Helga Michie(née Aichinger)

Photograph: Helga Michie
Portrait photograph of Helga Aichinger with a dedication to her father, taken in 1939 in England
Estate of Ilse Aichinger, DLA Marbach

Helga Michie(née Aichinger)

Und wenn man nach „Identität“ fragt – jüdisch eigentlich nicht, englisch auch nicht, österreichisch auch nicht.

[And if you ask me about my “identity” – not really Jewish, but also not English, and not Austrian either. (ed. trans.)]

Helga Michie in an interview, 2003

Bornon 1 November 1921 in Vienna, Austria
ExileGreat Britain (United Kingdom)
ProfessionActress, Painter, Writer

Helga Michie was born in Linz on 1 November 1921. Her twin sister is the author Ilse Aichinger. Following their parents’ divorce, the girls moved with their mother to Vienna. According to the Nuremberg Laws, which also applied in Austria after the country’s annexation, the children were categorised as “half Jews”, the mother as a “full Jew”. The start of the war prevented the family from escaping Nazi persecution together and only Helga was able to flee to her aunt in London in July 1939 as part of the Children’s Evacuation. They did not see one another again until 1947.

In England, she first of all continued her schooling, then married and had a daughter in 1942. She was a member of the exile organisation Austrian Center and met the émigré artists Hilde Spiel, Anna Mahler, Erich Fried and Elias Canetti there. Michie earned her living working in factories, as a waiter and as a secretary and, after the war, also as an actress playing, among others, a supporting part in The Third Man (1949). 

Later on, Michie worked as a translator from German into English, also translating texts by Ilse Aichinger. Encouraged by her successful sister to achieve something of her own, she became a visual artist. 2006 saw the first publication of a volume of her works, mostly etchings and poems in English. A return to Austria was out of the question for her. She felt at home in her new country, particularly through her daughter Ruth, with whom she spoke English from the very beginning.

Selected works:
Concord (poems, 2006)

Further reading:
Wort-Anker Werfen. Ilse Aichinger und England. Hg. von Rüdiger Görner u.a. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann 2011