Demetra Messala

Demetra Messala and Arno Breker at Hitler's nest in Berchtesgaden (Kehlsteinhaus)
Demetra Messala and Arno Breker at Hitler’s nest in Berchtesgaden (Kehlsteinhaus)

Demetra Messala was a Greek woman, married to Arno Breker, one of the most famous sculptors of the XX century and best known for being the favourite sculptor of Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer and for his prolific career during National Socialist Germany.

demetra-messala-04Breker first met Demetra Messala in Paris, which at that time was the “center of modern sculpture”. There Breker not only had the opportunity to meet a number of extraordinary individuals including Jean Cocteau and Alfred Flechtheim, among others, but also his future wife, of whom he would make a sculpture in 1933. Demetra, the daughter of a Greek diplomat in Paris, had been a model who used to pose for prominent artists such as Picasso and Aristide Maillol – the latter would later describe Breker as “Germany’s Michelangelo”.

Later on, Demetra Messala stopped her model career to pursue a career as an art merchant. In 1934, Messala and Breker moved to Germany, where the latter would eventually become the Nazis’ favourite sculptor, as his works represented the antithesis of so-called “degenerate art”.

demetra-messala-03Before gaining the affection of Hitler, however, Breker had to undergo adversities, as it was difficult for him to gain a foothold in the Reich’s capital city under the new conditions which existed there. After 7 years abroad, Breker was called “the Frenchman” and was looked down as non-meritory. Adversities included paradoxes such as being accused by Alfred Rosenberg (the editor of the Nazi newspaper Völkischer Beobachter) of being a degenerate artist (!), or his wife Demetra being suspected of being Jewish (!). Despite these handicaps, because Demetra Messala had by then become a succesful international art dealer and because she belonged to a Greek well-to-do family, the couple had little financial concerns.

demetra-messala-01From 1936 onwards, the situation improved as Breker and Messala began to enjoy the privileges of being affiliates of top Nazi leaders. Breker was appointed professor of sculpture at the College for Educational Arts in Berlin, and the couple lived comfortably in a large house 75 km East of Berlin. They attended the most exclusive events in Nazi Germany, and were seen in intimate company of Hitler at his private parties in a number of occasions, including at Hitler’s hideout in Berchtesgaden.

However, things would be slighlty different after the Nazi defeat in 1945. After the German downfall, the Americans identified Arno and Demetra, but were not prosecuted heavily. They only intended to let the denazification board examine thier record and determine their fate. The Americans merely kept an eye on them and helped them move north to the town of Wemding near Nördlingen in October 1945. They were given a thirteen-room house, a luxury at a time when space was extremely precious. Demetra Messala was also able to purcahse an automobile, a really prized object in the Allies-occupied Germany. Later on, in a June 1946 letter, Messala would defend the acquisition as being “for the procurement of materials, like plaster, clay, stone samples, and tools”.

demetra-messala-02In any case, in an area flooded with homeless refugees, Arno and Demetra enjoyed privileged provisions, and in fact Breker’s work was mostly not interrumped through the culmination of the war and the ensuing persecution of former Nazi firstliners.

Demetra Messala would die in a car accident in 1956, but his husband would not die until 1991, at age 91. Despite being stigmatized for his public works in the Nazi regime, he never stopped getting work requests. In 1978, Breker was elected by the Greek government to produce a 10-meters tall sculpture of Alexander the Great, intended to be located in Greece, the country that inspired his art.

Demetra Messala

14 thoughts on “Demetra Messala

  1. demosthenes k. says:

    I am surprising with the very fine work about this Greek lady. But possibly some details need more research. In 1971, in Athens Hilton, sitting in Byzantino cafe, I was personally informed by famous choreographer and dancer Serge Lifar that Demetra lost her life much earlier than 1956, in 1945. An other information from the living son of Greek actor Michis Iakovides says that Breker met Demetra in 1934 or 1935 in Athens when she was working at Goutakis stores in Stadiou street, Athens. The poet Titos Patrikios gives similar details, saying that Demetra, her mother and sister were living in Exarchia (then Neapolis) in some rooms rented to them by his grandma. By the way, Jean Cocteau in his autobiography shows Demetra “reading” Hitler’s palame etc. Johann Voulpiotis, son-in-law of von Siemens, has told me in 1970’s that Demetra and husband helped Greece by several ways. Petros Haris, of the intellectual magazine “Nea Hestia”, also had told me about Demetra’s successful effort from Berlin (in 1944!) to free Elias Venezis. Melpo Fafaliou, a famous dancer in 1930’s, then married to Thanos Kapsalis, cigarette manufacturer (Papastratos) and politician, later to Piero Parini, knew also Demetra in period 1937-40 at least and gave me some more memories about her. I give all this if they could be useful for more research possibly.

