Rilke’s Ammersee flirtation


The “Künstlerhaus Gasteiger” in Holzhausen, near Utting. This is not the villa Rilke wanted to rent (that house may have burned down in the 1960s). Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Between 1914 and 1916, Rainer Maria Rilke was involved romantically with the (married) painter Lou Albert-Lasard. In 1915 he found himself somewhat stranded in Munich, waiting to learn whether he would be drafted into the Austrian Army. While there he was consoled by another married Lou, his former lover and life-long good friend Lou Andreas-Salomé (who had a number of other admirers during her lifetime, including Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud). Andreas-Salomé helped him look for a country home to rent on the western shore of the Ammersee. The lake’s western shore and more specifically Holzhausen have long been popular with artists.

Andreas-Salomé: “Yesterday after a bit of an odyssey I rode with Rainer to Holzhausen on the Ammersee so that he could see a small villa owned by Professor Erler. A beautiful, tranquil lakeside park, a charmingly furnished little house seemed to us the clear choice. He’s only uncertain because he would have to commit for the summer months. I think the solitude in nature will do him immense good.”


Image from the Ammersee Kurier

Rilke: “…it is likely that next week I will move into a very small house on the Ammersee, with a housekeeper (whom I am still looking for) and my books. So that I won’t have to speak nor hear and, in a way, be faceless. … the city has become quite unbearable to me”.

“The little house has been taken away from me (when I had just decided this morning), since the Erlers now want to rent out their other, larger villa, not the small one down on the lake!”

“The Erlers”, one assumes, were the brothers Fritz and Erich Erler, both artists, or one of them with spouse. I can’t say which one might have been the professor to whom Andreas-Salomé refers.


Image from Municipality of Utting website

Quotes from “Mich gelüstet’s nach Idylle” by Karen Eva Noetzel (in German).

Seeking Fortunatus

After posting my most recent entry I began to look more seriously for the “Vita S. Martini” by Venantius Fortunatus in translation. It hasn’t brought much to light. I cannot read medieval Latin, but there is an Italian translation available in book form, which might be my only option. There is also a German version available but which costs an arm and a leg (and really, I don’t want to spend that much on a hobby). There are plenty of English-language academic papers about aspects of the text, but I don’t believe that an English translation exists. If any buffs of early medieval literature can prove me wrong, please have at it, as I would love to know!

“If the Baiuvarii on the Lech don’t block your way”*

My husband knows that I have this fascination with local maps and roads and routes from long ago. In a recent acquisition of used books he stumbled across something he knew I’d like — “Die Alpen in Frühzeit und Mittelalter” (The Alps during Antiquity and the Middle Ages) by Ludwig Pauli, C. H. Beck, 1980. I skipped ahead to the chapter on Alpine crossings and Roman Roads, and lo, look what I have learned:
It’s about 565 C.E., the Romans have retreated back to the Italian peninsula, and Rhaetia has gone through a few centuries of bloodbaths. The people who buried their silver coins in the hopes of recollecting them “when things died back down” are long dead and their stashes will remain buried for another 1,600 years or so. There’s no upkeep of infrastructure, but the roads are still there, more or less. Against this backdrop, a 25-year-old named Venantius Fortunatus has set off from Aquilea, on the Adriatic coast, for a long journey to Tours to pay respect at the grave of St. Martin of Tours. He wrote about his travels later**, and so we also know the route he took — over the Plöcken Pass (at the Italian border to Carinthia in Austria), then westward to the Brenner Pass, north to the “Seefelder Sattel” and on to Augsburg and beyond. What this means is that he took the (later named) Via Rhaetia, “our” Roman Road, which passes right through our area here between the Ammersee and the Lech River. Fortunatus passed through here — which means he is the earliest person of later world renown*** to have traveled in our area, all those years ago.

I must admit that I was unfamiliar with the name, but a check with Wikipedia revealed something quite interesting — I was already somewhat familiar with his works, musical versions of which are in the Episcopal Hymnal (it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that most classical singers in America, no matter what religion or denomination they grew up in, know hymns from the Episcopal Hymnal, because the Episcopal churches, unlike their R.C. counterparts, pay well for professional choirs.)

One of his greatest hits is Pange lingua gloriosi, Corporis mysterium.


*Venantius Fortunatus, advising a traveler about conditions on the Via.

