Conrad Veidt: The Urn Chronicles

Veidt’s Exile in Death

A Conrad Veidt TIMELINE from the date of his death

Conrad Veidt

Conrad Veidt

When Conrad and Lilli Veidt sailed to America from England in April 1940, they could never have foreseen or even imagined how and why they would return to London in April 1998 — 58 years later, almost to the day. Their repatriation would occur exactly 55 years after Conrad’s death, and some 18 years after Lilli’s.

Why are Conrad Veidt’s ashes in London and not in Berlin, where he was born?
Veidt’s cremains came very close to resting in a German cemetery. Only an accident of fate in 1985 (plus some German fumbling) prevented that from happening. But why London? These and other questions are answered in “The Urn Chronicles.”

Veidt urn and niche

The art deco urn containing the comingled ashes of Conrad Veidt and his wife Lilli. Learn more below. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

On April 3rd Conrad Veidt dies of coronary thrombosis on the eighth hole of the Riviera Country Club golf course on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. On the death certificate, his name is misspelled “Hanz Walter Conrad Veidt.” The time of death reads 5:15 p.m.

In the days following Veidt’s death, his widow Lilli receives telegrams and letters of condolence from fans and the famous, including Max Reinhardt, Alfred Hitchcock, Greta Garbo, Fritz Lang, and many others. In Nazi Germany no public announcement of Veidt’s death is permitted.

Condolence telegram to Lilli Veidt

Telegram from Max Reinhardt expressing condolences to Lilli Veidt following her husband’s death in Los Angeles. The Jim Rathlesberger Collection at the Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley

In Switzerland, Veidt’s daughter Viola, now a young lady of 17, and her mother Felizitas happen to hear a bulletin in a radio news broadcast announcing the death of the actor Conrad Veidt in California. Three more days would pass before they receive a cable from Lilli Veidt confirming the bad news.

Veidt’s remains are cremated on April 5th at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles. Little is known about the history of Veidt’s cremains between 1943 and when Lilli had the urn interred at Ferncliff Cemetery in Westchester County, New York, probably in the 1960s.

On the evening of October 19th in Berlin’s Akademie der Künste (Academy of the Arts), for the very first time in Germany, the British film Jew Süss (1934), directed by the German Lothar Mendes and starring Conrad Veidt, has a public showing. The “premiere” is the opening film of a “Theater im Exil 1933 bis 1945” exhibition. It is viewed in stark contrast to the reprehensible 1940 Nazi propaganda film of the same name (directed by Veit Harlan).

June 27-July 8: Part One of a Veidt retrospective is a feature of the 25th International Berlin Film Festival. Films shown include Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1919) and Der schwarze Husar (1932).

June 27th letter from Dr. A. Bauer to [Ivan] Jorge Rado, then staying at the Parkhotel in West Berlin, informing Rado that the “UNICRIT-Ehrung” (UNICRIT Award) for Conrad Veidt will take place at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 29th at the Astor Filmtheater, Kurfürstendamm 217. This posthumous award from a German film critics association, represented by a cheap six-inch plastic and metal statuette, was the only formal film honor Veidt ever received.

June-July: Part Two of a Veidt retrospective is a feature of the 26th International Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale).

Conrad’s widow, Lilli Veidt (Ilona Preger Barta), dies on November 22. At her request, her cremains are co-mingled with her husband’s, the urn is removed from its location at Ferncliff Cemetery and sent to her nephew, Ivan Rado, for safekeeping.

On December 15 a simple, black-bordered death notice for Lilli (“Frau Conrad Veidt, widow of the movie actor Conrad Veidt”) is published in a widely read German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, by Eduard Wallach, Executor, New York, N.Y.

Names and Nicknames
Lilli Veidt’s first name, a shortened form of Ilona, is usually spelled Lily in English, but she and her husband used the European Lilli spelling, and that is the form we have chosen to use here.

Other Names: Veidt’s second wife’s first name was spelled Felizitas (with a ‘z’). We have chosen to use that spelling instead of the English Felicitas.

