26 January 2017

Josefine von Losch and a Grave Matter

Mother, star, and husband at Berlin Zoologischer Garten Station
Via Facebook, we recently shared news that the Förderkreis (support association) of the Museum für Film und Fernsehen has initiated a fundraiser to preserve the grave of Marlene Dietrich's mother, Josefine von Losch. Our commenters reacted as predicted. "Huh? Doesn't Dietrich's family make a nice amount of money from her image? Shouldn't they pay for this?" "Ask her granddaughter Maria Riva." "I would think that the Riva family should be responsible for resolving this problem. Why should MD's fans take up this family responsibility?" "ASK Maria Riva."

While scapegoating the Rivas has become de rigeur among the Dietrich fan community, we must remember that Josefine had an older daughter, Elisabeth, who bore a son, Hans Georg Will. According to this son's account in the book, A Woman at War: Marlene Dietrich Remembered, he had Frau von Losch's headstone renovated either around the time of the book's publication [2006?] or around the time of documentary Marlene Dietrich: Her Own Song's production [2001?] to recognize her as a mother and grandmother. Hans Georg also stated that he had a son named Axel. I understand that Hans Georg passed away in 2013, but the whereabouts of Axel and the offspring he may have had remain unknown to me. If you contend that this is a family matter, let's not forget the Wills because they are as much Josefine's kin as the Rivas. As for the Rivas, the de facto family spokesperson, Peter Riva, had already addressed the topic of Josefine's grave months earlier on the official Marlene Dietrich Facebook page:
Kind people, especially Timothy Rooks, have asked why we are letting the mother of Marlene's grave subside. The truth is, the tradition is to allow the passage of time to melt the contents with the earth, in a most environmental way. 17 years was the initial period and for decades we kept the grave of her mother intact so as to mark the place Marlene might, indeed, one day also buried. Berlin is a tight city, tight because it is crowded. It is right for people to allow others to have their place when it comes to their time. Our only hope is that the cemetery folks will allow Josephine to rest in peace, clean up her grave site and welcome the next family to cherish their loved one's memory as we, and Marlene, did Josephine's. I first saw it in 1966, took photos for Marlene and she was touched how peaceful the cemetery remained - and still does.
One commenter there argued that space is not an issue at the Städtischer Friedhof III in Berlin, where Frau von Losch is buried nearby her famous daughter, and another suggested that fans offer their financial support, to which Peter reiterated that relinquishing the grave was Frau von Losch's wish. Personally, I know nothing about Lutheran burial traditions, but I respect the Riva family's personal decision. Nevertheless, Josefine died half a decade before Peter was even born, which--in conjunction with Hans Georg's efforts to preserve her grave after Marlene's death--casts a shadow of doubt on his knowledge of Josefine's intentions. That being said, the burden is not on the Rivas to preserve every aspect of Marlene's life, and if we want to see certain aspects remain, the onus is on us, which is why I admire the fan-sponsored effort to preserve Josefine's grave.

According to Silke Ronneburg, the donations will be used to extend the lease of Josefine von Losch's grave for an additional 20 years, as well as to preserve the plot and plant on it according to Marlene's wishes that it be plain and simple like a soldier's grave, as stated in documents at the MDCB. During her lifetime, Marlene made an agreement with the cemetery to have her mother's grave replanted semiannually in the style of an "Efeuhügel Grab" ["ivy-mound grave"]. In 1985, Marlene renewed the lease to her mother's grave with the support of friends in Germany and Switzerland. If the required funds are raised to keep Josefine's grave intact now, the lease will remain with the family, but efforts to make Josefine's grave an honorary one are underway, as Ronneburg asserts that Josefine's final resting place is of historical significance in Berlin.

As the mother of a world-famous celebrity, is Josefine von Losch noteworthy enough for us to continue commemorating her--that is, if we ever did at all? Similarly, the Virgin Mary has been venerated for millennia, but does it suffice that she was the mother of Christ, or was she someone extraordinary in her own right? I'd be curious to read your perspectives on this. If you have offered your financial support to the initiative or wish to do so, what are your reasons? If you wouldn't contribute to this effort, I'd also love to read why.


  1. My comment earlier was meant to say that this is a family matter and it should be their decision ( both MD's and Elizabeth's living relatives). I would obviously respect their wishes. I don't see this as a fan decision or responsibility. When this first came up it was not clear who was asking for donations. Now, that you have explained the situation I remain supportive of the family's wishes.

    1. Patricia, my apologies if I quoted you out of context, but you touched upon an important point in your comment that others didn't--that this is a private family matter. Others appear to see this as a public matter, and I'm curious to know why they find this aspect of Marlene's life necessary to preserve and how they think Josefine was a noteworthy public figure in her own right. Once again, the public and private of Marlene's life bleed together. Even though I'm personally inclined to agree with you, I'm happy to see such an effort rather than the disgruntled moaning of passive fans waiting for someone else to make something happen, and I hope this sets a precedent for some sort of project that would appeal to me.

  2. Yes Joseph, I agree that if people/ fans are so inclined it would be a worthy cause.
    I think that the bleeding of the private into the public is the inevitable consequence of celebrity.
    As usual I really enjoy reading your blog. I value your desire to present the facts/evidence as a testament to relay information rather than gossip. Here's hoping a worthy project comes your way soon.

  3. Of course it is a family matter but historically Marlene's mother in a way represents the second world war sentiments and that bears some significance since in 1945 just after the liberation of Europe Josefine died and Marlene stood at the exact same spot of her burial place. To me it feels that history is being represented by these two ladies, so close next to each other.

    1. The contextual significance of these two burial spots is a beautiful thing--a daughter remaining near her mother for an eternity. If Josefine can't be proven to be historically noteworthy in her own right, her burial plot may at least be deemed noteworthy as the possible reason for Marlene's final return to Berlin, and erasing the physical evidence of that narrative would be a real loss.

  4. Since the year 2000 I am a member of the Deutsche Kinemathek's Förderkreis. I became a member only to support the MDCB, which is part of the Kinemathek.
    Last December, the news came with the request for donations to help preserve the grave of Marlene's mother, Josefine von Losch, who died in 1945 and is buried near her daughter in Friedhof Stubenrauchstraße in Berlin.
    I did not think long and spontaneously donated something. As far as I know, Marlene wanted to be buried in the same cemetery as her mother and the two graves belong together in a way, I think. I visited the graves two times.
    Normally, a matter like this is a private family matter. But nothing is private with Marlene, she is/was a public figure. When the Förderkreis asked for help, I assumed that all other possibilities of funding were exhausted. And therefore I support the project and donated something. I simply did it in honor of Marlene.

  5. If Marlene renewed the lease on her mother's grave in 1985 with the help of friends, would she want the lease renewed now? I think the answer is yes and since we are all Marlene's friends, I say let's help. The grave may not mean as much to Marlene's descendants. So let's instead go around the barn, so to speak and help Marlene.

  6. Replies
    1. Yes, the site where most of the photos were uploaded has become more commercial.