** “The Life of St. Martin”, which of course I need to hunt down.

*** Hannibal and his elephants crossed further west.

A Idea of Mine

I have a confession to make. Beyond all the other things I am doing right now – singing, translating, assisting in a bookselling business – I have a project in mind for the future. I want to put together a guidebook for the Via Raetia.
There are guides and books for following the Via Claudia Augusta, the first Roman-made road to cross the Alps in this region, but I have yet to find a modern tourist guide in English for it’s younger sister, the Via Raetia. The Via Claudia has an “official” route which one can follow ona bike, and much of it may accurately follow the old road. The Via Raetia does not, and here you can see why:

Clearly one can’t just go traipsing across private property, let alone tell others to do so.

Walking, cycling, sights along the way, history, archaeology, culture, on the route between Augsburg and… well, how comprehensive do I want this to be? I could keep it within Bavaria (Augsburg to Mittenwald) or publish installments (Part 2, North Tyrol from Mittenwald to the Brenner Pass, Part 3 Italy: Brennero to Verona). Even if I had no other work, this would take a few years of research, travel, exploration. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to do it. (Note to any publishing houses: I’m here, “boots on the ground”, if you are considering something along these lines from a distance.)

But all this will have to wait another year at least, because for professional reasons I am going to be spending a considerable amount of time at the other end of Bavaria, namely closer to the Czech border.

Image from Google maps.

Nazi Bedtime Stories

The next estate dissolution in which we took part involved the sale of a rather large piece of land in the middle of Munich. A rich textile-industry dynasty family had a villa there with a spacious guest house, and basement garage for classic autos (with a car elevator), and the entire property had been sold. The owner’s mother came from Prussian nobility. Many of the thousand-plus books were from assorted family collections, brought together and stored out of sight and forgotten. One could get a vague sense of family life from one child’s horse book collection, or the 1930s German law publications pointing to a lawyer in the family, right next to a shelf with German resistance memoirs. The art books were in the living room, the romance novels upstairs.

It was in this large, scattered accumulation that I first held in my hand an actual Nazi children’s book.


Fünf Wiegen und noch eine” (Five Cradles and One More) is an odd little work. Author Henrik Herse was an SS-Obersturmführer and “Fünf Wiegen” contains perhaps autobiographical musings, although it’s hard to say (the narrator is a somewhat impoverished writer with five children and a sixth on the way. The author was a senior officer in the SS, and I don’t know how many kids he actually had). I called it an odd little work but it  was probably typical of many war-time children’s books, no matter the era or location. What it seeks to do is to “familiarize children within the SS Family of their roots and culture”* through children’s rhymes, prose and symbols of Nordic and Germanic origin. [All quoted passages translated by the blog author.]

The goal — it would be impudent to think one knows it. Much more important than what lies in the distance is the way there. We must bring it to its conclusion in a way that does not shame us.

(IOW: it’s not important for you to know where this Reich is heading but you’d better be on board.)


There are sweet stories of family life in a big house in the country, interspersed with nursery rhymes. Stories of simple meals laid out on the big oaken table, of birthday rituals, of hunger and poverty born with pride, of Christmas trees. The narrator speaks of living a quiet and taciturn life, of the next child being accepted into “our circle”, into which “we don’t let everyone”. I began to wonder what kind of effect stories like this had on the children waiting restlessly in bomb shelters all over Germany. They would begin to dream of being a part of this happy family in the country, of being the “next child”. It would have planted a seed in their impressionable minds, of some rare and holy place where only the best and bravest little Nazis could go. Or was it an exclusive book, only for the children of the elite SS?

At times it reads like a journal or a personal blog. Halfway through the tone gets a bit darker and more urgent. Words like “enemy” and “battle” start appearing in the prose. And always, the idea of Keeping the Faith. His thoughts go here:

It is not so easy to live this life of ours on to its end. It is not always a song which one wants to sing. There are cares upon cares, and they are greedy and want to eat you through and through.
And some men have thrown it all away, and have fled as cowards. To their deaths, or to another side.
That is the most wretched form of desertion, and death should first come to them.
Is love then eternal? many ask. Is that happiness?
Yes!! But only if you are strong enough to win and keep it! The greatest victories are in the battles for our lives.


