Else Lasker-Schüler’s Drawing: “The Banished Poet”

Since 1974, Lasker-Schüler's artistic estate has been preserved at the National Library of Israel

“The Queen of Expressionism”: That is how Else Lasker-Schüler is known to this day. Her place in this artistic stream, which reached its peak some 100 years ago, has remained uncontested and unique, both since she was a woman (almost the only woman among the prominent representatives of this style) and because she was a poet, playwright and painter all in one. The multi-disciplinary nature of Lasker-Schüler’s work characterizes her as an outstanding representative of Expressionism, since the boundaries of her various genres of expression (writing, theater and drawing) within this stream were quite blurred. Among her outstanding works were love poems, some of which were translated into Hebrew by Yehudah Amichai, Natan Zach and others.

Photo of Else Lasker-Schuler as a young woman in Berlin

Else Lasker-Schüler was born in 1869 in the city of Elberfeld, Germany, today a neighborhood of the city of Wuppertal, to a family of Jewish bankers. She was trained in painting in Berlin, and from the early 20th century, began publishing poems, and later, also plays, only a few of which were staged during her lifetime. Despite this, Else Lasker-Schüler is considered to this day one of the most important poets in the history of German literature in the 20th century. In 1932, she was even awarded the most prestigious literary prize in Germany at the time, the Kleist Prize.

With the rise of the Nazis to power in 1933, the poet was forced to leave Germany. Until 1939, she lived in Switzerland, but she visited Eretz Israel in 1934 and 1936. During her third visit, the outbreak of World War II caught her by surprise, and at the same time, the Swiss authorities forbade her return to Switzerland. In Eretz Israel, Lasker-Schüler settled in Jerusalem, where she continued writing in German. One of the last works she wrote is a play entitled, “I and I” (Ichundich), in which she describes the fall of the Nazi regime. And yet, her death in January 1945 prevented her from carrying on with her work and witnessing the turning point in European history.

Since 1974, Lasker-Schüler’s artistic estate has been preserved at the National Library of Israel. The poet’s personal archive contains manuscripts of her works, drawings and correspondence with her contemporaries, including S.Y. Agnon, Samuel Hugo Bergmann, Gottfried Benn, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Max Reinhardt, Salman Schocken and Akiba Ernst Simon.

Among the artist’s drawings is a chalk drawing mounted on a piece of cardboard (142X225 mm), entitled “Die verscheuchte Dichterin” (“The Banished Poet”).

Drawing by Lasker-Schüler: “The Banished Poet”

The picture – combining poetry and drawing – might be seen as a synopsis of Else Lasker-Schüler’s fate: On the drawing’s cardboard base, the poet wrote out an excerpt of a poem she had published in her first poetry collection of 1902: “If I knew of a stream as deep as my life, I would flow with its waters.”

In addition, Lasker-Schüler scribbled the words “Drawn in 1935 in the hospital due to my injuries caused by the Nazis.” And yet, on the drawing itself, she wrote “in 1942” and by way of summary, also “1935-1942.” At the center of the drawing one can make out two human forms; a woman is sitting, her gaze case downwards, arms linked with another figure that is standing next to her. The woman in the drawing is apparently Lasker-Schüler herself, and indeed, the contours of the woman’s profile recall her other self-portraits. The second figure, apparently a man in Oriental dress including a head covering, is soothing the woman, whose body language powerfully suggests weariness and mourning.

Art experts believe that the drawing was created at least partially in the mid-1930s, but it is likely that Lasker-Schüler added details and the caption only later, apparently some time before 1942. In this work, the artist demonstrates all of her drawing ability: the composition conveys Lasker-Schüler’s desperate mood using simple lines and a refined technique. The five chalk colors and the basic tone of the paper were sufficient for the artist to draw one of her last works, characterized by a richness of artistic expression.

Letter of First German Ambassador, Rolf Pauls, to Chava Steinitz (Buber)

Some of the Israeli public opposed the establishment of relations

After the agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany, it was necessary for the decision to assume a practical form. The first Israeli ambassador to Germany was Asher Ben Natan (1921-2014), a native of Vienna, while Germany sent Rolf Pauls (1915-2002) to Israel. Some of the Israeli public opposed the establishment of relations and especially the appointment of Pauls due to his activities from 1933 through 1945. Pauls was already an officer in the Nazi Wehrmacht in 1934 and went on to fight in World War II, where he was gravely wounded, ultimately receiving the prestigious Knight’s Cross military honor. After the war, he began studying law, and later became part of the West German diplomatic corps

The Israeli press covered Pauls’ appointment and arrival, as well as his first activities as ambassador. The Davar newspaper, reporting about the West German diplomat’s first speech on the front page of its August 12, 1965 edition, quoted Pauls as saying, “I come with a single thought in mind: The Germans and the Jews are living with a horrific past that cannot be forgotten, that must not be forgotten, and that we are not forgetting. But I think that there is a future for the Jews and the Germans, and our generation must pave the way to a clear future of freedom, peace and justice together.” Pauls’ words clearly reflect that at the official level, Germany viewed the State of Israel first and foremost as the Jewish state, and approached every issue accordingly. During his three years as ambassador, Pauls tried to advance economic and cultural ties between the two countries. Throughout his tenure, he proved to be a skilled diplomat in the complex and charged role with which he was vested. He later served as the West German ambassador to the United States and China.

