Germany’s Pope of Letters R.I.P.

Marcel Reich-Ranicki passed away yesterday at the age of 93. His remarkable life as survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and, in post-World War II Germany, his rise as the number one literary critic of German literature had been told in his autobiography of 2001. With him we lose one of the last contemporary witnesses of the Holocaust. What happened afterwards was unconditional embrace of what he thought make Germans humane at last, their literature and music. I had written, in a completely different context, about Reich-Ranicki,

“[H]e described [in his autobiography] in his own unpretentious way the incredible situation of the people in the Ghetto and his and his young wife Tosia’s miraculous escape from hell (Umschlagplatz) only minutes before being deported to the gas chambers of Treblinka’s extermination camp. Reading this is both thrilling and mortifying. The industrial perfection of genocide, the Holocaust of Jews and others will forever, at least for the coming generations, be the inhumane stain on Germany and Germans.

“What is more amazing with Marcel Reich-Ranicki’s biography is his deep love for his and all the Jews’ German tormentors’ literature and composed music. Is it a sort of love-and-hate relationship? Does he want to prove that human bestiality and striving for the highest cultural achievements does not exclude each other? Has he forgiven “the” (or some) Germans or is he paying back when publicly delivering his often harsh judgments on hopefuls in the literature business?”

Well, at least as regards the two latter, the answers may be “yes, indeed.” A very personal way to come to terms with the egregious bestiality of German executioners he had experienced. With very much respect, maybe he had felt, not very much hidden in his straight personality, an own dark side, which might have surfaced when relentlessly criticizing and even condemning some of post-war Germany’s most celebrated writers: Hesse, Böll, Grass, Walser.

The context I had written about Reich-Ranicki was when U.S. President Barack Obama committed his first capital sin in a long row, shortly after he had taken office in 2009: pardoning CIA agents for conducting torture-like so-called enhanced, interrogation techniques to detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan and preventing the release of photographs taken at Abu Ghuraib prison camps.

American crimes are not to be compared with the Holocaust. But truth and justice must (and will) prevail. It may take a long time.

19 September 2013 @ 8:01 am.

Last modified September 19, 2013.

 

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