Nelly Sachs

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Nelly Sachs, 1910
Nelly Sachs Signature.jpg

Nelly Sachs (actually Leonie Sachs ; born December 10, 1891 in Schöneberg , died May 12, 1970 in Stockholm ) was a Jewish German - Swedish writer and poet . In 1966 the Nobel Prize Committee awarded her - together with Samuel Joseph Agnon  - the Nobel Prize for Literature "for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic works, which interpret the fate of Israel with poignant strength".



Memorial plaque on Nelly Sachs' birthplace in Berlin-Schöneberg, Maaßenstrasse 12

Nelly Sachs was born in 1891 in the then independent Schöneberg as the only child of the engineer, inventor, and rubber and gutta-percha goods manufacturer Georg William Sachs (1858–1930) and his wife Margarete, née Karger (1871–1950). She grew up in an upper-class, assimilated Jewish family. In her early youth, she had a great desire to become a dancer . A few years later her passion for German poetry and poetry writing began . Because of their sickly constitution, she was taught first three years by private tutors before 1903 in a Higher School for Girls came in, where they later her Einjähriges that the five years of GCSE equivalent completed.

At the age of 15 she was so fascinated by Selma Lagerlöf's debut novel Gösta Berling that she entered into an exchange of letters with the Swedish writer that lasted over 35 years.

First poems

Berlin memorial plaque in the Hansaviertel , Lessingstrasse 5, in front of the Hansaschule

Nelly Sachs wrote her first poems at the age of 17. In 1921, with the support of the writer Stefan Zweig, her first volume of poetry was published under the title Legends and Stories . The early, melancholy-tinged poems are still completely characterized by neo-romantic influences and revolve around motifs from nature and music. When she published her collected works, Nelly Sachs did not later include these poems.

She lived withdrawn with her parents and took little part in social life in the 1920s. Towards the end of the decade her poems were printed in various Berlin newspapers, including the Vossische Zeitung , the Berliner Tageblatt and the magazine Jugend . Criticism and audience alike recognized her poetry. On the other hand, the poet had destroyed earlier poems with a more experimental character and a style that departed from traditional paths and were more difficult to understand.

time of the nationalsocialism

After years of cancer, her father died in 1930, whereupon Nelly Sachs and her mother moved into a tenement house on Lessingstrasse in Berlin's Hansaviertel , which was still in her mother's possession. The death of the beloved father was a decisive loss for the daughter, which she never got over until the end of her life. At the end of the 1930s, all members of the family, with the exception of her cousin Vera Sachs, left Berlin while this was still possible. Friends and acquaintances were harassed, many had been driven out of the country, so that an intellectual life (for example in the Kulturbund Deutscher Juden ) had become increasingly impossible. So mother and daughter lived as inconspicuously as possible and withdrawn. As she herself stated in retrospect, it was a "life under threat", and she felt that she was the "highest wish on earth: to die without being murdered."

Nelly Sachs remained unmarried after a love affair with a divorced man was cut off by her father. However, she probably maintained the relationship with the unknown man for decades. This man was arrested and tortured because of his affinity for the resistance and his liaison with a Jewish woman. Sachs was repeatedly summoned to Gestapo interrogations. The immediate experience of his martyrdom was traumatic for Nelly Sachs, who saw him "collapsing to death". In later poems there are several references to a “bridegroom” who perished in a concentration camp. However, details of the person and death of the beloved man were never publicly disclosed by the poet.

During this time she also began to grapple with her Jewish origins. Growing up in a liberal Jewish family, she sought access to the original religion of her family of origin in the years of external threat and emotional distress. The Buber-Rosenzweig translation of "Jesaia" (published in 1929) opened up previously unknown dimensions of the Bible to her. In this text she finds her whole "hope in spiritual Israel and its spiritual mission". She received Martin Buber's Legends of the Baal Shem from a friend and found spiritual help in them. In later years she combined this Jewish thought with the world of ideas of non-Jewish mystics in her thinking.