None too obscure and none too small,
none to die senselessly and alone,
because the holy torch I was given
I will pass on as the flame of eternal life.

What can I say? Some people have reality TV shows, some people have religious movements. It has the same ring as some early Christian writings. Probably not a coincidence.

What is difficult, is to have courage. To have so much courage that the blows don’t matter in the least. To hold your head up against the blows! The head and ribs can withstand much, when the heart inside beats in resistance.

Those poor victimized fascists.

The poems are now no longer about babies and Mother, but of iron-man strength, of battle, of swords, of blood and of German soil and imminent beatings!  And then, suddenly, we’re back to cradles again, and stories of his children’s births.


The NSDAP was definitely onto something when they began starting them young. Research suggests that our 14-yr-old brains are “imprinted” with the music and literature which will stay important to us throughout our lives. While the nursery rhymes in “Fünf Wiegen” are for small children, the prose passages are not. These, rather, would have been noticed by them, but understood by 12-14 year olds. What a set up. All those kids, just dying to be chosen for the special circle of fellowship and purpose. It’s almost like a “Lord of the Rings” primer from the side of the Orcs, or Hogwarts fanfic about Slytherin children (which is indeed a thing as well).

One last, important thing: this book is nothing special, there are cheap copies to be had over the Internet. It may have been everyone’s grandmother’s favorite book as a child, the one she sensibly kept hidden from her grandchildren but liked too much to throw out. These are the books that come to light after someone dies.

*I lifted that phrase from here because it is perfect. I couldn’t have said it better.

Weekend Mountain Blogging: Mittenwald, Scharnitz, Seefeld

IMG_1999I needed to go to Mittenwald because of something I’d promised to do, and since I had the day free it seemed like a good idea to get some hiking in along with some sights.
As there’s only so much ground one can cover in an afternoon, I broke up the journey with short train rides. First, to Mittenwald.

IMG_1992Every so often, a sign that I’m on the old original Roman road. In tracing the route over the Alps one has the advantages and disadvantages of the landscape. Humans are practical above everything: the first mule paths made by the more ancient inhabitants followed the easiest ways over. The Romans built mainly on these existing paths because they were there (once they got onto more open land they had more options). After the Roman retreat in the 4th century CE, the roads remained and continued to be used for trade, later providing for much of the route of the Via Imperii during the years of the Holy Roman Empire. And so on, through the ages, until that ancient road over the mountains is now mostly (not completely) under the B2.

IMG_1995From Mittenwald I walked parallel to the B2 on a quieter trail, to get a sense of what Goethe may have felt when he came through here for the first time, in 1786.

Left Mittelwald at 6, clear sky, a keen wind blowing, and the kind of cold only allowed in February. The near slopes dark and covered in spruce, the grey limestone cliffs, the highest white peaks against the beautiful blue of the sky made exquisite, constantly changing pictures. Near Scharnitz you get into the Tyrol and the border is closed with a rampart that seals off the valley and joins up with the mountains. It looks very fine. One one side the cliff is fortified, on the other it just goes steeply up.

IMG_1996The fortification to which Goethe refers is the Porta Claudia, built in the 17th century and named for Claudia di Medici.
Back on the train, next stop Seefeld in Tirol.

IMG_1998“Bee Hotel”

I had seen this path many times from the window of the train, and often wondered what the signs said. Were they historical markers?  No, the trail is all about bees and honey!

This bee-themed nature trail ended at Reith bei Seefeld. From there a late-afternoon train brought me back to Innsbruck.

Hardy’s Map

While packing for a long train trip to Styria, I pulled a couple of books of the shelf to help pass the time. Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” was I book I supposedly had read in high school — although I couldn’t for the life of me remember what happened after chapter one, and it’s likely I really didn’t read it at all since none of it seems familiar now, beyond the Reddleman.

But what really surprised me was this map.

egdon-heath-map1It’s not a real place, or rather it’s a composite of places near Dorchester, real or renamed,   and re-ordered for the convenience of the story. Egdon Heath figures so prominently in the book that it’s been treated as a literary character in several analyses. Of course it has a Roman road, partially a modern road and partially remains of a track through the heath.  An ancient barrow (or grave mound) also features as a setting for several meetings.

Innsbruck, Dürer and “Ern Malley”


Liebe Leserinnen und Leser, hier findet ihr Information über diese Geschichte.

