The Arty Semite

Wait 'Till the Sun Shines, Nelly Sachs

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy Jewish Museum Berlin

Anyone traveling through Germany this month has until June 27 to see a landmark exhibit at the Jewish Museum Berlin, “Flight and Metamorphosis: Nelly Sachs, Writer, Berlin/Stockholm.” The exhibit, which opened March 25, pays homage to Nelly Sachs, the only German-language poet ever given the Nobel Prize. In 1966, Sachs shared the Nobel with Israeli author Shmuel Yosef Agnon, in what the Nobel Committee termed an award to “Jewish” writers.

The exhibit can also be seen from September to November at the Jewish Theatre Stockholm; from December 15 to February 27, 2011 at the Strauhof Museum, Zurich; and from October 15 to December 18, 2011 at the Dortmund City Museum, Germany. In addition, Suhrkamp has published the first two in a planned set of four volumes of Sachs’s writings.

Despite this outpouring of recognition, Sachs’s story is a tragic one; repeated hospitalizations for mental illness marred a late start in poetry around age 40, followed by an escape at the last minute from Berlin in May, 1940 to Stockholm, where she lived with her mother in a tiny apartment.

Like an utterly humorless and genuinely deranged Marianne Moore, Sachs was sadly reminiscent of Miss Havisham from Dickens’s “Great Expectations.” As described in a cogent 2005 study from Wayne State University Press, “Words from Abroad: Trauma and Displacement in Postwar German Jewish Writers” by Katja Garloff, even later in life the fragile Sachs, stricken by panic attacks, was unable to fulfill any public role as Nobel Prizewinner.

A compellingly documented catalog accompanying the Jewish Museum exhibit from Suhrkamp Verlag explains how Sachs obsessively tended her tiny apartment as a refugee, claiming: “Actually I am really a housewife. Was never a poet.” She kept a sherry flask on hand for visitors, though these were mostly Swedish poets whom she translated into German (whence Sweden’s gratitude, and decision not to give an entire Nobel Literature prize to the state of Israel, despite Agnon’s stature in world letters).

Without spouse or children, however, Sachs’s attention was mostly focused on an old Mercedes manual typewriter which made a noise “like a stone crusher,” and on which she produced poetry indelibly traumatized by the Shoah. On a CD newly issued from Speak Low Audiobooks Sachs reads her poems in a lunar, chillingly anesthetized voice, sounding broken-spirited.

Watch a video on the current Sachs exhibit at the Jewish Museum Berlin:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Nobel Prize, Jewish Museum Berlin, Nelly Sachs

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.