Gitta Sereny - Biography


Sereny was born in Vienna, Austria in 1921. Her father was Hungarian Protestant aristocrat Ferdinand Serény, who died when she was two. Her mother was a former actress from Hamburg, Margit Herzfeld, of German origin. Her stepfather was the economist Ludwig von Mises.

When she was thirteen, her train journey to a boarding school in the United Kingdom was delayed in Nuremberg where she attended one of the annual Nuremberg rallies. After writing about the rally for a class assignment she was given Mein Kampf to read by her teacher so she might be able to understand what she saw there. After the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938, she moved to France where she worked with orphans during the German occupation until she had to flee the country because of her connection to the French Resistance.

After World War II, she worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration with refugees in Allied-occupied Germany. Among her tasks was reuniting with their biological families children who had been kidnapped by the Nazis to be raised as "Aryans". This could be a traumatic experience because the children did not always remember their original family, but when she accompanied a train-load of such children back to Poland she saw the delight of the original family members at the restoration of the children.

She attended the Nuremberg Trials for four days in 1945 as an observer and it was here that she first saw Albert Speer about whom she would later write the book Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth. It was for this book that she was awarded the 1995 James Tait Black Memorial Prize. The book was also later adapted by David Edgar as the play Albert Speer and directed by Trevor Nunn at the National Theatre in 2000. The book even won the admiration of David Irving, "Minor flaws aside (I sent her eight pages of errors from prison), her biography of Albert Speer was brilliant. It was sent to me in that Austrian prison, and I could not put it down."

She married Don Honeyman in 1948 and moved to London where they raised their two children. Don Honeyman (who died 1 June 2011) was a photographer, who worked for Vogue, The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times, among other publications. The poster of Che Guevara on a red background (1968) is one of his best known creations.

From the mid-sixties and throughout the 1970s she wrote extensively for The Daily Telegraph Magazine under the editorship of John Anstey. These articles were often about young people, the social services, children and their relationships with their parents and society. This led to her covering the trial of eleven year old Mary Bell (found guilty of murdering two children) and would further lead to her first investigative book on this case.

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