Who was Suleika Aldini?
Time & Location
About the Event
Prof Dr Rainer Schulze, leads this talk on Suleika Aldini, a cabaret artist (working as fire eater, a snake charmer and an erotic singer and dancer) in West Germany from the 1960s until the mid-1990s.
For many years, at the height of her career, Suleika Aldini performed at the Chez Nous cabaret bar, (West) Berlin’s oldest and best known “travesty theatre” (as they were called at the time), which celebrated the artistry of female impersonators and trans women. Chez Nous was visited by celebrities and featured in Hollywood films.
Suleika never quite became famous; she was more of an “also-act”, performing with some of the big names, but never quite in the limelight herself. Her life as a cabaret artist is well documented, not least through a huge collection of personal photographs, but very little is known about her life before or after. She was born male, and her legal name was Harry Waldow, but it is not even clear whether this was her birth name, or the name given to her by her foster parents. At some point she suggested in an interview that she was of Roma descent and survived the Holocaust, returning after the Second World War from a camp in the East where her birth parents perished.
In the mid-1950s, Harry/Suleika started injecting female hormones and grew breasts but she never had the operation. She died in 2011, having contacted Berlin’s Schwules Museum (LGBT+ Museum and Archive) shortly before her death to bequeath her photographs to them.
In my talk I will discuss the problems of piecing a life together which, apart from her stage performances, was lived in obscurity. It will also ask whether we have the right to probe into the life of someone who was very hesitant while she was alive to speak about her life away from the stage, stating that she felt that this was of no interest to anyone.
Suleika’s life is an untold story which documents both the unending struggles of a transgender person in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, but also the joys it held for her. Transgender history before the 1990s is a hidden, or rather ignored history, in the case of Suleika made all the more poignant by the fact that she was, for all we know, a Roma child survivor of the Holocaust.
PhD Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Professor Emeritus of Modern European History, University of Essex, Colchester, United Kingdom
2005–2011 Head of the Department of History
2011–2013 Director of the Human Rights Centre
founding editor of The Holocaust in History and Memory (7 vols. since 2008)
initiator and coordinator of the annual Holocaust Memorial Week events at the University of Essex
coordinator of the annual Dora Love Prize for schools in Essex and Suffolk
2000–2007 one of the project leaders in the development of the new permanent exhibition at the Gedenkstätte Bergen-Belsen, the site of the Nazi concentration camp in northwest Germany
historical consultant for the The Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock
historical consultant for the restoration and completion of the 1945 documentary German Concentrations Camps Factual Survey (Imperial War Museums UK, 2014) https://www.iwm.org.uk/projects-partnerships/german-concentration-camps-factual-survey-film
historical consultant for the documentary Night Will Fall (Spring Films, 2014) http://www.springfilms.tv/portfolio/night-will-fall/
Programmer and presenter of the weekly film programme Tales from the Margins with films about LGBTIQ rights and the situation of LGBTIQ people across the world, shown at Latest LGBT+ TV Brighton
(since March 2017; five seasons, but website only includes the first two seasons)
Academic Advisory Panel (History) OUTing The Past – The Festival of LGBT History
Trustee Wise Thoughts – LGBTQI+ & BAME Arts Charity based in Haringey, London
research interests include genocide, ethnic cleansing and forced migrations in the twentieth century; the role of film and photographs for collective memory formation; the history of Roma and Sinti and of anti-Roma racism in Europe; LGBTIQ history.
Photo copyright holder: SMU Schwules Museum Berlin
- Free ticket£0£00£0