Cordelia Edvardson was a journalist and an author. She was a Holocaust witness.
Cordelia Edvardson was born in Munich in 1929. Her father, Herman Heller, was a lawyer and a professor, and her mother, Elisabeth Langgässer, was an author. Cordelia Edvardson never met her father. In 1935 her mother married the philosopher Wilhelm Hoffmann, with whom she had another three daughters. Cordelia Edvardson grew up in Berlin and had a Catholic upbringing. However, when the Nazis decided that her mother was half-Jewish and that her father was of Jewish descent, Cordelia Edvardson was classed as fully Jewish. Her mother tried to save Cordelia Edvardson from the Nazis by having her adopted by a Spanish couple, called Garcis-Scouvart, but Cordelia was unable to leave Germany. In 1944, when she was just 14 years old, Cordelia Edvardson was sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. She was then transferred to Auschwitz. She survived her incarceration there and, like Zenia Larsson, was brought to Sweden in 1945 on one of the white buses sent out by the Red Cross. She married the sports journalist and author Ragner Edvardson in 1948 and that same year their son Martin was born. The couple divorced in 1953. Later she went on to have two more children, named Daniel and Miriam. In 1964 she had a fourth child, Simon, with the author Tore Zetterholm.
Cordelia Edvardson was a journalist with Svenska Morgonbladet in 1954 and with Morgon-Tidningen from 1955 to 1957. She then worked for Åhlén & Åkerlund, where part of her remit included editing the weekly journal Damernas Värld, which she completely overhauled. In 1974 she moved to Jerusalem where she spent the ensuing years working for the radio and for Vecko-Journalen. From 1977 to 2000 she served as the Middle Eastern correspondent for Svenska Dagbladet. Her knowledgeable insider reports from Israel generated a lot of attention. In 1983 she was awarded Stora journalistpriset and in 2002 she received the Torgny Segerstedt frihetspenna. Her journalism – in particular that which dealt with Israeli domestic politics – was often marked by a bitter and humorous undertone.
In addition to her journalistic efforts Cordelia Edvardson also wrote poetry, reports, novels, and essays. In 1958 she released her first short story collection called Så kom jag till Kartago, using the pseudonym Maria Heller. Five years later she published Kärlekens vittne, 1963, under her own name. The autobiographical nature of these books, based around the holocaust, lies just below the surface. Cordelia Edvardson was more openly autobiographical in her well-received Bränt barn söker sig till elden, 1984, and its follow-up Viska det till vinden, 1988, which more specifically deals with the controversy in Germany regarding guilt and the contemporary situation of survivors and former executioners. Each of these four books revolves around the holocaust but they are not chronological expositions. It is as if the story must be retold, again and again, although it can never really be told in full.
In the most notable of her four autobiographical books, Bränt barn söker sig till elden, Cordelia Edvardson tells her life story in a superficially fictionalised manner. The novel tells of the little Jewish girl, Eda, who is brought up in 1930s Berlin by her mother and maternal grandmother. She is the only one in the family to be sent to a concentration camp and survive. An important element of the story is the main protagonist’s difficult relationship with her mother. She eventually arrives in Sweden, and when she is writing her story she is in Jerusalem. The book is like a composite of fragments. It does not follow a full course or an ongoing development, but instead is characterised by a sense of searching and reconstruction. The identity which was systematically destroyed in the concentration camp can barely be pieced together again. The book also received international acclaim. It was awarded the 1986 Geschwister-Scholl-Preis in Germany, which is a literary prize dedicated to the memory of the siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl. The book has been translated into many languages and has become a part of the canon of literature on the holocaust. In 2004 filmmaker Stefan Jarl produced a documentary on Cordelia Edvardson and her life called Flickan från Auschwitz which was based on her books.
Cordelia Edvardson’s other books include Om jag glömmer dig, 1976, in which she recounts her early years as an immigrant in Israel in diary format. She describes coming face to face with the harsh reality of Israel and her own path to attaining Jewish awareness. Meanwhile, Jerusalems leende, 1991, is a poetry collection which describes the rules of love and the evils of war.
In 2008 what is known as a Stolperstein, a small memorial plaque to the victims of Nazi persecution which is placed on the pavement in front a house where a victim either lived or worked, bearing Cordelia Edvardson’s name was placed on the Berlin street where she had lived as a child. In 2009 Cordelia Edvardson was awarded the German medal of merit Bundesverdienstkreuz 1 Klasse, for her “many years of service in the promotion of German-Swedish relations”. In 2010 the Section for Journalism, Media and Communication Studies at Stockholm University established a journalism prize in Cordelia Edvardson’s name. It is awarded biennially to a journalist who “is very active, is popular and has an eye for the newsworthy in the apparently minor”. The first time it was awarded the recipient was Cecilia Uddén, who was the Middle Eastern correspondent for Swedish Radio.
After three decades in Israel Cordelia Edvardson returned to Sweden in 2006. She died in 2012.