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19 August 2022

Toni Ebel (1881 – 1961) artist.

++Original January 2015; revised February 2022, to incorporate information about Charlotte Charlaque, and August 2022 to incorporate more information from Wolfert's book.

Hugo Otto Arno Ebel was raised in Berlin, the eldest of eleven children, of a merchant and his wife.  The child was noticed for being 'girlish' and for liking domestic work.  After secondary school, Arno completed apprenticeships first as a merchant and then as a decorator, but lacked aptitude in both cases.  At age 19 Ebel bought a wig and some female clothes.  However the parents discovered them, and they ended up in the fire.

A year or so later Ebel had an affair with a man.  This was taken to be homosexuality, and consequent arguments with father and brothers led to Ebel leaving home.  After some travel in Germany, Austria and Italy, Ebel worked, as a woman, in a women's dress shop while studying painting in Munich. She then travelled abroad with an older man, an American by birth, who kept her for a few years. Afterwards Ebel travelled alone through Italy, Spain, France and North Africa, but returned to Germany around 1908, and had reverted to being male  It is said that, as 'Arno Ehe', Ebel joined the circle of noted artist Käthe Kollwitz, and produced paintings that were noted.

Arno met Olga Boralewski (1873-1928).  They married in 1911 and had a son – however Arno was not comfortable in this role and attempted suicide several times, and once was admitted to a mental asylum. He was able to cross-dress only in private. Arno Ebel was drafted into the Army in 1916,  and at the 2nd Battle of Champagne (25 September - 6 November 1915), was ambushed and finally suffered a severe nervous breakdown, and thereupon was assigned to a reserve hospital before being discharged with a 30 per cent pension. 

After the war Ebel was recognised as "severely disabled" and obtained a position as a draughtsman in a Berlin electricity firm.   Ebel became involved with the workers' movement, painted and made a living as a commercial artist.  In 1925 Ebel joined the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD). However Olga Ebel became seriously ill and bedridden, and Toni was left to care for her.  At home, Toni put on women's clothes, cooked the food, looked after the wife, cleaned the flat and did the laundry.

Olga died in January 1928. Ebel, despite another nervous breakdown, became Toni again. Trans woman Charlotte Charlaque introduced Toni to Magnus Hirschfeld, and Toni was assessed by Felix Abraham who had replaced Arthur Kronfeld as the transvestism specialist at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft:

"The case of A. E., painter, born 10 November 1881 in Berlin. The patient was referred to me (at first he came in male clothes) because from his youth he has been inclined to wear female clothes; moreover, he felt completely female and consequently wanted to take a female name. The patient was 47 years old at the first consultation. He was outwardly very agitated, but this calmed down and almost disappeared when, at my request, he came to the next consultation in female clothing. He then confessed to me that he felt so uncomfortable in male clothing that the result was a physical and nervous agitation which gave way to absolute calm when he put on female clothing. His aversion to men's clothing is so great that he had only one suit, which, moreover, was in very poor condition." (1931, last page of Transvestitisme chapter)

Abraham wrote an expert opinion so that Toni was able to obtain a Transvestitenschein in spring 1928 so that she could be a woman in public.  Toni made a formal application for a legal name change - but it was not approved until 1929. The five surgeries by Drs Erwin Gohrbandt, Felix Abraham and Ludwig L. Lenz took only two years (compared to the seven years for Dörchen Richter) and were complete in 1931.  Felix Abraham wrote up an account of the operations on Dora and Toni for the Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft und Sexualpolitik, where he referred to Toni as "Arno (Toni) E." .

From 1930-32 Toni lived in the basement and supplemented the domestic staff at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft as she was too poor to pay for treatment.  She was paid 24 Reichsmarks a month, plus room and board.

She did sell some paintings and donated others to the Institut.  Adelheid Schulz (1909-2008) then 19,  who had just become housekeeper at the Institute,  paid twelve Reichsmarks for a painting by Toni Ebel that reminded her of her mother - more than half her weekly wage. Hirschfeld and Ludwig Levy-Lenz also bought paintings from her. 

