24 March 2018

Sisters of famous historical figures

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History isn’t always kind to the sisters in the shadows. Traditionally, their opportunities were less, even though many were equal to or more brilliant than their famous siblings. They were the muses who inspired and the heroes who walked away for all the wrong reasons when fame came. Sometimes, their lives were tragic.

1.Maria Anna Mozart

Maria Anna Mozart (left above) was a musical genius. A child prodigy before her brother, Wolfgang Amadeus (center above), she dropped jaws all over Europe. At only 12, she fluently performed difficult piano pieces. She might even have been the root of Wolfgang’s remarkable legacy: Maria was trained only by her father, Leopold (right above), a court musician, but both Maria and Leopold guided Amadeus from age five onward. Amadeus received top-class training and toured for years, playing with Maria in front of thousands. When Maria turned 18, Leopold terminated her musical career because it wasn’t acceptable for women to tour as musicians. Amadeus never lost admiration for his gifted sibling, though. In 1770, he wrote to Maria, praising one of her compositions, which he called “beautiful.” Unfortunately, the world will never hear the piece that so impressed Amadeus Mozart; it has been lost.

2.Wilhelmina Van Gogh

With the spotlight on Vincent van Gogh cutting off his own ear, few are aware that his sister, Wilhelmina, spent decades in a psychiatric institution. Born in 1862, she was the artist’s youngest sister. After her two brothers died when she was in her early thirties, Wilhelmina started working at a hospital. She was also one of the first feminists and helped raise money to open the Dutch national bureau for women’s work. In terms of historical records, Wilhelmina disappeared until 1902, when she was placed in psychiatric care with a dementia diagnosis at age 40. According to records, she spent another 40 years in the lounge just sitting in her chair and had to be force-fed. What happened during the years between working at the hospital and reappearing in a madhouse, or even if she was truly insane, will probably never be known.

3.Paula Hitler

Paula was the only full sibling of Adolf Hitler. As a boy, Hitler was beaten by their father, and in turn, Adolf beat his sister. One of her earliest memories was a teenage Hitler hitting her in the face when she was eight. The Hitler children were seriously dysfunctional; Paula believed being manhandled by her brother was “good for her education.”Researchers were stunned by a discovery regarding Paula Hitler. Historically seen as the innocent victim of her brother’s madness, newly unearthed Russian interrogation papers revealed that she was engaged to a particularly horrific Nazi: euthanasia doctor Erwin Jekelius, who gassed 4,000 people. Unlike Eva’s sister Ilse, Paula went along with the Nazi movement. The Russians caught her fiance before they could marry, and Paula ended up living under a false name near Berchtesgaden. She died in 1960.

4.Ilse Braun

Ilse Braun (left above) was a receptionist for a Jewish doctor when her sister, Eva, got involved with Hitler. The eldest of three Braun sisters, Ilse was the one who kept away from Nazi ideals. Eventually forced to quit her job for her own safety once the Nuremburg Laws were passed, Ilse resisted Eva’s attempts to get her a job with Hitler’s personal physician. She also didn’t believe Eva’s second suicide attempt was serious, though Hitler fell for it. (Eva drank too few pills to actually overdose.) It was inevitable that Ilse would meet with the fuhrer. When she did, she was not impressed. She thought Hitler looked better in his propaganda portraits than he did in real life, and she found his hands rather white and feminine. Later, Ilse became a deft journalist for a right-wing newspaper. She passed away in 1979, in Munich, from cancer.

2016.12.15 / 15:36
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