Monday, 17 August 2015

Gertrud Kolmar (1894 - 1943)

Information for this panel has kindly been collected, translated and contributed by Penelope Monkhouse from Germany. Penelope is extremely supportive of my project and has been a really great help.

Along with Nelly Sachs, Rose Ausländer and Else Lasker-Schüler, Gertrud Kolmar is considered to be one of the most significant German Jewish female poets. 

Gertrud Chodziesner was born in Berlin in Chodziez (in German: Kolmar) in the Prussian Province of Posen.  She grew up in Berlin and attended private schools. Her father was a criminal defence lawyer and her mother Elise, nee Schoenflies, was from a wealthy merchant family. Gertrud grew up in a family that loved literature - her father had some of his work published in the local newspaper.   She worked in a kindergarten and studied Russian. 

Gertrud became pregnant following her first and disappointing love affair when she was eighteen and her parents forced her to have an abortion, causing a suicide attempt.  This upheaval and trauma in her life increased her sensitivity for human hardships, which is evident in her first volume of poetry - "Im Herbst" ("In Autumn"). This was followed by a volume called "Gedichte" ("Poems"), published in 1917 by Egon Fleischel & Co., Berlin. Gertrud adopted the pen name of Gertrud Kolmar.

During the First World War, Gertrud worked from 1916 - 1917 as an interpreter and censor in the POW camp Döberitz near Berlin.

After the war, Gertrud worked as a governess and taught handicapped children.   She travelled to France, where she trained as an interpreter but had to return home due to her mother's deteriorating health.  After the death of her mother in 1930, Gertrud became her father's secretary.

Gertrud's most important volume of work came after 1920, her last known work apparently being in 1937. 

Gertrud was sent to a labour camp to work in a munitions factory in 1941 and her father was deported to a concentration camp where he died.  Gertrud was sent to Auschwitz where she died on 2nd March 1943.

In 1993 a blue plaque was placed on Gertrud's family home and a street in Berlin was named after her.

The Female Poet

You hold me now entirely in your hands.

My heart beats like a frightened little bird
Against your palm. Take heed! You do not think
A person lives within the page you thumb.
To you this book is paper, cloth, and ink,

Just binding thread and glue, and is quite dumb,
And cannot touch you (though the gaze be great
That seeks you from the printed marks within),
And is an object with an object's fate.

And yet it has been veiled like a bride,
Adorned with gems, made ready to be loved,
Who asks you shyly to change your mind,
To wake yourself, and feel, and to be moved.

But still she trembles, whispering to the wind:
"This shall not be." And smiles as if she knew.
Yet she must hope. A woman always tries,
Her very life is but a single "You . . ."

With her black flowers and her painted eyes,
With silver chains and silks of spangled blue.
She knew more beauty when a child and free,
But now forgets the better words she knew.

A man is so much cleverer than we,
Conversing with himself of truth and lie,
Of death and spring and iron-work and time.
But I say "you" and always "you and I."

This book is but a girl's dress in rhyme,
Which can be rich and red, or poor and pale,
Which may be wrinkled, but with gentle hands,
And only may be torn by loving nails.

So then, to tell my story, here I stand.
The dress's tint, though bleached in bitter dye,
Has not all washed away. It still is real.
I call then with a thin, ethereal cry.

You hear me speak. But do you hear me feel?


Die Dichterin

Du hältst mich in den Händen ganz und gar.
Mein Herz wie eines kleinen Vogels schlägt
In deiner Faust. Der du dies liest, gib acht;
Denn sieh, du blätterst einen Menschen um.
Doch ist es dir aus Pappe nur gemacht,

Aus Druckpapier und Leim, so bleibt es stumm
Und trifft dich nicht mit seinem großen Blick,
Der aus den schwarzen Zeichen suchend schaut,
Und ist ein Ding und hat sein Dinggeschick.

Und ward verschleiert doch gleich einer Braut,
Und ward geschmückt, daß du es lieben magst,
Und bittet schüchtern, daß du deinen Sinn
Aus Gleichmut und Gewöhnung einmal jagst,

Und bebt und weiß und flüstert vor sich hin:
"Dies wird nicht sein." Und nickt dir lächelnd zu.
Wer sollte hoffen, wenn nicht eine Frau?
Ihr ganzes Treiben ist ein einzig: "Du..."

Mit schwarzen Blumen, mit gemalter Brau,
Mit Silberketten, Seiden, blaubesternt.
Sie wußte manches Schönere als Kind
Und hat das schöne andre Wort verlernt. -

Der Mann ist soviel klüger, als wir sind.
In seinen Reden unterhält er sich
Mit Tod und Frühling, Eisenwerk und Zeit;
Ich sage:"Du..." und immer:"Du und ich."

Und dieses Buch ist eines Mädchens Kleid,
Das reich und rot sein mag und ärmlich fahl,
Und immer unter liebem Finger nur
Zerknittern dulden will, Befleckung, Mal.

So steh ich, weisend, was mir widerfuhr;
Denn harte Lauge hat es wohl gebleicht,
Doch keine hat es gänzlich ausgespült.
So ruf ich dich. Mein Ruf ist dünn und leicht.
Du hörst, was spricht.

Vernimmst du auch, was fühlt?

m.zeitzeichen.net which allegedly shows her first poetry volume of 1917 

The 1917 volume by Gertrud Kolmar is called "Gedichte" (poems), publisher: Egon Fleischel & Co., Berlin. 

Here is one of the early poems, called "Verlorenes Lied" (lost song): http://www.ngiyaw-ebooks.org/ngiyaw/worte_zum_tag/2014/20140107.htm
 (declared as official in 1951 by court ruling).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gertrud_Kolmar

Penelope Monkhouse (*1952) is a German-British scientist living in Schwetzingen/Germany and is a granddaughter of the novelist, dramatist and literary critic Allan Monkhouse. Literature of the early 20th  Century is one of her chief non-scientific interests and Penelope is currently engaged on a comparative study of German and English poetry of this period. She also writes poetry of her own and translates poetry to and from German and English. 

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