Surgeon Ludwig Levy-Lenz wrote of the trans maids at the Institut: 
"I will never forget the sight that met my eyes when I was once whisked away to the kitchen of the house after work: there the five 'girls' sat knitting and sewing peacefully next to each other and singing old folk songs together. Anyway, they were the best, most diligent and most conscientious household staff we have ever had. Never once did a stranger who visited us notice." 

The French doctor, Pierre Najac, who did an internship at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, wrote about Charlotte and Toni.   

Toni lived awhile at Wolliner Straße 47 in Berlin-Mitte. But because Charlotte Charlaque was called a Jew by the neighbours when she came to visit, Ebel moved in with her in Berlin-Schöneberg. The Swedish journalist Ragnar Ahlstedt visited them at their flat at Nollendorfstraße 24, and wrote about them in his Män som blivit kvinnor, 1933. They lived cheaply: Charlotte said that she was an actress and Toni was able to sell some paintings and drawings.  Ahlstedt incorrectly claimed that after the death of Lili Elbe "Frau Toni" and "Fräulein Lola" (Charlotte) were "the only operated transvestites in the whole of Europe" („die einzigen operierten Transvestiten in ganz Europa").

Toni and Charlotte had become lovers, although both spoke about men-friends when the topic came up.  In August 1932 Toni - using the pseudonym 'Wally E.' - was interviewed by a journalist L. Rhan for Das 12-Uhr-Blatt which was printed under the headline: "Conversation with a woman who was once a man".  There was also an anonymous article in  Die Geburtenregelung titled "Surgical transformation of men into women succeeded" ( "Operative Umwandlung von Männern in Frauen gelungen"), which discussed Dora, Toni and Charlotte.  

6 November 1932:  Federal election: the NSDAP (Nazi Party) won 196 seats out of 584 and became the largest party.

30 January 1933:  New Cabinet sworn in, with Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.  Hermann Goering ordered the closure of the queer bars.

In Lothar Golte's 1933 Austrian film, Mysterium des Geschlechts, advertised as a "foray through the night life of sexual abnormals" two medical students, one male, one female, learn about "most interesting questions of sexology" and fall in love in the process. This is intercut with documentary sequences which show sex reassignment surgery and transplants of animal testicles and explanations about abortion and contraception. Toni, Charlotte and Dora Richter can be seen in the sex-change scenes which are presumably film archives from Institut für Sexualwissenschaft.  The premiere was in Vienna 27 April 1933, but due to massive protests it was removed by police intervention after only a few days. In Germany, it was not even shown in public, as it was banned by the censors.

A couple of  trans women were associating with Charlotte and Toni at their flat: Fritz, the nephew of a German-American writer, and Felicitas, who as Felix had worked as a police officer.   In the March 1933 elections, following the Reischstag fire, Toni voted for the Communist Party (KPD), but the NSDAP (Nazi) got the most seats and that was the last multi-party election until 1945.  

10 May: The library and archives of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft were publicly hauled out and burned in the streets of the Opernplatz.  Between 12,000 to 20,000 books and journals, and an even larger number of images and sex objects, were destroyed.  This included paintings by Toni Ebel. 

Toni had converted to Charlotte's Jewish faith.   Toni was warned that they were under surveillance, and in 1934, with the help of the Berlin Jewish community, Toni and Charlotte fled to Czechoslovakia.  They settled in Karlsbad/Karlovy Vary where Toni painted pictures for spa guests and Charlotte gave English and French lessons. Toni still received her war pension from the Reichsversicherungsanstalt and life in Czechoslovakia was comparatively cheap, they were able to live in relative peace for a while.

Late Summer 1934 they moved to Prague where they made contact with the "Emigrants Committee" of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), but the city was swarming with German emigrants and they returned to Karlovy Vary.   In November 1936  they moved on to Brünn/Brno.  Toni was  using the professional name of Antonia Ebelová.    There, they were in contact with Karl Giese, Hirschfeld’s lover and archivist at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft,  who had fled to Brno after being expelled from France for the wrong kind of sexual activity.  He had been bequeathed considerable money from Hirschfeld's estate, but was depressed and after the Anschluss, the German occupation of Austria 16 March 1938, he took his own life. 

