Nelly Sachs

Nelly (short for “Leonie”) Sachs grew up in Berlin-Schöneberg in a family of Jewish manufacturers. As a teenager she was drawn to Scandinavian literature and began to compose her first poems. She enjoyed publishing success from the early 1920s. If her early works were characterized by Romantic observations of nature, the discrimination she faced as a Jew led her towards more raw observations of her identity and persecution. In exile she lived in poverty, a situation that persisted even after she resumed publishing after end of the Second World War. In 1966 Nelly Sachs was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She died in Sweden in 1970.


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Migration: Nelly Sachs

Flight and Forced Migration: Having already fled Berlin (see Home of Nelly Sachs), Nelly Sachs composed this verse in exile in Sweden:

O, the Chimneys

On the ingeniously devised habitations of death
When Israel’s body drifted as smoke
Through the air -
Was welcomed by a star, a chimney sweep,
A star that turned black
Or was it a ray of sun?”

(Nelly Sachs. Gedichte 1940-1950. ed. Mathias Weichelt (Berlin 2010), p. 11. First published in In den Wohnungen des Todes [1947].)

Exclusion and Alterity: Shortly after the war, she wrote in exile in Sweden:

„To You, Who Are Building the New House”

When once again you raise your walls
Set up your stove, bed, chair and table
Don’t hang your tears on those who’ve gone
Who won’t be living there with you
Cry on the stone
Not on the wood
Lest it seep into your sleep
The brief sleep yet to do

(Nelly Sachs. Gedichte 1940-1950. ed. Mathias Weichelt (Berlin 2010), p. 12. First published in In den Wohnungen des Todes [1947].)