Maaßenstraße 12, 10777 Berlin, Germany
Norra Begravningsplatsen Solna, Solna kommun, Stockholms län, Sweden
Nelly Sachs (10 December 1891 – 12 May 1970) was a German-Swedish poet and playwright. The majority of women in German-speaking Europe associated with innovative arts and literature were married or engaged in significant heterosexual relationships, although few had children. Some lived unconventionally: Hannah Hoch was bisexual; painter Elfriede Lohse-Wichtler was married briefly, then lived highly unconventionally, including a period with Gypsies and, reputedly, female partners. No well-known writer lived openly as a lesbian. Gertrud Kolmar, Annette Kolb, Jeanne Mammen, Milly Steger, Lotte Laserstein, and Nelly Sachs never married.
Sachs' experiences resulting from the rise of the Nazis in World War II Europe transformed her into a poignant spokesperson for the grief and yearnings of her fellow Jewish people. Her best-known play is Eli: Ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels (1950); other works include the poems "Zeichen im Sand" (1962), "Verzauberung" (1970), and the collections of poetry In den Wohnungen des Todes (1947), Flucht und Verwandlung (1959), Fahrt ins Staublose (1961), and Suche nach Lebenden (1971). She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966.
Leonie Sachs was born in Berlin-Schöneberg, Germany, in 1891 to a Jewish family. Her parents were the wealthy natural rubber and gutta-percha manufacturers Georg William Sachs (1858–1930) and his wife Margarete, née Karger (1871–1950). She was educated at home because of frail health. She showed early signs of talent as a dancer, but her protective parents did not encourage her to pursue a profession. She grew up as a very sheltered, introverted young woman and never married. She pursued an extensive correspondence with her friends Selma Lagerlöf and Hilde Domin. As the Nazis took power, she became increasingly terrified, at one point losing the ability to speak, as she would remember in verse: "When the great terror came/I fell dumb." Sachs fled with her aged mother to Sweden in 1940. It was her friendship with Lagerlöf that saved their lives: shortly before her own death Lagerlöf intervened with the Swedish royal family to secure their release from Germany. Sachs and her mother escaped on the last flight from Nazi Germany to Sweden, a week before Sachs was scheduled to report to a concentration camp. They settled in Sweden and Sachs became a Swedish citizen in 1952.
Living in a tiny two-room apartment in Stockholm, Sachs cared alone for her mother for many years, and supported their existence by translations between Swedish and German. After her mother's death, Sachs suffered several nervous breakdowns characterized by hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions of persecution by Nazis, and she spent a number of years in a mental institution. She continued to write even while hospitalized. She eventually recovered sufficiently to live on her own, though her mental health would always be fragile. Her worst breakdown was ostensibly precipitated by hearing spoken German during a trip to Switzerland to accept a literary prize. However, she maintained a forgiving attitude toward a younger generation of Germans, and corresponded with many German-speaking writers of the postwar period, including Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Ingeborg Bachmann.
In 1961 she became the inaugural winner of the Nelly Sachs Prize, a literary prize awarded biennially by the German city of Dortmund, and named in her honour. When, with Shmuel Yosef Agnon, she was awarded the 1966 Nobel Prize in Literature, she observed that Agnon represented Israel whereas "I represent the tragedy of the Jewish people."
Following her death from intestinal cancer in 1970, Nelly Sachs was interred in the Norra begravningsplatsen in Stockholm. Her possessions were donated to the National Library of Sweden.
A memorial plaque commemorates her birthplace, Maaßenstraße 12, in Schöneberg, Berlin; where there is also a park, in Dennewitzstraße, named after her. A park on the island of Kungsholmen in Stockholm also bears her name.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE