1966 : Nelly Sachs

1966 : Nelly Sachs

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“for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel’s destiny with touching strength”



December 10, 1891

Place of birth


Schoneberg, Berlin



May 12, 1970

Place of death





Poet, Dramatist




Notable award(s)


Nobel Prize in Literature 1966

[1/2 of the prize]


Nelly Sachs was 1891 in Berlin-Schoneberg is the only child in the family of the inventor and industrialist William Sachs and his wife Margaret, born Karger, who was born and they grew into a cultured, assimilated Jewish upper atmosphere. Because of their sickly constitution was first three years of private teachers before 1903 in a higher daughters entered school, where they are five years later their “one-year” (equivalent Average maturity) graduated. With 15 years she was so fascinated by Selma Lagerlof debut novel Gosta Berling, that they are consistent with the Swedish writer in an exchange of letters occurred in over 35 years. First, she wrote poems for 17 years. Nelly Sachs lived with her parents pulled back and took little social life on part of the 1920s. They remained unmarried, having a love relationship with a divorced man was suppressed by the father. However, she held the relationship to the unknown man named presumably for decades and was maintained at the start of World War II along with him were arrested – in some later poems is a “groom” the speech which was in a concentration camp was killed. Details are not known. Appeared in 1921 with the support of the writer Stefan Zweig Nelly Sachs’s first collection of poems under the title of legends and stories, the early, melancholy tinged poems are still quite neoromantischen of influences and circled around motifs from nature and music. In publishing their collected works Nelly Sachs took these poems, however, not later on. After years of cancer died in 1930 her father William, whereupon Nelly Sachs with her mother in one’s own tenements in the Berlin Street pulled Lessing. Toward the end of the 1920s were their poems in various newspapers printed Berlin, including the Vossische newspaper, the Berliner Tageblatt and the magazine The Youth. Critics and audiences recognized her poems alike. Poems with a rather experimental nature and a traditional way leaving, difficult to understand the style they are destroyed. Sachs and her mother lived in the 1930s in Berlin as inconspicuous and withdrawn, as for Jews was possible. Repeatedly, it has become a Gestapo interrogations einbestellt; the apartment was looted SA-people. Compelled to put them deal with their Jewish origin apart, they got at the beginning of the war Martin Bubers tales of Chassidim to read and found it familiar mystical ideas again, which gave her strength. Decided late Sachs, with her mother from Germany to flee. Their “Aryan” girlfriend Gudrun Harlan in the summer of 1939 traveled to Sweden to help Selma Lagerlof for a Swedish visa to solicit. This, however, it was because of their health status no longer help, they died before Sachs arrived in Sweden. Harlan turned to the “painter prince” Eugen, a brother of the Swedish king, which they eventually supported. After months of bureaucratic obstacles could Nelly Sachs and her mother in May 1940 literally at the last moment – the command for moving to a camp had already arrived – with a plane leaving Germany to Stockholm. In Sweden, the two women lived in humble circumstances in a studio apartment in the south of Stockholm, Nelly Sachs took care of her aging mother and worked occasionally as a laundress, to contribute to the livelihood. She began to learn Swedish and modern Swedish poetry translated into German. Your own poetry during the war years evolved completely away from the early, romantic Nelly Sachs: the poems of 1943/1944, later in the collection in the homes of his death appear to contain images of pain and death, only death is a plea for her tormented nation. Besides the poems emerged in the 1940s the two dramas and Eli Abram in salt. In the postwar period wrote Nelly Sachs continues with a highly, tart, yet delicate language about the horrors of the Holocaust. Her biographer Walter Arthur Berendsohn poems called the 1946 “lamenting, indicting and Transfiguration”: O chimneys On the ingenious imaginary homes of death, When Israel withdrew body dissolved in smoke Through the air — Eating him as a sweeper received a star The black was Or was it a ray of sunshine? O chimneys, in: In the apartments of death, 1947 The two volumes in the homes of death and dimming star (1949) were first in East Berlin at the Johannes R. Becher published, neither in Switzerland nor in the western zones were poems by Nelly Sachs printed. Even 1949 was still the second volume of poetry star dimming, in Amsterdam, moved by the criticism but praised the young Federal Republic but hardly read. In the GDR sense magazine and shape appeared some of their texts. The financial plight of Sachs and her mother felt that she continues to deal with translations above water. Died in early 1950 Nelly Sachs’ Mother, what they hit hard mentally. In the 1950s she began a correspondence with Paul Celan, 1960 she also visited in Paris. Until 1953, she received Swedish citizenship. Toward the end of the decade, after years of isolation, she was eventually throughout the German-speaking countries noted. And nobody knows more and escape and transformation, poetry with influences of French surrealism appeared in 1957 and 1959 in Hamburg, Munich and Stuttgart. The mystery play Eli was in 1959 as radio play Southwest German Radio broadcast. Nelly Sachs, the young literary world of the Federal Republic “discovered”. A first literary prize from Germany, the Poetry Prize of the Cultural District in Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie, 1959, she was still awarded in absentia. Nelly Sachs did not return to Germany, was too big still afraid. Also showed signs of mental illness, and after 1960 for the awarding of the sea Burger Droste Prize for poets for the first time since twenty years ago Germany had entered, they broke after their return to Sweden together. Overall, she spent three years in a psychiatric hospital near Stockholm. The city of Dortmund the donated 1961 Nelly Sachs prize and named him, became the first woman, she was awarded the 1965 Peace Prize of the German Booksellers, which she again for a trip to Germany prompted. On her 75th Birthday, on 10 December 1966, Nelly Sachs won the Nobel Prize for literature from the hands of the Swedish king. Their brief acceptance speech she gave in German, while quoting a specially written poem this ceremony, which states: In place of home I think the transformations of the World Nelly Sachs away her prize money to the needy, half went to their old girlfriend Gudrun Harlan. They even drew in their last years of the public back. To the mental suffering and a further stay in the psychiatric clinic was a cancer in which it on 12 May 1970 in a Stockholm hospital died. She is at the Jewish cemetery of Norra begravningsplatsen in the north of Stockholm buried.