This is a postcard that was found in an old book, having been used as a bookmark by a previous reader. It’s Albrecht Dürer’s Hof der Burg zu Innsbruck (Innsbruck Castle Courtyard), and in the mild hopes of finding out exactly where this spot is and what it looks like now, I began by googling the words ‘Dürer’ and ‘Innsbruck’, which led me to this image —


Innsbruck mit dem Blick auf den Patscherkofel (View of Innsbruck with Patscherkofel)

— as well as to a strange poem with an amusing story attached. It was part of a “collection” by one late, great unknown poet named Ern Malley – which was actually all a hoax cooked up by two Modernist poets in Australia serving in war duty in the 1940s, meant to trip up the very young editor and founder of a successful modernist poetry magazine. They threw together a parody of late modernist poems, invented a fictional author who died young and a sister who “found” the works, and submitted them to the magazine. The hoax was a success – the young editor received them excitement, sure that he had made a great discovery. Well.

The first poem, by the way, was called “Dürer: Innsbruck, 1495”:

I had often cowled in the slumbrous heavy air,
Closed my inanimate lids to find it real,
As I knew it would be, the colourful spires
And painted roofs, the high snows glimpsed at the back,
All reversed in the quiet reflecting waters –
Not knowing then that Durer perceived it too.
Now I find that once more I have shrunk
To an interloper, robber of dead men’s dream,
I had read in books that art is not easy
But no one warned that the mind repeats
In its ignorance the vision of others. I am still
The black swan of trespass on alien waters.

Das erste Gedicht wurde übrigens “Dürer: Innsbruck, 1495” genannt.
[Paschberg macht einen Versuch, das Gedicht zu übersetzten. Fast zu gut..!]

Oft umfing mich die schläfrig schwere Luft
Meine leblosen Lider schließend, wirklich zu finden
wie um die Erscheinung der farbigen Türme wusste
und dier bemalten Dächer vor dem Hintergrund das hohen Schnees
alles gestürzt in den stillen spiegelnden Wassern
damals nicht wissend, dass auch Dürer das wahrgenommen
Jetzt erkenne ich mich wieder, geschrumpft
zu einem Eindringling, einem Räuber, eines toten Mannes Traum
In Bücher hab ich gelesen, dass Kunst nicht einfach ist,
doch niemand warnte vor dem Wiederholen der Gedanken
in der Unwissenheit der Visionen . Ich bleibe
der schwarze Schwan des Friedensbruchs in fremden Gewässern

The authors claim they pulled words out of reference dictionaries at random and from what came to mind. This first poem, however, had come from an earlier serious attempt which was then edited to make it somehow more “late modernist”, a style the authors did not like at all. I’m guessing “I had read in books that art is not easy” is one of the “improvements”…Die Autoren behaupten, sie hätten die Wörter zufällig aus Wörterbüchern und in freier Assoziation genommen. Das erste Gedicht ist jedenfalls ein früherer ernsthafter Versuch, bearbeitet um es irgendwie Spätmodern klingen zu lassen, ein Stil, der den Autoren überhaupt nicht gefiel. Ich nehme an das „In Bücher hab ich gelesen, dass Kunst nicht einfach ist“ eine der „Verbesserungen“

Over the years, the fictional poet Ern Malley has taken on a kind of minor cult fame in Australia. He’s got his own website, and the story and poems have become the inspiration for other works over the years. Im Lauf der Jahre wurde der fiktive Dichter Ern Malley in Australien zu einer Art Kultobjekt. Er hat nun seine eigene Website und seine Geschichte und seine Gedichte wurden im Laufe der Zeit Inspiration für andere Arbeiten.

1st image from the author; 2nd image found here

More Ilse Weber

I was going to move on to another topic, or not blog at all today, but then the New Yorker came.

James Wood’s review of a book titled “HHhH” in this recent issue (“Broken Record”, May 21, international delivery takes a week) recently caught my eye, particularly the mention of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler’s right-hand thug, and the brutal reprisal that followed — the annihilation of the Czech village of Lidice (or Liditz, in German); the men were executed, the women taken to concentration camps, the children shuffled around briefly before they were all, aside from a few who were taken for “Germanization”, gassed at Chelmno.

Ilse Weber, in Theresienstadt, heard of the massacre. She heard this news because it arrived with the herd of sheep from the demolished village, rounded up and brought there, to Theresienstadt.

