Gertrud Kol­mar: A Lit­er­ary Life

Dieter Kuhn; Lin­da Mar­i­an­iel­lo, trans.
  • Review
By – May 29, 2013

Gertrud Kol­mar was a high­ly praised Ger­man poet who has scarce­ly seen any recog­ni­tion in the U.S. Though she wrote an impres­sive body of work under the harsh­est cir­cum­stances of Nazi Ger­many, Kol­mar is large­ly remem­bered, if at all, as the cousin of Wal­ter Ben­jamin. As Dieter Kuhn’s new­ly trans­lat­ed biog­ra­phy shows us, this is a mis­take. Kol­mar is not only a lyric poet of note, but was a coura­geous fight­er against the tyran­ny of Nazism. She wrote poems burst­ing with life, anger, and crit­i­cism in a time of sti­fling fear. Noth­ing but a depor­ta­tion to Auschwitz, where she ulti­mate­ly per­ished, deterred her from writ­ing poet­ry. Even as the Nazis forced her into labor at an arma­ment fac­to­ry, she per­sist­ed in her art, and arguably became a bet­ter poet as she faced the specter of death.

Dieter Kuhn’s biog­ra­phy fits into the rise of a sort of entrenched biog­ra­phy genre where the author doesn’t just attempt to con­vey infor­ma­tion, but attempts to live the life of his sub­ject. While this method often works well, it as often push­es Kuhn into the realm of hagiog­ra­phy. He starts to speak of Kol­mar in almost Roman­tic and reli­gious tones, which, giv­en the actu­al hero­ic con­tent of her life, feels like an unnec­es­sary and heavy-hand­ed tool. That said, the biog­ra­phy is still a won­der­ful intro­duc­tion to a sad­ly neglect­ed poet who deserves our recognition.

Joseph Win­kler is a free­lance writer liv­ing in New York City. He writes for Vol1Brooklyn, The Huff­in­g­ton Post, Jew­cy, and oth­er sites. While not writ­ing, Joe is get­ting a Mas­ters in Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture at City Col­lege. To sup­port his extrav­a­gant lifestyle, Joe also tutors and unabashed­ly babysits. Check out his blog at nocon​ver​sa​tion​left​be​hind​.blogspot​.com.

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