger’s partner between 1966 and 1970, she was the epitome of cool. Yet her public image hid deeper troubles, which would later manifest themselves in a long period of drug addiction, beginning in the 1970s...
This unhappiness was partly rooted in her difficult relationship with her mother, an Austrian émigré, Eva von Sacher-Masoch, who told her “wonderful stories about castles and parties and balls” and styled herself as a baroness. These tales were in sharp contrast to life in rather reduced circumstances in Reading, following the breakdown of Eva’s marriage to a British soldier, Robert Glynn Faithfull, and the couple’s bitter divorce.
Now in her 60s, Marianne wants to understand her mother’s life better. She begins her research in Berlin. It was here, in the Weimar Republic era of the 1920s, that Eva worked as a dancer, a time and place immortalised in the film Cabaret. Eva was an integral part of the city’s avant-garde arts scene, working in nightclubs and left-wing, politically radical theatre. “I really didn’t know she had that kind of consciousness,” marvels her daughter.
But the Great Depression, which began in 1929, changed Eva’s life forever. As Hitler rose to power on the back of economic hardships, the Nazis began a violent and inexorable clampdown against possible sources of dissent. This would have been difficult enough in itself for Eva and her family, but there was an added danger: Eva’s mother, Flora, was Jewish.
The family returned to Austria, yet it was only a temporary respite, as Hitler annexed the country in 1938. In Vienna, Marianne learns more about her family’s life under the Nazis. Flora was protected, at least to some extent, by her marriage to Artur Wolfgang, Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, who had an impeccably Aryan heritage and was an Austrian knight – Eva’s claiming of a title was exaggerated, but rooted in reality. This saved Flora from being transported to the death camps, if not the constant fear. Half-Jewish Eva, Marianne learns, was officially marked out as a Mischling, a mongrel.
Marianne also learns that her mother’s stories of the family being involved in the resistance appear to be based in truth. Two documents mention her grandfather passing on messages to anti-Nazis, and Marianne learns Artur, then in his 60s, was picked up by the Gestapo and hanged by his hands, tortured. A former soldier, he didn’t give up any information.
In 1945, liberation came at last, but it would be bitter for Eva and Flora as they were among the estimated 100,000 women in Vienna raped by Red Army troops. “It twisted them both,” says Marianne, who thinks it left a residual hatred of men in Flora and Eva, a hatred the singer inherited and didn’t truly deal with until she was in her 50s.
Nonetheless, Marianne has found a new “understanding and compassion” towards Eva. “Your family is the ground you stand on,” she says, “and what has happened is that the ground has been put back, I’m very lucky.”
Watch this episode on the BBC iPlayer now