One of her poems is titled Die Schafe von Liditz, The Sheep of Lidice. (Scroll down for an translation into English.)

Flockige, gelbweiße Schafe trotten die Straße entlang.
Zwei Hirtinnen folgen der Herde, durch die Dämmerung tönt ihr Gesang.
Es ist ein Bild voller Frieden und doch bleibst du, Eilender, stehn,
als fühltest du Hauch allen Todes grausig vorübergehn.
Flockige, gelbweiße Schafe, sie sind der Heimat so fern,
verbrannt sind ihre Ställe, getötet sind ihre Herrn.

Ach, alle Männer des Dorfes, sie starben den gleichen Tod.
Ein kleines Dorf in Böhmen, und soviel Unglück und Not.
Verschleppt die fleißige Frauen, die sorgsam die Herde betreut,
verschollen die fröhlichen Kinder, die sich an den Lämmern gefreut,
zerstört die kleinen Häuser, in denen der Friede gewohnt,
ein ganzes Dorf vernichtet, das Vieh nur gnädig verschont.

Das sind die Schafe von Liditz und trefflich am Platze hier,
in der Stadt der Heimatlosen das heimatlose Getier.
Umschlossen von einer Mauer, durch grausamen Zufall gesellt,
das gequälteste Volk der Erde und die traurigste Herde der Welt.
Die Sonne ist untergegangen, der letzte Strahl versinkt,
und irgendwo bei den Kasernen ein jüdisches Lied erklingt.

Fluffy, yellow-white sheep trot along the road.
Two shepherdesses follow the herd, their song carried in the twilight.
It is a picture of peace, and yet you, hurrying one, stop,
as if you felt the breath of Death pass over you.
Fluffy, yellow-white sheep, so far from their home,
their stalls burned down, their owners killed.

Ah, all the village men died the same death.
A little village in Bohemia, and so much calamity and distress.
Deported, the industrious women who cared for the herd,
Missing, the happy children who found joy in the lambs,
Destroyed, the little houses in which peace reigned,
an entire village demolished, only the animals spared.

Those are the sheep of Lidice, brought here to this place,
homeless animals in the city of the homeless.
Penned inside the wall, brought here by barbarous events,
the most afflicted people on Earth, and the saddest herd in the world.
The sun has gone down, its last rays sink away,
and somewhere in the Barracks a Jewish song sounds.

Poetry Blogging: Ilse Weber

“After Auschwitz, writing poetry is no longer possible.” — Theodor Adorno

“The truth is, Adorno couldn’t write poetry before Auschwitz either.” — journalist and publicist Johannes Gross.

I am paraphrasing the Adorno quote somewhat for clarity. In fact, the word-for-word quote most often seen is “To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric”, although there is a larger context to be found in the paragraphs around it, about the impossibility of the very existence of culture after the Holocaust.

In the nineties, I was invited along to a few family events ( birthday parties, Christmas Eve, that kind of thing) and learned quickly that the composition and recitation of a poem — written in the guest’s honor — was Pflicht in certain German families. The poems were kind, maybe a little humorous but always done with warm feelings and in the simplest of rhyme scheme and iambic tetrameter (well-known example: “I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree”)

I bring this up because I have just read Ilse Weber, Wann wohl das Leid ein Ende hat: Briefe und Gedichte aus Theresienstadt.

