Nelly Sachs

Nelly Sachs

Nelly Sachs, 1966
Born Leonie Sachs
10 December 1891(1891-12-10)
Schöneberg, Germany
Died 12 May 1970(1970-05-12) (aged 78)
Stockholm, Sweden
Occupation Poet, Playwright
Nationality German
Notable award(s) Nobel Prize in Literature

Nelly Sachs, 1910

Nelly Sachs (10 December 1891 – 12 May 1970) was a Jewish German poet and playwright whose experiences resulting from the rise of the Nazis in World War II Europe transformed her into a poignant spokeswoman for the grief and yearnings of her fellow Jews. Her best-known play is Eli: Ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels (1950); other works include the poems "Zeichen im Sand" (1962), "Verzauberung" (1970), and the collections of poetry In den Wohnungen des Todes (1947), Flucht und Verwandlung (1959), Fahrt ins Staublose (1961), and Suche nach Lebenden (1971).


Life and career

Born Leonie Sachs in Schöneberg, Germany in 1891, to a wealthy manufacturer,[1] she was educated at home because of frail health. She showed early signs of talent as a dancer, but her protective parents did not encourage her to pursue a profession. She grew up as a very sheltered, introverted young woman and never married. She pursued an extensive correspondence with, and was friends with, Selma Lagerlöf and Hilde Domin. As the Nazis took power, she became increasingly terrified, at one point losing the ability to speak, as she would remember in verse: "When the great terror came/I fell dumb." Sachs fled with her aged mother to Sweden in 1940. It was her friendship with Lagerlöf that saved their lives: shortly before her own death Lagerlöf intervened with the Swedish royal family to secure their release from Germany. Sachs and her mother escaped on the last flight from Nazi Germany to Sweden, a week before Sachs was scheduled to report to a concentration camp.

Living in a tiny two-room apartment in Stockholm, Sachs cared alone for her mother for many years, and supported their existence by translations between Swedish and German. After her mother's death, Sachs suffered several nervous breakdowns characterized by hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions of persecution by Nazis, and she spent a number of years in a mental institution. She continued to write even while hospitalized. She eventually recovered sufficiently to live on her own, though her mental health would always be fragile. Her worst breakdown was ostensibly precipitated by hearing German speech during a trip to Switzerland to accept a literary prize. However, she maintained a forgiving attitude toward a younger generation of Germans, and corresponded with many German-speaking writers of the postwar period, including Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Ingeborg Bachmann.

In the context of the Shoah, her deep friendship with "brother" poet Paul Celan is often noted today. Their bond was described in one of Celan's most famous poems, "Zürich, Zum Storchen" ("Zürich, The Stork Inn").[2] Sachs and Celan shared their concern with the Holocaust and the fate of the Jews throughout history, their interest in Jewish and Christian mysticism, and their literary models; their imagery was often remarkably similar though developed independently. Their friendship had the unfortunate side effect of intensifying each other's paranoia. Celan also suffered from fears of persecution (he blamed Claire Goll's accusations of plagiarism on antisemitism) and frustration over the reception of his work. When Sachs met Celan she was embroiled in a long dispute with Finnish-Jewish composer Moses Pergament over his musical adaptation of her stage play Eli: Ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels. Her relationship to Pergament became entangled with her paranoia, with Sachs repeatedly accusing Pergament of not believing her delusions of persecution. In Celan, she found someone who appeared to believe her. Sachs was first institutionalized shortly after her only visit to Celan.

Sachs' poetry is intensely lyrical and reflects some influence by German Romanticism, especially in her early work. The poetry she wrote as a young woman in Berlin is more inspired by Christianity than Judaism and makes use of traditional Romantic imagery and themes. Much of it concerns an unhappy love affair Sachs suffered in her teens, with a non-Jewish man who would eventually be killed in a concentration camp. After Sachs learned of her only love interest's death, she bound up his fate with that of her people and wrote many love lyrics ending not only in the beloved's death, but in the catastrophe of the Holocaust. Sachs herself mourns no longer as a jilted lover but as a personification of the Jewish people in their vexed relationship to history and God. Sachs' fusion of grief with subtly romantic elements is in keeping with the imagery of the kabbalah, where the Shekhinah represents God's presence on earth and mourns for the separation of God from His people in their suffering. Thus Sachs' Romanticism allowed her to develop self-consciously from a German to a Jewish writer, with a corresponding change in her language: still flowery and conventional in some of her first poetry on the Holocaust, it becomes ever more compressed and surreal, returning to a series of the same images and tropes (dust, stars, breath, stones and jewels, blood, dancers, fish suffering out of water, madness, and the ever-frustrated love) in ways that are sometimes comprehensible only to her readers, but always moving and disturbing. Though Sachs does not resemble many authors, she appears to have been influenced by Gertrud Kolmar and Else Lasker-Schüler in addition to Paul Celan.

