Lotte Moos: Acclaimed poet and playwright
Margarete Charlotte Jacoby, playwright and poet: born Berlin 9 December 1909; married 1932 Siegfried Moos (deceased; one daughter, one adopted daughter); died London 3 January 2008
Thursday 10 January 2008
The poet and playwright Lotte Moos was among the first to flee Hitler's rule, escaping to Paris in 1933 where she went daily to the Gare de L'Est hoping that her husband, the economist Siegfried Moos, would follow. A noted left-winger, he arrived four months later after dodging the Gestapo.
She had been born Margarete Charlotte Jacoby in Berlin, the third daughter of Samuel and Luise Jacoby. As a child Lotte wrote fables, poems and short stories, inspired by Dickens' A Christmas Carol. After school she worked as a photographer's assistant and in the left-wing Workers' Theatre, where she met her future husband "Siege" Moos. From Paris, she and Siege moved to London where Lotte hoped to continue her study of economics at the LSE. She was bitterly disappointed to be told her grades at Berlin University did not count and that she would have to matriculate all over again.
In 1936 she was refused leave to remain in Britain and went to Moscow with an Anglo-Irish Communist friend, Brian Goold-Veschoyle. But Lotte found the Soviet system "dismal and oppressive" and began to argue with every official she met. She was allowed to leave, but Brian had to remain behind as a sort of hostage. He eventually died in a gulag.
In 1939, Lotte Moos was denounced as an agent of the Kremlin and interrogated by MI5 in Holloway Prison. She was cleared but was then interned with other German refugees on the Isle of Man. At about this time, she learned of the death of her oldest sister in a Nazi hospital, but did not know of the deaths of her parents until after the war.
During the war Siege Moos worked at the Institute of Statistics of Oxford University, under William Beveridge, while Lotte developed her writing, although to earn a living she worked as a nursemaid, translator, typist and teacher. As "Maria Lehmann", she wrote a column in German for the government's refugee paper, Die Zeitung. After the war, now with a young daughter, the family moved to Durham where as Maria Lehmann she began to write plays, mostly for radio and television.
In May 1964, her stage play Come Back with Diamonds was put on at the Lyric, Hammersmith. It was a comedy about an idealist political prisoner returning to contemporary Moscow and divided the critics, some of whom liked its exciting combination of humour, tragedy and political satire, while others thought it was just farcical.
In 1966, she and Siege moved to Hackney, where they were founding members in 1976 of the Hackney Writers Workshop and Lotte focused increasingly on writing poetry. Following the publication of her first collection Time to be Bold in 1981, her work appeared increasingly in anthologies. She described how "Some poems are snakes. In the night / they slither under the sheet/ Others are humble, dither and fumble". Her simple lyricism was reminiscent of a cross between Stevie Smith and Zbigniew Herbert. She spoke of writing in English as being like "having an affair with a foreign language. . . you kiss as through a veil. . . not everything needs to be told".
In 1993, when she was 83, her acclaimed Collected Poems was published by Rockingham Press. Some of her poems retained the fable-like quality of her early experiments: "Here comes hedgehog / Do not tickle! / For every dream he ever spilled / He has willed another prickle". But her work sustained a satirical and political edge, commenting on the world around her. Lotte Moos's message is still resonant today, for example in this short poem, "Vital Statistics":
What is the unit for measuring truth and integrity?
Can they be bought and sold in the market
Under or over the counter?
What is their price, given how many degrees of pressure?
Devalued, tell us the price of deflation!
Going up? Going down? With at the back
Statisticians will sing – even as birds being trussed.
Danielle Hope and Len Rockingham
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