Works in German:

  • Legenden und Erzaehlungen – Meier, 1921

  • In den Wohnungen des Todes – Aufbau, 1946

  • Sternverdunkelung – Bermann-Fischer, 1949

  • Eli : Ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels – S.n., 1951

  • Und niemand weiss weiter – Ellerman, 1957

  • Flucht und Verwandlung – Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1959

  • Fahrt ins Staublose : Die Gedichte der Nelly Sachs – Suhrkamp, 1961

  • Die Gedichte der Nelly Sachs – 2 vol. – Suhrkamp, 1961-71

  • Zeichen im Sand : Die szenischen Dichtungen der Nelly Sachs – Suhrkamp, 1962

  • Das Leiden Israels – Suhrkamp, 1962

  • Ausgewaehlte Gedichte – Suhrkamp, 1963

  • Gluhende Ratsel – Insel, 1964

  • Spate Gedichte – Suhrkamp, 1965

  • Die Suchende – Suhrkamp, 1966

  • Wie leicht wird Erde sein : Ausgewaehlte Gedichte – Bertelsmann, 1966

  • Simson faellt durch Jahrtausende und andere szenische Dichtungen – Deutscher Taschenbuch, 1967

  • Das Buch der Nelly Sachs / herausg. von Bengt Holmqvist – Suhrkamp, 1968

  • Verzauberung : Spate szenische Dichtungen – Suhrkamp, 1970

  • Teile dich Nacht : Die letzten Gedichte / Herausg. von Margaretha Holmqvist und Bengt Holmqvist – Suhrkamp, 1971

  • Suche nach Lebenden : Die Gedichte der Nelly Sachs / herausg. von Margaretha Holmqvist u. Bengt Holmqvist – Suhrkamp, 1971

  • Briefe der Nelly Sachs / herausg. von Ruth Dinesen und Helmut Mussener – Suhrkamp, 1984

  • Briefwechsel / Paul Celan, Nelly Sachs ; herausg. von Barbara Wiedemann – Suhrkamp, 1993

Translations into English:

  • the Chimneys : Selected Poems, Including the Verse Play Eli / translated by Michael Hamburger and others – Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1967

  • The Seeker and Other Poems / translated from the German by Ruth and Matthew Mead [and] Michael Hamburger – Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970

  • Paul Celan, Nelly Sachs : Correspondence / translated by Christopher Clark ; edited by Barbara Wiedemann – Sheep Meadow Press, 1995

Literature (a selection):

  • Hardegger, Luzia, Nelly Sachs und die Verwandlungen der Welt – Lang, 1975

  • Bahr, Ehrhard, Nelly Sachs – C.H. Beck, 1980

  • Lermen, Birgit, Nelly Sachs – “an letzter Atemspitze des Lebens” – Bouvier, 1998

  • Dinesen, Ruth, Nelly Sachs : eine Biographie / aus dem Danischen von Gabriele Gerecke – Suhrkamp, 1992

  • Nelly Sachs : neue Interpretationen : mit Briefen und Erlauterungen der Autorin zu ihren Gedichten im Anhang/ Michael Kessler, Jurgen Wertheimer (Hrsg.) – Stauffenburg, 1994

  • Ostmeier, Dorothee, Sprache des Dramas – Drama der Sprache : zur Poetik der Nelly Sachs – Niemeyer, 1997


1966: Nobel Prize in Literature.

Presentation Speech:

Presentation Speech by Anders Osterling, Member of the Swedish Academy.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to two outstanding Jewish authors – Shmuel Yosef Agnon and Nelly Sachs – each of whom represents Israel’s message to our time. Agnon’s home is in Jerusalem, and Miss Sachs has been an immigrant in Sweden since 1940, and is now a Swedish subject. The purpose of combining these two prizewinners is to do justice to the individual achievements of each, and the sharing of the prize has its special justification: to honour two writers who, although they write in different languages, are united in a spiritual kinship and complement each other in a superb effort to present the cultural heritage of the Jewish people through the written word. Their common source of inspiration has been, for both of them, a vital power.


