- Wände . . . : Österreichische jüdische Lyriker/Walls . . . : Austrian Jewish Poets ed. by Herbert Kuhner
In 1992, Herbert Kuhner, Johannes Diethart, and Peter Daniel published a bilingual German-English anthology, Wären die Wände zwischen uns aus Glas: Jüdische Lyrik aus Österreich, which featured poems by Austrian-Jewish writers defining their identity after the Holocaust. The book was a response to the 1988 Bedenkjahr, the fiftieth anniversary of the Anschluss of Austria to Nazi Germany. Following the election of Kurt Waldheim as president of Austria [End Page 151] in 1986 and the rise of the extreme right-wing FPÖ under Jörg Haider, the commemoration activities in 1988 were part of a turning point in the identity of the Second Republic of Austria, which hitherto had pretended to be the first victim of Hitler’s aggression and thus had seen itself as not responsible for the recent past in World War II and the Holocaust. All this changed in the second half of the 1980s in Austria, as the country started to acknowledge that there were Austrian victims and perpetrators. Today, no one questions Austria’s and some of its citizens’ responsibility for crimes committed in the Holocaust, and there is a growing, if not established awareness of the loss of the country’s Jewish population that before 1938 accounted for 9 percent of Vienna’s total population.
The current volume Wände . . . : Österreichische jüdische Lyriker/Walls . . . : Austrian Jewish Poets, edited by Herbert Kuhner and published by the Theoder Kramer Gesellschaft in 2015, features nine additional writers and fits well into the program of the Theodor Kramer Gesellschaft, which promotes Austrian exile literature, though not all of the contributing lyrical writers, Ilse Aichinger for example, were in exile during the Holocaust. The book is first and foremost an incredibly useful resource for anyone interested in questions of Austrian-Jewish identity, as it was expressed in German-language poetry. When one thinks of Austrian-Jewish identity Paul Celan’s Todesfuge/Death Fugue is the most important German-language poem in the twentieth century that comes to mind. This anthology takes the reader beyond what is well known. While Celan is not included, there are four poems by Rose Ausländer, who like Celan grew up in Czernowitz, the capital of the former Austrian crown land of Bukovina, and survived the Holocaust there. Other well-known writers include Erich Fried, Peter Hennisch, André Heller, Elfrede Jelinek, and Robert Schindel, to name just a few. Schindel’s poems “Vineta I” and “Vineta II,” which are included in this anthology, provide an interesting representation of what it was like to be Jewish in 1980s Vienna.
It is clear from the listing of authors included in this volume that being Jewish is less defined by a religious identity, but rather by having been persecuted by the Nazis or descending from people who were persecuted during the Nazi period for being identified by the Nazis as Jews. This is crucial to understand, because these writers face a different identity than the majority culture in Austria. Furthermore, this anthology is not limited to the generations [End Page 152] that lived through the Holocaust but also features poems from the second generation of survivors.
There are also poems by writers who may be less known but who are nonetheless interesting, such as Mimi Grossberg, Alfred Kittner, Herbert Kuhner (who edited this volume), and Willy Verkauf-Verlorn, among a total of thirty-nine writers who contributed poems to this anthology. Verkauf-Verlorn’s poem “Wände” inspired the title of the book. His poem “Judesein” ponders the question of what it means to be a Jew without religion and certainly without the construct of race. Verkauf-Verlon also served as chairman of the Theodor Kramer Gesellschaft from 1987 to 1994.
The English translations by Kuhner are useful and make this volume accessible to readers who are interested in the topic of Austrian-Jewish identity, but who do not read German. Needless to write, however, no translation can...