Leimdörfer, Gerda

Daughter of the editor-in-chief of the Berliner Zeitung am Mittag, Berlin’s leading Jewish newspaper, and wife of Salvador Vila Hernández (Arabist, professor and dean of the University of Granada in 1936). Vila met Gerda in Berlin during a trip for further studies in 1928. She was a 20 -year-old student of Modern Languages and he was 24. They married in 1932 and a year later their only son, Angel, was born. They lived in Madrid where Salvador, in addition to his position at the Central University, was simultaneously teaching at the School of Arab Studies. In 1934, they moved to Granada after Vila was awarded the Chair of Arab Culture and Muslim Institutions.

In October, Franco’s police arrest Gerda and Salvador in Salamanca and transfer them to Granada. Gerda is imprisoned. On October 23, Salvador, along with 28 other people, is shot in Víznar.

Upon their arrival in Granada, the couple found a two-faced city: tolerant and open, on the one hand, and immobile and intransigent on the other. However, they were peaceful years for the couple that soon came to an end with the arrival of Hitler to power and the relentless persecution of the Jews that affected Gerda’s family living in Germany. In 1934-35, after the Night of the Long Knives, the few hopes of the Jews were dashed. The Nazis closed the newspaper where Emil Leimdörfer, Gerda’s father, worked, and the harassment increased. In 1935, a group of the Gestapo searched their Berlin home and Cecilia, her mother, suffered her first hemiplegia that left half her body paralyzed. The harassment induced Gerda’s parents, together with their 17-year-old son, to move to Granada. However, the tense climate they found in Spain was not much better.

In April 1936, her husband was elected provisional dean of the University of Granada. At the end of the academic year, Vila and his family went on vacation to Salamanca, Savador’s hometown, where they were surprised on July 18 by the Civil War. The dean is immediately dismissed and replaced by Antonio Marín Ocete. In October, Franco’s police arrest Gerda and Salvador in Salamanca and transfer them to Granada. Gerda is imprisoned. On October 23, Salvador, along with 28 other people, was shot in Víznar, in the area where García Lorca had lost his life in mid-August. His body was thrown into a mass grave.

Portrait of Dean Salvador Vila. Painting made and incorporated to the Gallery of Deans of the University of Granada in 1976.
Portrait of Dean Salvador Vila. Painting made and incorporated to the Gallery of Deans of the University of Granada in 1976.

Gerda learns in prison of her husband’s death. Thanks to the intercession of Manuel de Falla before Franco’s authorities she agrees to save his life in exchange for abjuring Judaism and converting to Catholicism; the barter includes exchanging her first name for María Angustias. When she was released from prison it is not known if she left immediately for Salamanca or if she remained for some time in Granada with her son and her in-laws.

The family dispersed. While she was still in Spain, her father crossed the border, was arrested and was interned for three months in the Dachau extermination camp.  Her mother died after being arrested in the Vienna pogrom of 1938.

Gerda and her father were not able to embrace until 1946. Gerda , who did her best to vindicate the memory of her murdered husband all her life, found work in London and later married another Spaniard, Manuel Pulgar, who turned Vila’s story into a novel. The couple used to visit Salamanca every summer.

Senility made her forget all the languages she knew except Spanish, which she used until the end of her days.

She died in London on March 10, 1980.

RELATED CHARACTERS AND/OR PLACES

See all related Flight, Death and Repression