Hildegard Knef

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Hildegard Frieda Albertine Knef (December 28, 1925 - February 1, 2002) was a German actress, singer and writer. Born in the German city of Ulm, she was billed in some English language films as Hildegard Neff or Hildegarde Neff.


Early years

She began studying acting in 1940, aged 14. She appeared in several films even before the fall of the Third Reich, but most were not released until after World War II. She was forced to dress as a young man to avoid being raped by the Soviet soldiers and was sent to a POW camp.[citation needed]

Her best-known film roles were as:

  • Susanne Wallner in Wolfgang Staudte's film Die Mörder sind unter uns (The Murderers Are Among Us) (the first film released after the Second World War in East Germany and produced by the Soviet filmmaking enterprise DEFA-Studio für Spielfilme)
  • Marina in Die Sünderin (The Sinner), in which she performed the first nude scene in German film history, in 1950. The nude scene caused one of the largest scandals in German filmmaking history up until that time. When the Roman Catholic Church protested vehemently she responded “I can't understand all that tumult - five years after Auschwitz!”[1]

She also appeared in a number of 1960s low budget films such as Hammer films The Lost Continent.

United States

David Selznick invited her to Hollywood, but she refused to agree to the conditions of the contract which reportedly included changing her name to Gilda Christian and pretending to be Austrian rather than German.[2]

Years later, Knef's first husband, an American named Kurt Hirsch, encouraged her to try again for success in the USA. She changed her name from Knef to Neff and achieved a measure of stardom on Broadway as “Ninotchka” in the Cole Porter musical, Silk Stockings.


She began a new career in 1963 as a singer and surprised her audiences with the deep, smoky quality of her voice and the many lyrics, which she wrote herself. Fans around the world rallied in her support as she defeated cancer several times. She returned to Berlin after the reunification.

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