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Remembrance Poems and Readings

Edited by
David Roberts

More information about this collection of poems and readings for Remembrance Day and Peace Events



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Lives of German Jewish Poets of the First World War
Brief Biographies of German Jewish Poets of the First World War

by Peter Appelbaum

Emmanuel Saul

Emmanuel Saul was born in 1876 in Rudenwalde (now NW Poland), the son of a Rabbi. He was a gifted and enlightened man with interests in music and intellectually erudite. He became a lawyer with a flourishing practice in Duisburg and married Hedwig Nassau, daughter of a wealthy industrialist, around 1904. By the time the war broke out Emmanuel Saul had three sons and was 38 years old; despite this, he volunteered to fight for his country. He received an offer to return to Germany and train new recruits but refused, feeling that his place was in the front line. He became an infantryman and was killed on the Russian front in 1915. He is buried near the town of Jasiolda in Byelorussia.

The following is excerpted from his Memorial Service:
“With the death of Emmanuel Saul the Centralverein loses one of its leading members in the lower Rhine valley. He was a man of liberal opinions, devoted to the idea of equality for all German Jews, and was on the Centralverein committee in Duisburg since its inception. I did not see him after the war began but heard that he had been awarded the Iron Cross.  Although he is buried somewhere far away in Poland, his friends will never forget him.” Dr. Richard Rosenthal, Lieutenant.

Emmanuel Saul, Walther Heymann, Leo Sternberg,  Ernst Toller, Kurt Tucholsky,
Lion Feuchtwanger,  Alfred Lichtenstein.

German Jewish War Poems

Walther Heymann

“To die – what a pity about ten unwritten books,” wrote Walther Heymann four days before his death in an attack near Soissons on the night of 9 January, 1915.

He was born the son of a merchant on 19 May 1882 in Königsberg, East Prussia. After college he entered law school but quit just before his examinations to pursue a career in writing,  His first work, “Ost – und Westpreuβisches Dichterbuch,”, was published in 1905,

He spent two years in Italy before, in 1912, he became a writer for his home-town newspaper the Königsberger Hartungschen Zeitung in which he published feuilletons and poetry.

In 1913 he married Maria Perk from West Prussia.

When war broke out he volunteered at once. He was killed in 1915. His grave is unknown, as was the case for so many World War One soldiers.  Two volumes of poetry --Der Springbrunnen” (1906), “Nehrungsbilder” (1909) and a volume of prose entitled “Das Tempelwunder und andere Novellen (1916) as well as the current war diary and poetry (1915) are all that is left of this gifted young man.

During his memorial service on 28 February, his friend Heinrich Spero recited some of his verses and said: “Amongst all lyricists he had, in Richard Dehmel’s critical opinion, the greatest potential talent. The talent in his father the dilettante became, in his son, great art. His austere sound, which could not be ignored, became more flexible and independent in his four part symphony ‘der Hochdune’ whose like we have not seen before.  The force and secret melody of his ‘Nehrungsbilder’ (his best known work, about the Courland spit, a narrow strip of land connecting East Prussia with Memel Lithuania) are so strong that it is doubtful whether anyone would have the courage to write about this strip of land in Courland again.”

Like so many other talented young men of his generation, Walther Heymann’s voice was stilled before it had really started to speak. His war poems must speak for him.

Leo Sternberg

Leo Sternberg was born in Limburg an der Lahn in 1876, and spent the pre-war years writing.

Soon after war began, his younger brother Robert was killed in 1915 and Leo himself was called to the colors on 12 March, 1916, after he had earlier registered twice in vain as a volunteer.

On July 30, Sternberg was finally, at the age of nearly 40, accepted into the army. His service began in Field Artillery Regiment 30 in Rastatt. From there he was transferred to Landwehrregiment (Reserve regiment) 109 in Karlsruhe and five weeks later he was promoted to Gefreiter (Private first class).

A published war poem at that time was signed ‘Leo Sternberg, bombardier.’ The exact role that Sternberg played in the army is not known but he probably served in some writing or advisory capacity. His war activity during 1917 is likewise unknown, but two months after the Russian Revolution he was transferred to the Eastern Front and promoted from Court Judge to District Court Judge.

On 11 June 1918 he was transferred to Karslruhe, where he remained until war’s end: again, nothing is known about how he served during this latter time period. The translator would like to suggest that the mysterious nature of his war service suggests espionage-related activities.

