Born in Berlin, Liselotte Herrmann, an engineer’s daughter, had a middle class liberal upbringing. After completing her Abitur exams in 1929, she went to work as a laboratory assistant in a chemical factory to prepare her studies in chemistry. Later that year, her family moved to Stuttgart, where she attended the Technical College. In 1931, she switched to biology, studying at the Humboldt University in Berlin.
As a schoolgirl, she joined the Young Communist League of Germany in 1928, and also became a member of the Red Students’ League (Roter Studentenbund). She also joined the Revolutionary Union Opposition (Revolutionäre Gewerkschafts Opposition) in 1931, and in the same year became a member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).
Soon after the NSDAP won the election in 1933, she together with 111 other students signed a "Call for the Defence of Democratic Rights and Freedoms" and was therefore reprimanded and expelled by the university on 11 July 1933. From that time, she worked illegally against Germany's Nazi government and socialized with the armed resistance within the KPD organisation.
She temporarily took a job as a nanny and on 15 May 1934, her son Walter was born. The boy's father, Fritz Rau, a KPD official, had died in Gestapo custody. In September of the same year, she once again moved to Stuttgart, where she worked as a shorthand typist at her father's engineering office and re–established contacts with the banned Communist Party. From late 1934, she worked as a technical aide to the Württemberg KPD leader, Stefan Lovász, until his arrest in June 1935. She obtained information about German re-armament concerning secret weapons projects — munitions production at the Dornier aircraft factory in Friedrichshafen and the building of an underground ammunition factory (Muna) near Celle — which were relayed to the KPD's office in exile that had been set up in Switzerland.
Arrest, trial, and death
On 7 December 1935, Hermann was arrested in her family's apartment. For three months, she was interrogated at the Stuttgart police prison, and from February 1936 she was held for 16 harrowing months in remand custody, whilst her young son had to be cared for by his grandparents. Charged in the People's Court (Volksgerichtshof), Herrmann and Stefan Lovász, together with KPD officials Josef Steidle and Arthur Göritz, were sentenced to death by the Second Senate in Stuttgart on 12 June 1937 for "treason in concomitance with preparation of high treason in aggravating circumstances". Herrmann's fellow party member, Lina Haag, was held in the same remand prison at that time, and remembers the night she was sentenced in her book A Handful of Dust or How Long the Night.
Deported to Berlin, after another year in the Women's Prison on Barnimstrasse, she was transferred to Plötzensee Prison for execution. Despite international protests, Hermann was sent to the guillotine on 20 June 1938. Lovász, Steidle and Göritz were also put to death the same day.
Indeed, even in Stuttgart, where Herrmann studied, she has been a controversial figure. In 1988, unknown persons placed a simple memorial stone to her on the University of Stuttgart campus, which caused a stir. "Lilo-Herrmann-Weg" was the city's tribute to her, but it is little more than a 100 m-long blind alley affording access to public and private parking. No one lives there. In the 1970s, students at the university tried to get a new residence named after her, but the university administration refused.
- Alfred Behr: Ein schwäbischer Streit der Historiker um ein Denkmal. Ende einer DDR-Legende über Lilo Hermann, in: FAZ, Nr. 29 vom 4. Februar 1993, S. 4
- Max Burghardt: Briefe, die nie geschrieben wurden. Lilo Hermann zum Gedächtnis, Verl. Neues Leben, Berlin, 1966
- Ditte Clemens: Schweigen über Lilo. Die Geschichte der Liselotte Hermann, BS-Verl., Rostock 2002, ISBN 978-3-89954-013-0
- Deutsche Widerstandskämpfer 1933–1945. Biographien und Briefe, Dietz, Berlin, 1970 (vols. 1–2)
- Stephan Hermlin: Die erste Reihe, Verl. Neues Leben, Berlin, 1959
- Karl-Heinz Jahnke (Hrsg.): Niemals vergessen! Aus dem antifaschistischen Widerstandskampf der Studenten Europas, Verl. Neues Leben, Berlin 1959
- Lothar Letsche (Hrsg.): Lilo Herrmann. Eine Stuttgarter Widerstandskämpferin, Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes, Stuttgart 1993