The Wehrmacht occupied Czechoslovakia and established the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in the spring of 1939.  Toni's German passport had expired and they were to report to the police every fortnight.  Their accommodation was searched and they were advised to leave.  However an employee of the German Consulate was taking English lessons from Charlotte, and he was able to arrange a new passport for Toni at the end of 1938.  It was initially valid for one year only, but was later extended until 1943.   Toni was designated therein as Protestant, which given the circumstances she let stand.  

In March 1939 they returned to Prague which they saw as more "Czech" and less "German" than Brno.  They found a flat at Velkoprevorské nämésti 7, and aided Jews with English and documents needed for emigration. 

Portrait by Josef Brück, 1952.

In March 1942 Charlotte was arrested by the Czechoslovak Aliens Police and jailed for being a Jew. Toni managed to persuade the Swiss consul that Charlotte was a US citizen.  Charlotte was interned and then deported to New York via Lisbon.  They continued to correspond, but apparently never met again.

Toni was summoned by the Gestapo several times in 1943-4, but was not arrested.  However after the war in Europe ended, VE Day, 7 May 1945, Toni like other Germans in Czechoslovakia had to leave the country, leaving her belongings behind. Toni was taken to the German border, walked from there to Cottbus and finally got permission to travel to Berlin on a coal train. On the way she had to beg. On 22 June 1945, she reached Berlin. By this time the Opfer des Faschismus (OdF - Victims of Fascism) was beginning to be organised, and Toni was one of the first victims to be recognised.    Later she was able to claim compensation from the German Democratic Republic. 

She rebuilt her life as an artist.  From around the mid-1950s, she lived in a studio flat on Strausberger Platz (Friedrichshain), and it was here that she also received a visit at least once from Adelheid Schulz, who had been housekeeper at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft.

Portrait by Rudolph Kramer

Charlotte and Toni corresponded after 1945, but they never met again. 

She was recognized at the Akademie der Künste in East Berlin.  In articles about her in the East German press on the occasion of her birthdays or her exhibitions, she was often described as a spirited woman who was "mischievous" and "tomboyish" - and spoke in a deep voice. Her femininity was never questioned.

She died at age 80.

  • Felix Abraham. "Genitalumwandlungen an zwei männlichen Transvestiten". Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft und Sexualpolitik, 18, 1931: 223-226. Translated as "Genital Reassignment on Two Male Transvestites". The International Journal of Transgenderism, 2,1, Jan-March 1998. Archive.
  • Félix  Abraham, translated by Pierre Vachet. Les perversions sexuelles. Romainville (Seine): impr. Tessier, 1931: the last page of the Transvestitisme chapter. 
  • Pierre Najac.  "L'Institute de la Science Sexuelle à Berlin" in Janine Merlet.  Venus et Mercure.  Editions de la Vie Modern, 1931: 165-192. 
  • L. Rhan.  "Gesprach mit riner Frau, die einmal ein Mann war". Das 12-Uhr-Blatt, 2.8.1932. 
  • Ragnar Ahlstedt. Män som blivit kvinnor. Två fall av könsväxling på operative väg. En study of transvestitism. Tranås: mountain, 1933.
  • Anon. "Operative Umwandlung von Männern in Frauen gelungen. Die Erfahrungen aus drei Berliner Fällen".  Die Geburtenregelung,1, 4, 1933: 33.
  • F. E. "Das Portrait, Toni Ebel".  Berliner Zeitung, 19.1.1952: 16.
  • Ludwig Levy-Lenz.  Diskretes und Indiskretes: Erinnerungen eines Sexualarztes.  Wissen & Fortschritt, 1953: 204. 
  • Sander L. Gilman. Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999: 276.
  • Rainer Herrn. Schnittmuster des Geschlechts. Transvestitismus und Transsexualität in der frühen Sexualwissenschaft. Giessen: Psychosozial-Verlag 2005: 203-4.
  • Ralf Dose. "Ralf Dose, Magnus Hirschfeld Gesellschaft, Berlin, Germany: Thirty Years of Collecting Our History - Or: How to Find Treasure Troves". LGBTI ALMS 2012: The Future of LGBTI Histories, 2012.06/18.
  • Julie Nero. Hannah Höch, Til Brugman, Lesbianism, and Weimar Sexual Subculture. PhD Thesis, Department of Art History and Art, Case Western Reserve University, 2013: 269. PDF.
  • Ralf Dose. Magnus Hirschfeld: The Origins of the Gay Liberation Movement. 2014: 55.
  • Přehled Historických Událostí Vztahujících Se K Tématu. (Overview historical events related to the topic) [Czechoslovakian Artists]:101. PDF.
  • Raimund Wolfert. “ ‘Sage, Toni, denkt man so bei euch drüben?’ Auf den Spuren von Curt Scharlach alias Charlotte Charlaque (1892 -?) und Toni Ebel (1881-1961)”. Lesbengeschichte, 3/2015. Online. And also at   Online.
  • Raimund Wolfert. Charlotte Charlaque: Transfrau, Laienschauspielerin, „Königin der Brooklyn Heights Promenade“. Hentrich & Hentrich, 2021: 59-62.
Kunst in der DDR      Deutsche Digitale Bibiothek      DE.Wikipedia     

