Nossack, Hans Erich 1901-1977

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Nossack, Hans Erich 1901-1977


Born January 30, 1901, in Hamburg, Germany; died 1977, in Hamburg, Germany; son of Eugen (a coffee merchant) and Elita (Krohnke) Nossack; married Gabriele Knierer, November 10, 1925.

Education: Attended Jena University, 1919-22.


Writer and translator. Factory worker, 1919-22; employed by commercial firms, 1925-33; proprietor of coffee and cocoa import business in West Germany, 1933-77. Guest professor of poetry at Frankfort University, 1968. Member, German Academy of Science and Literature and Germany Academy of Language and Poetry.


George Büchner Prize, 1961; Wilhelm Raabe Prize, 1963.


Gedichte (title means "Poems"), [Hamburg, Germany], 1947.

Nekyia: Bericht eines Überlebenden (novel: title means "Nekya: Report of a Survivor"), [Hamburg, Germany], 1947.

Interview mit dem Tode (short stories; title means "Interview with the Dead"), [Hamburg, Germany], 1948, 2nd edition published as Dorothea, [Hamburg, Germany], 1950.

Die Begnadigung, [Zurich, Switzerland], 1955.

Spätestens im November (novel; title means "In November at the Latest"), Suhrkamp, 1955.

Der Neugierige (short stories), [Munich, Germany], 1955.

Spirale (short stories; title means "Spirals"; contains

Unmögliche Beweisaufnahme; also see below), Suhrkamp, 1956.

Begegnung im Vorraum (short stories; title means "Meeting in the Anteroom"), [Olten], 1958.

Der jungere Bruder (novel; title means "The Younger Brother"), Suhrkamp, 1958.

Der Untergang (short stories; title means "The Defeat"), Suhrkamp, 1961.

Nach dem letzten Aufstand (novel; title means "After the Last Rebellion"), Suhrkamp, 1961.

Ein Sonderfall (play), Luchterhand, 1963.

Sechs Etuden (short stories), Insel-Verlag, 1964.

Das kennt man (title means "It Is Known"), Suhrkamp, 1964.

Das Testament des Lucius Eurinus (story; title means "The Testament of Lucius Eurinus"), [Zurich, Switzerland], 1964.

Das Mal und andere Erzählungen, Suhrkamp, 1965.

Die schwache Position der Literatur (essays; title means "The Weak Position of Literature"), Suhrkamp, 1966.

Pseudoautobiographische Glossen, Suhrkamp, 1971.

Die gestohlene Melodie (novel; title means "The Stolen Melody"), Suhrkamp, 1972.

Bereitschaftsdienst (novel), Suhrkamp, 1973.

Ein glücklicher Mensch (novel), Suhrkamp, 1975.

Um es kurz zu machen: Miniaturen, Suhrkamp, 1975.

Dieser Andere: Ein Lesebuch, Suhrkamp, 1976.

Geben Sie bald wieder ein Lebenszeichen: Briefwechsel 1943-1956, (correspondence), edited by Gabriele Söhling, Suhrkamp (Frankfurt, Germany), 2001.

Also translator of works into German.


Unmögliche Beweisaufnahme, Suhrkamp, 1959, translated by Michael Lebeck as The Impossible Proof, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1968.

Der Fall d'Arthez (novel), Suhrkamp, 1968, translated by Michael Lebeck as The d'Arthez Case, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1971.

Dem unbekannten Sieger, Suhrkamp, 1969, translated by Ralph Manheim as To the Unknown Hero, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1974.

The End: Hamburg 1943, translated by Joel Agee, photographs by Erich Andres, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2004.


Hans Erich Nossack was virtually unknown in America for most of his writing career. A prolific author of plays and novels during the 1930s and early 1940s, Nossack was prohibited by ruling Nazis from having his works published because of his past support of left-wing politics. An extremely important moment in his life was the fire bombing of Hamburg in 1943 that destroyed all his writings. Nossack likened his fate to that of the city, and his novel Nekyia: Bericht eines Überlebenden details the mental anguish involved in enduring such a disaster, as well as the collapse of Germany and its efforts at transition. Nossack later returned to this theme in his collection of short stories Interview mit dem Tode.

Philosopher Jean Paul Sartre helped popularize Nossack outside Germany by declaring the German author an existentialist. But while Nossack profited from the resulting popularity, he did not consider himself to be an existentialist. He turned to writing plays in the early 1950s before receiving more fame for his novel Spätestens im November. Narrated by a woman who trades one egocentric mate for another, the novel warns against the psychological dangers of living through another person's experiences. Der jungere Bruder is similar to

Spätestens im November in its devotion to revealing the foolishness of assuming roles. In both books, untimely death strikes the people who assume roles other than their own.

Spirale, a collection of stories, features a style more stark than its predecessors. The Impossible Proof a story from Spirale that became Nossack's first published work in America, deals with a man's judgment of himself in regard to his wife's disappearance. The story reveals the more positive side of assuming roles. To the Unknown Hero is narrated by an author telling a friend about his book, intertwined with a conversation that author recalls between himself and his father.

The End: Hamburg 1943 was published in the United States in 2004. It first appeared in 1948 in Germany as part of Interview mit dem Tode. The book is the author's firsthand account of the destruction of Hamburg by the Allies during World War II. George Walden, writing in the New Statesman, commented that "it has poignant descriptive passages and alludes to the mechanics of destruction: 1,800 Allied aircraft were involved, a fire-storm (then not understood) developed and Nossack estimated the numbers of dead at between 60,000 and 100,000." Walden went on to write: "Yet it is not a purely factual account, nor is its purpose to blame the Allies. What matters is the tone. The high points of Nossack's description are poetic, but neither tragic nor elegiac." Thomas A. Karel, writing in the Library Journal, commented that the author "vividly depicts the human side of war, from the approaching terror to … final devastation." Noah Isenberg, writing on the Book-forum Web site, further observed: "Nowhere in Nossack's short work does one detect anger at what has occurred or anger directed at those who dropped the bombs." Isenberg also noted "the unmistakable affinity that Nossack's text has with other accounts of terror and trauma, and that, in the wake of our own experience with air attacks at home, [referring to the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001], we are now, sadly, able to appreciate."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 6, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1976.


Artforum International, summer, 2005, Noah Isenberg, review of The End: Hamburg 1943, p. S4.

Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), January 15, 2005, review of The End, p. D14.

Library Journal, January 1, 2005, Thomas A. Karel, review of The End, p. 129.

Listener, March 28, 1974, review of To the Unknown Hero, p. 413.

Nation, October 17, 2005, Mark M. Anderson, review of The End, p. 31.

New Statesman, January 31, 2005, George Walden, review of The End, p. 48.

New York Review of Books, September 18, 1975, review of The D'Arthez Case, p. 56.

Philadelphia Inquirer, February 2, 2005, Carlin Romano, review of The End.

Voice Literary Supplement, spring, 2005, Brandon Stosuy, review of The End.


Bookforum, (September 6, 2006), Noah Isenberg, review of The End.

H-Net Reviews, (September 6, 2006), Scott Denham, review of Der Untergang.



World Literature Today, spring, 1979.