Obituary for Helga Schulz
A Dedication to a Life-Long Lover of Hardy
Born Helga Orth and raised in a suburb of Berlin, Helga’s childhood and youth were lived under the
shadow of the Nazi regime and the Second World War. The bombing and occupation by the Red Army
were times of privation, hunger and extreme violence. She said that the years immediately after the war
were mainly spent searching for food. Her parents were separated and she was expected to keep house
for her father. She had a love and talent for literature and languages, especially English, but her father
did not support her education. She would learn and recite poetry while doing the housework and
gardening, but for a long time she was unable to pursue her dream of working with languages.
Her home for the 44 years after the end of the war was in the Soviet-controlled East Berlin. After leaving
school, Helga became a technical draughtsman, but did not enjoy the work. In 1952, she met and married
the physicist Dr Günter Schulz. They had three daughters and Helga also took in her aged father-in-law.
She left her job and became ‘household manager’, but at the same time she set about educating herself.
She attended English courses, listened to the BBC, worked on English literature and taught herself to be a
freelance interpreter and translator. Initially she worked on technical and cultural-historical topics but
then moved on to translating English literature.
At the age of 56, she summoned up the courage to apply to the Berlin publishing house Aufbau-Verlag,
where she rapidly achieved success, translating The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the Durbervilles, The
Return of the Native and Far From the Madding Crowd. Later she moved on to the works of Jane Austen,
James Fenimore Cooper, Elizabeth Gilbert, Maria Edgeworth and Edgar Wallace, but she retained a
special affection for Hardy’s work and for 19 th Century England. Perhaps reflecting her own struggles,
she was fascinated by the fates of women in the novels who rebelled against the circumstances and
conventions of the time which prevented them from pursuing their own interests.
Despite the years of translating English Literature, she was never permitted to visit Great Britain – she
and Günter were not part of the select few whom Helga referred to as the ‘ausland cadre’ who were
permitted to travel outside the Soviet bloc. Then in 1989, the Berlin Wall between the East and West
sides of the city came down, the East German Democratic Republic collapsed and its former citizens could
travel freely. The following summer she turned up at the Hardy Conference in Dorchester. It may be
difficult now for some to realise just how much that meant to her. She could see for the first time the
places Hardy had written about, visit his birthplace and Max Gate and meet other Hardy enthusiasts who
welcomed her with open arms.
To the other Conference members, Helga’s presence was living evidence that, after 44 years of Cold War,
with the constant threat of nuclear conflagration, it might just be all over. It was a great moment in
European and world history. Helga’s arrival in Dorchester was surely something that Hardy, had he been
there, would have commemorated in his writing. After that Helga was a regular attender at Hardy
Conferences until, in her later years, health problems made it difficult for her to travel. Her enthusiasm
for Hardy and for England never faded and she kept in touch with members of the Society until the end of
Helga died in Berlin on the 28 th November 2019 after a short illness, less than a year after the death of
Günter, her husband of 66 years. They are survived by their three daughters and many grandchildren
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