Feb 17, 2021
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An unknown star: why we continue to love Anna Herman

Her voice even today leaves few people indifferent – not excluding young listeners who are accustomed to completely different songs. A woman of a difficult, even tragic fate, who left too early – the disease killed her at the age of 46 – she was one of the most beloved pop performers in Eastern Europe in the 1960s and 70s. In the USSR, hardly anyone could compete with her in popularity until the appearance of Alla Pugacheva. Today, February 14, marks the 85th anniversary of the birth of Anna German, and Izvestia commemorates the remarkable singer and composer.


The most famous Polish singer of the twentieth century was born, thousands of kilometers from Warsaw, and she was not Polish by blood. Anna Victoria German (the correct pronunciation of the surname is Hermann) was born into a family of descendants of the German-Dutch Mennonites who moved to Russia under Catherine II, in the Uzbek Urgench. Father, Evgeny Fridrikhovich (by the way, originally from Lodz, which was then still part of the Russian Empire), worked as a peaceful accountant, but, like many others, fell under the roller of Stalinist repressions and was shot on charges of espionage. The maternal uncle, Wilmar, perished in the camps.

Anna’s mother, Irma German, left without a husband, traveled with her little daughter to almost all of Central Asia – both in search of her brother and hiding from possible persecution, as “a member of the family of a traitor to the Motherland.” Tashkent, Orlovka (now Ak-Döbe), Dzhambul (now Taraz) – it’s amazing, but even today, almost four decades after the singer’s death, after all the political upheavals and conflicts, Herman is remembered and honored both in Uzbekistan and in Kyrgyzstan, and in Kazakhstan.

In Orlovka, Irma met a young Pole from Stanislavov (now Ivano-Frankivsk) named Herman Gerner, who became her second husband. The young man got to Central Asia thanks to the evacuation from his hometown, which became part of the Ukrainian SSR, which saved his life – his Jewish origin did not leave him a chance during the Nazi occupation. Gerner turned out to be a true patriot and soon joined the ranks of the 1st Infantry Division named after Tadeusz Kosciuszko, after the war he returned for his wife and stepdaughter, with whom he returned to Poland. So Anna became a Polish citizen – but she did not lose her connection with her first homeland.

Anna German student card

Photo: University

Irma’s marriage, however, fell apart pretty soon (some generally consider it fictitious), and Gerner, under the pseudonym Henryk Kretschkovsky, later became a famous translator from English and German and (the reason why in Soviet times they tried not to mention him at all in articles about Herman) a leader of the democratic opposition.

In Poland, Anna was perceived as completely her own, a national treasure – but no less, if not more her, she was also for Soviet listeners. It was only later, much later, that a legend was formed about a proud Polish woman who fell in love with her eternal rivals, who suddenly became (though not without coercion) friends. “For some reason, she is now called a famous Polish singer. What kind of Polish is she? Anna Herman sang, of course, Polish songs, but she was a Russian singer, “her friend Eduard Khil wondered in an interview with Izvestia several decades after Herman’s death.

When the gardens bloomed

The family settled in old Wroclaw. Pani German taught German, and the future pop star seriously dreamed of becoming an artist – Anna demonstrated her drawings, not without success, at the local school of fine arts. After graduating from school, the girl entered the University of Wroclaw (the outstanding historian, Nobel laureate Theodor Mommsen and the great economist, one of the founders of the social democratic movement Ferdinand Lassalle) studied at the practical faculty of geology.

Nevertheless, natural artistry took its toll, and Anna soon became carried away by musical amateur performances. However, she appeared on the stage in front of the public relatively late – at the age of 20 she performed at the wedding of her friend Bogusya, singing with the choir of the Ave Maria church by Schubert. Already that time, her strong, “enveloping”, although not academic deep soprano was accompanied by success – according to an eyewitness, the choir choir director almost burst into tears from emotion of sincerity and skill of an unknown girl.

Photo: RIA Novosti / Boris Ushmaikin.

Anna German (center) in the Melodiya recording studio, 1975

In 1960, Herman decided to take up pop singing professionally. Soon she already managed to take part in several festivals (including the prestigious Sopot, where she won second place), went on an internship to Italy (“I didn’t manage to learn – I didn’t get money for vocal lessons – but I looked at Rome”) and, as they say, find your voice. Real fame came to her in 1964, after performing at a festival in Opole with a song written specially for Herman Katarzyna Gertner and Eva Zhemenitskaya. “This song was called” Dancing Eurydice “. I could not wish for a better gift for myself. From the first minutes, from the first chords, I realized that this was my song, ”Herman recalled in her memoirs.