Escape to Sweden

It wasn't until late that Nelly Sachs decided to flee Germany with her mother. Her friend Gudrun Harlan (later Gudrun Dähnert), a niece of the writer and dramaturge Walter Harlan , traveled to Sweden in the summer of 1939 to ask Selma Lagerlöf's help for a Swedish visa . She managed to get a letter of recommendation from Lagerlöf, with which she turned to the "painter prince" Eugen , a brother of the Swedish king, who finally supported her. After months of bureaucratic obstacles, Nelly Sachs and her mother were able to leave Germany in a plane for Stockholm literally at the last moment in May 1940 - the order to be transported to a camp had already been received . Lagerlöf had died before Sachs got to Sweden.

In Sweden, the two women lived in poor conditions in a one-room apartment in the south of Stockholm. Nelly Sachs took care of her old mother and worked part-time as a laundress to help make a living. The Swedish citizenship but Nelly Sachs was only in the year 1953. She began Swedish to learn and translate modern Swedish poetry into German. With this translation work her own linguistic expressiveness achieved completely new qualities and developed away from the earlier romantic style. Her poems matured in the poetry by Edith Södergran , Karin Boye , Johannes Edfelt , Hjalmar Gullberg , Anders Österling and Pär Lagerkvist , which she translated into German, and reached the high level that Nelly Sachs guarantees her unconditional artistic recognition to this day: “This Strong language, shaped by the relentless Nordic nature and this unconditional truthfulness of the statement, which does not allow any feeling or mood, but allows dissonances, cause a catharsis in her . ”Surrounded by people who spoke Swedish and with whom they only speak in their mother tongue could communicate, she was, as Hans Magnus Enzensberger put it, “referred back to the German language as the only home”. The poems from 1943/1944, which were later to appear in the collection In the Apartments of Death , contain images of pain and death, are a single death lament for their tormented people. In addition to the poems, the two dramas Eli and Abram in the salt were created in the 1940s .

Post-war years

Memorial stone in Nelly-Sachs-Park , Berlin-Schöneberg

In the post-war period, Nelly Sachs continued to write about the horror of the Holocaust in a highly emotional, bitter, but still tender language . Her biographer Walter A. Berendsohn called the poems in 1946 "plaintive, accusing and transfiguring". Nelly Sachs is "the first writer who made the chimneys of Auschwitz the subject of her verses":

"O the chimneys
On the ingeniously conceived dwellings of death,
When Israel's body passed
through the air dissolved in smoke -
When the sweeper received him a star that turned
Or was it a ray of sunshine?"

- O the chimneys, in: In the dwellings of death, 1947

The two volumes In the Apartments of Death (1947) and Star Darkening (1949) were initially published in East Berlin at the instigation of Johannes R. Becher ; Nelly Sachs's poems were not printed either in Switzerland or in the western zones of Germany. Even in 1949, the second volume of poetry, Sternverdunkelung , published in Amsterdam , was praised by the critics, but hardly read in the young Federal Republic . Some of her texts were published in the GDR magazine Sinn und Form . The financial misery for Sachs and her mother continued, so she continued to look for a livelihood with translations.

In early 1950, Nelly Sachs' mother died, which hit her mentally hard. In the 1950s she began correspondence with Paul Celan , whom she also visited in Paris in 1960. She felt connected to him in a kind of “fate and soul kinship”, to which Peter Hamm judged: “For both of them, poetry was a lifeline made of nothing but words, stretched across the abyss of the past.” According to Jacques Schuster there is in German Only two writers, “who were able to put the Jewish fate into words: Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs”.

Time of recognition

Towards the end of the decade, after years of isolation, her work was finally recognized in the entire German-speaking area. And nobody knows what to do next and Escape and Metamorphosis , volumes of poetry with influences from French surrealism , published in Hamburg , Munich and Stuttgart in 1957 and 1959 . The mystery play Eli was broadcast as a radio play on Südwestfunk in 1959 . Nelly Sachs was "discovered" by the young literary world of the Federal Republic.

From Germany she received her first recognition as a poet, through the honorary gift of the Kulturkreis der deutschen Wirtschaft in the Federation of German Industry , it was awarded to her in 1959 while she was still absent. In 1957 the German Academy for Language and Poetry in Darmstadt, and in 1960 the Free Academy of Arts in Hamburg accepted Nelly Sachs as a member. Nelly Sachs didn't want to go back to Germany, her fear was still too great. There were also signs of mental illness , and after she entered Germany for the first time in twenty years to receive the Meersburger Droste Prize in 1960 , she collapsed on her return to Sweden. She spent a total of three years in a mental hospital near Stockholm.

