[Extract] Ruth Maier’s Diary

An Artist’s Model

Extract as it appears in Making the World Legible


Saturday, 15 November 1941, Lillestrøm

Sometimes I think I’ve finished with this diary. I think I’ve grown out of it, I’ve grown older. I’ve said what has to be said. I’m through with myself. I’m so lacking in any illusions I could be forty years old. Why bother writing in that case? There’s no richness or excess of feelings that need a release. All that remains of my good and young sides emerges when I’m with Gunvor*.
   I have no idea what purpose these pages might still serve. The fact that I continue to write is more habit than anything else. Capturing a few nice hours to fill the time. So I can say to myself later: I can still write something, about myself, about me, my life. Writing, writing. There’s a lot that can be written.
   But what exists between Gunvor and me is too sacred to be touched by words. Besides that, there’s nothing particular to note. Apart from the that I still have no home. That’s old news. When I think of how homeless
I am, think of it as an onlooker, then I almost feel sorry for myself.
   There’s something else I’ve been meaning to write about for ages. It was in Trondheim. We were coming back from work. We were tired and drawn. We walked down Prinsens gate, boring old Prinsens gate. We were
already standing by the entrance to the YWCA. People were crowding around a few German soldiers… and? We approached them. Well, a small German soldier in a green uniform was standing there, railing at a drunken man who couldn’t even stand any longer. He was just smiling mischievously, while the German kept on abusing him.
   The soldier became irritated. He let the drunken man fall to the ground, who ended up flat on his stomach. The people standing there and watching moved uncomfortably. A young man, slim and with a clever face, stepped forward. I won’t forget the expression in his eyes. He said: ‘But please…’
   The soldier got even more annoyed. He went over to the young man. ‘Now just move on.’
   The Norwegian man understood German. But he didn’t leave. The soldier took another menacing pace towards him and started waving his hands around in front of his face. ‘Don’t you understand German?’
   The other man opened his eyes wide: ‘No. I don’t.’
   The soldier was fuming now. I thought: No, he won’t do anything to him. But he did do something. He hit the man in the face. Wallop!
   I could hear a quiet sigh from those who were standing around. But they stood there stiffly, seriously. There were lots of them. The soldier was just one against many. Just him on his own.
   The Norwegian’s eyes now had a pained expression, and he looked young and gentle. All he said was: ‘But please….’
   The soldier was led away by other Germans who had arrived.
   I found the whole scene terrifying. I cannot recall that anything of this sort has upset me as much as that incident. It was strange: Gunvor didn’t find it as terrible as I did.
   Another typical occurrence these days. The son of Frau Heltene, our ‘leader’ in the winter camp in Biri, died on the Eastern Front. He was sixteen years old. I’ve read his letters: he totally misunderstood National Socialism and idealised it in such a childish manner, and with such enthusiasm, that you can’t help but smile. He volunteered for the Waffen SS. He was Frau Heltene’s only comfort, her great love.
   Hildegard, John and now that. That’s how it is every day. Nonetheless it’s idiotic to report it as anything but fact. It would also be quite wrong to start thinking in terms of ‘holy murder’. I think that it’s the same for everybody who reads the daily tally of dead and captured soldiers at breakfast. Feelings are lost. Only from time to time do you think things like: They’re murdering each other. Yes. And when is it going to end?… But that’s all. We’ve become so blunted. We’re not surprised any more. That’s why we’re closer to what happens here in Norway.
   Even outrage and enthusiasm over some death sentences (and again it’s the workers who are being sentenced to death) don’t last longer than an hour.

Wednesday, 19 November 1941, Lillestrøm

   A short list of facts, a Norwegian daily digest?
   The food situation.
   Bread: few people manage with the ration cards. Those undertaking physically demanding labour get additional rations.
   Milk: not rationed until October this year. Now adults receive one-quarter litre, children under ten one litre per day. All the milk goes to Finland, Germany etc. Milk rationing led directly to a number of strikes in Oslo
factories, with the result that two Norwegians (Viggo Hansteen, Rolf Wickstrøm) were shot and others sentenced to ‘life’ imprisonment.
   Butter: goes to Germany. Impossible to find dairy butter. Margarine getting ever rarer. People are using whale oil for frying.
   Meat: you need cards. (Almost) unobtainable. Probably goes to Germany.
   Fish: getting rarer and rarer.
   Potatoes: difficult to buy. But people have hoarded them, so it’s all right.
   Eggs: none.
   Chocolate: none (queues).
   Cigarettes: none.
   Coffee: very little, with ration card. Soon there won’t be any coffee ration cards.
   Cocoa: none.
   Sugar: little, with ration card.
   Clothes: clothes card of 300 coupons (a pair of mittens costs 10 coupons).
   Shoes: have to apply for them. Application usually approved.

