Jurek Becker (BEHK-ur) belonged to the generation of writers who grew up in the early decades of the former East Germany, and while he lived there he became increasingly critical of its system. After the Germans occupied Poland in 1939, Becker and his family were imprisoned with other Jews in the Lodz ghetto. Later Becker was transported to the concentration camps of Ravensbruck and Sachsenhausen. Only three members of his large extended family survived the ghetto and the camps. In addition to Becker and his father, one aunt managed to escape when the Germans advanced into Poland. Becker wrote that he had few memories of these years, in part, he presumed, because he wanted to repress them but also because life in a camp, especially for a child who did not fully understand what was happening, was a gray and desolate period. It was a time of existing, not living, and most actions were determined by the struggle to survive.
In the summer of 1945, after his liberation from the camp, Becker was reunited with his father in the Soviet zone of Berlin, where the family had settled. Until that time Becker had spoken Yiddish and Polish, but as of the age of eight he also spoke German. Becker attended schools in East Berlin and passed his Abitur (qualifying examination for university) in 1955. He served two years in the East German army and then studied philosophy at Humboldt University in East Berlin between 1957 and 1960. After 1960 Becker devoted himself to his writing and began making a name for himself as a writer of cabaret texts and film and television scripts.
Becker’s first novel, Jacob the Liar, was widely acclaimed and quickly translated into other languages. The work was originally...
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