Conrad’s own nickname was Conny or Connie. Germans usually spell it with a ‘y’ — but both forms were used, even by Conny himself.

Ivan J. Rado negotiates with the East German (GDR) State Film Archive to bring Veidt’s ashes to Berlin. He receives an invitation to an official ceremony to inter the urn in the Stahnsdorf cemetery (near Potsdam) next to the grave of German film director F.W. Murnau. The GDR offers Rado a pre-paid airline ticket on Alitalia via Rome. Following the Achille Lauro cruise ship terrorist attack that results in the killing of an American passenger, just weeks before his scheduled trip, Rado asks for a different itinerary. The GDR Ministry of Culture is unable to meet Rado’s demands and the trip never takes place.

California author Jerry C. Allen publishes the first English-language biography of Veidt: Conrad Veidt: From Caligari to Casablanca. In 1993 he publishes an updated Centennial Edition. (Also see: John Soister’s Conrad Veidt on Screen, published in 2002.)

Jim Rathlesberger founds the Conrad Veidt Society (CVS). His inspiration is the viewing of Dark Journey on cable TV. He and his wife are struck by Veidt’s screen presence. (“It was a B-movie we liked. Veidt stood out.”) Rathlesberger and his wife, M. Elizabeth Ware, are then living in New York City. Lilli Veidt’s nephew, Ivan J. Rado, is granted the title of “Honorary Chairman” of CVS.

In March 1990, Elizabeth Ware edits and publishes the first edition of the Conrad Veidt Society newsletter. At the end of the year the new Society counts 22 charter members. By the end of 1997 CVS would have 151 members worldwide.

April 25th letter from Conrad Veidt Society founder Jim Rathlesberger to the Berlin International Film Festival offering to bring Veidt’s ashes to Berlin. Rathlesberger writes: “Ivan [Rado] comments, ‘It would be Conny’s return home.’” Rathlesberger also offers the assistance of the Society in planning “some appropriate special showings of Conrad Veidt films during your festival.”

In a letter dated May 6th, Moritz de Hadeln of the Berlin International Film Festival thanks Rathlesberger for his letter and mentions that he is forwarding it to H. Prinzler of the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek (SDK) in Berlin.

An exchange of several letters between Jim Rathlesberger and various German film organizations and people in 1991-1992 concerning Veidt’s ashes eventually leads nowhere.

On April 3rd, Ivan Rado (now living in Seattle) writes to Rathlesberger saying that Rado has written to Jacobsen (SDK). He also states that he is amenable to having Veidt’s ashes go to England “should anyone in England show any interest…” He gives no reason for this apparent change from his original intention to take the ashes to Berlin.

In February The International Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale) and SDK commemorate the centennial year of Veidt’s birth and the 50th anniversary of his death by screening the 1934 British production of Jew Süss(as for the 1973 Berlinale). A temporary exhibit at Berlin’s Gay Museum (Schwulenmuseum) is also part of the commemoration.

Jerry C. Allen publishes the Centennial Edition update of his biography of Veidt: Conrad Veidt: From Caligari to Casablanca (Hardcover Centennial Edition). It will remain the only book about Veidt in English until John Soister publishes Conrad Veidt on Screen in 2002.

Columbarium, Golders Green

Golders Green Crematorium, London. On April 3, 1998, the ashes of Conrad and Lilli Veidt found a final resting place here, thanks to the Conrad Veidt Society.
PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

In the fall, Ivan Rado informs Jim Rathlesberger that he wants Rathlesberger to have Rado’s collection of Veidt documents, mementos, and photographs. Quite unexpectedly the urn containing Veidt’s and Lilli’s ashes is discovered among the boxes of the collection that Rado has turned over to Rathlesberger — without bothering to mention the urn at all.

