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Karl Wolfskehl

WOLFSKEHL, KARL (1869–1948), German poet. Born in Darmstadt, Germany, he claimed descent from the patrician *Kalonymus family, which settled in Mainz more than a thousand years before his birth, and insisted on his right to regard himself as a representative of the authentic German spirit. After his university studies he came under the influence of the lyric poet Stefan George (1868–1933) whom he hailed as his master and with whom he collaborated in the publication of the three-volume Deutsche Dichtung (1901–03) and the Blaetter fuer die Kunst (1892–1919). From 1899 to 1932 Wolfskehl's Munich home was the meeting place of the George Circle and Wolfskehl himself its only Jewish member. His early lyrics, which began to appear in 1897, his Gesammelte Dichtungen (1903), and Der Umkreis (1927) all follow the standards of George's neoclassicism, and there was also a powerful mystic current in his writing. Three traditions shaped Wolfskehl's poetic personality: the German, the Greco-Roman, and the biblical. The biblical influence appeared in 1905 in the lyrical drama Saul, but it was only after he left Germany in 1934 that Jewish themes became dominant in his verse. Wolfskehl lived in Italy and Switzerland until 1938 and thereafter in New Zealand. Because both his German and his Jewish feelings were so deep-rooted, the persecution of Jews by Germans was profoundly shocking to him, and in the autobiographical song An die Deutschen (begun in Rome in 1934 and completed in New Zealand in 1944; published 1947) the homesick poet took leave of his native land.

Other poems reflecting his heartbreak are those in Die Stimme spricht (1934) and in the volumes published posthumously, Hiob (1950), and Sang aus dem Exil (1951). The correspondence of Wolfskehl's last decade in Auckland (Zehn Jahre Exil …, 1959) gives clear insight into his later, more universalist and cosmopolitan, outlook. In 1960 a hitherto unpublished work appeared in Amsterdam in German under the Hebrew-German title Kalon Bekawod Namir – "Aus Schmach wird Ehr" ("We will Exchange Disgrace for Honor"; cf. Hos. 4:7). His Gesammelte Werke was published in two volumes in 1960.


P. Berglar, Karl Wolfskehl. Symbolgestalt der deutsch-juedischen Tragoedie (1964).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.