The letters begin much earlier, in 1933 — Weber corresponded with her good friend Lilian Löwenadler, daughter to a Swedish diplomat and living in England. For five years, these letters are filled with normal banter between two highly intelligent women, involving family, children, Weber’s radio engagements, Löwenadler’s new romance. In 1938 the letters take on a much more urgent tone, as Weber and her husband Willi contemplate the risk of sending her oldest boy Hanusch, age 8, to England with the Kindertransports. Hanusch is indeed sent to Lilian and her new husband, then on to Lilian’s mother in Stockholm.
Ilse Weber is moved with her husband and younger son, Tommy, into the Prague Ghetto, and from there to Theresienstadt. Her letters, once pages long, are reduced to a few lines of allowed information, including the probably mandatory “We are healthy.” At this point, no longer allowed to pour her emotions into her letters, she instead turns to poetry for her small charges (she works as the night nurse in the hospital’s children’s ward), unable to spend more than fleeting moments with her husband and her younger son. She writes about all of this in a simple, naive rhyming style that Adorno might not have known what to make of. Her poems, while in an old-fashioned framework, tell honestly and bluntly of the events surrounding her, her fellow inmates, and the above all the children. Her poems tell of little boys sent by their mothers to return stolen coal, of abandoned suitcases, of homesickness, of death.
Where the poems end, an Afterword takes up the narrative. Willi was deported to Poland with 5000 other men and lost contact with his wife. Just before he left Theresienstadt he gathered up all of his wife’s poems, songs and other papers and buried them beneath the floor of a tool shed. Not long afterward, all the patients in the children’s ward were deported as well. Ilse, not wanting them to make the journey untended, took Tommy and traveled with the children — to Auschwitz. She was last seen with her younger son and about fifteen small children, in the line leading to the gas chambers. An acquaintance from Theresienstadt worked there, and risked his neck to approach her. She asked if they were to take showers, and he told her the truth. He also offered some advice — sit the children down on the chamber floor and sing songs with them. The gas will work more quickly that way. Years later he confessed this chance meeting to her son Hanusch, who after the war was reunited with his father. Willi Weber was able to retrieve Ilse’s hidden papers, and much later Lilian’s husband (she died during the war) found the letters in an attic in England.

Brief an mein Kind
(Scroll down for an English translation)

Mein lieber Junge, heute vor drei Jahren
bist ganz allein du in die Welt gefahren.
Noch seh ich dich am Bahnhof dort in Prag,
wie du aus dem Abteil verweint und zag
den braunen Lockenkopf neigst hin zu mir
und wie du bettelst: lass mich doch bei dir!
Dass wir dich ziehen ließen, schien dir zu hart-
Acht Jahre warst du erst und klein und zart.
Und als wir ohne dich nach Hause gingen,
da meinte ich, das Herz müsst mir zerspringen
und trotzdem bin ich froh, du bist nicht hier.
Die fremde Frau, die sich deiner angenommen,
die wird einst sicher in den Himmel kommen.
Ich segne sie mit jedem Atemzug-
wie du sie liebst ist doch nie genug.
Es ist so trüb geworden um uns her,
man nahm uns alles fort, nichts blieb uns mehr.
Das Haus, die Heimat, nicht ein Winkel blieb,
und nicht ein Stückchen, das uns wert und lieb.
Sogar die Spielzeugbahn, die dir gehört
Und deines Bruders kleines Schaukelpferd…
Nicht mal den Namen hat man uns gelassen:
Wie Vieh gezeichnet gehen wir durch die Gassen:
mit Nummern um den Hals. Das macht’ nichts aus,
wär ich mit Vater nur im gleichen Haus!
Und auch der Kleine darf nicht bei mir sein…
Im Leben war noch nie ich so allein.
Du bist noch klein, und drum verstehst du’s kaum…
So viele sind gedrängt in einem Raum.
Leib liegt an Leib, du trägst des anderen Leid
und fühlst voll Schmerz die eigene Einsamkeit.
Mein Bub, bist du gesund und lernst du brav?
Jetzt singt dich niemand wohl mehr in den Schlaf.
Manchmal des Nachts, da will es scheinen mir,
als fühlte ich dich neben mir.
Denk nur, wenn wir uns einmal wiedersehen
Dann werden wir einander nicht verstehen.
Du hast dein Deutsch schon längst verlernt in Schweden
und ich, ich kann doch gar nicht schwedisch reden.
Wird das nicht komisch sein? Ach wär’s doch schon,
dann hab ich plötzlich einen großen Sohn…
Spielst du mit Blechsoldaten noch so gerne?
Ich wohn’ in einer richtigen Kaserne,
mit dunklen Mauern und mit düst’ren Räumen
von Sonne ahnt man nichts, von Laub und Bäumen.
Ich bin hier Krankenschwester bei den Kindern
Und es ist schön, zu helfen und zu lindern.
Nachts wache ich bei ihnen manches Mal,
die kleine Lampe hellt nur schwach den Saal.
Ich sitze da und hüte ihre Ruh,
und jedes Kind ist mir ein Stückchen „du“.
Mancher Gedanke fliegt dann hin zu dir
Und trotzdem bin ich froh, du bist nicht hier.
Und gerne litt’ ich tausendfache Qualen,
könnt ich ein Kinderglück damit bezahlen…
Jetzt ist es spät und ich will schlafen gehen.
Könnt ich dich einen Augenblick nur sehn!
So aber kann ich nichts als Briefe schreiben,
die voller Sehnsucht sind- und liegen bleiben…

