Edvardson, Cordelia (Maria Sara)

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EDVARDSON, Cordelia (Maria Sara)

Pseudonym: Maria Heller. Nationality: Israeli (originally German: immigrated to Sweden after World War II and to Israel in the 1970s). Born: Berlin, 1929; daughter of the writer Elisabeth Langgässer. Career: Since 1974 Middle East correspondent, Svenska Dagebladt (Stockholm). Awards: Geschwister-Scholl Prize, 1986, for German translation of Bränt barn söker sig till elden.



Om jag glömmer dig …: En invandrares dagbok frÅn Israel. 1976.

Bränt barn söker sig till elden. 1984; as Burned Child Seeks the Fire, 1997.


Viska det till vinden [Whisper It to the Wind]. 1988.


SÅ kom jag till Kartago (as Maria Heller). 1958.

Jerusalems leende. 1991.


Kärlekens vittne. 1963.

Till kvinna född. 1967.

Miriam bor i en kibbutz (for children). 1969; as Miriam Lives in a Kibbutz, 1970.

Du har varit nära. 1971.

TvÅ rum i Jerusalem. 1978.


Critical Studies:

"Remembered Literature in the Camps: The Cases of Jean Améry, Primo Levi, Ruth Klüger, Cordelia Edvardson, and Nico Rost" by Petra S. Fiero, in Germanic Notes and Reviews, 28(1), Spring 1997, pp. 3-11; "Jewish Women Authors and the Exile Experience: Claire Goll, Veza Canetti, Else Lasker-Schuler, Nelly Sachs, Cordelia Edvardson" by Dagmar C. G. Lorenz, in German Life and Letters (England), 51(2), April 1998, pp. 225-39; "Reconstructing Mother—The Myth and the Real: Autobiographical Texts by Elisabeth Langgässer and Cordelia Edvardson" by Helga Kraft, in Facing Fascism and Confronting the Past: German Women Writers from Weimar to the Present, edited by Elke P. Frederiksen and Martha Kaarsberg Wallach, 2000.

* * *

Cordelia Edvardson's mother, Elisabeth Langgässer (1899-1950), was a prominent German novelist and poet and the illegitimate child of a Roman Catholic mother and a Jewish father. Edvardson was also an illegitimate child, and her father was also Jewish. Growing up in Berlin, Edvardson always felt different, out of place. After the Nuremberg laws of 1935, this feeling increased more and more as the laws and decrees against Jews were enforced. Langgässer and her gentile husband, Cordelia's stepfather, did their best to alleviate the hurt and growing danger and to protect her. Finally, as Berlin was being steadily emptied of its Jews, they managed to find Cordelia adoptive parents who were Spanish. Thus, acquiring a Spanish passport, Edvardson seemed safe from further persecution. It soon proved otherwise, and she was categorized as a Volljüdin ("full Jew") and subjected to separation from her parents, forced labor, and then, in 1944, deportation. She survived Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and further evacuations.

After liberation she was taken to Sweden to recuperate from the starvation, sickness, and maltreatment of these years. Her experiences, and the difficult path to an acceptance of the Jewish identity forced upon her, form the background to her work. Scorched by them—the title of her memoir, Burned Child Seeks the Fire, eloquently underscores the trauma—she proved willing to subject herself a second time to the metaphysical fires that aided her in the process of accepting her Jewish identity.

Her transformation did not take place rapidly or smoothly. She was not a survivor who sought to forget her experiences, form a new life, and act as if all could be forgotten. On the contrary, in the immediate postwar period she refused to accept the advice of well-meaning Swedish caregivers that her ordeal was over and should be forgotten. Instead she sought out those who encouraged her to talk about her hurt and who were willing to listen and to try to understand. The role of Israel and the Six-Day War, which she covered as a Swedish journalist, was crucial in her development. Forced to become a Jew, she was now fully and deeply Jewish. In 1974 she relocated to Israel.

Her work Burned Child Seeks the Fire traces this development and provides a penetrating examination not only of the events in her personal life that helped form her character and her psyche but also of the political events of the time and their impact on her. The memoir, as is so often the case with survivors, came late, some 40 years after the horror. However, this indicates the length of the process rather than any attempt to forget.

Burned Child Seeks the Fire appeared in Swedish in 1984 and won its author the Geschwister-Scholl Prize when it appeared in German two years later. It was published in English in 1997. The work concentrates largely on her own personal development and ultimate transformation, and thus brings up the complicated relationship with her mother (both beloved and hated). Left hanging along with this complex topic is her relationship with the Germany that, like her, sought to evolve and transform itself after the Third Reich—especially, of course, with regard to Jews. Edvardson's relationship with this Germany is the subject of her 1988 book, Viska det till vinden ("Whisper It to the Wind").

Edvardson, a journalist by profession, is a gifted writer, whose penetrating self-scrutiny and deep examination of the Third Reich as it pertained to her locates her in the very top rank of Holocaust writers. Her work is not simply a factual description of what she experienced in her formative years but an impressive psychological self-study, which gives an accurate picture of the dark years in which the Jews of Europe were murdered.

—David Scrase

See the essay on Burned Child Seeks the Fire: Memoir.

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