Herta Zerna (1907 - 1988)

Herta Zerna, daughter of metalworker Paul Zerna and his wife Anna, was born in Berlin-Moabit in 1907. She grew up with her brother Fritz, who was one year younger than she. Both of her parents were active Social Democrats (SPD). At fourteen, Herta also became involved in the SPD youth group. She did not know that many of her friends there were Jewish until after 1933.

After finishing secondary school she got a job as an office worker and took continuing education courses offered by the SPD. In late 1929 she moved to Erfurt where she worked as an editor for SPD newspapers in Thuringia. When she was threatened in Ilmenau in the fall of 1930 with a four-week prison term on political grounds she fled back to Berlin. From then on she was only occasionally able to write articles for the SPD papers. After the Nazis took power in 1933, Herta Zerna and her mother hid Herta’s own brother Fritz and his wife, who were being pursued by the Gestapo on political grounds. The couple was able to escape to France in 1934.

As a former SPD editor, Herta Zerna could no longer be hired in journalism after 1933, since the press was forced to conform to the Nazi line. Because her brother had fled the country, she was excluded from the Reich Press Chamber in late 1934. She continued to work freelance for local papers and was observed by the Gestapo. She nevertheless maintained contact to a social democratic resistance group in Thuringia until around 1937. For the first time in late 1939, Zerna offered the social democrat Otto Suhr and his Jewish wife Susanne a hiding place in her small apartment in Schöneberg. As of 1941 she worked occasionally for the business news department in the Haus des Rundfunks (House of Broadcasting).

While visiting a friend she happened to meet Margot Moses, a Jew, and offered her assistance in an emergency. When Moses came to her door one night in 1942, Zerna took her in. Herta Zerna arranged quarters for Margot Moses, alternately in her own apartment or with friends, and found her a job under the name “Frau Hedder” as a stenotypist in the Haus des Rundfunks. When her Schöneberg apartment was destroyed by bombs in 1943, Herta Zerna and her mother moved to Kagar near Rheinsberg, in Brandenburg, where she had bought a small farmhouse on the village road in 1939. Especially in the final difficult weeks of the war the two women helped Susanne Meyer, a Jew, who often hid in their house during the day since everyone in the village was supposed to believe she worked in Berlin. At the same time Herta Zerna also hid a deserter.

After the war, Herta Zerna returned to live in West Berlin. She again worked as a journalist for SPD papers until 1951, after which she eked out a living through her writing. In 1962 she was honored by the Berlin Senate as an Unsung Hero. She died in 1988 at the age of eighty-one.

Zerna, Herta. “Ich bin eine unbesungene Heldin. Ballade vom kleinen Widerstand oder: Die Banalität des Guten,” Journalist (1965): 37–41.
Herta Zerna
Photo: German Resistance Memorial Center


Rescue Attempts


  • Social Democratic Party

    Social Democratic Party

    The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) grew out of the labor movement of the nineteenth century and was founded in 1890. After 1918 it was a pillar of Weimar democracy. In 1933 the SPD members of the Reichstag unanimously rejected Hitler’s Enabling Act. Consequently, leading SPD members were persecuted and many emigrated.