  2. Dimitris says:

    Dimitra was my mother’s Auntie. There was a car accident where she put herself in front of one of her cook’s children. My mother details are vague. The nurse that cared for her started having an affiar with Arno and the Chauffaur warned my mother that it would be better for Dimitra to be cared for in Athens. She came briefly in 1955?, but went back to Germany where she died a few months later. The Nurse later married Arno. I met them in 1978 (I think) and Arno gave us a lovely scultpure.

  3. Sergio Coons says:

    Dear Dimitris
    and all friends of Greek !

    Please find out more of the wonderful Demeter or Demetra,
    beloved Wife of the German-French Sculptor Arno Breker.
    There is a big mystery on her death after a car accitend ?????
    One correction I can make: She died definitely a f t e r 1945 in Germany.
    People who knew Breker and Demeter say: it was a great and eternal love.
    When she felt sick, the sculptor ordered two nurses to care for her day and night.
    But later the one dominating younger nurs of Poland married the old sculptor.
    Let`s try to find out more on Demetras Greek Family. A French diplomat told years ago,
    Demetras father himself was a diplomat for his country. She did not got back with him from Paris and went her own way to success.
    Regards from Sergio

  4. quatrevaux geneviève says:

    demetra messala fait partie de mon histoire familliale, j’ai des portraits au fusain de démetra à la maison dessinés par mon grand père Maxime PIET.
    il était soldat français dans les tranchées de verdun quand l’armée a eu besoin de sous officiers, ils ont réunis plusieurs soldats autours d’un canon et ont demandé de le dessiner, mon grand père a dessiné le plus beau et a rejoint l’armée française dans les dardanelles pour sa formation, c’est là, à la fin de la première guerre mondiale, qu’il a rencontré démetra,elle avait 15 ans et lui 27, il l’appelait mimina, il l’a épousé et ramené en france, il a rejoint Paris et tenté de vivre de ses dessins et peintures, mais c’est sa femme très douée pour le commerce et les langues qui assurait son entrée dans le cercle des grands artistes parisiens. Bientot elle rencontra arno brecker et le divorce fut prononcé. mon grand père a rejoint son poitou natal mais ils resta en contact avec le couple et un des neveux de mon grand père pris pour le STO est resté toute la guerre comme beaucoup de français dans le chateau du couple à dusseldorf a ratisser les allées, toutes ses vie ont été sauvées. demetra a envoyé des cadeaux aux deux filles (dont ma mère) que son ex compagnon a eu avec sa seconde épouse madeleine car elle avait le regret de ne pouvoir avoir d’enfants.

  5. quatrevaux geneviève says:

    dommage, parce que tout ce que je dis est vrai, je possede les portraits de demetra et l’acte de divorce de mon grand père

  6. Nicky says:

    These posts on Dimitra…..Arno Breker’s wife are so enlightening…I check from time to time to see what info there is on her…and today I found out so much about her. Now..I would like to know there any information regarding their children & the lives they proceeded to live…or if any of them are still was stated somewhere in my readings today that they had 5 children…yet not a word has been mentioned in regards to any of them….nor is there any info on her father.
    I am very much interested to find out the answers to my curiosities about Dimitra’s children & family.
    Thank you for information already gathered today

    1. alex says:

      According to the Greek historian Demosthenes Koukounas, the fact is that Mimina Messala Breker had four sisters (Andriani, Calliope, Sophia, Helen) and one brother (Stelios). His new book about Arno Breker and Mimina give many details on her life.

  7. Brigido Anaya says:

    Well, in light from the information I read here in the comments, it look like the Wikipedia information about Arno Breker’s wife, needs corrections.

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