Rose Ausländer was an acclaimed German-language poet, whose poetry reflects her awe for the natural world, her experience during the Holocaust, her travels through Europe, and the close relationships she had with friends and family, particularly her mother. In 1920 Ausländer immigrated to Minnesota, where she published her first poems. She returned to Czernowitz in 1931, where published poems while working as a journalist, translator, and English instructor. From 1941 to 1944, Ausländer was forced into the Jewish ghetto and then into hiding to avoid deportation. She later characterized her need to write during that traumatic time as means of survival. After the war, Ausländer traveled to the United States and to numerous countries across Europe. The bulk of her work was published after 1965, when she settled in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Ausländer’s Mutterland: The Word Itself
Rose Ausländer, a German-speaking Jewish poet from Czernowitz/Bukovina who spent much of her life in exile in the United States and Germany, wrote that her true home was the word itself. Her poem Mutterland (Motherland) distinguishes between national identity and individual identity which is informed by language: “My fatherland is dead/they have buried it/in fire./I live/in my motherland/word” (Mein Vaterland ist tot/sie haben es begraben/im Feuer/Ich lebe/in meinem Mutterland/Wort). Ausländer is known for her crystalline poems describing the natural wonders of the world, such as stars, butterflies and flowers, as well as her experiences in the Czernowitz ghetto during World War II and the Shoah, her life in exile, her travels through Europe, and her relationship to family and friends. While her early poems are tightly structured and rhymed, her later poetry is influenced by the modern rhythms of free verse which she encountered while reading modern poetry during her exile in the United States and in her meetings with Paul Celan (Paul Antschel 1920–1970). She also translated Yiddish poems by Itzik Manger (1901–1969) into German and German poems by Else Lasker-Schüler and Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855) into English. From 1948 to 1956, while in exile in New York, she wrote approximately thirty poems in English. Ausländer dedicated many of her poems to those who had inspired her personal philosophy and writing, such as the writers Heinrich Heine, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Rainer Maria Rilke, Georg Trakl and Marie Luise Kaschnitz, as well as the philosopher Constantin Brunner (1862–1937). Ausländer’s lifetime correspondence with Brunner began when she sent him one of her early poems, Niagara Falls I. Upon receiving it Brunner replied that he had been standing in spirit with Ausländer before Niagara Falls (Ed. Braun, p. 5). Brunner’s death moved Ausländer to write the poem “Constantin Brunner In Memoriam,” which laments the loss of her long-time mentor yet ends on a hopeful note: “He is not dead, and his words float/in the space of the soul above our life” (“Er ist nicht tot, und seine Worte schweben/im Raum des Geistes über unserem Leben;” Ed. Braun, p. 191).
Family & Early Life
Rosalie Beatrice Scherzer was born May 11, 1901 in Czernowitz/Bukovina (Chernovtsy), at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, into an assimilated German-speaking Jewish family. She had one brother, Maximilian (1906–1993), who lived in Czernowitz until 1945 and then in Satu Mare until 1963, when he emigrated with his wife and two children to New York. Her father Sigmund Scherzer (1872–1920) was a salesman who in his youth had been educated to become a rabbi at the court of the Rabbi of Sadgora. Ausländer’s mother Etie Rifke (Binder) Scherzer (1884–1947), originally from Berlin, maintained a close relationship with her daughter, a bond described in Ausländer’s poetry.
From childhood on, Ausländer wrote about Jewish traditions in poems such as Sadagorer Chassid, Sabbat II, Ur, and an untitled poem in which she relates her own experiences of forced exile to the history of the Jewish people: “I/Moses-daughter/wander through the desert/A song/I hear/sand and stones weep/starvation” (Ich/Mosestochter/wandel durch die Wüste//Ein Lied/Ich hör/Sand und Steine weinen/Hungersnot) (Vogel and Gans, p. 44). Ausländer also captured the landscape and culture of Czernowitz and the Bukovina in her poems Dorf in der Bukowina (Village in the Bukovina), Heimatstadt Czernowitz (Hometown Czernowitz), and Czernowitz vor dem Zweiten Weltkrieg (Czernowitz before the Second World War), a poem that recalls her idyllic childhood and the multiple cultures and languages coexisting in this geographic area: “Vier Sprachen/verständigen sich/Viele Dichter blühten dort auf/deutsche jiddische Verse/verwöhnten die Luft//Bis Bomben fielen/atmete glücklich die Stadt” (Four languages/communicate/Many poets blossomed there/German Yiddish verses/graced the air/Until bombs fell/the city breathed happily” (Vogel and Gans, p. 33).