Immediately after the death of philosopher Martin Buber in 1965, a motion was put forth to name a West Berlin street in his honor. A small street in Berlin-Celendorf was selected, which had previously been called Kaiserstrasse (in honor of the Kaiser). When the formal process was completed, the new name was given on June 13, 1966. A year after Buber’s death, Rolf Pauls sent notice to Martin Buber’s daughter, Chava Steinitz (née Strauss), announcing the change in the street’s name. The embassy clerks were apparently not yet proficient in Hebrew names, and slightly misspelled Steinitz’s name; they also mistakenly noted that the ceremony took place two years after Buber’s death. Today, many German cities have streets named after this important Jewish philosopher.

The letter displayed here reached the National Library’s archives approximately two years ago, together with many other letters, as an addition to the Aryeh Ludwig Strauss Archive.

Source: Aryeh Ludwig Strauss Archive, ARC. Ms. Var. 424/7/105

The Student Demonstration against the Nazis and against Anti-Semitism, Munich, 1960

"It is impossible to define anti-Semitic activity as a prank. It is directed not only against the Jewish citizens who live with us, but against the basic rights of our country. What is called for is not punishment, but education!"

On Christmas Eve, 1959, two young, 25-year-old German men scrawled an anti-Semitic slogan and swastikas on the synagogue in the city of Cologne in West Germany, as well as on a monument in memory of the victims of the Nazi regime. Local citizens took note of the deed and called the police. A few days later, the police caught the vandals, who were members of a small extreme right-wing party known as “The German Reich Party.” Although most German citizens were to a certain extent still accustomed to such slogans and to the sight of a desecrated synagogue, the act captured public attention and resonated strongly. Ministers condemned it on the radio, and the still fledgling television stations broadcast special repots about the incident and the progress of the police investigation. The Israeli press also reported the incident, such as the December 27, 1959 article appearing in Davar. On one hand, desecration of the synagogue actually encouraged the occurrence of similar incidents around West Germany, and yet, on the other hand, it also spurred a wave of anti-Fascist demonstrations and public events in which discussions of the incidents were held.

One of the public discussions took place in the city of Munich in February 1960. Residents of the trainee and student dormitories at Massmannplatz, part of a democratic group of young people, called for a meeting in one of the halls of the Technical University for a public discussion about the new-old wave of anti-Semitism and about the necessity of grappling with the Nazi past of Germany and its people. One the speakers at the Munich event was Helmut Hammerschmidt, the Assistant Chief Editor of the Bavarian Broadcasting Authority, whose Jewish father had been murdered during the Nazi period. The organizers of the event, residents of the dormitories, issued a special edition of the organization’s newspaper, which featured reporting on the event – which took place precisely during Carnival, a coincidence of dates which was one of the reasons for the relatively small number of participants. A number of the speeches from the evening in Munich were printed in the newspaper, a copy of which was sent to Israel.

Paradoxically, the anti-Semitic act of the two extremists in the city of Cologne ultimately yielded a positive result: following the desecration of the synagogue, official and unofficial individuals and organizations criticized and condemned German society, and even the German government, which was forced to take concrete steps to initiate a public discussion of Germany’s past up to 1945. One minister in the East German government, who had a very active Nazi past, was forced to resign. Following the event, Chancellor Adenauer visited a former concentration camp for the first time, and participated in a ceremony in memory of its Jewish victims. The Germania Judaica Library in the city of Cologne, established in 1959 on the initiative of the author Heinrich Böll, which focuses on the history of Germany’s Jews, has since developed, and today is presently the most important library of its kind in Germany. A few universities in West Germany established institutes of Jewish studies (Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Freiburg) and in 1963, 25 years after the Kristallnacht pogroms, a large exhibition opened on the history of Germany Jewry, drawing more than 100,0000 visitors. In 1960, David Ben Gurion and Konrad Adenauer met for the first time, and shortly afterwards, student exchanges between the two countries began to take place. In 1965, the two countries also established diplomatic relations.

Translation of the announcement:

Youth Demonstration, Munich

Friday, February 12, 1960, 20:00

Large Physics Hall of the Technical University (Arcisstrasse entrance)

Nazis and Neo-Nazis – Preservers of the Democracy?

