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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 579

Papers of Elżbieta Ettinger, 1922-2001 (inclusive), 1967-2000 (bulk)


Personal and professional correspondence, research materials, and other papers of professor, novelist, and biographer Elżbieta Ettinger.


  • Creation: 1922-2001
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1967-2000

Language of Materials

Most materials in English; some material in Polish, German, French and Swedish.

Access Restrictions:

Access is restricted. Researchers must obtain written permission from Maia Ettinger. Certain records relating to Maia Ettinger have been redacted and originals are closed until January 1, 2060. In addition, student evaluations and recommendations (#12.5-12.6, 12.19-12.23) are closed until January 1, 2080, and some financial records (#2.4) are closed until January 1, 2060.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Elżbieta Ettinger is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


12.08 linear feet ((28 file boxes) plus 9 photo folders, 1 folio+ folder)

The Elżbieta Ettinger papers include correspondence, notes, clippings, drafts and other writings, photographs, and notebooks, covering Elżbieta's education and professional life as a scholar, a novelist and biographer, as well as her personal relationships with her daughter, her mother, her former lovers, and friends. Elżbieta sometimes used her wartime surname of Chodakowska instead of Ettinger, and on some applications listed her birth year as 1925, 1927, or 1929, instead of 1924. Elżbieta's mother also used her pseudonym ("Marianna") after the war. Some of the original folder titles were written in Polish, and in nearly all cases, an English translation was provided. Some materials in Polish were identified for arrangement purposes by volunteer Christopher Lubicz-Nawrocki.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1944-2001, n.d. (#1.1-10.13), includes correspondence with family members; notes and other writings; appointment books; legal forms and applications; medical and financial statements; as well as other papers relating to Elżbieta's mother Marianna (Regina) and daughter Maia. For additional biographical information, see Series III, Subseries A and Series IV.

Subseries A, Biographical and related, 1944-2001, n.d. (#1.1-4.16), contains personal, educational, financial, legal, and medical material. Included are her notebooks (in English, German, and Polish) for university classes, as well as her high school, college, and graduate school diplomas; two travel diaries, written by Elżbieta in Polish during her time in Indochina; an interview for the Boston Globe; and accounts of her dreams (#1.8). Of particular interest is her correspondence and application for reparations from the German government. This subseries also contains a selection of personal financial account statements; check registers; and other financial documents, including financial material relating to Maia's education at the Buckingham, Brown & Nichols school; Elżbieta's will; power of attorney documents signed by Maia; immigration, naturalization, residency, and visa/passport applications for Elżbieta, Maia, and Marianna; medical summaries; and related correspondence. The immigration and residency status folders contain documentation and correspondence tracing the effort and challenges in gaining permanent residency status to remain in the U.S. and include letters from Constance Smith at the Radcliffe Institute, and Polish employers, as well as correspondence with Senator Edward Brooke and Representative Martin A. Linsky. Medical files, such as folders titled "MIT health plan," include correspondence with doctors and statements regarding the status of Elżbieta's health and prescriptions.

Subseries B, Appointment books, 1974-2001 (#5.1-6.6), consists of Elżbieta's appointment calendars containing personal and professional entries, as well as names and addresses of friends and colleagues.

Subseries C, Personal correspondence, 1944-1997, n.d. (#6.7-9.7) contains many letters from family members, including letters from Elżbieta's war-time husband, Gierek. However, the bulk of the personal letters are from Elżbieta's mother, Marianna, and include letters and postcards she sent to her daughter during Elżbieta's time in Indochina, 1954-1955. This subseries also contains extensive correspondence between Elżbieta and Maia's father, Manfred Lachs, who would become a Judge in the International Court of Justice at the Hague from 1967 until his death in 1993. The letters explore their strained relationship as well as child support for Maia. Included are miscellaneous personal correspondence with friends and other relatives, as well as sympathy cards and letters sent in the wake of Marianna's death. Much of the material in this subseries is written in Polish. For additional letters which contain personal information, see Series III, Subseries A.

Subseries D, Maia Ettinger, 1962-1998, n.d. (#9.8-10.13), includes mostly material created by Elżbieta's daughter: correspondence; school papers; grades; evaluations; exams; drawings; writings and poetry; a copy of her high school literary magazine, The Spectator; programs for school plays; and newsletters from her summer camp, Camp Marlyn. Included are letters written by Elżbieta, Maia's letters and notes to her mother, and correspondence with her father. Of note is correspondence with Simon Wiesenthal regarding charitable donations from Maia.