Immigration to the United States & Return to Czernowitz
From 1907 to 1919 Ausländer attended the Volksschule and the Lyzeum Czernowitz. Due to the war she lived and attended school in Vienna from 1916 to 1918. After receiving her high school diploma in Czernowitz in 1919 she went on to study literature and philosophy at the city’s university. In 1920 her father’s death prompted her to emigrate the following year to Minneapolis/St. Paul and Winona in the US together with Ignaz Ausländer, later her husband. For the next two years Rose Ausländer was assistant editor of the magazine Westlicher Herold and editor of the calendar anthology American Herold (until 1927). Her first poems were also published during this time. In 1923 she moved to New York, where she worked as a bank employee, and on October 19 married Ignaz Ausländer, who managed an automobile garage in New York. In 1926 Ausländer received her American citizenship and became co-founder of the Constantin-Brunner-Circle in New York.
At the end of 1926 Ausländer traveled to Czernowitz and separated from her husband, whom she divorced on May 8, 1930. In 1927 she spent one month visiting Constantin Brunner in Berlin after which she returned to Czernowitz in 1928 to take care of her ailing mother. At the end of 1928 she returned to New York with Helios Hecht, a graphologist, journalist and magazine editor, with whom she lived until 1935. During the first months of 1931 she returned to Czernowitz, where she published poems in newspapers, magazines and anthologies, while working as a journalist, translator and English instructor. In 1934 she lost her American citizenship because she had been out of the country for more than three years. After 1935, when she separated from Hecht, she lived mainly in Bucharest, working at a chemical factory. In 1939, when her first book Der Regenbogen (The Rainbow) was published in Czernowitz with the support of her mentor Alfred Margul-Sperber, a company secretary at the Bowery Savings Bank, she traveled to Paris and New York.
Life in the Ghetto
From 1941 to spring of 1944 German troops occupied Czernowitz and Ausländer was forced to live in the Jewish ghetto of the city. Her collection of poems, Ghettomotive (Ghetto Motifs), describes her experience of horror during the Shoah. After the ghetto was dissolved, she was no longer able to leave the city and was forced to labor and hide in cellars to escape deportation and death. Of this experience she writes in the poem Mit giftblauem Feuer (With Poison-Blue Fire): “Wir stiegen in den Keller, er roch nach Gruft./Treue Ratten tanzten mit unsern Nerven” (“We descended into the cellar, it smelled like a tomb./Loyal rats danced with our nerves”). Ausländer expressed her need to write as a means of survival during this traumatic time: “And while we waited for death, some of us lived in dream-words, our traumatized home in the homelessness. Writing was life. Survival” (Vogel and Gans, p. 84). Of the sixty thousand Jews who had lived in Czernowitz, only five thousand survived the Shoah (Braun, ed. Vol. 1, 1985, p. 10). Erwachen (Awake) describes the Shoah: “I observe/the building/of a gigantic gallows/for me/and/my people” (Ich beobachte/den Bau/gigantischer Galgen/für mich/und/mein Volk). In a later poem, Phönix (Phoenix), she portrays the Jewish people as having risen from the ashes of the Shoah: “Phönix/mein Volk/das verbrannte/auferstanden […]” (Phoenix/my people/the burned/arisen/[…]).
1946-1964: Ausländer’s Travels
When the Russians occupied the Bukovina in the spring of 1944 the Jews were liberated, enabling Ausländer to work in Czernowitz’s town library. In August 1946 she traveled to Bucharest from where she emigrated to New York the following month in the hope of also obtaining a visa for her mother, her brother and his family. The news of her mother’s death in 1947 in Satu Mare, Romania caused Ausländer to have a physical and psychological breakdown, after which she was ill for a year (Braun, ed. Vol. 1, 1985, p. 12). She wrote numerous poems about her devotion to her mother, even after her death, as documented in the poem Die Mutter (The Mother): “Oh that the dead rise in us/ and always absolutely live in us./How did she enter, the mother, layer upon layer?/I am her shadow and she my light” (O daß die Toten sich in uns erheben/und immer unbedingter in uns leben./Wie trat sie ein, die Mutter, Schicht um Schicht?/Ich bin ihr Schatten und sie mein Licht) (Ed. Braun, p. 299). Ausländer later also translated Else Lasker-Schüler’s poem My Mother, which captured Ausländer’s feelings of loss at her own mother’s death. The first stanza of Lasker-Schüler’s poem translated by Ausländer reads: “Was she the great angel/who walked at my side? Or is my mother buried/under the sky of smoke?” The concluding stanza describes a mother-daughter symbiosis that Ausländer herself had experienced: “I shall always be alone now/as the great angel/who walked at my side” (Ed. Braun, p. 347).
