Karl Wolfskehl

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Karl Wolfskehl (1935)

Karl Joseph Wolfskehl (born September 17, 1869 in Darmstadt , † June 30, 1948 in Auckland , New Zealand ) was a German writer and translator . His work included poetry , prose and drama . He translated from French, English, Italian, Hebrew, Latin and Middle High German .


The cosmists (from left to right) Karl Wolfskehl, Alfred Schuler , Ludwig Klages , Stefan George , Albert Verwey
Remembering Karl Wolfskehl in Munich-Schwabing, Römerstrasse 16

Karl Wolfskehl was born in Darmstadt as the son of a Jewish patrician family that could trace its roots back to the times of Charlemagne . His father was the respected lawyer, banker and member of the state parliament Otto Wolfskehl (1841–1907). Karl Wolfskehl grew up in a liberal atmosphere in Darmstadt and studied ancient German , religious history and archeology in Giessen , Leipzig and Berlin . He did his doctorate with a dissertation on Germanic advertising sagas with Otto Behaghel . “A close confidante of the family, the rabbi of the liberal Jewish community David Selver , was the first critic of the doctor and young writer , who was awarded summa cum laudeAs for your presentation: Your expressions and terms are always objective and accurate, betrayal trained thinking. The sentence structure and transitions etc. are just elegant. Your remarks about the relationship between cult and myth were particularly interesting for me ... "

In 1898 he married Hanna de Haan (1878–1946), daughter of Willem de Haan , the Dutch conductor of the Darmstadt Chamber Orchestra. The daughters Judith (* 1899) and Renate (* 1901) emerged from the marriage. After studying, Wolfskehl spent large parts of his life in Munich and Florence .

He was active in the Munich circle around Stefan George , with whom he published the magazine Blätter für die Kunst from 1892 to 1919 and the collection "German Poetry" from 1901 to 1903. In 1903 a cycle with Jewish themes was published under the title An den alten Wassern . The George Circle met regularly in Wolfskehl's house in Schwabing . The “ Kosmiker ” were also founded as “men's group with Countess” von Wolfskehl around 1900 with Alfred Schuler , Fritz von Herzmanovsky-Orlando , Ludwig Klages, with the involvement of the “Schwabinger Countess” Fanny zu Reventlow . In contrast to his companions Klages and Schuler, Wolfskehl stuck to George over the years, whom he addressed as "master" like everyone else. It was Wolfskehl who at the beginning of the 20th century coined the highly suggestive term ' Secret Germany ' in an excerpt in the Yearbook for the Spiritual Movement (1910).

In 1915 Wolfskehl became the owner of a property in Kiechlinsbergen in the Kaiserstuhl. The family moved there. Wolfskehl followed her in 1919. In the years that followed, the estate became a social meeting place for numerous friends from the George circle. Despite his lifelong commitment to Stefan George and his conservative aesthetics and politics, Wolfskehl was involved in the years before the First World War and in the Weimar Republic with a number of innovative artists and scholars such as Franz Marc , Alfred Kubin , Else Lasker-Schüler , Walter Benjamin , Martin Buber and Albert Schweitzer . Wolfskehl was still friendly to the Germanist Friedrich Gundolf after he was expelled from the George circle. Else Lasker-Schüler set Wolfskehl a literary monument in her novel Der Malik . Also in other romaneses , e.g. E.g. in Franziska zu Reventlow's novel Mr. Dames Notes , the eloquent, sociable and esoterically interested Wolfskehl plays a leading role.

When the National Socialists seized power in 1933, Wolfskehl emigrated to Switzerland , where he fled the day after the Reichstag fire, and from there to Italy in 1934 . After a short stay in Rome , interrupted by a return trip to take part in the memorial services on the occasion of the death of Stefan George, he moved to Florence in November 1934. Here he met the publisher Kurt Wolff , who was already living in emigration , the Germanist Walter Jablonsky, Heinrich Kahane , Otti Binswanger, the youngest daughter of Gustav Lilienthal , and the Dante researcher Karl Kilian Mayer. He also met his later partner Margot Ruben (1908–1980) here.

In 1935, during a summer stay in Camogli on the Ligurian coast, he made the decision to leave Florence, which was followed in November by moving to Recco , which is neighboring Camogli . Here he met Hans Weil and was a frequent guest at the “School on the Mediterranean”. He was able to live relatively freely here because his family had stayed in Germany and he had officially given Recco to the German authorities as his second residence, where he had to live for health reasons. From Recco he also traveled extensively, several times to Switzerland, to Genoa or Milan, and of course to Florence. At that time, he was still financially secure, as he had an account in Holland, among other things, and he was also able to transfer foreign currency from Germany.