Wolfert says "To all appearances, Olga was suffering from syphilis" (Allem Anschein nach litt Olga an der Syphilis).   But says no more.  There is no mention of Toni being syphilitic.   Did Toni bring it from a previous relationship? Did Olga bring it from a previous marriage?  Olga was 38 when she entered this marriage - it is very likely that she had a previous marriage.  If Olga was in the latent and then tertiary stages, she may not have been infectious, but her son may have had congenital syphilis. 

In any case there is no information about what happened to the son.

Neither the Gestapo nor the Statsi nor the East German press nor the West German Press seems to have questioned Toni's femininity.

The document on Czechoslovak artists is not sure whether Toni was Jewish or Protestant.  

The French for the paragraph from Felix Abraham's book:
"Voici le cas de A. E., artiste peintre, né le 10 novembre 1881 à Berlin. Le malade vient chez moi (en costume masculin) pour avoir eu dès sa jeunesse un penchant à porter le costume féminin; d’ailleurs il se sent complètement femme et veut, en conséquence, prendre un nom de femme. Le malade a 47 ans à la première consultation. 11 présentait extérieurement une agitation très forte qui se calma et n’existait presque plus quand, sur ma demande, il vint àla consultation suivante en costume féminin. 11 m’avoua alors qu’en costume masculin il se sent si mal à son aise que le résultat en est une agitation corporelle et nerveuse qui fait place à un calme absolu quand il revêt un costume féminin. Son aversmn contre le vêtement masculin est si grande qu’il ne possède qu’un seul complet qui, d’ailleurs, est en très mauvais état."

The German  for the quote from Ludwig Levy-Lenz:

" ich werde den Anblick nie vergessen, der sich mir bot, als ich einmal nach Feierabend in die Küche des Hauses verschlagen wurde: da saßen die fünf ,Mädchen‘ strickend und nähend friedlich nebeneinander und sangen gemeinsam alte Volkslieder. Jedenfalls war es das beste, fleißigste und gewissenhafteste Hauspersonal, das wir je gehabt haben. Niemals hat ein Fremder, der uns besuchte, etwas davon gemerkt."


  1. what's the source on Ebel's birth year? according to a 1930 surgical document by Dr Felix Abraham ( Toni Ebel was 52 at the time of the operation, which would make her born in 1878

    this document also suggests Dora Richter's birth being in 1890, rather than 1891

  2. On his page 63 Wolfert says: 'Because of the intimate relationship that linked Charlotte Charlaque and Toni Ebel for over ten years - the women later spoke about each other as "their dearest" and the like - the impression has been created that the two might have been linked by a lesbian love affair. But on the face of it, this was not the case. In an interview Toni Ebel gave to the 12 o'clock paper in 1932, she confessed that she had a boyfriend. She liked him very much and would also like to marry him, if only he had a permanent job. Besides, she "hated" "feminine" men, and her boyfriend was "strong and bearded" '. (Deepl translation)

    I changed this to:

    "Toni and Charlotte had become lovers, although both spoke about men-friends when the topic came up."

    There is no evidence cited for the existence of this boyfriend. Given the politics of 1932-3 there was good reason to muddy the public record, and speaking myself as a trans woman, it feels quite possible that she would make such a claim to a journalist without it being true. Further there is no mention of the boyfriend being involved in the move to Czechoslovakia or attempting to veto it.

  3. Second paragraph, "Ebel" is mistyped as "Elbe"


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