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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 609

Heine was the oldest son of a Jewish merchant and a mother from a respected academic family. In 1825 he received a doctorate in law, one of the two German professions legally open to Jews—the other was medicine. It was mainly because of such discrimination that Heine converted to Christianity in 1825 and changed his first name from Harry to Heinrich. In 1831 he left Germany, mainly for political reasons, and settled in Paris, where he pursued his preferred career as a poet, journalist, and essayist, but he continued to write in German and for a German audience. From the 1840’s on he suffered from the paralysis which rendered him completely bedridden after 1848.

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Heine’s prose and journalistic articles—even his popular poetry—represent a prime example of censorship in Germany in the first half of the nineteenth century, for virtually every one of his texts was censored in one way or another. From the 1830’s on he was the most prominent author of the Young Germany movement, which vigorously opposed the political repression of the Metternich era (1815-1848). After the Congress of Vienna (1815) the Austrian chancellor Clemens von Metternich became the most influential figure of the newly founded German Confederation, a league of thirty-nine German states dominated by Prussia and Austria. In 1819 Metternich persuaded the confederation to sign the Karlsbad Decrees, which required that every book of less than 320 pages be subject to censorship prior to publication. (It was assumed that longer books would interest only the educated class and therefore not threaten the government.) Moreover, each of the thirty-nine confederation members could determine the extent of censorship to be enforced. Consequently, Heine’s exclusive publisher, Campe in Hamburg, followed two strategies: he tried to publish Heine’s works in one of the more liberal states; then he distributed and sold them from there. He also asked Heine to pad his texts so that they could avoid censorship by being published in larger books. Even so, there was no guarantee that Heine’s books when printed would be distributed, because the Karlsbad Decrees also stipulated that books could be confiscated and banned after publication.

Prussia was particularly harsh on Heine’s work. In addition to this double censorship of books, the Karlsbad Decrees also prohibited newspapers and journals from printing criticism of dynasties, the nobility, the government, the military, Christianity, and “morality” in order to silence Metternich’s opponents. Thus Heine, who served as a foreign correspondent from Paris for the prestigious German daily the Augsburger Allgemeine saw his articles censored on a regular basis.

In 1835 the legislative assembly of the German Confederation banned all books by authors of the Young Germany movement, including specifically those by Heine, but could not stop Heine from criticizing the repressive measures by the governments in Germany, although he was never as radical as Karl Marx, whom he met in Paris in 1843. Ironically, Heine became famous because of censorship, particularly after he wrote a political cycle of poems entitled Germany. A Winter’s Tale in 1844 that was immediately banned throughout the confederation. Heine’s style—indirect, witty, ironic, and often polemical—reveals constant awareness that his works would be censored. This explains why, when censorship eased briefly after the Revolution of 1848, he wrote in a letter: “How can anyone who has always lived under censorship write without being subjected to censorship?”

Heine’s writings were again banned and also burned in Germany during the Nazi years, not only because he was a Jewish author, but also because of his advocacy of democracy. Works such as Die Lorelei that were so popular they could not effectively be banned were listed as “Anonymous” by the Nazis.

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