The city of Dortmund founded the Nelly Sachs Prize in 1961 and awarded it to its namesake.

In 1965 she was the first woman to receive the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade , which prompted her to travel to Germany again.

On her 75th birthday on December 10, 1966, Nelly Sachs and Samuel Joseph Agnon received the Nobel Prize for Literature from the hand of the Swedish King Gustav VI. Adolf . She gave her short acceptance speech in German , quoting a poem specially written for this ceremony, which says:

"Instead of home
I hold the transformations of the world"

She gave half of her prize money to those in need, the other half went to her old friend Gudrun Harlan. She withdrew from the public again in her final years. In 1967 she had to cancel a planned trip to Israel on the advice of the doctor, but in a public telegram asked for Günter Grass to be received by the Israeli Writers' Union in Jerusalem . Her mental illness led to another stay in the mental hospital.

Her poems have been set to music since the early 1960s, preferably in German-speaking countries. Well-known composers felt stimulated by their subtle-expressive language and the metaphors and images of the texts to create expressive music, and their songs and instrumental sounds opened up effective forms of presentation for the poetry. Growing up in a music-loving family, Nelly Sachs had a special affinity for music since childhood. In the year the Nobel Prize was awarded, she herself spoke of the fact that the word "after his exhalation in mimus and music" extends, that the exhalation of the word is already music. Her drama Abram (1944–1956) is subtitled A Game for Word - Mimus - Music , and in one of her late poems it is said of the song that it was “the blessed word abducting / perhaps back to its magnetic point / which is God-permeable ". Not least through the setting of her poetry and scenic poems, the discussion of the subject of the extermination of the Jews and the Holocaust was set in motion in cultural life.

In 1969, Paul Kersten made a first attempt to free Nelly Sachs from the role of a "suffering and reparation figure" into which most of the "interpretation-obsessed Nelly Sachs interpreters" had forced the poet, and thus corrected the picture, which had emerged in public by then. In an extensive "analysis based on the word material" he examined the semantic structures of the poems and was able to decipher the metaphors of the texts. Not least through this research contribution, the quality of the artistic work of Nelly Sachs became evident.

The grave of Nelly Sachs in Stockholm


Nelly Sachs died May 12, 1970 in a Stockholm hospital from a cancer , the day of Paul Celan's funeral. She is buried in the Jewish cemetery of Norra begravningsplatsen in Solna in the north of Stockholm.


  • After Nelly Sachs, the Jewish nursing home Nelly-Sachs-Haus in Nelly-Sachs-Strasse in Düsseldorf-Stockum (according to Hans Bender [FAZ January 5, 1988] with the help of the home resident [1973–1988] Rose Ausländer ), the Nelly Sachs Integrated Comprehensive School in Worms and - even before the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded - the Nelly Sachs Gymnasium in Neuss , and the Nelly Sachs Oberschule in Berlin until the schools were merged. Streets in various German towns bear her name, including in Aachen, Dortmund, Erftstadt, Erlangen, Freiburg, Langenfeld, Leverkusen, Lüneburg, Niederkassel, Ostfildern, Plettenberg, Ratingen, Ulm, Bruchsal and Berlin-Hellersdorf .
DBP 1991 1575-R.JPG


Collective and work editions

  • In the dwellings of death. With drawings by Rudi Stern. Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin 1947.
  • Star blackout. Poems. Bermann-Fischer / Querido, Amsterdam 1949.
  • Eli. A mystery play about the suffering of Israel. Forssell, Malmö 1951 (one-time edition of 200 numbered copies signed by the poet)
  • The sufferings of Israel. 1951
  • And nobody knows what to do next. Poems. 1957
  • Escape and transformation. Poems 1959
  • Drive into the dustless. Poems. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. M. 1961.
  • Sign in the sand. The scenic seals. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. M. 1962.
  • Search for the living. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. M. 1971 (new edition 1988).
  • Selected poems. 1963
  • Glowing puzzles. Insel, Frankfurt am Main 1964/1968 (extended edition).
  • Landscape of screams. 1966
  • Part you night. Poems. 1971
  • Poems. 1977
  • Early poems and prose. 1983
  • Nelly Sachs - works. Annotated edition in four volumes.
  • Poems . Published by G. H. H., hochroth Verlag , Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-942161-02-2 .