From 1953 to 1961 Ausländer worked as a foreign correspondent at the transport company Freedman and Slater in New York. During that time, from May to November 1957, she also traveled in France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Norway, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands. During her trip through Europe she met Paul Celan on three separate occasions, after which her own metaphors and images became more multi-dimensional and abstract (Vogel and Gans, 118). In May 1963 she traveled to Vienna, where she met her brother and his family, who had come to a refugee camp from Romania. Describing her month in Jerusalem in 1964, Ausländer wrote the poem Jerusalem in German, translating and modifying the same poem into an English version which begins: “I have never been in Jerusalem./When I hang my blue-white scarf/toward east,/Jerusalem swings to me/with Temple and Solomon’s Song” (Vogel and Gans, 173).
Settling in Düsseldorf
Ausländer returned to New York to plan her move to Vienna but then decided against Austria before finally settling in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1965. It was during this year that Blinder Sommer (Blind Summer), her first book publication since 1939, appeared. The bulk of her work, however, was published after 1965. In 1968 and 1969 Ausländer spent her last year in the United States. In 1972 she moved to the Nelly-Sachs-Haus of the Jewish Community of Düsseldorf. From 1978 until her death ten years later Ausländer was confined to bed due to arthritis. During this period she was rediscovered by Dr. Helmut Braun, who was searching for authors to be published by his newly-founded publishing house, Helmut Braun Verlag, Cologne. During Ausländer’s bed-rest Braun wrote down all the poems that were in the author’s memory and made sure to promote and publish her works. In June, 1986 Ausländer dictated her last poem to Helmut Braun: “Give up/the dream/lives/my life/to the end” (Gib auf/der Traum/lebt/mein Leben/zu Ende). That same month she revised 120 poems that she had written between 1965 and 1978 (Vogel and Gans, p. 211). Ausländer died in Düsseldorf on January 3, 1988 and was buried at the Jewish Cemetery in the city’s Nordfriedhof (North Cemetery). During her life Ausländer was awarded the Droste-Prize of Meersburg (1967), the Ida-Dehmel-Prize, the Andreas-Gryphius Prize, the Roswitha-Medallion of Bad Gandersheim (1980) and the Literature Prize of the Bavarian Academy of Art (1984).
Ausländer owned only two suitcases throughout her life, traveling with them from country to country. At her death they remained with her brother Max in New York until his death, after which they became part of Ausländer’s posthumous collection, now housed at the Heinrich Heine Institut in Düsseldorf and managed by Dr. Helmut Braun. Since 1998 the privately-owned Kronenhaus in Manderscheid has a literature center dedicated to Rose Ausländer which offers books by and about Ausländer.
Reflections on a Life in Exile
In a poem, Verregnete Abreise (Rainy Departure), her suitcases are symbolic of her life in exile: “I hear the heart of the/locomotive beating in each/suitcase” (“Ich höre das Herz der/Lokomotive in jedem/Gepäckstück pochen,” Vogel and Gans, p. 176). For Ausländer, whose life was touched by sorrow and loss, the Shoah and exile, words became her steadfast companion, her homeland, her home. Ausländer “wrote life out of words”: “When I/fled from childhood/my happiness/suffocated/in foreign lands/When I/in the ghetto/stiffened/froze/my heart/in the cellar hiding place/I, the survivor/of horror/write out of words/life” (Als ich/aus der/Kindheit floh/erstickte/mein Glück/in der Fremde/Als ich/im Ghetto/erstarrte/erfror/mein Herz/im Kellerversteck//Ich Überlebende/des Grauens/schreibe aus Worten/Leben) (Vogel und Gans, p. 206). Asking herself in the poem Trauer II (Mourning II) “How/to endure/the unending sorrow?” (Wie/die undendliche Trauer/ertragen?), Ausländer replies to herself and the world: “Search for/a tiny glowing spark/in the darkness” (Such/ein Fünkchen Glanz/in der Finsternis). Despite her encounter with the horrors of the Shoah, Ausländer believed that the true beauty of the world was invincible and that the power of the word would relay this message of hope to humanity. In Mein Reich (My Kingdom), Ausländer described her realm: “My small room/is a giant kingdom/I don’t wish to rule/but to serve” (Mein kleines Zimmer/ist ein Riesenreich/Nicht herrschen will ich-/Dienen), and made evident her desire to serve humanity with her poetry.