After the war, with poetry and short stories he became one the best-known writers in the Rhineland Palatinate area. Conversion to Catholicism in 1933 did not stop him from being persecuted by the National Socialists. He died in exile on the island of Hvar (Yugoslavia) in 1937.

The poems presented on this website come from his anthology God hammers a people – war poems, published in 1916.

Ernst Toller

Ernst Toller was born in Samotchin, Posen (now Poland) in 1893 into a Jewish family. At the outbreak of World War One he volunteered for military duty, spent 13 months on the Western Front, and suffered a complete physical and psychological collapse.

Toller was deeply involved in the Bavarian Council Republic of 1919 and served as its President from April 6-April 12.  After the republic was defeated he was imprisoned until 1925. Toller wrote and completed some of his most celebrated works (Transformation, Masses Man, The Machine Breakers, Hinkemann the German) while in prison.

In 1933 after the Nazi rise to power he was exiled and his citizenship nullified. He continued to write and travelled to London, and  also gave lectures in the United States and Canada before settling in California where he worked on screenplays which remained unproduced. He moved to New York City in 1936 where he lived with a group of writers also in exile, including Klaus and Erika Mann and Therese Giehse.

Suffering from deep depression (his brother and sister had been arrested and sent to concentration camps and he had given all his money to Spanish Civil War refugees) Ernst Toller hanged himself in his hotel room at the Mayflower hotel on 22 May, 1939.

Kurt Tucholsky

Kurt Tucholsky  was a German-Jewish satirist, journalist and writer who has been called the Heinrich Heine of the 20th century. Born in Berlin-Moabit in 1890, he started writing his first articles as journalist while still at school. His first  writings before the war were satirical in nature, poking fun at the Kaiser; later he wrote articles for Die Schaubühne. The beginning of his journalistic career was interrupted by the war.

By April 1915 he was conscripted and sent to the Eastern Front. There he experienced static warfare and served as a munitions soldier and later as company writer. From November 1916 onwards he published the field newspaper der Flieger. In 1918 he was transferred to Romania.

Tucholsky ended the war disillusioned. He started work as a journalist again and, like Heine, alternated between Paris and Berlin. His works are characterized by sharp Berlin satire and political criticism.

When the Nazis came to power they burned his books and expatriated him. He lived in exile in Sweden where, in 1935, weakened by chronic illness he took an overdose of sleeping pills and died.

Lion Feuchtwanger

Lion Feuchtwanger was born in Munich in 1884. He was a German-Jewish novelist and playwright. A prominent figure in the Weimar republic, he influenced contemporaries including Berthold Brecht. Feuchtwanger served in the German army during World War One, an experience that contributed to a leftist leaning in his writings.

Song of the Fallen dates from 1915 and, although anti-war, it escaped the German censors.

His most noted books include The Family Opperman, Jud Süβ, and the Jewess of Toledo. Jud Süβ was made into a propaganda movie by the Nazis. Spirited away from a French detention camp into Spain via Marseilles by the American businessman Varian Fry, together with many other famous figures such as Franz Werfel, Alma Mahler, Marc Chagall and Heinrich Mann, Feuchtwanger settled in Los Angeles where he died in 1958.

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Alfred Lichtenstein

Alfred Lichtenstein was born in Berlin in 1889.

He entered law school but made sure he had time for his first love, writing. He linked his University Thesis to literature, concentrating on laws concerning theatrical production. His poems, sadly all too few, dealt with city life and its darker aspects. Youthful exuberance, fear and visions are replaced by mocking, scornful laughter. Grimaces change places with feelings of longing, in order to escape from this cold marionette-world into an illusory peace.

The war began before he had completed his year of military service. His regiment (the second Bavarian Infantry) was immediately sent to the Western Front. He was wounded in the attack on Vermandovillers on the Somme 24 September 1914 and died of his wounds a few days later at the age of  25. Wilfred Owen’s regiment would retake Vermandovillers exactly 4 years later.

Two books which contain some German poems of the First World War in English Translation

The Lost Voices of World War One -  an international anthology of writers, poets and playwrights. Edited by Tim Cross. 1988. Published by Bloomsbury.

We are the Dead  -  Poems and Paintings from The Great War, 1914-1918. Edited by David Roberts. 2012. Published by The Red Horse Press.

The only German Jewish poet whose poems appear on the War Poetry Website who is represented in these books is Alfred Lichtenstein. There are three of his war poems in Lost Voices (plus seven poems on other topics). There are four of his war poems in We Are The Dead.


Poems by the above

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