Gitta Sereny, CBE (13 March 1921 – 14 June 2012) was an
Austrian-British biographer, historian, and investigative journalist
who came to be known for her interviews and profiles of controversial
figures, including Mary Bell, who was convicted in 1968 of killing two
children when she herself was a child, and Franz Stangl, the
commandant of the
Treblinka extermination camp.
Born and initially raised in Austria, she was the author of five
books, including The Case of Mary Bell: A Portrait of a Child Who
Murdered (1972) and Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth (1995).
Sereny was awarded the
Duff Cooper Prize and the James Tait Black
Memorial Prize for her book on
Albert Speer in 1995, and the Stig
Dagerman Prize in 2002. She was appointed a Commander of the Order of
the British Empire in 2004 for services to journalism.
David Irving libel suit
6 External links
Sereny was born in Vienna, Austria in 1921. Her father was a Hungarian
Protestant aristocrat, Ferdinand Serény, who died when she was two.
Her mother was a former actress from Hamburg, Margit Herzfeld, of
German background. Her stepfather was the economist Ludwig von
When she was thirteen, her train journey to a boarding school in the
United Kingdom was delayed in
Nuremberg where she attended one of the
Nuremberg rallies. After writing about the rally for a class
assignment she was given
Mein Kampf to read by her teacher so she
might be able to understand what she saw there. After the Nazi
takeover of Austria in 1938, she moved to France, where she worked
with orphans during the German occupation until she had to flee the
country because of her connection to the French Resistance.
After World War II, she worked for the United Nations Relief and
Rehabilitation Administration with refugees in Allied-occupied
Germany. Among her tasks was reuniting with their biological families
children who had been kidnapped by the Nazis to be raised as
"Aryans". This could be a traumatic experience because the children
did not always remember their original family, but when she
accompanied a train-load of such children back to Poland she saw the
delight of the original family members at the restoration of the
She attended the
Nuremberg Trials for four days in 1945 as an observer
and it was here that she first saw
Albert Speer about whom she would
later write the book Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth. It was for
this book that she was awarded the 1995 James Tait Black Memorial
Prize. The book was also later adapted by David Edgar as the play
Albert Speer and directed by
Trevor Nunn at the National Theatre in
2000. The book even won the admiration of
David Irving (see below),
who wrote, "Minor flaws aside (I sent her eight pages of errors from
prison), her biography of
Albert Speer was brilliant. It was sent to
me in that Austrian prison, and I could not put it down."
Don Honeyman in 1948 and moved to London where they raised
their two children.
Don Honeyman (who died 1 June 2011) was a
photographer, who worked for Vogue,
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday
Times, among other publications. The poster of
Che Guevara on a red
background (1968) is one of his best known creations.
From the mid-sixties and throughout the 1970s she wrote extensively
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph Magazine under the editorship of John Anstey.
These articles were often about young people, the social services,
children and their relationships with their parents and society. This
led to her covering the trial of eleven-year-old
Mary Bell (found
guilty of murdering two children) and would further lead to her first
investigative book on this case.
The Case of
Mary Bell was first published in 1972 following Mary
Bell's trial; in it Sereny interviewed her family, friends and the
professionals involved in looking after Mary during her trial. This
book was edited by
Diana Athill who would also edit Sereny's Into That
Into That Darkness (also following an initial article for the
Telegraph magazine) was an examination of the guilt of Franz Stangl,
the commandant of the
Sobibor extermination camps.
She spent 70 hours interviewing him in prison for the article and
when she had finished he finally admitted his guilt; he died of a
heart attack nineteen hours later.
Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth (1995) is a biographical work on
Albert Speer, German minister of Armaments during World War II. In it,
Sereny explores how much Speer knew about the Holocaust. During the
Nuremberg trials, Speer had avoided a death sentence, claiming all the
while that he knew nothing of the Holocaust. However, Sereny concludes
that Speer must have known based on a letter he wrote to the Jewish
community in South Africa (after the war), and the fact that his
closest assistant attended the
Wannsee Conference (where the details
of the genocide of the Jews were worked out) who could not have failed
to inform him about the proceedings.