Panel Participants: Helmut Hammerschmidt and Representatives of the Community and the Youth

The Past We Haven’t Dealt With – A Motto for our Time.

The recent events require every one of us to grapple with the past and take an unequivocal stand.

We protest the fact that former Nazis who have no reservations about the past occupy key positions. We demand their resignation.

It is impossible to define anti-Semitic activity as a prank. It is directed not only against the Jewish citizens who live with us, but against the basic rights of our country. What is called for is not punishment, but education!

We must no longer remain silent!

Ethical and political apathy endanger the good name of our people and the existence of our democracy.

Therefore, we all want to demonstrate with them

The University Student Council

The Catholic Youth

The German-Israeli Student group

The Protestant Youth

The Youth of the Professional Guilds

The Political Youth Organization, and 16 other youth and student organization

Source: Arvchives Department, V 2115

Marcel Reich-Ranicki and the German Literature

Reich-Ranicki (1920-2013), a Polish-born Jew and Holocaust survivor, was the preeminent authority in modern literary criticism in Germany

Who was Marcel Reich-Ranicki? It’s reasonable to assume that many Israelis have never heard of him. In Germany, his name is very well known, mainly among lovers of literature. Reich-Ranicki (1920-2013), a Polish-born Jew and Holocaust survivor, was the preeminent authority in modern literary criticism in Germany. For many years, Germans knew him by the epithet “The Pope of literature.” Although his autobiography was also translated into Hebrew (Life and Literature, 2004), much remains to be known about his fascinating life and public role as the most highly-regarded literary critic in West Germany over many decades.

Reich-Ranicki grew up in his native Poland until age 9, after which he was sent to live with relatives in Berlin. There he studied in the last schools to maintain a liberal character (despite the anti-Semitism raging in Nazi Germany) and even completed his matriculation in 1938. However, by that period, as a Jew, he was already denied the opportunity to continue his studies at a German university. During the deportation from Germany in 1938 of Jews who held Polish citizenship, he, too, was deported to his country of birth. Reich-Ranicki spent the Holocaust in the Warsaw Ghetto, but together with his wife, he succeeded in evading a certain death. Thanks to the assistance of a Polish citizen who helped them, the two were able to remain alive.

After Poland’s liberation from the Nazis, Reich-Ranicki joined the public service in Poland, served briefly as a diplomat in London, and even worked for the Polish secret security services. With time, however, he began clashing with the Communist regime, which in the early the 1950s was characterized by a certain degree of anti-Semitism. In 1958, after a number of years during which he was employed as an editor of German literature for a Polish publisher and by a Polish radio station, Reich-Ranicki decided to flee communist Poland and begin a new life in West Germany, of all places.

Shortly after his move, Reich-Ranicki found his niche as a literary critic, first for the newspaper Die Zeit (1960-1973), and afterwards as the director of the literary section of the prestigious newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (1973-1988). In both papers he was given the privilege of choosing on which works and authors to write critical reviews, according to his discretion and preferences. In this role, Reich-Ranicki published many book reviews and offered a stage to young German authors who transformed the literary style in Germany after World War II, such as Wolfgang Koeppen, Thomas Bernhard and Heinrich Böll. From 1988-2001, he hosted a television program, “The Literary Quartet,” in which he presented literary works and writers, together with other expert guests. In this manner, Reich-Ranicki exposed a broad audience to new works, keeping literature in the spotlight of public discourse. The program was very popular and proved that cultural content can be conveyed at a high level to broad audiences through television. Reich-Ranicki’s views were not always accepted by the writers and their readerships, but they had a strong influence on the success of books and writers. In addition, Reich-Ranicki published literary anthologies, essentially compilations of a “canon,” featuring the best of German literature that was in his opinion worth of becoming part of Germany’s literary heritage.

Reich-Ranicki visited Israel several times and was in contact with outstanding Israeli intellectuals, such as the scholar of Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem. The Scholem Archive, maintained at the National Library, contains a number of letters sent by Reich-Ranicki to his Jerusalem acquaintance. In one of them, from 1967, Reich-Ranicki invited Scholem to contribute an article about the character and work of German author Heinrich Böll (later to win the Nobel Prize in literature). Reich-Ranicki intended to publish a collection of articles about the author, whom he held in high esteem, and thought it befitting to also include an article by Scholem. It would be very interesting to know why the editor of the planned collection on Böll deemed it important to include the opinions of the scholar of mysticism, but the mystery, for the meantime, remains unsolved. Undoubtedly, Gershom Scholem asked himself this very question, and subsequently declined the offer to contribute a text. The book was indeed published a year later, but without a contribution from the Jerusalem scholar.

Marcel Reich-Ranicki’s letter to Gershom Scholem