Series II, PROFESSIONAL 1944-1997, n.d. (#11.1-12.23), includes post-war work-related letters written in Polish, including employment agreements and professional verifications. For additional material regarding Polish employment, see #12.11. This series also contains papers relating to Elżbieta's professional work in the United States, including her term as a Radcliffe Institute Fellow and professor, and her tenure at MIT. MIT correspondence includes lists of professional activities and committee work; course folders may contain syllabii and reading lists. The Krystyna Pomorska files contain correspondence with Elżbieta's friend and colleague at MIT, as well as paperwork regarding disability, material relating to Krystyna's memorial service, the settling of her estate, and the compilation of a book in her memory, Studies in Poetics. The "Radcliffe - 83 Brattle Street" folders (#12.14-12.18) contain information regarding Elżbieta's apartment lease and other matters relating to her tenure at Radcliffe.

Series III, RESEARCH AND WRITINGS 1922-2000, n.d. (#13.1-28.6), contains research material; correspondence with various publishers, colleagues and friends, and her agent; drafts; notes; publishing contracts; sales information; editorial comments; author statements; and publicity materials and reviews relating to her writings and translations.

Subseries A, General correspondence, 1968-2000 (#13.1-14.15), contains correspondence with publishers and journals; her literary agent, Georges Borchardt; and colleagues. This subseries mostly contains correspondence referring to multiple writing projects, in addition to a file of correspondence related to Elżbieta's efforts to publish her dissertation (#14.5). Correspondence between professional colleagues who are also close friends, such as Brigitte Brandt, writer and journalist, and wife of the former German Chancellor, Willy Brandt; and writer, scholar, and Elżbieta's confidant Agneiska Pleijel, are often quite intimate and contain personal details. Many of the correspondents also appear in other subseries.

Subseries B, Kindergarten, 1968-1988, n.d. (#15.1-15.11), includes correspondence with Houghton-Mifflin regarding editorial changes, and publicity. Included as well are book contracts, author's statement and reviews, and a copy of the French edition with annotations.

Subseries C, Rosa Luxemburg, 1976-1994, n.d. (#15.12-17.3), contains correspondence regarding the publication of Comrade and Lover and Rosa Luxemburg: A Life, reviews and drafts of her article for the Radcliffe News entitled "The Biographer as Sleuth: In Search of Rosa Luxemburg." "Rehabilitation-Lenin" (#16.13) contains a copy of a letter from Elżbieta to Raisa Gorbachev inquiring about publishing Rosa Luxemburg: A Life in the Soviet Union.

Subseries D, Quicksand, 1969-1977 (#17.4-17.5) includes the author's description of the work and correspondence with the Chapelbrook Foundation regarding funding. See also Subseries A (#14.11-14.13) for additional materials regarding Quicksand.

Subseries E, Hannah Arendt, 1922-2000, n.d. (#17.6-27.3), contains research files relating to her book Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger and for her work-in-progress on the Arendt biography. Correspondence files contain letters written to and from Elżbieta with scholars and archives, as well as individuals who knew Arendt, as well as notes, writings, and articles. Of interest are correspondence files regarding plagiarism by Ruediger Safranski of sections of the Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger manuscript. Subject files contain mostly research materials: annotated clippings, articles, notes, annotated photocopies from other archives, drafts, and photographs. A few subject files may also contain correspondence with Elżbieta, as noted. Of additional interest are interview transcripts, as well as annotated copies of the German and Polish editions of Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger. Many of the original folder titles, as well as groupings within folders, have been retained; original titles appear in quotation marks. Clippings and materials from other archives that were not annotated by Elżbieta have generally been discarded, including three entire folders entitled "Baeck Institute," "Bernard Lazare," and "Martha Beerward/Childhood/Matka."

Subseries F, Other research and writings, 1966-2000, n.d. (#27.4-28.6), contains drafts, notes, and clippings relating to various research and writing projects, including translations, book reviews, and letters to the editor. Of interest is a New York Times op-ed piece written by Elżbieta regarding her experience as a single mother (#27.4).

Series IV, PHOTOGRAPHS AND OVERSIZED, 1935-1995, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.7, F+D.1), includes photographs of immediate family and relatives, as well as her friend Danuta Dytko (who worked for Elżbieta after the war in the Ministry of Foreign Trade) with her grandson. The wedding photographs of Basia and Waldek feature Barbara Dobiecka Bieganowska and Waldemar Bieganowski. Basia's mother, Irena Dobiecka, was Marianna's first cousin.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].

Documents relating to Maia's financial information have been photocopied and the information redacted to protect privacy. Reference copies are interfiled in the collection; originals have been removed and are closed until January 1, 2060.


