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Mascha Kaléko

KALÉKO, MASCHA, pseudonym of Golda Malka Kaléko; 1907–1975), German lyrical poet. Mascha Kaleko was born in Chrzanów (Poland), but grew up in Frankfurt, Marburg and Berlin. Escaping the poverty of the Berlin Scheunenviertel, she started to work at a young age as a shorthand typist and married the Hebraist Saul Kaléko. In 1938 she emigrated with her son and second husband, the musicologist and composer Chemjo *Vinaver, to New York. In 1959 she left the U.S. and settled with her family in Jerusalem. After the death of her son (1968) and her husband (1973) she lived in isolation until she died during a trip to Europe, in Zurich.

Between 1929 and 1933 Mascha Kaléko regularly published poems in newspapers, like the Vossische Zeitung, the Berliner Tagblatt, and the Welt am Montag. Her first book of verse, Das Lyrische Stenogrammheft. Verse fuer den Alltag (1933), though seemingly influenced by Erich Kaestner's "Gebrauchslyrik" (lyrics for everyday use) with its cynical yet neo-romantic tone, nevertheless reveals a very personal style with a specific Berlinesque flavor. Her extraordinary sense of humor and a gift for playing on words kept her work fresh over the years, and her Kleines Lesebuch fuer Grosse Gereimtes und Ungereimtes, after it had been confiscated at the printer's in 1935, was published together with her first book after the war in many editions.

Kaleko's third volume, Verse fuer Zeitgenossen (published in the U.S. in 1945 and in Germany in 1958), reflects many facets in the life of the Jewish exiles, such as material and psychological misery, loneliness, and the difficulties of acculturation in the new country. Her denunciation of the Nazi tyrants – in a poem dedicated to the victims of Hitler's annihilation camps – concluded: "But you, who taught me hate, I hate the worst."

Mascha Kaléko later expanded her scope to include children's books and epigrams. After her death numerous collections of unpublished poems were printed, including In meinen Traeumen laeutet es Sturm. Gedichte und Epigramme aus dem Nachlass (1980) and Heute ist morgen schon gestern. Gedichte aus dem Nachlass (1980).


A. Frankenstein, in: Emuna, 10, suppl. 1 (1975), 40–44; I.A. Wellershoff, Vertreibung aus dem "Kleinen Glück." Das lyrische Werk von Masha Kaléko (1982); G. Zoch-Westphal, Ausden sechs Leben der Mascha Kaléko (1987); B. Schmeichel-Falkenberg, in: Deutschsprachige Exillyrik von 1933 bis zur Nachkriegszeit, ed. by Jörg Thunecke (1998), 199–215; A. Nolte, Mir ist zuweilen so als ob das Herz in mir zerbrach: Leben und Werk Mascha Kalékos im Spiegel ihrer sprichwörtlichen Dichtung (2003).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.