Shmuel Agnon’s reputation as the foremost writer in modern Hebrew literature has gradually penetrated linguistic barriers which, in this case, are particularly obstructive. His most important works are now available in Swedish under the title I havets mitt (In the Heart of the Seas). Agnon, now seventy-eight years old, began writing in Yiddish but soon changed to Hebrew, which, according to experts, he handles with absolute mastery, in a taut and sonorous prose style of extraordinary expressiveness. He was only twenty when he left his native town in East Galicia, where, as the scion of an old and respected family, he had been brought up in a scholarly tradition. He felt drawn to Palestine, where now, as an aged classical author, he can look back on the long struggle for national reestablishment, and where the so-called cultural Zionism possesses in him one of its finest creative champions.

Agnon’s unique quality as a writer is apparent chiefly in the great cycle of novels set in his native town of Buczacz, once a flourishing centre of Jewish piety and rabbinical learning, now in ruins. Reality and legend stand side by side in his narrative art. Hakhnasat Kalah, 1922 (The Bridal Canopy), is one of his most characteristic stories, in its ingenious and earthy humour, a Jewish counterpart to Don Quixote and Till Eulenspiegel. But, perhaps, his greatest achievement is his novel Oreach Nata Lalun, 1939 (A Guest for the Night), which tells of a visit to Buczacz, the war-ruined city of his childhood, and of the narrator’s vain attempts to assemble the congregation for a service in the synagogue. Within the framework of a local chronicle we see a wonderful portrayal of destinies and figures, of experience and meditation. The lost key to the prayer house, which the traveller finds in his knapsack only after his return to Jerusalem, is, for Agnon, a symbolic hint that the old order can never be rebuilt in the Diaspora, but only under the protection of Zionism. Agnon is a realist, but there is always a mystical admixture which lends to even the greyest and most ordinary scenes a golden atmosphere of strange fairy-tale poetry, often reminiscent of Chagall’s motifs from the world of the Old Testament. He stands out as a highly original writer, endowed with remarkable gifts of humour and wisdom, and with a perspicacious play of thought combined with naive perception – in all, a consummate expression of the Jewish character.


Nelly Sachs, like so many other German-Jewish writers, suffered the fate of exile. Through Swedish intervention she was saved from persecution and the threat of deportation and was brought to this country. She has since then worked in peace as a refugee on Swedish soil, attaining the maturity and authority that are now confirmed by the Nobel Prize. In recent years she has been acclaimed in the German world as a writer of convincing worth and irresistible sincerity. With moving intensity of feeling she has given voice to the worldwide tragedy of the Jewish people, which she has expressed in lyrical laments of painful beauty and in dramatic legends. Her symbolic language boldly combines an inspired modern idiom with echoes of ancient biblical poetry. Identifying herself totally with the faith and ritual mysticism of her people, Miss Sachs has created a world of imagery which does not shun the terrible truth of the extermination camps and the corpse factories, but which, at the same time, rises above all hatred of the persecutors, merely revealing a genuine sorrow at man’s debasement. Her purely lyrical production is now collected under the title Fahrtins Staublose, 1961 (Journey to the Beyond), which comprises six interconnected works written during a twenty-year creative period of increasing concentration. There is also a series of dramatic poems, equally remarkable in their way, under the joint title Zeichen im Sand, 1961 (Signs in the Sand), the themes of which might have been taken from the dark treasure house of Hassidic mysticism, but which, here, have taken on new vigour and vital meaning. Let it suffice here to mention the mystery play Eli (1950) about an eight-year-old boy who is beaten to death by a German soldier in Poland when he blows on his shepherd’s pipe to call on heaven’s help when his parents are taken away. The visionary cobbler Michael manages to trace the culprit to the next village. The soldier has been seized by remorse and, at the encounter in the forest, he collapses without Michael’s having to raise his hand against him. This ending denotes a divine justice which has nothing to do with earthly retribution.

Nelly Sachs’s writing is today the most intense artistic expression of the reaction of the Jewish spirit to suffering, and thus it can indeed be said to fulfill the humane purpose underlying Alfred Nobel’s will.

Doctor Agnon – according to the wording of the diploma, this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to you for your “profoundly distinctive narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people”. We should be happy if you would consider this international distinction as a sign that your writing need not be isolated within the boundary of its language, and that it has proved to have the power to reach out beyond all confining walls, and to arouse mankind’s sympathy, understanding, and respect. Through me, the Swedish Academy conveys its sincere congratulations, and I now ask you to receive the Prize from the hands of His Majesty, the King.

Miss Nelly Sachs – you have lived a long time in our country, first as an obscure stranger and then as an honoured guest. Today the Swedish Academy honours your “outstanding lyrical and dramatic writings, which interpret Israel’s destiny with touching strength”. On an occasion like this it is natural also to recall the invaluable interest you have shown in Swedish literature, a token of friendship which, in turn, has found a response in the desire of our Swedish writers to translate your work. Offering you the congratulations of the Swedish Academy, I ask you now to receive this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature from the hands of His Majesty, the King.

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