In a January 10th letter to Wolfgang Jacobsen of the SDK, Rathlesberger offers to bring Veidt’s ashes to Berlin. “Will you please let me know if there is still an interest and appropriate interment spot in Berlin… We are eager to accomplish this transfer and will be as flexible as possible in terms of dates.”

In a letter dated January 31st, Ivan J. Rado writes to Rathlesberger stating his “belief that [Veidt] would not want to be returned to Germany, but would like to stay either in the US, which he loved, or in England, which was also good to him.” Nevertheless, Rathlesberger, at the time still convinced that Veidt’s remains should go to Germany, does nothing to stop the CVS initiative to accomplish this.

February 8th letter from Jacobsen to Rathlesberger, in which Jacobsen mentions the possibility of interring Veidt’s ashes next to F.W. Murnau in the Stahnsdorf cemetery. “But please keep this as a confidential information.”

June 6th letter to Rathlesberger from Wolfgang Jacobsen, suggesting Jim contact the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv about the Stahnsdorf cemetery site, basically passing the ball from SDK to the Bundesarchiv people.

June 18th letter from Rathlesberger to Karl Griep, director of the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin offering to “carry the ashes for appropriate keeping in Berlin” so that Veidt — “the true Berliner” — could be where he “would want to be.” No response is ever received, despite copies also sent to Helmut Morsbach (Bundesarchiv) and Wolfgang Jacobsen (SDK).

On December 27 Jim Rathlesberger, in the name of the Conrad Veidt Society, donates Veidt’s personal collection of memorabilia to the BAMPFA – Pacific Film Archive at the University of California, Berkeley. Most of the donated items originally came from Ivan Rado. (Unfortunatley, almost nothing about Veidt is currently online at BAMPFA.)

Following the lack of any response from Germany, Vivienne Phillips and other CVS members in England, on behalf of the Conrad Veidt Society, help arrange for Veidt’s interment at Golders Green Crematorium, Hoop Lane, London. The Golders Green site is a ten minutes’ walk from the Golders Green tube station, and not far from the Milestone residence in Hampstead where Conrad and Lilli lived from 1934 to 1940.

December: The Conrad Veidt Society pays the sum of £400 (approx. $650 USD) to Golders Green, and an agreement is signed for a “Dedication Period” of ten years (December 1997 to December 2007). The agreement lists Jim Rathlesberger and the Conrad Veidt Society as the “Grantee” and calls for an open niche memorial on the first floor of the Hall of Memory Columbarium (No. 5712). Later, the British members of CVS, with some help from other CVS supporters and a single generous donation, are able to finance Veidt’s resting place “in perpetuity” (30 years, i.e., until 2027).

April 3 ceremonies at Golders Green Crematorium dedicate the new resting place for the ashes of Conrad and Lilli Veidt in the Hall of Memory Columbarium. Jim Rathlesberger and his wife personally carry the urn on their flight from California to London.

Viola Vera Maria Veidt, the daughter of Felizitas (nee Radke) and Conny, dies of a heart attack at her home in New Orleans on February 4. She was born in Germany on August 10, 1925. Her ashes are scattered at sea near Key West, Florida, where she had lived for many years. Her companion James Henry loved and cared for her during her last fifteen years. The West Martello Gardens in Key West have a tree planted in her memory.

Columbarium, Golders Green

Conrad Veidt’s ashes lie in the Columbarium (right) at Golders Green Crematorium. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

“Urn Chronicle” Sources and Thanks
My thanks to the following people who were involved in my summer 1998 interviews and discussions in Berlin and Potsdam; Brigitte Schmiemann and the Berliner Morgenpost; Ullstein-Dokumentation; interview with CVS founder Jim Rathlesberger (May 18, 1998 in Sacramento). I also used related documents, books, and other sources. Additional thanks go to: Vivienne Phillips (London), Sandra Bockelman, Paula Vitaris, Barbara Peterson, Gilda Tabarez, and other Conrad Veidt Society members. Many people helped put the pieces of the puzzle together. We’re still looking for a few missing pieces.

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Related Pages

For Veidt Web links see Part One.

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