The increasing rapprochement between Germany and Italy, strengthened by Mussolini's visit to Munich in 1937 and Hitler's return visit to Rome in 1938, was noted early on by Wolfskehl. The increasing anti-Jewish tendencies therefore induced him to embark in May 1938 together with Margot Ruben via Marseille, first to Australia and then to New Zealand . He lived there until his death in 1948. He kept in touch with his friends in hundreds of letters that he later had to dictate because of his partial blindness. The correspondence is exemplified in well-commented modern editions.

Increasingly impoverished and blind, Wolfskehl in New Zealand was heavily dependent on the practical help of his exile companion Margot Ruben, who also conducted his correspondence, transcribed the manuscripts of his poetry and discussed the versions with Wolfskehl. Since she taught Latin in a high school during the day , Wolfskehl was often left to his own devices for a long time in changing accommodations, which were often poorly heated in winter ("I freeze where on the wide ocean ..."). He used the time to create his highly important late work, which was deeply anchored in European cultural history, without major library aids and therefore based primarily on his wealth of knowledge and experience. Nonetheless, the always communicative poet, who initially had little knowledge of English, succeeded in making the acquaintance of a number of important New Zealand authors during the years of his antipodal exile. His appearance, his fate and his work fascinated u. a. Frank Sargeson , ARD Fairburn and RAK Mason . Fairburn and Mason also dedicated their own important publications to the “last European” (Frank Sargeson).

Karl Wolfskehl was the nephew of Paul Friedrich Wolfskehl .

Work and reception

Karl Wolfskehl was an avowed Zionist and passionate German at the same time : "My Judaism and my Germanness, yes my Hessianism - these are not biological antagonisms, they are streams of mutually fruitful life," said Wolfskehl, explaining his immense indignation at Hitler's seizure of power. Karl Wolfskehl has not fooled himself about the character of the regime. While other of his friends, mainly from the George district, were still waiting, on the day of the seizure of power via Basel he first traveled to Swiss, then Italian, and finally in 1938 to New Zealand asylum, to Antithule, as he called the island on the opposite side of the world as far away from Germany as possible. In a series of autobiographical poems, for example in his' Das Lebenslied. To the Germans' Wolfskehl gives moving evidence of his membership in the three cultures that determined his self-construction: 'Jewish, Roman, German at the same time.' In his late New Zealand exile poems he also dealt with the adaptation and resistance of various George supporters and old German friends during the time of the ' Third Reich '. a. with Berthold v. Stauffenberg and Claus v. Stauffenberg and Ricarda Huch .

He saw himself in the tradition of German poetry as well as Judaism . He understood his translations as a creative process and in 1926 saw them as a contribution to the fight against increasing barbarism . If one reads his translation of Charles De Coster 'The Story of Eulenspiegel', the rewrite of the work is not only of great value in terms of pedagogical orientation, but also in its poetic expression. In the last three years of his life, despite the end of the war, still in exile, the climax of his poetic work is seen. Marked by his bitter experiences, he continued to admit to his being German as well as to his teacher Stefan George, but attacked his ongoing exclusion with sharp remarks. In the post-war period, with its own social and psychological constraints, a wall of silence was erected or his poetic work was downplayed; outside a small circle of experts who looked after his work, he was kept secret from the public and suppressed.

"In fact, hardly any other German-speaking poet has dealt with the question of home, migration, foreigners and expulsion as intensely as the Jew Karl Wolfskehl." ( Alfred Bodenheimer )

Karl Wolfskehl embodies an entire epoch of German-Jewish history. His themes are German homeland and Jewish roots, which are juxtaposed with the incomprehensibility of marginalization, expulsion and exile. In addition, his unpublished poems influenced his friends in Germany, who secretly learned about it through Switzerland.


The Wolfskehl'sche Park in Darmstadt is named after Karl Wolfskehl and his father Otto . The former Wolfskehlstraße , which was named after Otto Wolfskehl, has been called Goebelstraße since the 1930s. In September 2014, a residential complex for students on Stephanstrasse in Darmstadt was named " Karl-Wolfskehl-Haus ".

The Institute for German Studies at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen has renamed its central seminar room to the Karl Wolfskehl Hall (Philosophikum I, Hall B 128).


