Schwiefert, Peter

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SCHWIEFERT, PETER (1917–1945), author; son of a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, Fritz Schwiefert, a German dramatist.

Schwiefert left Germany in 1938 and went first to Portugal and then to Athens, where he lived in poverty. His mother, on the other hand, escaped to Bulgaria, where she married a Bulgarian, renounced Judaism, and converted to Christianity. Peter Schwiefert, who was greatly influenced by the Jewish atmosphere of his maternal grandparents' home, determined to live as a loyal Jew. Nevertheless, he remained passionately attached to his mother, and the separation from her, his acute loneliness, and the desire to probe her ways and make her face up to the issues, which she tried to avoid, while clarifying his own position, served as the basis of L'Oiseau n'a plus d'ailes ("The Bird No Longer Has Wings"; ed. Claude Lanzmann, 1974) consisting mostly of letters to his mother, and although written in German, they were posthumously published in a French translation. The title is taken from one of these letters – a long and poignant one – written in November 1944, filled with hopes for the future as well as with a thirst for retribution for the terrible German crime, and reached his mother six months after his death. The book constitutes not only a fine literary work but a moving document, a testimony of rare moral integrity. "The proclamation of my Jewish being," he writes, "is the most absolute thing I can imagine and feel for me and in me." Therefore he goes on to say that being Jewish is not, as his mother wanted to believe, a matter of choice or the result of a decision to enter upon a new path.

A sensitive, dreamy, meditative intellectual, Schwiefert chose the hard course of military service against Nazi barbarism. He fought in Syria, Africa, Italy, and France. During that period he came to regard Ereẓ Israel as his home, and though neither religious nor Zionist in the ordinary sense, he studied Torah and observed the Sabbath and festivals. He died in action at the beginning of 1945.

add. bibliography:

P. Schwiefert, L'oiseau n'a plus d'ailes… Les lettres de Peter Schwiefert, ed. C. Lanzmann (1974); idem, The Bird Has No Wings: Letters, tr. Barbara Lucas, ed. C. Lanzmann (1976).

[Denise R. Goitein]