Page 64 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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characterized Nelly Sachs’ work as “the most intense artistic
expression of the Jewish spirit’s reaction to suffering in our time.
She has expressed the tragedy of the Jewish people in lyrical
laments of a painful beauty . . . evoking the imagery of exter-
mination but then rising above all hatred of persecutors to reveal
a deep sorrow at man’s debasement.”
One might suspect that her father, William, entertained a
secret hope that his gifted Leonie, as she was then called, would
some day kindle a flaming brand in the temple of fame. He kept
reminding her that her birthday, December 10, corresponded to
December 10 (1896), the date on which Alfred Bernhard Nobel
died and bequeathed $9,200,000 the interest of which was to be
used for prizes to individuals who had most benefited mankind
during the preceding year.
Miss Sachs’ Arrival in Stockholm
Miss Sachs was nearly fifty years old when she and her mother
came to Stockholm. They found a two-room apartment on the
third floor of a house on the south shore of Lake Malar. Here they
lived humbly and unobtrusively. Miss Sachs worked as a translator
of Swedish poetry into German in order to earn enough to main-
tain herself and her mother, who died in 1950 at the age of 78.
According to a lifelong friend who met Miss Sachs during the
dark Hitler years, Professor Vera Lachmann, of the Brooklyn
College Classics Department, she addressed her mother by the
loving name of
In Sweden Miss Sachs wrote poem after poem which grew into
a corpus of stirring, shimmering poesy. Throughout, there is an
aura of mangled music humming an elegy for the butchered, the
dispossessed, the rejected; yet not without hope that “Someone /
will come / who will take the ball / from the hands of the ter-
rible players.” Tha t such barbarity could insinuate itself into the
structure of civilized society, is an incomprehensible enigma
which repudiates rationality. There is, however, a tribunal where
injustice is redressed; not in the heart of man who seeks revenge,
but through the conviction, voiced by Carlyle, that “The great
Soul of the world is just.” Miss Sachs exclaims (“In the Habita-
tions of Death”):
O you thieves of genuine hours of death,
Last breaths and the eyelids' ‘Good N ight’
Of one thing may you be sure:
The angel, it gathers
What you discarded,