  • Ulais . 1897.
  • Collected seals. 1903.
  • Mask train. 1904.
  • Saul . 1905.
  • Wolfdietrich and the rough Els. 1907.
  • Thor's hammer. 1908.
  • Sanctus. 1909.
  • Orpheus. 1909.
  • Mysteries. 1909.
  • Poems by Archipoeta to Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa and his Chancellor: based on Jakob Grimm's edition. 1921. (German rewrite)
  • with Curt Sigmar Gutkind: The book of wine. 1927.
  • The perimeter. 1927.
  • Eternal exodus. 1934.
  • The voice speaks. 1934/1936.
  • To the Germans. 1947.
  • Job or The Four Mirrors. 1950. (posthumously)
  • Sang from exile. 1950. (posthumously)
  • Path. 1950.
  • Collected poems. Arnshaugk, Munich 1997.
  1. The master and death. ISBN 3-926370-29-7 .
  2. The voice speaks. ISBN 3-926370-30-0 .


  • Irene Armbruster: "Where I am, there is German spirit." Driven out of Germany by the National Socialists, the poet KW continued to live in New Zealand. He did not find a new spiritual home there, even if he produced an impressive work in exile. In: Structure . Vol. 4, Zurich 2006, p. 29 f.
  • Cornelia Blasberg, Paul Hoffmann (ed.): Karl Wolfkehl's correspondence from New Zealand 1838–1948. Volume 2: from 1945. Luchterhand, Darmstadt 1988, ISBN 3-630-80002-5 ( limited preview in the Google book search).
  • Cornelia Blasberg, Paul Hoffmann (ed.): Karl Wolfskehl. Poems, essays, letters . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1999, ISBN 3-633-54156-X .
  • Norman Franke, "Jewish, Roman, German at the same time ...?" Carl Winter, Heidelberg 2006, ISBN 3-8253-5106-8 .
  • Norman Franke, 'The monkey heart is so diverse', Albert Schweitzer's correspondence with Karl Wolfskehl. In: Sinn und Form (64th volume, 4/2012), pp. 516–531
  • Norman Franke, The 'Secret Germany' as an anarchic republic? On the reception of Ricarda Huch's poetic visions of the empire in Karl Wolfskehl's poetry. In: Germanisch Romanische Monatshefte , (Vol. LXXIV, 2016), pp. 31–52
  • Norman Franke, Karl Wolfskehl and the von Stauffenberg brothers. Review of 'Secret Germany'. In: Kalonymos. Contributions to German-Jewish history from the Salomon Ludwig Steinheim Institute . (5, 4/2002), pp. 11-16
  • Daniel Hoffmann: The secret between voice and person. Karl Wolfskehl's translations of Hebrew poetry from the Middle Ages. In: Fragments of a great tradition. Genre poetic studies on German-Jewish literature. Schöningh, Paderborn 2005, ISBN 3-506-72919-5 , pp. 71-104.
  • Paul Hoffmann et al. (Ed.): Karl Wolfskehl. Tübingen Symposium on the 50th anniversary of death (= Colloquium. Volume 55). Stauffenburg, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 3-86057-155-9 .
  • Elke-Vera Kotowski , Gert Mattenklott (Hrsg.): "O may I be the voice to shake the people!" Life and work of KW (= Haskala. 33). Olms, Hildesheim 2007, ISBN 978-3-487-13303-4 .
  • Sabine Neubert, Centrum Judaicum (ed.): Karl Wolfskehl. From bohemian to poet of exile (= Jewish miniatures. Volume 162). Hentrich & Hentrich , Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3-95565-075-9 .
  • Gabriella Pelloni, Davide Di Maio (eds.): “Jew, Christian and Wüstensohn”. Studies on the work of Karl Wolfskehl. Hentrich & Hentrich, Berlin / Leipzig 2020, ISBN 978-3-95565-354-5 .
  • Manfred Schlösser (Ed.): Karl Wolfskehl - A Bibliography. (= erato press. 5). AGORA Verlag, Darmstadt 1971, ISBN 3-87008-021-3 .
  • Hans Tramer: About German-Jewish poetry. On the morphology of the German-Jewish creed. In: Bulletin of the Leo Baeck Institute . No. 2/3, 1958, pp. 88-103, passim; again as: Of German-Jewish poetry. In: Robert Weltsch (Ed.): German Judaism, Rise and Crisis. Design, ideas, works. Fourteen monographs. (= Publication by the Leo Baeck Institute ). Deutsche Verlagsanstalt , Stuttgart 1963, pp. 255–270.
  • Friedrich Voit, August Obermayer (ed.): Exul Poeta. Life and work of Karl Wolfskehl in exile in Italy and New Zealand 1933–1948. Contributions to the symposium on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of death. Auckland, August 31 - September 2, 1998 (= Otago German Studies XII ). Dunedin 1999, ISBN 0-473-38411-6 . ( https://otagogermanstudies.otago.ac.nz/ogs/issue/view/12 )
  • Friedrich Voit: Karl Wolfskehl. Life and work in exile. Wallstein, Göttingen 2005, ISBN 3-89244-857-4 .
  • Friedrich Voit (Ed.): Karl Wolfskehl. Late seals . Wallstein, Göttingen 2009, ISBN 978-3-8353-0454-3 .
  • Friedrich Voit: Karl Wolfskehl. A poet in exile. Cold Hub Press, Lyttelton / Christchurch 2019, ISBN 978-0-473-47669-4

