Birnbaum, Uriel

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BIRNBAUM, URIEL (1894–1956), poet and artist; son of Nathan *Birnbaum. Born in Vienna, he began his career as an artist and poet at a very early age as an autodidact. In 1911 the family moved to Berlin, where Uriel volunteered at the "Berliner Sezession." His graphic and literary output continued throughout World War i, even after he was severely wounded when fighting in the Austrian Army. His war experiences found expression in a volume of sonnets, In Gottes Krieg (1921). Like his father Nathan, Uriel returned to traditional Judaism in 1913 and his favorite subject in poetry became trust in God as the principle of human life. He chose to deal with biblical history in order to demonstrate God's relationship to man and published several portfolios and volumes of lithographs and paintings: Welkuntergang (1921), Das Buch Jona (1921), Das Kaiser und der Architekt (1924), Moses (1924). In addition, he illustrated the German version of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass (1923). For Birnbaum the breakup of multinational Austria-Hungary was a catastrophe, as he had pushed himself out of contemporary discourse as a result of his pro-monarchical ideas. When Austria was occupied by Nazi Germany he was granted entry to the Netherlands upon the intervention of leading Dutch artists. Here he continued to write but gave up his graphic work for lack of artists' materials. His selection from his poetical output (Gedichte, eine Auswahl), appeared in 1957. Because of his uncompromising opposition to fashionable modern ideologies he became an outsider again and died underappreciated in the Netherlands. Since then there has been a revival of interest in him. Die verschlossene Kassette. Die Legende vom gutherzigen Engel and Von der Seltsamkeit der Dinge, ed. C. Schneider (incl. bibl.) were published in 1978.


T. Biene, "Uriel Birnbaum – ignoriert, emigriert, vergessen. Stationen im Leben eines prophetischen Dichters, Denkers und Zeichners," in: H. Wuerzner (ed.), Österreichische Exilliteratur in den Niederlanden 193440 (1986), 127–143; G. Schirmers (ed.), Uriel Birnbaum 18941956. Dichter und Maler (1990); M. Neuwirth: "Die Hoffahrt des Architekten. Künstlerisches Selbstverständnis bei Uriel Birnbaum," in: Das jüdische Echo, 48 (1999), 252–260; K. Zijlmans: "Juedische Kuenstler im Exil. Uriel und Menachem Birnbaum," in: H. Wuerzner (ed.), Oesterreichische Exilliteratur in den Niederlanden 193440 (1986), 145–155.

[Sonja Beyer (2nd ed.)]