  • Ruth Dinesen, Helmut Müssener (ed.): Letters from Nelly Sachs. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. M. 1984, ISBN 3-518-04589-X .
  • Barbara Wiedemann (Ed.): Paul Celan - Nelly Sachs. Correspondence. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. M. 1993, ISBN 3-518-40521-7 (1996 as Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch vol. 2489, ISBN 3-518-38989-0 ).
  • Bernhard Albers (ed.): Karl Schwedhelm - Nelly Sachs. Correspondence and documents. Rimbaud , Aachen 1998, ISBN 3-89086-856-8 (= Karl Schwedhelm: Gesammelte Werke , Vol. 6).

Settings (chronological)

  • The Swedish composer Moses Parchament created an opera based on Eli (1958/59).
  • Between 1961 and 1965 (premier 1970) Heinz Holliger wrote the “Attempt at an Escape for Two People and Two Puppets” The Magic Dancer and 1964 (premier) the cycle Glowing Riddles for mezzo-soprano and ensemble.
  • Eva Schorr composed Five Songs based on Nelly Sachs (1962).
  • Texts by Nelly Sachs form the basis of the cantata And always for soprano, nine instruments and percussion by the composer Günter Friedrichs (1962/63).
  • Walter Steffens set three poems by Nelly Sachs to music in his Symphonic Fragment for alto, male choir and orchestra (1962). He also used texts by Nelly Sachs in New Parables for Soprano, Flute, Clarinet and Viola (1967). Eli, based on the work of the same name by Nelly Sachs, is the title of an opera by Walter Steffens (Premiere Dortmund 1967). Ming I [Wounding Light] is the title of a piano quartet (1975) based on texts by Elfriede Szpetecki and Nelly Sachs. Nelly Sachs' poem Völker der Erde is part of the five-movement cycle of the same name for mezzo-soprano and piano (Brakel 1997).
  • Texts by Nelly Sachs form the basis of a Cantata da Camera for soprano and eight instruments (1964) by the Italian composer Boris Porena .
  • Wladimir Rudolfowitsch Vogel wrote Five Songs for Alto and String Trio (1965) based on poems by Nelly Sachs.
  • Helmut Bornefeld set texts by Nelly Sachs to music in Psalm der Nacht for soprano and organ (1965) as well as in Death Flowers for mezzo-soprano, flute and violoncello (1981).
  • Verdina Shlonsky wrote five songs under the title Glowing Riddles based on poems by Nelly Sachs for medium voice and orchestra (1966).
  • Text fragments by Nelly Sachs were set to music by Friedhelm Döhl in Melancolia - Magical Squares for Orchestra, Choir and Soprano Solo (1967/68). In Requiem 2000 (Atemwende) (2000) and its variant Star Darkening for choir / double choir, baritone, organ and orchestra (2009), texts by Nelly Sachs found their compositional implementation.
  • Robert Christian Bachmann set the poem O die Schornsteine to music in his work of the same name for voice and orchestra in 1967. The work was published on the occasion of the St. Gellert Festival 2011 in the updated Szegediner version with Lisa Fornhammar and the St. Gellért Academy Yoon Kuk Lee premiered in Szeged .
  • Heinz Winbeck worked on glowing riddles into a song cycle for baritone and piano (1970).
  • Peter Ruzicka wrote on the basis of Nelly Sachs' poems eviscerated time - three night pieces for piano (1971).
  • Hermann Reutter composed 4 songs based on Nelly Sachs (1972).
  • Texts by Nelly Sachs form the basis of Psalm der Nacht for 16 female singers, two male choirs, percussion and organ by Udo Zimmermann (1976).
