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Writer and journalist Georg Stefan Troller at 100

Heike Mund
December 10, 2021

The Austrian Jew escaped the Nazis, emigrated to the US and helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp. Georg Stefan Troller chose a life in Europe, and rose to fame as a reporter and writer in Paris.

Georg Stefan Troller
Georg Stefan Troller in February 2020Image: Heike Mund/DW

Wearing a pink-striped shirt, colorful jacket, a slightly daring hairstyle, Georg Stefan Troller went up to the stage of Literaturhaus in Cologne to give a public reading. On that February 2020 evening, shortly before the first COVID lockdown, he shared anecdotes and memories from his life in Paris, the years as a Jewish immigrant in the US, his experience as a young GI in destroyed Germany. He never forgot what he saw there.

From there, it was a series of coincidences that eventually led him to become a journalist.

Fleeing the Nazis

Born on December 10, 1921 to a Jewish furrier family in Vienna, Georg Stefan Troller remembers being teased and mocked on the streets and by schoolmates. "You had to live with it, and it got worse under the Nazis," he told audiences.

His father made sure he got a good education, and he made him read all the classics; Georg Stefan never forgot the words to the Faust monologue.

At 16, he borrowed an old typewriter and brought to paper poems and thoughts he called "Georg Stefan Troller's Collected Works."

US troops in Munich  in 1945, a group of soldiers speaking to two citizens standing by an arcade
US soldiers stand in front of the Hofbräuhaus in Munich in May 1945Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Not much later, in 1938, he fled Nazi-occupied Vienna, "At night with a smuggler across the border, and after that everything was illegal, without papers." It was the beginning of an odyssey to freedom. In Marseille, he was lucky enough to get a visa to the US, where he arrived in 1941.

Return to Europe as an American GI

In 1943 he was drafted into military service by the US Army. During the advance of the Allied troops through occupied France and Nazi Germany, the German speaker provided invaluable service to the Americans. He helped translate in the interrogation of German prisoners of war.

"Back then, I never heard the word 'liberation,'" Troller would often say in interviews, adding that freedom and democracy weren't even part of the German way of thinking. "They all admired our jeeps, the walkie-talkies. No wonder you won the war, with that equipment, they would say," he said in a 2005 TV interview with German public broadcaster WDR.

 A visit to Hitler's Munich home

In 1945 in Munich, the young GI was present when the US army searched Adolf Hitler's private residence. He pocketed a few "Nazi souvenirs" and sent them to his father in the US, who was shocked.

On May 1, 1945, Troller arrived at the Dachau concentration camp, liberated by US troops, to interrogate SS officers captured there. What he encountered there stayed with him his entire life, and it was only through the camera lens that he could bear the sight of the emaciated prisoners and corpses.

New beginnings

After a short intermezzo at Radio Munich, Georg Stefan Troller worked as a reporter for Munich's Neue Zeitung newspaper. He longed for his old hometown of Vienna, however. "At that time I walked all the streets I knew, for days, for nights, to satisfy my homesickness," he once said. And he found out that "you can't regain a homeland again any more than you can a childhood."

He returned to the USA, studied drama and theater, only to travel to Paris in 1950, thanks to a scholarship to study at the Sorbonne.

Georg Stefan Troller
Georg Stefan Troller in the 1960sImage: picture-alliance/United Archives/S. Pilz

He enjoyed the lively city on the Seine so much that he decided to stay. "Paris opened my eyes and taught me so much," he wrote in his 2009 memoir. "It was big city life compared to the small-town limitations you found everywhere in Germany," he wrote.

Legendary interviews

In Paris in the early 1960s, Georg Stefan Troller found his calling as a TV reporter. For nine years, he was a correspondent for WDR, delighting audiences with his portraits of a side of Paris that was little known in his "Paris Journal" show.

Beginning in 1971, he worked for Germany's ZDF TV broadcaster, which set the course for his life. For 22 years he wrote TV history over the 70 episodes of his legendary unconventional interview show titled, "Personenbeschreibung" (Describing People). Stars including Marlon Brando, Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon, Woody Allen, Kirk Douglas and Romy Schneider were among his guests.

He saw the camera as a kind of protective shield. "Being a journalist was a means of self-healing," Troller recalled. "My soul as a Jewish emigrant who had escaped the Holocaust and who had lost 19 relatives was wounded," he told the DJV Journal in a 2017 interview, adding that he calls the job he does "healing through other people." A good interview is almost like a confession, he said.

A woman looks at photos in a Georg Stefan Troller exhibition
Paris through the lens of Georg Stefan TrollerImage: picture alliance/dpa/R. Böhm

Later, he turned to TV films, documentaries, books, photo books and essays for magazines. Troller typed his manuscripts on an old Hermes typewriter. "I don't have a computer and I don't have the Internet," he said during at his 2020 reading in Cologne. "I fax manuscripts or send them to my publisher by mail. I make notes with a four-color ballpoint pen."

The cleaning lady in his Paris studio accidentally tossed out his numerous awards and honorary certificates after he had retired. The episode made him laugh years later because his greatest pride was the fact that he had started a new career as a photographer. Photos from his early Parisian period were exhibited and sold at auctions.

In 2019 he published a memoir close to his heart, entitled "Liebe, Lust und Abenteuer — 97 Begegnungen meines Lebens" (Love, Desire and Adventure — 97 Encounters in My Life).

"That was my life," he smiled.


Adapted from German by Dagmar Breitenbach