Original Research

The trace of Jewish suffering in Johannes Bobrowski’s poetry

F. Wittenberg, H. Wittenberg
Literator | Vol 30, No 3 | a87 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v30i3.87 | © 2009 F. Wittenberg, H. Wittenberg | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 July 2009 | Published: 16 July 2009

About the author(s)

F. Wittenberg, Department of English, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa
H. Wittenberg, Department of English, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa

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Abstract

Johannes Bobrowski (1917-1965) is a significant German modernist poet and novelist whose work directly engages the problematic question of German “Schuld” (guilt) in respect of the Holocaust. Although Bobrowski’s poetry not only deals with the German-Jewish question, but with universal themes of history, memory and trauma, he is largely unknown in the Anglophone world, partly because of his isolation in communist East Germany at the time. This article seeks to trace Bobrowski’s nuanced and complex engagement with German history and his own personal implication in the genocide through a detailed analysis of his most significant “Jewish” poems. A key idea for Bobrowski was the need for memory and direct engagement with the traumatic past, as this offered the only hope for redemption. The article presents a number of original English translations of these symbolist and hermetic poems, and thereby makes Bobrowski’s writing available to a wider range of readers.

Keywords

Johannes Bobrowski; East German Literature; Eastern Europe; Holocaust; Jews; Memory

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