Letter To My Son

My dear boy, three years ago today
You were sent into the world alone.
I still see you, at the station in Prague,
how you cry from the compartment, and hesitate.
You lean your brown head against me
and how you beg; let me stay with you!
That we let you go, seemed hard for you —
You were just eight, and small and delicate.
And as we left for home without you,
I felt, my heart would explode
and nevertheless I am happy that you’re not here.
The stranger who is taking you in
will surely go to Heaven.
I bless her with every breath I take —
Your love for her will not be enough.
It has become so murky around us here,
Everything has been taken away from us.
House, home, not even a corner of it left,
Not a piece of what we loved and prized.
Even the toy train which belonged to you
And your brother’s little rocking horse…
They did not even let us keep our names:
We walk through the streets marked like cattle:
With numbers around our necks. That would not be so bad,
If I were with your father in the same house!
Not even the little one may stay with me…
I was never so alone in my life.
You are still small, and you hardly can understand…
So many are pressed together in one room.
Body against body, you carry the suffering of the other,
And feel the full pain of your own loneliness.
My boy, are you healthy and learning your studies?
No one sings you to sleep now.
Sometimes in the night it seems
That I feel you next to me.
Just think, when we see each other again
We will not understand each other.
You’ve long ago forgotten your German in Sweden,
and I, I can’t speak Swedish at all.
Won’t that be strange? If only it already were,
then I’d suddenly have a grown son…
Do you still play with tin soldiers?
I am living in a real Barrack,
With dark walls and dreary rooms
There’s no sun, nor leaves and trees.
I’m a nurse here for the children
And it’s nice, to help and comfort them.
Sometimes I stay awake with them at night,
the little lamp doesn’t give much light,
I sit and guard their rest,
And to me every child is a little piece of “you”.
My thoughts then fly to you
and nevertheless, I am happy that you are not here.
And I would gladly suffer a thousand torments,
If I could pay for your childhood happiness that way…
It is late now and I want to sleep.
If I could only see you for a moment!
But I can do nothing except write letters,
Full of longing, never to be sent.

“Letter To My Child” existed in copy — a woman who had been imprisoned in Ravensbrück gave a copy of the poem to the Swedish author Amelie Posse, who was visiting camps with the Swedish Red Cross. Posse had the poem translated into Swedish and published in the newspaper in 1945 (the poem’s autobiographical elements revealed a child living in Sweden). So in this way Ilse’s letter did reach her son, three years after it had been written.

Wiegenlied vom Polentransport

Schlaf, kleiner Freund, du bist ja so müd,
es singt der Zug sein eintönig Lied,
die Nacht kommt auf leisen Sohlen.
Du bist noch klein und findest noch Ruh,
mach deine lieben Augen zu,
es geht jetzt fort nach Polen.

Schlaf, Kindchen, wir sind schon so weit,
Ach, längst versank in der Dunkelheit
die Heimat, die man uns gestohlen.
Wir hatten sie lieb, man nahm sie uns fort,
nun sitzen wir schweigend und findet kein Wort
und fahren weit — nach Polen.

Schlaf, kleiner Freund, ich sehe dir zu,
ich will aus deiner süßen Ruh
mir Trost und Stärkung holen.
Die Sterne leuchten hell und rein,
ich will nicht länger traurig sein,
Gott gibt es auch in Polen.

Lullabye of a Transport to Poland

Sleep, little friend, you are so tired,
The train is singing its monotonous song,
The night creeps softly in.
You are still small, and still find rest,
Let your dear eyes close,
We’re going now to Poland.

Sleep, little child, we’re already so far,
Ah, long sunken in darkness
our home, stolen from us.
We held it dear, it was taken away,
Now we sit here silently, and find no words
and travel far — to Poland.

Sleep, little friend, I’ll watch over you,
From your sweet rest I wish
to find comfort and strength for myself.
The stars are shining bright and pure,
I no longer want to be sad,
God is in Poland too.

Image found here.