Web links

Commons : Karl Wolfskehl  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. to the scholar Calonymus ben Mashulam from Lucca , who, according to tradition, saved Emperor Otto II from the Saracens after the battle of Cotrone near Taranto in 982 and was therefore settled in Mainz , where he became the progenitor of a widespread family ( in Germanized form Callmann ). He was also the emperor's personal physician. Voit Karl Wohlskehl. P. 17, Barner Wolfskehl and the Wolfskehl Prize , Notices AMS 1997, PDF file , with information on the Wolfskehl family and also on Karl Wolfskehl
  2. Bernt Engelmann : Germany without Jews - A balance sheet . Munich 1970, p. 48.
  3. Eckhart G. Franz (ed.): Jews as Darmstadt citizens. Roether, Darmstadt 1984, ISBN 3-7929-0139-0 , p. 254.
  4. On the cycle An den alten Wassern and Wolfskehl's lifelong preoccupation with Jewish topics, see Franke, Jewish, Roman, German , p. 185
  5. Franke, Jüdisch , Roman, German , pp. 153–165
  6. 'The monkey heart is so varied', Albert Schweitzer's correspondence with Karl Wolfskehl. In: Sinn und Form (64th volume, 4/2012), pp. 516–531
  7. ^ 'Telegraph also to the Archangel Stefan George…' Else Lasker-Schüler, Karl Wolfskehl and the George Circle. In: Lothar Bluhm and Andreas Meier (Ed.), Else Lasker-Schüler-Jahrbuch zur Klassischen Moderne . Vol. 3. Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier 2006, pp. 26–48
  8. Norman Franke, '"Mirobuk!" Karl Wolfskehl as a satirical novelist. ' In: Studia Niemcoznawcze, Studies in German Studies. (Vol. XXXI., Warsaw, 2005), pp. 339-360
  9. ^ Klaus Voigt: Refuge on revocation. Exile in Italy 1933–1945 . First volume, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-608-91487-0 , p. 421ff.
  10. ^ Klaus Voigt: Refuge on revocation. Exile in Italy 1933–1945 . First volume, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart, 1989, ISBN 3-608-91487-0 , p. 425.
  11. ^ Klaus Voigt: Refuge on revocation. Exile in Italy 1933–1945 . First volume, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-608-91487-0 , p. 425.
  12. ^ Klaus Voigt: Refuge on revocation. Exile in Italy 1933–1945 . First volume, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-608-91487-0 , p. 425.
  13. Franke, Jüdisch , Roman, German , pp. 276–304
  14. Franke, Jüdisch, Roman, German , p. 266
  15. Franke, Jüdisch , Roman, German , pp. 259-350
  16. ^ Karl Wolfskehl: Correspondence from Italy 1933–1938. Hamburg 1993, p. 16.
  17. ^ Friedrich Voit: Karl Wolfskehl, 2005
  18. Franke, Jüdisch , Roman, German , pp. 369–411
  19. Norman Franke, Karl Wolfskehl and the von Stauffenberg brothers. Review of 'Secret Germany'. In: Kalonymos. Contributions to German-Jewish history from the Salomon Ludwig Steinheim Institute . (5, 4/2002), pp. 11-16
  20. ^ Norman Franke, Das 'Geheime Deutschland' as an anarchic republic? On the reception of Ricarda Huch's poetic visions of the empire in Karl Wolfskehl's poetry. In: Germanic Romanic monthly books
  21. Charles de Coster (author), Karl Wolfskehl (Üs.): The story of Ulenspiegel and Lamme Goedzak and their heroic, happy and glorious adventures in the country of Flanders and elsewhere. Kurt Wolff Verlag, Munich 1926.
  22. Alfred Bodenheimer on Karl Wolfskehl
  23. Darmstadt Echo. September 19, 2014, p. 12.
  24. Cornelia Blasberg, Paul Hoffmann (ed.): Karl Wolfkehl's correspondence from New Zealand 1838–1948. 2 Vol. Darmstadt 1998
  25. Karl Wolfskehl. From bohemian poet of exile publisher info