Elżbieta Ettinger was born in Lodz, Poland, on September 19, 1924, to Emmanuel Ettinger and Regina Stahl. She had one older sister, Lilka, born in 1922. In 1939, under threat from the Nazis, her family moved from their home, and in 1940, were forcibly transferred to the Warsaw Ghetto, along with seventeen members of Elżbieta's extended family. Her uncle and her mother managed to live outside the ghetto under forged identity papers, her mother devising the pseudonym of "Marianna Chodakowska," which she continued to use after the war. While in the ghetto, Elżbieta tutored children, attended an underground high school, studied languages, and, along with other children, gathered information for Emanuel Ringelblum, who was writing a chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto. In 1942, shortly before the liquidation, Elżbieta escaped with help from her mother. Living on the outside, she assumed the surname of Chodakowska and, with forged papers, was able to find clerical and manual work on the run, living in small villages and towns, and seeking new hiding places when she fell under suspicion. On February 8, 1943, she was married by a military chaplain in the Guerrilla Forces of the Polish Army to Gierek, a partisan sympathizer whom she had met while living under this false identity.

After liberation in 1944, Elżbieta returned to school, receiving a degree in English and German philology from Jagellonian University in Cracow (1946), and an M.A. in English philology from Warsaw University in 1949. She also received a diploma from the Academy of Political Science, and was an instructor there in German and English (1949-1951). She earned her Ph.D. in English and American literature from Warsaw University in 1966; her dissertation was entitled The Lawyer in American Literature, 1945-1965.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s she held a variety of jobs in Communist-controlled Poland, applying her skills in business writing and editing, journalism, translation, and research. Starting in 1949 she worked in the nationalized Ministry of Foreign Trade. She was also an editor at the Institute of History of the Polish Workers' Party (1951-1953); a news analyst (1953-1958); and an interpreter for the Polish Academy of Science, the Polish Parliament, Warsaw University, and the Association of Polish Lawyers (1956-1960s). From 1954 to 1955 she was in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam as an interpreter for the International Commission of Supervision and Control in Indochina, created by the Allied Powers in the wake of the French defeat in Vietnam. In the 1960s she worked part-time as an editor at Film Polski (Polish Film Producers), and was a freelance writer for the Polish Lawyers Association bi-weekly journal Prawo i Zycie (Law and Life) from 1959 through 1965. In the mid-1960s she was a researcher in the Department of History of Juridicial and Political Ideas at Warsaw University, and worked for the Union of Cooperatives in Warsaw (1966-1967).

Separated from her husband after the war, she formed a relationship with her Warsaw University professor Manfred Lachs and gave birth to their daughter in 1962. Elżbieta would become the sole supporter of her daughter, Manuela (Maia) Ettinger, and her mother, the one surviving member of her immediate family from the war.

Elżbieta turned down an offer of full-time employment from Poland's National Security office. Her decision prompted negative repercussions, among which was her forced resignation from the foreign trade ministry. Fearing continued retribution, in 1966 she heeded the advice of an American visiting professor from Harvard University and applied for a fellowship at Radcliffe College's Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study. Radcliffe awarded her a fellowship in 1967, and she arrived in the U.S. with her five-year-old daughter, planning to pursue her research into the role of lawyers in American literature. Elżbieta was awarded a senior fellowship at the Institute in 1970, which was renewed through 1974. Her mother joined her in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Once settled, Elżbieta pursued permanent residency and U.S. citizenship for herself and her daughter.

In 1970, Houghton-Mifflin published her semi-autobiographical novel of the German war against the Jews, Kindergarten, which she had first conceived of in the 1950s but only wrote coming to America. She noted that "only the distance created by writing in a foreign tongue allowed me to translate my own experiences into a more universal truth."(#14.7).

She began her teaching career in the United States. Her field, which was English and American literature in Poland, became Russian and Polish literature, history, and economics in the U.S. Starting in 1970, she was a lecturer in the Radcliffe Seminars, teaching contemporary Eastern European literature and Russian intellectual history of the 19th and 20th centuries. Wanting to gain administrative experience, she accepted the offer to become associate director of the Radcliffe Seminars as well. She also taught as an instructor at the Pine Manor Open College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts (1971-1973), and at the Harvard Extension School (1972-1973). Due largely to her work on behalf of the Radcliffe Institute, she was invited to join Phi Beta Kappa in 1979. During the early 1970s she was developing a new novel, a sequel to Kindergarten, which was to be set in post-war Poland. She temporarily shelved the novel in 1973 when she became a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In her early years there, she devoted much of her time to building the writing program so that it would meet the particular needs of MIT students. She helped develop a new curriculum that included technical and science writing, creative and expository writing, and the writing requirement course. She taught writing and literature at MIT for the duration of her professional career, achieving tenure in 1979, and the position of full Professor of Rhetoric and Literature, which she held from 1986 until her retirement in 1997.