In the same 1964, she first came on tour to her first homeland, the Soviet Union. The success was overwhelming, “Melodia” immediately offered the singer to record a disc with songs in Polish and Italian, according to some reports, this disc has already sold a million copies. The subsequent recordings in Russian awaited even greater success – the best composers of the Land of Soviets wrote for Herman: Pakhmutova, Shainsky, Frenkel, Gamaliya. And it was here that Anna herself felt: here are her most faithful listeners. “Even if my songs [на польском] and liked it, the Poles did not sing them in chorus at the festive table or simply listening to a record or radio. And Soviet songs were sung, of course, in the USSR and in Russian, but they always sang along with the whole audience, “the singer admitted.

Come back to Sorrento

Unlike most Soviet artists, the representatives of the Eastern Bloc pop music enjoyed much greater freedom – they could perform “bourgeois” rock and roll, they could cooperate with Western record companies, and most importantly, they could relatively freely go on tour outside the Iron Curtain. “. The latter, however, served as a kind of check on the “Hamburg score”: practical Western impresarios were not inclined to arrange performances for artists who could not collect cash in a foreign country. There were not so many of them – the Hungarian rock group Omega (one of whose songs was taken into the repertoire by the Scorpions themselves), the “Czech nightingale” Karel Gott and, of course, Herman, who largely paved the way for other performers. The geography of her tour stretched from the USA to Australia, while in Italy she was perceived as almost her own in the late 1960s.

Anna German, 1974

Photo: RIA Novosti / S. Gerasimov

In 1967, Anna German performed at the San Remo festival, recorded a joint program with Domenico Modugno, and appeared on Italian TV programs. But a terrible thing happened: the driver of the car in which Anna and her impresario were traveling fell asleep while driving on the way to Milan. The car crashed into a concrete fence, the singer was thrown out of the car, and she was found only a few hours later. 49 fractures, injuries of internal organs – Anna fought for her life for many months. She had to re-learn how to breathe on her own, walk, remember. It seemed that a cross was put on a pop career – during the recovery period, Herman hosted a children’s radio program and began to write songs herself. But in 1970, she triumphantly returned with a concert in Warsaw – the audience, according to eyewitnesses, gave her a standing ovation for 20 minutes.

Soon after returning to the stage, Herman also recorded the famous “Hope” by Pakhmutova and Dobronravov. The first song was sung by Edita Piekha (whose fate in some way mirrored the fate of Anna: a Polish woman who gave birth in France, who chose the USSR as her second homeland), but the classical, most beloved by the people performance, the same, which, according to legend, the cosmonauts certainly listened to before the start, became the version of Herman.

“Of course, I don’t sing“ Ave Maria ”or Polish songs during my tour in the Soviet Union, and when I travel around the United States, I sing“ Nadezhda ”much less, although they are asked to perform there too. A song is a conversation, and it is ugly to speak with a person in a language that he does not understand or does not like, ”said Herman. Anna herself spoke in her native Low German dialect, which became her native Polish, and also in Russian, Italian, English and Kazakh.

echo of love

Herman got married, gave birth to a child, continued to perform with the indispensable sold-out. But it was not possible to fully restore health. The singer fainted several times after concerts, she was tormented by attacks of thrombophlebitis. In 1980, she was diagnosed with sarcoma. She continued to sing, going on stage in dark glasses – to hide tears of pain from the audience. On the night of August 26, 1982, by a strange sign of fate, exactly 15 years after the accident near Milan, Anna German died in a military hospital in Warsaw.

A sign with a new street name in honor of the singer Anna German in Urgench, Uzbek SSR, 1988

Photo: TASS / K. Ataev

Herman’s autobiography, written in the last years of his life, is a document of amazing human honesty. The singer knew that she was dying of cancer, she knew that she would never go on stage again. She sought salvation – and found – in faith. The epigraph of “Life told to herself” is the famous words of the Apostle Paul:

1 Cor. 13: 4

Love endures for a long time, is merciful, love does not envy, love is not exalted, is not proud, does not rage, does not seek its own, does not get irritated, does not think evil, does not rejoice in untruth, but rejoices at the truth, covers everything, believes everything, hopes everything, endures everything

There are always fresh flowers on the grave of Anna Herman at the Calvinist Cemetery in Warsaw’s Wola district, and the flow of people who come here to pay their last respects to the one who gave us hope – without quotes, never stops.

Vladislav Krylov

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