On Helene Ritzerfeld’s 100th Birthday


Helene Ritzerfeld, the first employee and longtime director of Suhramp Verlag’s Rights & Foreign Rights department, would have been 100 years old today.

Helene Ritzerfeld at her desk                         Helene Ritzerfeld with Max Frisch (l.) and Siegfried Unseld (r.)

Helene Ritzerfeld was born on March 6th,1914 in Cologne. Her wish to study Political Science and Law was not to be fulfilled. After the end of the war, she began to work for the military government and for the American civil administration. It was in this context that she met Peter Suhrkamp. In the following year, she began to work for Suhrkamp and his partner Gottfried Bermann-Fischer. Due to their differing opinions as to what was to be published, however, the two went their separate ways in 1950. Helene Ritzerfeld followed Peter Suhrkamp to the newly founded Suhrkamp Verlag and was his first employee. For many authors like Ninon and Herman Hesse, Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel, Ritzerfeld was the »most trusted employee of the entire publishing house« (Siegfried Unseld). In 1959 Siegfried Unseld took over the leadership of Suhrkamp Verlag and established the Rights & Foreign Rights department, which Helene Ritzerfeld ran until her death.

Beginning in 1979, Ritzerfeld was on the board of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft literarischer und Sachbuchverlage (Association of Literary Societies and Memorials), and between 1986-1988 she was its chair.

»Her work-life was her life-work,« Siegfried Unseld said in his eulogy of Ritzerfeld and called her an »Institution of Conscience«.

Helene Ritzerfeld died on July 22nd, 2000 in Frankfurt/Main.

On August 4th, 2000 the New York Times published an eulogy in honor of Helene Ritzerfeld.