Saturday, 22 November 1941, Lillestrøm

Concerning loneliness. I’m no longer lonely. I have Gunvor. I’ve staked everything on her. That is why I felt so dreadful when I thought I’d lost her. I cried. I’ve rarely cried like that. And yet sometimes I long for a man. Without Gunvor I’d never be able to cope without a man. So this man-lessness is just a gentle pain inside me.
   I remember every snippet of conversation I have with men. I love many of the faces of men who walk past. Those that I see in the Deichmann and university libraries.
   At the moment Tobben is sitting in the dining room. Frau Strøm’s brother. I would love him very much if he only gave me the chance. When he offered me his hand his face felt like a pain to me and I look at him as if
he were my lover. Tobben is a very good man. He has such a lovely, calm way of talking, as if he didn’t want to hurt people, get too close to them. He said, with a slight singing in his voice, ‘So… how are you?’
   At that moment I loved him very much.
   Sometimes I see Jewish people and they have this completely – how shall I put it? – erotic effect on me. They awaken a feeling of love within me. I feel myself drawn to them. Today I saw a small, tiny Jew. He was from Germany and spoke Norwegian with a German accent. He was talking with a blonde girl who was twice his size. I think he was very lonely because there was a thin, coy smile on his lips. A little soft. He was very ugly. Spectacles, big nose and so short. He said, ‘I’m a bookworm.’ A crooked smile, then: ‘Yes, I am a little nervous.’
   Oh, you little Jew. It’s an unappealing habit of Jews to say of themselves, ‘I’m slightly nervous.’
   Another Jew in the library. Also from Germany, tall with a bent back, his whole face turned inwards. Eyes deep below the forehead. Looked somewhat blind and moved nervously as if he had poor sight. Nodded his head.
   I love Jewish people. I’d like to go up to them and say, ‘I love you.’ I’d like to kiss them.
   There was another Jewish man in the library. He used to be in my class. In the Frogner school. He’s from England. His face is also somehow painful. A finely curved nose, a delicate mouth, deep eyes. He looks so young, as if he’d just turned eighteen, and so Jewish, so fine looking, so painfully fine looking. I used to see him at school a lot. Once he said ‘Cheer up!’ to me. And to his brother, ‘She is always so sad.’ I’d really love to have kissed him today, but he just gave me a fleeting glance.
   Those are the men in my life. Then, of course, there’s the old man I model for. I’m just waiting for my love to be consecrated. He’s so short and has a hunchback. He’s the first man who has seen me naked. Today I passed out. When I leave him I always feel as if I’m parting from a friend; there’s something that binds us. I’d love to know what’s hiding behind his face. We speak very little.
   ‘Is it cold?’
   ‘How dark it is today!’
   ‘Hold your right arm a little further to the left.’

Sunday, 23 November 1941, Lillestrøm

It’s totally unjust not to have a home. It’s totally unjust to have to take a mean comment from Frau Strøm.

Monday, 1 December 1941, Lillestrøm

It’s very interesting working as a model. You have contact with so-called artists. You learn things: ah, so these are the select individuals who produce works of art. But very often these ‘works of art’ turn out to be anything but art.
   Esval, the short, hunchbacked man, is very sweet. I think that deep down he is a very good man. He has a haggard, wizened face. And yet there’s something childish in his eyes and his smile.
   He draws me with a pencil on ordinary newsprint. Sometimes he captures a position excellently. But no individual perception, no individual style ever emerges in his drawings. His pictures that hang on the wall are
very poor. Not art. But he’s sweet. Today he gave me five kroner extra and said with his sweet smile, ‘I’ve sold such a lot.’ That was nice. Not just because of the five kroner.
   Another painter drew me recently. I believe his name is Refsum. He drew me and then coloured in the drawing superbly. Once I had one arm over my breasts, the other hanging down limply. His drawing was wonderful.  Perhaps wonderful is an exaggeration. To put it better, there was an individual charm about his drawings, especially in the colours. Today I sat for three women. Two ‘painted’ appallingly. On canvas. One of them used completely lifeless colours (Jensen) and made serious mistakes in her composition. The other one’s composition (Nordahl-Lund) was even more inaccurate and she kept on coming out with profound comments, especially about art. The third one (Refsum) painted the human figure fairly well. It was lovely to listen to them talk about their work. Another thought I had was: I imagine it won’t be long before I’m fed up with the so-called artist’s crisis.

1. A few days ago five more Norwegians were shot: sabotage.
2. Politics is now mixing with the food issue: unwilling and lazy people don’t get as much as hard-working individuals, etc.
3. Rostov was evacuated by the Germans.
4. The Norwegians are continuing to hold out. I love them. They are a brave people. They won’t be forced to support the NS**.

* Gunvor Hofmo, the Norwegian poet who preserved Ruth Maier’s diaries and with whom
she had an intense friendship for two years.
** National Socialists; Nazis.


From Ruth Maier’s Diary

Edited by Jan Erik Vold and translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch (Harvill Secker 2009)

Ruth Maier kept a diary from 1934 until just before she was murdered at the age of twenty-two. It is politically mature, emotionally candid about herself and perceptive about others, and an intensely moving indication of the remarkable writer she was never allowed to become.

Jamie Bulloch spent several years teaching German language and central European history at University College London, King’s and Warwick University. He has also translated Paulus Hochgatterer’s The Sweetness of Life.

Buy the book.

Vintage Books




About English PEN staff

This content is published by the English PEN staff.

View all posts by English PEN staff →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *