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Posts from the ‘Hans G. Adler’ Category

Sebald Links June 2017

Peter Mendelsund cover design for The Emigrants, (New Directions, 2016)

In the current issue of The New Yorker (June 5 & 12, 2017), James Wood writes at length about W.G. Sebald. It’s a nice, modestly insightful overview of Sebald’s four books of prose fiction, interspersed with bits and pieces of Sebald’s biography, but its basically a rehash of several essays Wood has previously written about Sebald. Perhaps in an effort to find some new way to approach the writer, Wood decides this time to examine “W.G. Sebald, Humorist.” Wood has to work hard to uncover examples of Sebald’s dry, ironical humor, which is more apparent in interviews than in his prose fiction. It’s not at all clear what prompted Wood to write about Sebald now, although he does reference the “handsome new editions of Vertigo, The Emigrants, and The Rings of Saturn” designed by Peter Mendelsund and published by New Directions a full year ago (editions, unfortunately, that did nothing except package the old editions in new covers).


There will be a symposium “Po Sebaldzie” (“After Sebald) at the Goethe Institute in Warsaw on June 10, 2017. Everything I can find is in Polish. There is a website and a Facebook page.


Finally, H.G. Adler’s massive scholarly book Theresienstadt 1941-1945: The Face of a Coerced Community has been published in an English translation for the first time, thanks to a collaborative effort between the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Terezin Publishing Project. There is more information and a complete Table of Contents here. The translator is Amy Loewenhaar-Blauweiss. Unfortunately it’s not cheap! I’ve written about Adler a number of times in recent years.


Literary Legacies & Networks – Witnessing, Memory, Poetics, Pt 4


As I neared the end of Witnessing, Memory, Poetics: H.G. Adler & W.G. Sebald I began to feel a bit claustrophobic as a succession of scholars resolutely examined the relationships between these two writers. But the final section, “Literary Legacies and Networks,” introduced a new set of faces to the volume – Franz Kafka, Theodor Adorno, Hermann Broch, and Heinrich Böll. In the first of three essays in this section, Martin Modlinger examines “The Kafkaesque in H.G. Adler’s and W.G. Sebald’s Literary Historiographies.” Adler made numerous references to Kafka in his books and short stories and, significantly, warned against viewing Kafka primarily as a prophet of the Holocaust. Adler believed that “totalitarianism makes up just one chapter of many equal, disturbing developments in modern history that Kafka’s work addresses.” Although Sebald’s use of Kafka has been written about frequently, Modlinger brings some new insights of his own, comparing Jacques Austlitz’s inability to gain access a real understanding of Theresienstadt (where his mother perished) with the surveyor’s inability to penetrate the castle in Kafka’s novel The Castle.

As a place of suffering and death, [Theresienstadt] cannot – and should not – be fully accessible to the living. Where literature approaches history, especially the history of the Holocaust, it needs to keep its proper distance. For Sebald, literary historiography can never claim to be able to present the factual or emotional truth of suffering; it can only describe the path of necessary failure toward such an understanding.

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“The fight against oblivion and silence” – Witnessing, Memory, Poetics, Pt. 3


This is the third of four posts on the recently published anthology Witnessing, Memory, Poetics: H.G. Adler & W.G. Sebald, edited by Helen Finch and Lynn L. Wolff. The third section of the volume is “Memory, Memorialization, and the Re-presentation of History”and contains two essays, the first being Dora Osbourne’s “Memory, Witness, and the (Holocaust) Museum in H.G. Adler and W.G. Sebald.” With their occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, the Nazis converted Prague’s Central Jewish Museum into a storehouse for material goods confiscated from the city’s Jewish population. It also served as a private museum for Nazi officials, offering “a grotesque parody [of] the traditions of the Jewish people” that portrayed them as an inferior race. After the war, however, H.G. Adler worked at the Museum for almost two years, participating in the restoration of its original function and collecting new objects for the purpose of building “an archive of persecution and of Theresienstadt,” the nearby concentration camp/ghetto. Osbourne examines the way in which the Museum functions in two of Adler’s novels – indirectly in The Journey and directly in The Wall. Read more

“The Poetics of Witnessing” – Witnessing, Memory, Poetics, Pt. 2


In the second section of the new book Witnessing, Memory, Poetics: H.G. Adler & W.G. Sebald, edited by Helen Finch and Lynn L. Wolff, we find essays by Katrin Kohl, Kirstin Gwyer, and Lynn L. Wolff grouped under the rubric “Witnessing Trauma and the Poetics of Witnessing.” The first essay is Katrin Kohl’s “Bearing Witness: The Poetics of H.G. Adler and W.G. Sebald.” Using as a touchstone Theodore Adorno’s now-infamous statement that “to write poetry after Aushwitz is barbaric,” Kohl examines how Adler and Sebald cope with the ethical issues of “bearing witness” through their poetry and fiction, focusing mostly on Adler’s novel Eine Reise (The Journey) and exclusively on Sebald’s Austerlitz. The principal contrast, of course, is that Adler was a survivor of the concentration camps while Sebald’s life was essentially untouched by the war or the concentration camps. Read more

Witnessing, Memory, Poetics


Toward the end of W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, Jacques Austerlitz tells the book’s narrator that he has just read a “heavy tome, running to almost eight hundred close-printed pages, which H.G. Adler, a name previously unknown to me, had written between 1945 and 1947 in the most difficult of circumstances, partly in Prague and partly in London, on the subject of the setting up, development, and internal organization of the Theresienstadt ghetto, and which he had revised several times before it was brought out by a German publishing house in 1955…” It was a struggle for Austerlitz to understand the difficult German and he often spent an entire day translating a single page. “I might as well say it was almost as difficult for me as deciphering an Egyptian or Babylonian text in hieroglyphic or cuneiform script. The long compounds, not listed in my dictionary, which were obviously being spawned the whole time by the pseudo-technical jargon governing everything in Theresienstadt had to be unraveled syllable by syllable.” But Austerlitz persisted until the end and “read down to the last footnote,”anxious to absorb every detail of the terrible place where he had been imprisoned and where his mother had perished. Sebald’s retelling of Adler’s seminal study Theresienstadt 1941-1945: Das Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft. Geschichte, Soziologie, Psychologie,embodied in a single sentence some ten pages long, has resulted in new and widespread interest in Adler’s books, most of which had languished during his lifetime before falling into oblivion.

Hans Günther Adler was born in Prague in 1910. In 1941 he and his family were sent by the Nazis to a Jewish workcamp, then to Theresienstadt, where they remained for two and a half years before being moved to Auschwitz. Adler was the sole member of his family to survive the Holocaust. At the end of the war, he began his immensely detailed study of Theresienstadt, which was finally published in 1955. Taking up residence in London, he eventually produced more than twenty books, including the three novels. Until recently, none of Adler’s books were available in English translation, but by the end of 2014, it will be possible to read all three of his published novels in English for the first time thanks to Modern Library: The Journey (2009), Panorama (2012), and The Wall (December 2014).

In October 2012, a conference was held in London on the subject H.G. Adler/W.G. Sebald: Witnessing, Memory, Poetics, coordinated by Helen Finch and Lynn L. Wolff. Thankfully, Camden House has just published a volume of essays that emerged from the conference: Witnessing, Memory, Poetics: H.G. Adler & W.G. Sebald. In the first section of the book we hear from Finch and Wolff, Adler’s son Jeremy Adler, Adler’s translator Peter Filkins, and scholar Jo Catling. Read more

Sebald Events Calendar October 2012

Earlier this summer I mentioned the conference on H.G. Adler/W.G. Sebald: Witnessing, Memory, Poetics being held October 10 and 11 at the Austrian Cultural Forum, London and the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies, University of London.  Well, the program, which is being coordinated by Helen Finch (Leeds) and Lynn L. Wolff (Stuttgart) is now available, so I thought I might just reproduce it for all to see.  It looks to be fantastic – except that I’m on the wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean to attend.  If anyone does attend, please send comments my way.  Here’s a link to the general conference information.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Venue: Austrian Cultural Forum, 28 Rutland Gate, SW7
19.00 Keynote Address
Peter Filkins (Gt Barrington, MA): Memory’s Witness – Witnessing Memory
Thursday, 11 October 2012
Venue: University of London, Senate House, Malet Street, WC1 (Court Room, 1 st floor)
8.30 Registration
9.00 Helen Finch (Leeds) and Lynn L. Wolff (Stuttgart): Welcome
9.20 Jeremy Adler (London): Opening Remarks
Panel 1: Witnessing
9.30 Katrin Kohl (Oxford): Poetics of Bearing Witness: Adler and Sebald
10.00 Lynn L. Wolff (Stuttgart): ‘Der Autor zwischen Literatur und Politik’: Adler’s ‘Engagement’ and Sebald’s ‘Restitution’
10.30 Discussion
11.00 Coffee
Panel 2: Memory
11.30 Ruth Vogel-Klein (Paris): Dreimal Theresienstadt: Adler, Sebald
12.00 Thomas Kraemer (Berlin): Zwei Modi der Erinnerung – ein autobiographisches Projekt. Zum Verhältnis von Wissenschaft und Literatur im Werk Adlers
12.30 Discussion
13.00 Lunch (own arrangements)
Panel 3: Trauma/History
14.30 Dora Osborne (Edinburgh): ‘Gesamelt, gepflegt und zum Leben erweckt’: Bearing Witness in the Museum
15.00 Martin Modlinger (Bremen): ‘Die Kartoffeln dem Volke! Kampf und Tod dem Hunger!’ – The Kafkaesque in Adler’s and Sebald’s Literary Historiography
15.30 Discussion
16.00 Tea
Panel 4: Intertexts, Contexts
16.30 Frank Finlay (Leeds): H.G. Adler and the Literature Culture of Post-War West Germany
17.00 Helen Finch (Leeds): Heimat in Poetry: Adler and Sebald’s Shared Literary Elective Affinities
17.30 Discussion
18.00 Concluding Remarks
18.30 Conference Ends