  • Based on three poems by Nelly Sachs, Isang Yun created the song cycle Teil dich Nacht for soprano and chamber ensemble (1980). Further works based on texts by Nelly Sachs are O Licht for mixed choir, violin and percussion (1981) and Der Herr ist mein Hirte for mixed choir and trombone (1981). Yun's fifth symphony for baritone and orchestra (1987) is composed in all five movements based on texts by Nelly Sachs.
  • Lowell Liebermann wrote Six Songs based on poems by Nelly Sachs for soprano and piano op. 14 (1985).
  • One of the late scenic poems by Nelly Sachs served as a text for Annette Schlünz 's staged work Farewell Swing for soprano, baritone, a dancer, 22 choir soloists and orchestra (1985); from it: Part II for soprano, mezzo-soprano and piano (edited 2016).
  • Sachs' poem Wir sind so Wund was used for the concert cycle of 17 pieces of music for 2 recorders, chitarrone , viola da gamba and harpsichord and 16 texts about the exile From the black earth of this world (1992) by the composer Friedemann Schmidt-Mechau .
  • The opera Nachtwache for 22 soloists, speakers, choir and orchestra by Jörg Herchet is also based on texts by Nelly Sachs (1993).
  • By Felicitas Kukuck the two motets for mixed choir date on texts by Nelly Sachs O of crying children Night (1993/94) and O the chimneys on the ingeniously devised apartments (1994)
  • Wolfgang Rihm set two poems by Nelly Sachs to music in his work Memoria - three requiem fragments for boy's voice, alto, choir and orchestra (1994/2004). The work was premiered on the occasion of the inauguration of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin . Another song cycle Drei Gedichte by Nelly Sachs for mezzo-soprano and piano was written in 2016.
  • Anatol Stefan Riemer composed a seven-part song cycle for mezzo-soprano, flute, violoncello, three violas and snare drum based on texts by Nelly Sachs in the form of a requiem under the title Obituaries of the Forgotten . The most recent performance of the work, which premiered in 1994, took place in 2018 as part of a concert in memory of the victims of National Socialism at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main.
  • Peter Michael Hamel used a text by Nelly Sachs in the 3rd movement (Chor der Geretteten) of his choir cycle Oh, Erde (1995).
  • Thomas Blomenkamp created the cycle … when I put the sand in my mouth… (1998) on the basis of Sachs texts .
  • Anne Tübinger set the poem Völker der Erde (2000) to music for the cycle Where it was also .
  • Friedhelm Döhl used texts by Nelly Sachs in Requiem (Atemwende) for solos, choir, organ, wind instruments and percussion (2000).
  • Leo Nadelmann wrote seven songs for soprano and small orchestra under the title Gravschrift written in the air (Copyright 2001).
  • Karin Rehnqvist , Teil dich Nacht , for mixed choir and soprano (2002), Gehrmans Musikförlag.
  • Alfons Karl Zwicker wrote Memories of Nelly Sachs for soprano and ensemble (1999) as well as, using texts by Nelly Sachs, the Landscape from Screams for mezzo-soprano and piano (2003).
  • Gerald Eckert (2008) created a study on Nelly Sachs for soprano and instruments .
  • Johannes Conen used texts by Nelly Sachs in a new form of presentation in Herzkeime for acting, singing and guitar sounds (2011).
  • Poems by Nelly Sachs can also be found in the text book for the drama König der Nacht for speakers, three solos, large orchestra and playback electronics by Jan Müller-Wieland (2013/14).
  • Klaus Hinrich Stahmer wrote Inscription of Evanescence - In memoriam Nelly Sachs for piano solo (2016).
  • Alexander Muno wrote four grave inscriptions by Nelly Sachs for soprano and piano (2016).

