Borchardt, Rudolf

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BORCHARDT, RUDOLF (1877–1945), German poet, essayist, and cultural historian. Borchardt, the son of Martin Borchardt, a leading Jewish banker and director of the Berliner Handelsgesellschaft, was born in Koenigsberg (Prussia). He always stressed his German and classical heritage as the exclusive determinants of his character and convictions, and categorically rejected any Jewish identification – occasioning Theodor Lessing's remark that Borchardt was "the most forceful example of Jewish creativity arising from self-hatred." Even after Hitler's rise to power, he wrote to his friend and biographer Werner Kraft: "Any conception of Jews as a people is completely alien to me." In many of his poetic writings Borchardt adapted his style to the period concerned. Thus Das Buch Yoram (1907) recalls the German of Luther's Bible translation, his Durant (1920) the style of Wolfram von Eschenbach's medieval minnelieder, and his dramatic poem Verkuendigung (1920) that of the German medieval mystery plays. His translations from old Italian also show this highly developed art of acculturation, for example in his version of Dante's Divine Comedy into 14th-century German (1930). His historical intuition and remarkable knowledge of classical languages and cultures led him to develop certain scientific theories on the unity of Mediterranean culture. His close familiarity with the German past and his veneration for German literature of the humanist period find their expression in his representative anthology of the most beautiful German travelers' descriptions from all over the world, Der Deutsche in der Landschaft (1925). Always aiming at the cultural restoration of the past, Borchardt had a close attachment to two other conservative poets, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Rudolf Alexander Schroeder (whose niece he married), whereas he opposed and despised the circle of Stefan George and its programmatic aestheticism. Despite his pro-German views he was persecuted by the Gestapo when he was living near Lucca in Tuscany but succeeded in going into hiding in the Tyrol, where he died.


W. Haas, "Der Fall Rudolf Borchardt," in: Krojanker, Juden in der deutschen literatur (1922); R. Hennecke, Rudolf Borchardt, Einfuehrung und Auswahl (1954); H. Wolffheim, Geist der Poesie (1958); W. Kraft, Rudolf BorchardtWelt aus Poesie und Geschichte (1961); E. Osterkamp (ed.), Rudolf Borchardt und seine Zeitgenossen (1997); A. Kissler, "Wo bin ich denn behaust?" Rudolf Borchardt und die Erfindung des Ichs (2003); K. Kauffmann (ed.), Dichterische Politik. Studien zu Rudolf Borchardt (2002).

[Phillipp Theisohn (2nd ed.)]