Suzanne von Paczensky: Campaigning journalist who fought for women's rights

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The Independent Online

Susanne von Paczensky was a journalist and women's rights activist. Trained by the US and British authorities, she was one of very few women journalists accredited to report on the Nuremberg trials. Aged 22, she was also the youngest.

Susanne Czapski grew up in Berlin, the daughter of a high-ranking civil servant and a mother who was a poet. Though they were registered as Protestants, her father was of Jewish heritage, and once the Nazis took power in 1933 Susanne was registered as a Mischling [half-breed]. She was subjected to humiliation at school but was allowed to take her matriculation. She moved from Berlin to Freiburg, managed to get a false identity card recording her as "Aryan" and enrolled in the law faculty.

In 1943, she volunteered for labour service teaching German in German-occupied Lithuania. Her aim was to discover the fate of two missing Jewish relatives; both had been shot. In the meantime, her forged document had been exposed and she took refuge in a west German village, where she was when war ended. She welcomed the French troops as liberators but was raped by three Moroccan soldiers.

She applied for training as an editor with a news agency, DANA, established by the Americans, in Bad Nauheim, in summer 1945. DANA became the exclusive source of world and national news for the licensed press in the US zone. Although DANA quickly became a full-fledged news service, its primary task was training young Germans. She was lucky to be taken on, as the Americans gave preference to young men with no experience but anti-Nazi backgrounds; the first three recruits were hired directly out of prisoner-of-war cages. By the end of the year she found herself among 130 trained reporters and was sent to Nuremberg's Palace of Justice to cover the trial of 22 of the most important Nazi leaders, which lasted from November to the following October. Despite previous experiences it was daunting, especially the testimony of Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz.

From Nuremberg Czapski went to Hamburg, where she worked for Die Welt from 1947-49; the paper was founded in 1946 by the British forces, aiming to provide a quality newspaper. At DANA Susanne had met and married a fellow journalist, Gert von Paczensky and from 1949-52 they worked for the paper in London, and in Paris until 1957. Susanne returned from Paris in 1958 and worked as a freelance journalist. She was unhappy with the right-wing trend of Die Welt and the "restauration" in West Germany. She enthusiastically backed the student unrest in 1968 and the women's movement.

From 1977 to 1983 she was the publisher of a series of books, Frauen aktuell, im Rowohlt-Verlag, with themes such as violence in the marriage, women in parliament, Turkish women in Germany and women as accomplices. In 1982 she founded a family planning centre in Hamburg. In 1990, aged 67, she left Germany for the US, where she campaigned to improve conditions in prisons and against the death penalty.

Susanne Czapski, journalist and activist, born Augsburg 22 January 1923; married Gert von Paczenky (two children); died Hamburg 15 May 2010