In 1961 she became the inaugural winner of the Nelly Sachs Prize, a literary prize awarded biennially by the German city of Dortmund, and named in her honour. When, with Shmuel Yosef Agnon, she was awarded the 1966 Nobel Prize in Literature, she observed that Agnon represented Israel whereas "I represent the tragedy of the Jewish people."

Following her death from intestinal cancer in 1970, Nelly Sachs was interred in the Norra begravningsplatsen in Stockholm.

A memorial plaque commemorates her birthplace, Maaßenstraße 12, in Schöneberg, Berlin; where there is also a park, in Dennewitzstraße, named after her.


See also

  • List of female Nobel laureates
  • List of Jewish Nobel laureates
  • Manfred George, Nelly Sachs' cousin



Further reading

  • Ethics and remembrance in the poetry of Nelly Sachs and Rose Ausländer, By Kathrin M. Bower
  • Paul Celan, Nelly Sachs: Correspondence, Paul Celan, Nelly Sachs, Christopher Clark

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Nelly Sachs — (deutsche Briefmarke 2001) Nelly Sachs (eigentlich Leonie Sachs; * 10. Dezember 1891 in Schöneberg; † 12. Mai 1970 in Stockholm) war eine jüdische deutsche Schriftstellerin und Lyrikerin. 1966 verlieh das Nobe …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Nelly Sachs — en 1966 Nombre completo Nelly Sachs Nacimiento …   Wikipedia Español

  • Nelly Sachs — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Sachs. Nelly Sachs est une poétesse juive du XXe siècle (Schöne …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Nelly-Sachs-Haus — Das Nelly Sachs Haus ist ein jüdisches Altenwohn und Pflegeheim in Düsseldorf Stockum. Die Einrichtung hat eine koschere Küche, der Sabbat und die jüdischen Feiertage (religiös wie säkular) werden gefeiert …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Nelly-Sachs-Park — in Berlin Schöneberg Der Nelly Sachs Park liegt im Berliner Ortsteil Schöneberg an der Dennewitzstraße. Der Zugang zum Park ist auch von der Blumenthalstraße über einen Fußgängerweg möglich. Der Park ist nach der jüdisch deutschen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Nelly Sachs Prize — The Nelly Sachs Prize (German:Nelly Sachs Preis) is a literary prize given every two years by the German city of Dortmund. It is named after the Jewish poet Nelly Sachs and includes a cash award of €15,000. It honours authors for outstanding… …   Wikipedia

  • Nelly-Sachs-Preis — Der Nelly Sachs Preis ist ein von der Stadt Dortmund zu Ehren von Nelly Sachs zweijährlich verliehener Literaturpreis. Der Preis ist mit 15.000 Euro dotiert. Aufgrund der Haushaltslage konnte der Preis im Jahr 2009 nicht vergeben werden und die… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Prix de traduction Nelly Sachs — Création 1988 Type Prix littéraire Siège Arles, France Langue(s) français Effectifs 6 membres du Jury Président du Jury Michel Volkovitch …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Literaturnobelpreis 1966: Samuel Josef Agnon — Nelly Sachs —   Agnon wurde geehrt für seine »charakteristische Erzählkunst mit jüdischen Motiven«; Nelly Sachs für ihr außergewöhnliches lyrisches Werk.    Biografien   Samuel Josef Agnon (eigentlich Schmuel Josef Halevi Czaczkes), * Buczacz (Galizien) 17. 7 …   Universal-Lexikon

  • SACHS, NELLY — (Leonie; 1891–1970), German poet and Nobel Prize winner. The daughter of a Berlin industrialist, Nelly Sachs grew up in an artistic home where she early imbibed a love of literature. At 17 she began writing neoromantic poetry in traditional,… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

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