to Hans Schiebelhuth (1941) Postcard
to Fritz Usinger (1947) Letter
(To The Germans) (first edition 1947) An die Deutschen
(A Song From Exile) (first edition 1950) Sang aus dem Exil
Karl Wolfskehl (1869 – 1948)
Origin: Darmstadt – Munich
Migration: Auckland, New Zealand
Reason for migration: escaping from persecution
“Exul poeta (exiled poet)”
Here too, the experience of foreignness is twofold. Due to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazi regime, this member of a highly respected Darmstadt banking family that was firmly anchored in the educated German middle classes suddenly felt like a stranger in his own home country. His father, Otto Wolfskehl, was a building contractor who was involved, among other things, in the expansion of the Polytechnic (forerunner of the TH/TU Darmstadt).
As a Germanist and writer, Karl Wolfskehl also spent his life researching the cultural-historical tradition of Judaism, even more so in his years of exile. Full of dismay at the rapidly increasing, officially pursued aggressive anti-Semitism, about the relentlessness of which he had no illusions, he turned his back on Germany in 1933, immediately after the Reichstag fire, going first to Italy, which had long been his second home.
The deep cut, the burning of all bridges to his country of origin and with it the transition to the actual level of foreignness, came in 1938 when he emigrated to New Zealand as the result of the rapprochement between fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany: to the “globe's last island reef”, a greater distance from Europe “than any other residential point on the globe” (letter quote KW 2.8.1946).
The poems written in exile convey a sometimes painful confrontation with origin and foreignness. The concept of exile refers to a level of complete hopelessness at an extreme distance from home. And yet, as well as all the feelings of abandonment and insurmountable distances described in the poems, something happens that Stanišić also reveals: the release of new creative forces precisely through the moments of friction with and on the foreign environment, which in turn trigger new stimuli.
With many allusions to mythological and literary content, the epic poem “An die Deutschen” illustrates the deep and self-evident roots in German cultural history and in the central relationship between all expellees and their origin: the language.
Likewise, the theme of religious positioning is also always present, and quite clear in the posthumously published anthology “Sang aus dem Exil”, where the poet chooses the role of Job in the Old Testament to symbolically intensify his situation. As well as wrestling with fate, at this point in the book the four poems create an atmosphere both of arrival and of new hope. With the evocation of language as a universal sign system, the text provides the impetus for new movement in positive openness to the new living environment.
His great artistic productivity was both a contrast to and a way of coping emotionally with the oppressive living conditions of the blind and impoverished poet in the 10 years of exile preceding his death, as described in two original letters to his Hesse poet companions Hans Schiebelhuth and Fritz Usinger, as individually authentic as they are exemplary.
A few months after this letter, Fritz Usinger wrote an obituary for Wolfskehl in the Hessische Nachrichten, in which he described “An die Deutschen” as the “most powerful poem about German emigration”. In any event, each of them is a highly poeticised examination of origin that can take place entirely intellectually and in complete seclusion.
Although members of his circle of friends had planned and prepared for Karl Wolfskehl's return to Germany after the war, it was not to be. The poet from Darmstadt is buried in Auckland.