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Berendsohn, Walter A.


BERENDSOHN, WALTER A. (1884–1984), literary historian and critic. Berendsohn was born in Hamburg. He taught literature at Hamburg University, from 1921 until 1933, when the Nazi racist legislation forced him into exile. He then made his home in Copenhagen. While still in Germany he published works on Selma Lagerloef and Knut Hamsun, and his first work in his new home was Der lebendige Heine im Germanischen Norden (1935) in which he investigated the influence of the various translations of Heinrich Heine's writings into Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Icelandic.

Berendsohn fled from Denmark to Sweden in 1943. There he continued his literary work, devoting extensive studies, inter alia, to August Strindberg, some of whose works he translated into German. Shortly after World War ii he published Die Humanistische Front (1946), the first part of a two-volume work on "exile literature," created by refugees from the Third Reich all over the world. This work – with a title that marks the contrast between humanism and the Hitler regime's adoration of power and violence-laid the foundations for what later became a subject of study and research at many academic institutions in Europe and the U.S.A. In Sweden this research was for many years headed by Berendsohn himself at the Institute for German Studies at Stockholm University.

Berendsohn later devoted much special research to Thomas Mann. While his book Thomas MannKuenstler und Kaempfer in bewegter Zeit (1965; Thomas Mann, Artist and Partisan in Troubled Times, 1973) is a general introduction to his life and work, Thomas Mann und die Seinen (1974) also includes essays on the work of Mann's five children, his author brother Heinrich and his wife Katja. He also issued, with a preface, Sieben Manifeste zur Juedischen Frage (1966) – essays written by Thomas Mann between 1936 and 1948 in protest against Nazi persecutions of the Jews and in support of the Jewish renaissance in the Land of Israel, which he himself enthusiastically supported. Berendsohn visited Israel fourteen times and dedicated several articles and one major book (Volk der Bibel im Land der Vaeter, 1962) to it. Stockholm University issued his Die kuenstlerische Entwicklung Heines im "Buch der Lieder" (1970) and Lion FeuchtwangerDer Meister des politischen Romans (1974). Amsterdam University published his August Strindberg: Der Mensch und seine UmweltDas WerkDer schoepferische Kuenstler (1974) – perhaps the first work to concentrate on Strindberg's artistic achievement, rather than his biography. In the same year there appeared in Darmstadt his Die Dichterin Jüdischen Schicksals Nelly Sachs: Ekstatischer Aufstieg und kuenstlerische Entwicklung.

A comprehensive bibliography of Berendsohn's books and articles (over 800 titles), edited by Brita von Garaguly, was published by the Royal Library in Stockholm in 1974.


D. Stern, Werke juedischer Autoren deutseher Sprache (1969); Allgemeine Wochenzeitung der Juden in Deutschland (Sept. 12, 1960); Neue Zuercher Zeitung (Sept. 11, 1974). add. bibliography: R. Heuer (ed.), Lexikon deutsch-juedischer Autoren, 2 (1993), 141–62.

[Erich Gottgetreu]

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