Selected Works by Rose Ausländer
Blinder Sommer. Vienna: Bergland, 1965
Der Regenbogen.Cernauti: Literaria, 1939.
Wir wohnen in Babylon. Gedichte. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1992
Die Sonne fällt. Gedichte. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1992
Braun, Helmut, ed. Ausländer, Rose. Die Erde war ein atlasweißes Feld. Gedichte 1927–1956. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1992
Melin, Charlotte, ed. and trans. German Poetry in Transition. 1945–1990. Bilingual Edition. Hanover: UPNE, 1999.
Published Posthumously in Edited Volumes by Helmut Braun
Wir ziehen mit den dunklen Flüssen: Gedichte. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1993
Denn wo ist Heimat? Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1994
Edited by Helmut Braun. The Forbidden Tree: Englische Gedichte. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1995.
Die Musik ist zerbrochen. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1993
Wir pflanzen Zedern Gedichte. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1993
Wir wohnen in Babylon. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1992
Gelassen atmet der Tag. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1992
Sanduhrschritt Gedichte. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1994
Treffpunkt der Winde. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1991
Hinter allen Worten. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1992
Die Sonne fällt. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1992
Und nenne dich Glück Gedichte. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1994.
Brief aus Rosen Gedichte. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1994
Schweigen auf deinen Lippen. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1994
Die Nacht hat zahllos Augen. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1995
Schattenwald. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 1995.
Die Erde war ein atlasweißes Feld. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1985.
Die Sichel mäht die/Zeit zu Heu. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1985.
Ausländer, Rose. Selected Poems. Translation to English by Ewald Osers. London: London Magazine Editions, 1977
Ausländer, Rose. Shadows in the Mirror. Translation to Yiddish by Freed Weininger. Tel Aviv: Leyvik-Farlag, 1981
Bower, Kathrin M. Ethics and Remembrance in the Poetry of Nelly Sachs and Rose Ausländer. Rochester, NY: Camden, 2000
Bower, Kathrin M. “Rose Ausländer (1901–1988), Austria-Hungary/Germany.” In Women Writers in German-Speaking Countries: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, edited by Elke Frederiksen and Elizabeth Ametsbichler. Westport: Greenwood, 1998
Bower, Kathrin M. “Searching for the (M)Other: The Rhetoric of Longing in Post-Holocaust Poems by Nelly Sachs and Rose Ausländer.” Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature and Culture 12 (1996): 123-47. doi:10.1353/ wgy.1996.0019
Glenn, Jerry. “Blumenworte/Kriegsgestammel: The Poetry of Rose Ausländer.” Modern Austrian Literature 12, no. 3/4 (1979): 127-146
Held, Kristina von. “Eve’s Legacy: Revisions of the Biblical Creation Myth in the Poetry of Rose Ausländer.” In Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature and Culture 17 (2001): 199-223
Keith-Smith, Brian. “Rose Ausländer.” In An Encyclopedia of German Women Writers 1900–1933, vol 1. New York: Mellen, 1997
Keith-Smith, Brian. “Rose Ausländer.” In Encyclopedia of German Literature, 2 vols, ed. Matthias Konzett. Chicago: Routledge, 2000
Morris, Leslie. “Mutterland/Niemandsland: Diaspora and Displacement in the Poetry of Rose Ausländer.” Religion and Literature 30, no. 3 (Autumn 1998): 47-65.
Vogel, Harald and Michael Gans. Rose Ausländer – Hilde Domin: Gedichtinterpretationen. N.p.: Schneider-Verlag Hohengehren, 2004