While teaching, Elżbieta continued to do her own research and writing, producing articles, essays, and book reviews, as well as translating other writings to and from Polish. After the publication of Kindergarten, she focused her research on Rosa Luxemburg. Elżbieta first heard of the Jewish revolutionary from her father, who had met her in Berlin when he was a young man. In an interview with the Boston Globe, she remarked on the importance of this encounter, explaining that "for him she was a heroine, because she fought for social justice. She was a genuine socialist. She was brilliant."(#1.7) In 1979, Elżbieta published a collection of Luxemburg's letters to her common-law husband, Leo Jogisches, which she translated and annotated in her book Comrade and Lover: Rosa Luxemburg's Letters to Leo Jogisches. In 1987 her research culminated in a biography entitled Rosa Luxemburg: A Life. In 1989, Quicksand, her follow-up novel to Kindergarten, was published by Pandora Press in London. Her research on Rosa Luxemburg eventually led her to the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt -- her next major research and writing subject; in 1994 she published an interpretation of the love letters between Arendt and her Nazi-affiliated mentor, Martin Heidegger. Elżbieta's interest in Arendt evolved out of her expressed affinities to her. She wrote: "I share with Arendt some experiences which permit me to understand her better than many others who do not, and who, therefore, can write about her from the 'outside' only, not from the 'inside' as I can; my life has been changed forever by the Nazis, as was hers; I chose exile (though 30 years later) as did she, and approximately at the same age, the mid-thirties; I am cut off from the Polish culture in which I was born, raised, and educated as she was from the German; I write, as did she, in a foreign tongue, and as did Arendt live a 'life in translation.'"(#20.5)

Elżbieta was working on a full-length biography of Arendt when she died on March 12, 2005.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1944-2001, n.d. (#1.1-10.13)
  2. ___Subseries A. Biographical and related, 1944-2001, n.d. (#1.1-4.16)
  3. ___Subseries B. Appointment books, 1974-2001 (#5.1-6.6)
  4. ___Subseries C. Personal correspondence, 1944-1997, n.d. (#6.7-9.7)
  5. ___Subseries D. Maia Ettinger, 1962-1998, n.d. (#9.8-10.13)
  6. Series II. Professional, 1944-1997, n.d. (#11.1-12.23)
  7. Series III. Research and writings, 1922-2000, n.d. (#13.1-28.6)
  8. ___Subseries A. General correspondence, 1968-2000 (#13.1-14.15)
  9. ___Subseries B. Kindergarten, 1968-1988, n.d. (#15.1-15.11)
  10. ___Subseries C. Rosa Luxemburg, 1976-1994, n.d. (#15.12-17.3)
  11. ___Subseries D. Quicksand, 1969-1977 (#17.4-17.5)
  12. ___Subseries E. Hannah Arendt, 1922-2000, n.d. (#17.6-27.3)
  13. ___Subseries F. Other research and writings, 1966-2000, n.d. (#27.4-28.6)
  14. Series IV. Photographs and oversized, 1935-1995, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.7, F+D.1)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 2005-M117

The papers of Elżbieta Ettinger were given to the Schlesinger Library by her daughter, Maia Ettinger, in September 2005.


Donors: Maia Ettinger

Accession number: 2005-M117

Processed by: Laura Peimer

The following books have been removed from the collection and added to the Schlesinger Library book collection:

  1. Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger (Editions Du Seuil, France, 1995)
  2. Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger (Natur och Kultur, Stockholm, 1995)
  3. Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger (Orion Literary Agency, Tokyo, 1995)
  4. Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger (Jorge Zahar Ed., Brazil, 1996)
  5. Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger (Garzanti Editore, Italy, 1996)
  6. Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger (TusQuets Editores, Spain, 1996)
  7. Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger (Rye Field Publishing Company, 1996 [in Chinese])
  8. Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger (Chun Feng Literature Publishing House, China 1999)
  9. Kindergarten (Houghton-Mifflin, 1970)
  10. Quicksand (Pandora, 1989)

Processing Information

Processed: March 2009

By: Laura Peimer

Ettinger, Elżbieta. Papers of Elżbieta Ettinger, 1922-2001 (inclusive), 1967-2000 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by a gift from Ethel and David Jackson.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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