Gertrud Kolmar

By: Jerrold Freitag
December 10, 2012

During the Weimar Republic, the family of poet GERTRUD KOLMAR (Gertrud Käthe Chodziesner, 1894–1943) moved out of and around in Berlin; sometimes for a better view, sometimes because the Gestapo hunted Jews. Her cousin, Walter Benjamin, published some of her poetry. Everything was a reagent for her compositions; like Baudelaire or Kafka, her benchworn senses were aligned with her pitch for distinct lexicography. An early book of her verse about the coffee can labels her brother collected rattles. Her lyric intimacy with animals, wildflowers, weather and people is clairvoyant. There are poets as powerful as Kolmar, but none more powerfully existential. No matter how small her world got, in the 1930s and ’40s, she controlled infinity with language: “You’re alive! you dead, you’re alive; because today I live. There was a time you would have died, would have had it otherwise; well, now you are, so be as such: for me.” With her face pressed against her instrument and her eyes closed, Kolmar could feel precisely how tightly she could wind language before it snapped. Her poems make up the patient biography of all poets who know everything fades; except a truth they know how to tell. She died in Auschwitz.

Da ich zittrig noch hingestellt
Was ich war: ein wächsernes Licht
Für das Wachen zur zweiten Welt.

(Because I tremblingly still set down
What I was: a waxen light
For the awakening to the second world.)


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: J Mascis, Ada Lovelace.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Modernist (1884–93) and Hardboiled (1894-1903) Generations.


Cuspers, HiLo Heroes, Poetry

What do you think?

  1. Light heat is particular to Kolmar. She jumps Expressionism. Though she writes a lot about death, there’s not a lot of dark in it.

  2. This is a discovery for me. Wups. Stings not having met this work before. Though Happy I hadn’t – cause well I am blown a bit sideways to read it now.


  3. Well, Dr Scheib,

    »Nacht. Dramatische Legende in vier Aufzügen« (1938) [sei] über eine Episode aus dem Leben des späteren römischen Kaisers Tiberius, der den Göttern »umsonst« ein jüdisches Mädchen opfert.

    What do you think? They adored the Uraufführung in Düsseldorf over a decade ago, and i’ve almost accepted the metric system which is very popular in Berlin.

  4. To recognize “language wound so tightly it could snap”- but the poet does not let it- is a great observation. Jerrold’s description inspires me to read more. The more Kolmar is read, the greater the defeat of Nazism.

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