Early Life Gertrud Kolmar, pseudonym of Gertrud Chodziesner, was born on December 10, 1894 in Berlin, Germany. She was the oldest of four children of a middle class German family. Her parents were Ludwig Chodziesner, a criminal defense lawyer and Her mother Elise Chodziesner, who came from an intellectual mercantile family.
Early Life cont. From 1901 to 1911 Kolmar attended a private girls’ grammar school, continuing her studies at a women’s agricultural and home economics school in Arvershof near Leipzig. She worked at a public school as a kindergarten teacher. She studied Russian before receiving a teaching degree as a French and English language instructor and military interpreter in 1916. The following year Kolmar had her first and bitterly disappointing love affair, during which she became pregnant. Her parents forced her to have an abortion—surely a traumatic event at a time when abortions were illegal in Germany, which may explain Kolmar’s focus on childless women and mother figures in her poetry.
Germany in the Early 1900’s In 1914, World War I began between the great powers, which were the allies (United Kingdom, France, and Russia) and the central powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy). Thought as a way to settle disputes with neighboring countries, the war ultimately defeated Germany, causing 2.1 million military deaths, and 430,000 civilian deaths due to malnutrition from the food blockades. The war finally ended in November of 1918, resulting in Treaty of Versailles, a peace treaty between Germany and the Allied powers. It was in 1917, near the end of World War I, when Gertrud Kolmar wrote her first book, Gedichte, which drew little attention.
Early Life During the last two years of World War I she was also employed as an interpreter and censor of soldiers correspondence in Doberitz, a prisoner- of-war-camp near Berlin, shown in picture below.
Early Life cont. At the end of World War I, Kolmar served as governess and teacher in private households. In 1927 she took a summer course at the University of Dijon, where she graduated with a teaching degree, achieving the highest honors ever given to a foreign student. After her mother fell terminally ill in 1928, Kolmar returned to Finkenkrug, running the household and caring for her mother until her death in 1930. She then took over her mother’s position in the household, became her father’s notary assistant, and focused on her own writing. Kolmar’s experiences of isolation and loneliness as a woman and Jew are expressed vividly in the poetry she wrote during this time of growing antisemitism.
Some of her most Famous works 1930- Kolmar writes an autobiographical poem, Die Dichterin (The Woman Poet), where she pleads with the reader to respect her fragility: heart beats like that of a little bird/In your fist. 1930-1931- Kolmar wrote her only novel, Die Jüdische Mutter (The Jewish Mother. 1935- Cecile Renault, not yet published. 1936- Three of Kolmar’s poems were published in a journal of the Jewish Book Club (Jüdische Buchvereinigung). 1938- Nacht, not yet published.
Some of her most Famous works 1938- Kolmar’s collection of poems, written ten years earlier, Die Frau und die Tiere (The Woman and the Beasts) was published by the Jewish Publishing Company Erwin Loewe. 1940- Kolmar’s first short story, titled Susanna. The first-person narrator, an aging Jewish woman who is the governess of the depressed teen-aged Susanna who confesses: she didn’t know Judaism, “my faith and regards the Jewish neighborhood on the outskirts of the town,” where the Eastern European Jewish inhabitants speak Yiddish-German, as a “foreign world”
Sample of Works Click on the following link for my favorite of her poems, an English translation of Die Dichterin. http://allpoetry.com/poem/8628379-The_Woman_Poet__-- _Translation_of_Die_Dichterin-by-Gertrud_Kolmar The following link is to one of Gertrud Kolmar’s poems which is made into a choral piece http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bs44qjupLcg
Kolmar’s Life during WWI In 1938, as the antisemitic political and social climate became intolerable for Kolmar, she made plans to escape Nazi persecution by emigrating to England to work as a governess. Her sister Hilde Wenzel emigrated to Switzerland in 1938. That same year Kolmar and her father were forced to sell their house in Finkenburg and move to a so-called “Jewish house” in Berlin-Schöneberg. Despite terrible living conditions, it was during this time that Kolmar continued her writing, including Susanna, which she wrote out of a sense of her own powerlessness. In her effort to escape persecution Kolmar also sent her resumé to her uncle Fritz Crzellitzer, who had emigrated to Palestine.
Kolmar’s Life during WWI In 1940, hoping to emigrate to Palestine, Kolmar began to study Hebrew and write prose in this language, also translating a poem by Hayyim Nahman Bialik into German, as stated in letters sent to her sister. However, she was unable to leave Germany since proof of employment was necessary in order to receive a visa for Palestine. In mid-1941 Kolmar was forced to work at an arms factory. Her eighty-one-year-old father’s dependence on her led her to remain with him until his deportation to Theresienstadt in September 1942, where he died the following year. Kolmar was arrested by the SS on February 27, 1943 and deported on March 2, 1943 with the “eastern transport” to Auschwitz. It can be assumed that at the time of her arrest and deportation the Nazis destroyed her personal papers, letters, and documents. The exact date of Kolmar’s death is unknown.
Literary Works Kolmar’s surviving work consists of four hundred and fifty poems, three plays, and two short stories that exist as manuscripts or typoscripts. Although much of her work has been published, some of it is also held at the Gertrud Kolmar archives in Marbach, Germany.
What she has left behind… “What little is known of Kolmar’s biography can be viewed in sharp contrast to the rich spiritual life made evident in her poetry. It is in the poems that the internal and intimate self rather than the external everyday existence is revealed. In the context of the process referred to as “coming to terms with one’s past” and a renewed appreciation for Kolmar’s work, the poet—as she wished to be identified—has reached an international audience which responds to the powerful attraction of her writing. Kolmar’s work is a vehicle for readers of the early twenty-first century to come to terms with the events of World War II and the Shoah, as well as for German-Jewish identity through reflection and remembrance.” (Kristen Krick-Aigner, 2005)
Her Impact on Me Throughout this semester, I have read many literary works written by strong women who faced many struggles, oppression, and the pains of life, but were courageous enough to share their stories with the world, in hopes of impacting it for the better. Gertrud Kolmar is one of many women who have done this, but I especially appreciate her story and her works, because of the interest that I have always taken in my own German heritage.
Bibliography Krick-Aigner, K. (2005). Gertrud Kolmar. Jewish Women’s Archive. Accessed on Nov. 26, 2012, from http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/kolmar-gertrud Kuhn, P. (2012). Gertrud Kolmar: Worlds. Shearsman Books. Accessed on Nov. 27, 2012, from http://www.shearsman.com/pages/books/catalog/2012/kolmar.html Smith, H. (2010). The woman poet- A translation of die dichterin. All Poetry. Accessed on Nov. 27, 2012, from www.allpoetry.com Zohn, H. (2008). Gertrud Kolmar. Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed on Nov. 26, 2012, from http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org