Christa von Hassell – a brief biography

Christa von Hassell

December 21, 1923 – August 15, 2009

Christa von Hassell was born in 1923 in the house of her maternal grandfather in Muttrin, Pomerania, near the Baltic Sea to Erika von Studnitz, née von Zitzewitz, and Lieutenant General Bogislav August Wilhelm von Studnitz.

Christa grew up close to several military bases, moving frequently as her father was posted to different locations. She attended the Kaiserin-Augusta-Stift, a boarding school in Potsdam, for four years while her father served as German military attaché at the German Embassy in Poland. She completed high school in Altenburg, Thuringia, where her father had been posted in 1938. During World War II, she studied art history in Leipzig, Tübingen, and Prague, while her mother remained in Altenburg.

Christa’s father was killed in Greece on January 13, 1943 in what was reported by the American press as “a suspicious accident” engineered by Hitler. His death came three days after Christa’s brother, Lieutenant Hans-Melchior von Studnitz, had been killed on the Ukrainian front on January 10, 1943. On December 28, 1944, she married Egloff von Tippelskirch. He served in the German Army on the eastern front and was captured by the Russian army, where he died in a prisoner-of-war camp in February 1946.

In the first years after World War II, Christa and her mother continued to live in Altenburg, Thuringia. Altenburg was part of the zone administered by the Soviets. Christa worked as a Red Cross nurse as well as in a factory. She also attended an interpreter program and succeeded in convincing the Soviet authorities to employ her as an English teacher in a school in Altenburg. Once she had received word of the death of her first husband in late 1948, she managed to obtain a permit from the Soviets to travel to England on a temporary basis, ostensibly in order to improve her English. She flew out from Berlin on an empty coal plane that made deliveries to Berlin, then under blockade by the Soviets. She never returned to Altenburg.

After living in England for almost a year, Christa managed to establish residence in Bonn and was finally able to bring her mother to the West as well.

In Bonn, Christa joined the protocol office of the Foreign Office of the newly formed Federal Republic of Germany. Here, she met and married Wolf Ulrich von Hassell, a member of the diplomatic service, in 1952. His father, Ulrich von Hassell, was a member of the German resistance during World War II; he was executed after the July 20, 1944 attempt on Hitler.

The couple lived in Bonn (1952-1954), Rome (1954-1959), Brussels (1959-1965), and Bonn (1965-1971) before moving to New York in 1972. They had two sons and one daughter.

During her years in New York and in her official capacity as the spouse of an ambassador, Christa hosted numerous dinners and receptions and attended functions together with her husband. At the same time, she attended graduate courses at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts to refresh her knowledge of art history. At university in Prague, she had completed her dissertation, a study of the works of the painter Gerhard von Kügelgen. However, the dissertation was lost after she left Prague in 1944, and Christa did not receive her Ph.D. degree.

Wolf Ulrich von Hassell was one of the first two Ambassadors of the Federal Republic of Germany to serve at the United Nations. He retired in 1978. After having spent many years of their married lives abroad, the couple decided to remain in New York. The fact that their adult children also lived in America contributed to this decision.

Upon her husband’s retirement in 1978, Christa assumed an active role as a reporter in New York City’s art market. An art expert and critic, she was a long-time fixture at Christie’s and Sotheby auctions, writing auction reports and feature articles about the art market, new galleries, and special exhibitions for the German publications Weltkunst and Die Welt.

After a long illness, Christa von Hassell died on August 15, 2009 in her summer home in Southampton, New York, one week after attending a church service for her second son, Adrian von Hassell, who had died on July 6, 2009. She was survived by her son Christian Augustin von Hassell, her daughter Malve von Hassell, and three grandchildren.

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