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Hilsenrath, Edgar


HILSENRATH, EDGAR (1926– ), German writer. Born in Leipzig and descending from a family with an East European Orthodox background, Hilsenrath grew up in Nazi Germany with the experience of permanent threat. In 1938 he fled with his mother and brother to Bukovina; in 1941 they were deported to a Romanian ghetto. He described the darkest experience of this time in his first novel, Nacht (1964). After 1944 Hilsenrath succeeded in getting to Palestine, from there in 1947 to France, and 1951 to the U.S., where he lived as a writer in New York before moving permanently to Berlin in 1975. Hilsenrath reflects on the catastrophe of the 20th century in his second novel The Nazi and the Barber (1971), constituting his literary breakthrough in Germany when the translated version, Der Nazi & der Friseur, appeared in 1977. After literary polemics – criticizing the U.S. in the form of an autobiographical satire in Bronskys Gestaendnis (1980) and Turkey in the form of a fairy tale in Das Maerchen vom letzten Gedanken (1989) – Hilsenrath turned again to Bukovina in his last novels, Jossel Wassermanns Heimkehr (1993), an epitaph on the lost world of Eastern Jewry, and Die Abenteuer des Ru ben Jablonski (1997). Like other survivors of the Holocaust from Jurek *Becker to Georg *Tabori, Hilsenrath developed a non-aesthetic approach to writing, trying to break taboos and speak the unspeakable in an appropriate form.


C. Brecheisen, Literatur des Holocaust (1993); T. Kraft, Edgar Hilsenrath (1996); G. Lauer, in: Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift (1999), 215–45; A. Fuchs and F. Krobb, Ghetto Writing (1999).

[Andreas Kilcher (2nd ed.)]

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