Adler’s Journey

adler-journeyToday’s New York Times/International Herald Tribune carries a review of H.G. Adler’s The Journey, a book that I wrote about briefly several months ago.  Written in the early 1950s and originally published in 1962, The Journey tells a story much like Adler’s own Holocaust experience (he lost 18 members of his own family, including his parents, and barely survived himself).  Nevertheless, according to reviewer Richard Lourie, this is “not a book of hopelessness and meaninglessness.”

“The truth is merciless,…always victorious.” Adler informs us, pointing the way to a means of surviving the worst that history can throw at people: “One must have a center, an unshakable quiet space that one clings to vigorously, even when one is in the middle of the journey, the unavoidable journey.”

For information about Theresienstadt for his book Austerlitz, W.G. Sebald turned to Adler’s monumental study Theresienstadt 1941-1945. Das Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft. Geschichte, Soziologie, Psychologie. The Journey is the first of  six novels by Adler (1910-1988) to be translated into English.  The Times has also put the opening part of the first chapter online.

Thus we remain in flight, there is no rest for us but the interior that we remember…

By the way,  translator Peter Filkins will be reading from The Journey on February 10 at 4 p.m. at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He will also read from Adler’s novel at 6 p.m. on February 11 at the Goethe-Institut of Chicago. Filkins teaches at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, MA. 

Adler, Theresienstadt, Sebald


In W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, much of the detailed information about the concentration camp Theresienstadt came from Hans G. Adler’s massive book Theresienstadt 1941-1945. Das Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft. Geschichte, Soziologie, Psychologie.

Random House is announcing “a major literary event” that will be of interest to any reader of W.G. Sebald.  Here’s the story of a new publication (directly from their website):

…the first-ever English translation of a lost masterpiece of Holocaust literature by acclaimed author and survivor H. G. Adler.

The story behind the story of The Journey is remarkable in itself: Award-winning translator Peter Filkins discovered an obscure German novel in a Harvard Square bookstore and, reading it, realized that it was a treasure unavailable to English speakers. It was the most powerful book by the late H. G. Adler, a survivor of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, a writer whose work had been praised by authors from Elias Canetti to Heinrich Böll and yet remained unknown to international audiences.

Written in 1950 after Adler’s emigration to England, The Journey was not released in Germany until 1962. After the war, larger publishing houses stayed away from novels about the Holocaust, feeling that the tragedy could not be fictionalized and that any metaphorical interpretation was obscene. Only a small publisher was in those days willing to take on The Journey.

Yet Filkins found that Adler had depicted the event in a unique, truly modern, and deeply moving way. Avoiding specific mention of country or camps–even of Nazis and Jews–The Journey is a lyrical nightmare of a family’s ordeal and one member’s survival. Led by the doctor patriarch Leopold, the Lustig family finds itself “forbidden” to live, uprooted into a surreal and incomprehensible circumstance of deprivation and death. This cataclysm destroys father, daughter, sister, and wife and leaves only Paul, the son, to live again among those who saved or sacrificed him. The Journey reveals a world beset by an “epidemic of mental illness . . . As a result of the epidemic, everyone was crazy, and once they finally recognized what was happening it was too late.”

Linked by its innovative style to the work of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, The Journey is as much a revelation as other recent discoveries on the subject as the works of W. G. Sebald and Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Francaise. It is a book proving that art can portray the unimaginable and expand people’s perceptions of it, a work anyone interested in recent history and modern literature must read.

H. G. Adler, born in Prague in 1910, was the author of twenty-six books of fiction, poetry, philosophy, and history. A survivor of Theresienstadt, Adler is best known for his studies of day-to-day life there, as documented in Theresienstadt 1941-1945 and Der verwaltete Mensch (Administrated Man). Also a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, Adler lost his wife and her parents to the camps before leaving Czechoslovakia after the war to settle in England. Once there, he began writing novels about the Holocaust, The Journey being the first of five works of fiction. Working as a freelance writer and teacher throughout his life, Adler died in London in 1988.

If anyone wishes to pursue the Sebald-Adler connection further, I understand there is an essay on this topic by Marcel Atze in Ruth Vogel-Klein’s anthology W. G. Sebald. Memoire. Transferts. Images Erinnerung. Ubertragungen. Bilder (Strasbourg: Universite Marc Bloch, 2005).