Kempowski, Walter 1929-2007

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Kempowski, Walter 1929-2007


See index for CA sketch: Born April 29, 1929, in Rostock, Germany; died of intestinal cancer, October 5, 2007, in Germany. Educator, archivist, novelist, diarist, playwright, and author. The literary accomplishment for which Kempowski was celebrated at the end of his life was not a story that he wrote himself, but his huge collection and publication of the stories of others in ten volumes of what he called "a collective diary": Das Echolot (1993-2005). Over many years Kempowski assembled an archive of documents from World War II: thousands of diaries, photographs, songs, notes, advertisements, and other items donated, in response to his newspaper advertisements, by a diverse population of survivors—young and old, rich and poor, from all parts of the country and all groups of society. In so doing, he created a panoramic memoir of the war that transcended individual experience. He once claimed that he was inspired by the hum of anonymous voices telling their stories from an East German prison, where he had been sent as a teenager by Soviet occupiers who thought he was a spy. Upon his release from prison, Kempowski became a storyteller himself. He began with a memoir of his eight years in prison, Im Block: ein Haftbericht (1969), which was less successful than he had hoped it would be. He then began writing a series of autobiographical novels, naming his characters after himself and members of his family. This series, which began with Tadellöser und Wolff: ein bürgerlicher Roman (1971) was well received by German readers who saw in the novels parallels with their own wartime and postwar experiences. Only a few of these were ever translated into English, including Days of Greatness (1981) and Dog Days (1991). He also wrote or compiled many nonfiction works and a few radio plays. Kempowski received many awards for his writings, including the German Federal Service Cross, first class, a Konrad Adenauer Prize and Uwe-Johnson-Prize, both for Das Echelot, and the Groszes Bundesverdienst-Kreuz du Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Kempowski worked as a schoolteacher for twenty years and as a professor at the University of Oldenburg from 1980 to 1990; he worked as a writer throughout his entire adult life.



Kempowski, Walter, Im Block: ein Haftbericht, Rowohlt (Reinbeck, Germany), 1969.


New York Times, October 11, 2007, p. C16.

Times (London, England), October 30, 2007, p. 60.