In 1998, she was embroiled in a controversy in the British press when
her second book on Mary Bell, Cries Unheard was published and she
announced that she was sharing the publishing fee, from Macmillan
Mary Bell for collaborating on the book. Sereny was
initially criticized in the British press and by the British
government, though the book quickly became, and remains, a standard
text for professionals working with problem children.
Sereny wrote of her final book, The German Trauma (2002): "The
nineteen chapters in this book, all intimately concerned with Germany
before, during and since the end of the Third Reich, describe more or
less sequentially what I saw and learned from 1938 to 1999, thus
almost over a lifetime."
David Irving libel suit
David Irving initiated a libel case against Sereny and
the Guardian Media Group for two reviews in The Observer where she
asserted he deliberately falsified the historical record in an attempt
to rehabilitate the Nazis. Irving maintained a personal animosity for
Sereny, whom he calls "that shriveled Nazi hunter", for successfully
refuting his claims since the publication of his book Hitler's War.
When, in 1977, Sereny cross-checked the source he cited for his
assertion that Hitler knew nothing about the Final Solution, and
therefore could not have ordered it, she found he had excised a caveat
which would have contradicted his claim. "I know many of the same
people as he does who were of Hitler's circle," Sereny said. "That is
scary for him. He says we jostle at the same trough. The difference is
that he loves that trough, and I don't... There is, I think, [for him]
despair in all of this." Although the case did not go to court, the
cost to the Guardian Media Group of preparing its legal defence
amounted to £800,000.
Gitta Sereny died on 14 June 2012 at age 91 while in Addenbrooke's
Hospital, Cambridge, after a long illness.
Her writings include:
The Case of Mary Bell. Volume 158 of Pimlico (Series). United Kingdom:
Random House. 13 February 1995. ISBN 9780712662970.
Into That Darkness: from Mercy Killing to Mass Murder, a study of
Franz Stangl, the commandant of
Treblinka (1974, second edition 1995)
The Invisible Children: Child Prostitution in America, West Germany
and Great Britain (1984)
Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth (1995, 1996 paperback)
Cries Unheard: The Story of
Mary Bell (1998)
The German Trauma: Experiences and Reflections, 1938-2001 (2002)
The second edition of The Case of
Mary Bell contains an appendix on
the murder of James Bulger.
^ "Gitta Sereny". Telegraph. 18 Jun 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
^ My Life with
Ludwig von Mises
Ludwig von Mises by Margit von Mises
^ The legacy of Ludwig Von Mises by Peter J. Boettke, Peter T. Leeson,
^ a b Lynn H. Nicholas, Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the
Nazi Web p 511 ISBN 0-679-77663-X
Albert Speer - Productions". National Theatre. Archived from the
original on 16 June 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
^ Real History, and a Radical's Diary Entry for Monday, 18 June 2012,
fpp.co.uk, accessed 25-08-14
^ Mandy Honeyman. "
Don Honeyman with the 1st Che poster he created
Flickr - Photo Sharing!". Flickr. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
^ Neild, Barry. "
Gitta Sereny dies at 91", The Guardian, 18 June 2012.
^ Sereny, G. (1983). Into that darkness. 1st ed. New York: Vintage
^ "Newsmakers April: Gitta Sereny".
BBC News. 1998-12-22. Retrieved
^ The German Trauma pp xi Introduction by Gitta Sereny
^ Tim Adams (24 February 2002). "Memories are made of this". The
Observer. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
^ Cahal Milmo (2012-04-30). "Veteran journalist
Gitta Sereny dies age
91 - News - People". The Independent. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
^ Sereny, Gitta (2002). The healing wound : experience and
reflections, Germany, 1938-2001 (Reprint ed.). New York, N.Y.: W.W.
Norton. ISBN 0-393-32382-X.
Interview in Spike Magazine
Memories are made of this
Stolen Children by Gitta Sereny
Review of Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth in Foreign Affairs
Two half-hour ABC interviews with Sereny about Speer and Mary Bell
1998 Interview with
Gitta Sereny In the Psychiatrist's Chair, BBC, 21
My Years with Ludwig von Mises, Margit von Mises. Arlington House
Publishers, NY. 1976 5 August 2014
ISNI: 0000 0000 8387 1979
BNF: cb119244590 (data)