(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Paul Celan was born Paul Ancel, or Antschel, the only child of Jewish parents, in Czernowitz, Romania (later Chernovtsy, U.S.S.R.), in Bukovina, situated in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in what is today northern Romania. This region had been under Austrian rule and thus contained a sizable German-speaking minority along with a mix of other nationalities and ethnic groups. In 1918, just two years before Celan’s birth, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bukovina became part of Romania. Thus, Celan was reared in a region of great cultural and linguistic diversity, the tensions of which energized his poetry.

Little is known of Celan’s early childhood, but he appears to have had a very close relationship with his mother and a less satisfying relationship with his father. Positive references to his mother abound in his poems, whereas his father is hardly mentioned. After receiving his high school diploma, the young Celan went to study medicine in France in 1938, but the war forced his return in the following year to Czernowitz, where he turned to the study of Romance languages and literature at the local university. In 1940, his hometown was annexed by the Soviet Union but was soon occupied by the Germans and their allies, who began to persecute and deport the Jewish population. Celan’s parents were taken to a concentration camp, where they both died, while the young man remained hidden for some time and finally ended up in a forced-labor camp. These events left a permanent scar on Celan’s memory, and it appears that he had strong feelings of guilt for having survived when his parents and so many of his friends and relatives were murdered. After Soviet troops reoccupied...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Paul Celan (TSEHL-ahn) is considered among Europe’s most important post-World War II poets. He was born Paul Antschel (or Ancel) in 1920 in Czernowitz, the capital of Romania’s Bukovina region, to a German-Jewish family. A crossroads of languages and cultures, Bukovina had only recently belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In a letter to an aunt following his Bar Mitzvah, Celan remarked that “as for anti-Semitism” in the Romanian state school he was then attending, “I could write a 300-page opus about it.”{$S[A]Antschel, Paul;Celan, Paul}{$S[A]Ancel, Paul;Celan, Paul}

Celan’s formative years were marked not only by anti-Semitism but also by ambivalence toward his Jewish heritage. His mother, Friederike Antschel, taught her only child German songs and poetry. Her influence probably contributed to Celan’s continuing to write in German after the Holocaust. References to Friederike recur in Celan’s poetry, and his earliest known poem is a sonnet to her. His father, Leo Antschel, however, is hardly ever mentioned in his son’s poetry. Celan had a difficult relationship with his father, a disciplinarian with strong Zionist convictions.

As a medical student in Tours, France (Romania’s medical schools enforced quotas against Jews), Celan was introduced to the French avant-garde by an uncle pursuing an acting career in Paris. When World War II broke out, Celan, on holiday in Czernowitz, was unable to return to France. By 1941 the city was overrun by German troops, who, joined by the Romanian army, forced the Jewish population into ghettos and then deported them to death camps. In June, 1942, Celan’s parents were among those deported; reports vary as to why he escaped. Whatever the facts, Celan experienced guilt throughout his life over his parents’ fate. His father died from typhus, and his mother was shot by camp guards.

Sent to a series of...

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(Poetry for Students)

On November 23, 1920, Paul Antschel was born in Czernowitz, Romania, which at that time was the easternmost province of the Austro-Hungarian...

(The entire section is 325 words.)