Fun Facts Friday: Paul Celan

November 23, 2012

Today is the birthday of Romanian poet and translator Paul Celan (23 November 1920 – abt. 20 April 1970) . Born into a Jewish family in Romania (Ukraine) . Celan was awarded the Bremen Literature Prize in 1958 and the Georg Büchner Prize in 1960.

Fun Facts Friday Paul Celan

1 ) Celan was born as Paul Antschel but changed his name to Celan (pronounced Chelan).

2 ) Celan’s father was a Zionist and insisted his son learn Hebrew. Celan’s mother loved German literature and insisted that German will be spoken in the house. Paul Celan abandoned Zionism after his Bar-Mitzvah but finished his Hebrew education.

3 ) During World War II Celan and his parents were deported into a ghetto on October 1941. Celan kept busy but translating Shakespeare’s Sonnets and writing his own poetry. In the Ghetto Celan was exposed t traditional Yidish songs and culture. When the ghetto was dissolved Celan was working as a forced laborer clearing debris and destroying Russian books.

4 ) Celan tried to convince his parents to leave Bukovina, but they refused. One night Celan was so mad he slept at a friend’s house. That night, 21 June, his parents were deported to an interment camp in Transnistria and then to a labor camp in Ukraine. Both didn’t survive the ordeal, his father is thought to have died from typhus and his mother was shot dead after falling exhausted from her labors.

5 ) Celan himself was in a labor camp until 1844 when Russian forces liberated the area.

6 ) In 1945 Celan left the USSR to Bucharest due to widespread anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. He stayed in Bucharest until 1947 and was deeply involved with the Jewish literary community.

7 ) Celan had to flee again when Romania’s communist regime came into power. This time to Vienna where his first poetry collection Der Sand aus den Urnen (Sand from the Urns) was published and to Paris in 1948.

8 ) Celan had an affrair with pet Ingeborg Bachmann and later with graphic artist Gisèle de Lestrange. Lestrange and Celan exchanged over 700 letters in 18 years.

9 ) Celan made a living as a translator and lecturer in German. He became a French citizen in 1955.

10) Sadly, Celan committed suiside circa 20 April, 1970 by drowning himself in the Seine rive in Paris.

Zohar – Man of la Book
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  • Alex BaughNovember 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Paul Celan has always been one of my favorites. An affair with Ingeborg Bachmann – she was nuts, too but a great writer. You should try some Nelly Sachs, if you are interested in Holocaust poetry.

  • C.E. HartNovember 24, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Wow. This guy went through a lot. What a sad end.

  • Helen Maryles ShankmanNovember 25, 2012 at 12:35 am

    Hi, Zohar–

    Well, that’s eerie. Paul Celan and I share a birthday. Have you ever read his beautiful and haunting poem, “Death Fugue?”(Here’s the link, if you’re interested: )

    Apparently, he found it devastating that he could only write poetry in the language of the men who had killed his family and put him in a concentration camp. One last interesting fact–Gunter Grass befriended him in Paris.

    • Zohar - Man of la BookNovember 25, 2012 at 8:25 am

      Hi Helen,

      I read the poem when I wrote this post, quite haunting as you mentioned. Thanks for the 11th & 12th “fun fact” 🙂

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