Literature (alphabetical)

Web links

Commons : Nelly Sachs  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Information from the Nobel Foundation on the 1966 award ceremony for Nelly Sachs (English)
  2. Escape and Metamorphosis. Nelly Sachs, writer. Exhibition texts. ( Memento of February 23, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF) p. 26
  3. Cf. Gabriele Fritsch-Vivié: Nelly Sachs; Reinbek 2010 (4th edition), p. 59.
  4. ^ Nelly Sachs: "Life under Threat", printed in Berendtson, Nelly Sachs, Darmstadt 1974, p. 9 f.
  5. Ruth Dinesen: Nelly Sachs - A Biography: Frankfurt 1991, p. 130
  6. Gabriele Fritsch-Vivié: Nelly Sachs. Reinbek 2010, p. 134
  7. Martin Buber : The legend of the Baal-shem. Rütten and Loenig, Frankfurt 1908
  8. ^ Gudrun Dähnert: How Nelly Sachs escaped from Germany in 1940. With a letter to Ruth Mövius . In: Sinn und Form , Volume 61 (2009), Issue 2, pp. 226-257.
  9. ^ Gabriele Fritsch-Vivié: Nelly Sachs; Rowohlt's monographs, Hamburg (Rowohlt) 1993, p. 88.
  10. ^ Hans Magnus Enzensberger: Nelly Sachs "Flight and Metamorphosis"; in: Critical Voices on New German Literature, ed. from the culture group in the Federal Association of German Industry, Vol. 1 (1960), pp. 8-10.
  11. a b Jacques Schuster: Voice of the Lost in: WELT from November 19, 2011; accessed on September 24, 2016
  12. Peter Hamm: Life has the grace to break us - On the correspondence between Nelly Sachs and Paul Celan . In: Die Zeit of October 8, 1993.
  13. ↑ Gift of Honor
  14. Peace Prize of the German Book Trade 1965 for Nelly Sachs: Laudation and acceptance speech (PDF)
  15. Review of the new publication Nelly Sachs - scenical seals . In: Die Welt , June 18, 2011
  16. ^ Nelly Sachs: Glowing Riddles IV, in: Späte Gedichte, Frankfurt (Suhrkamp) 1978 [18./19. Edition] p. 223.
  17. Paul Kersten: And silence is a new land - . In: Hamburger Bibliographien Vol. 7, Hamburg (Hans Christians Verlag) 1969, p. 5.
  18. Paul Kersten: The metaphors in the poetry of Nelly Sachs . Dissertations in the humanities and social sciences, Vol. 7, Hamburg (Hartmut Lüdke Verlag) 1970.
  19. Aachen Werner Czempas: Nelly Sachs takes the place of Agnes Miegel , in: Aachener Nachrichten from 14 April 2016
  20. ^ Nelly-Sachs-Strasse. In: Street name lexicon of the Luisenstädtischer Bildungsverein (near  Kaupert )
  21. The Abandoned Room - Memorial to the Work of Jewish Citizens in Berlin
  22. Minor Planet Circ. 42676
  23. ^ Nelly Sachs: Google Doodle for the 127th birthday of the German writer & Nobel Prize winner. In: GoogleWatchBlog. December 9, 2018, accessed December 9, 2018 (German).
  24. Review by Angelika Overath : Windharfe des Leids - The works of Nelly Sachs in a four-volume complete edition. Neue Zürcher Zeitung of December 24, 2010, accessed on December 24, 2010.
  25. in English translation published in 1995, paperback 1998 ( ISBN 978-1-878818-71-3 )
  26. ^ Robert Christian Bachmann: O the chimneys (Szeged version) , sound recording of the world premiere in Szeged Cathedral on September 24, 2011.
  27. ^ Musica judaica. Concerts in memory of the victims of National Socialism Artistic search for traces: Margaret Steiner 1880 - 1944 ( Memento from January 27, 2018 in the Internet Archive ) Nelly Sachs wrote the 7 texts in 1943/1944 while in exile in Sweden.
  28. Cycle wherever it may be
  29. Premiere November 19, 2000 in the Landestheater Tübingen Hohenzollern. ( Announcement on the Ernst Bloch Choir website )
  30. details about their escape from the realm. Fink largely quotes Dähnert, cf. above under Ref. The title of this essay is taken from a poem by Sachs. P. 228 f .: Excerpts from a letter from Sachs to Dähnert, 1945.
  31. Book Description and Press Comments ( Memento of March 27, 2010 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on October 22, 2019
  32. With b / w portrait; Introduction of the ed .: “And silence is a new land” .
  33. ^ Maria Behre: Review at