Rose Ausländer was born Rosalie Beatrice Ruth Scherzer on May 11, 1901, to Jewish parents in Czernowitz, the capital of Bukovina. Her mother’s name was Etie Binder and her father’s, Sigmund Scherzer. Originally her father was supposed to become a rabbi, but later he decided to become a businessman. Until 1918, Bukovina was the easternmost part of the Habsburg Empire. The population of Czernowitz was about 110,000 and consisted of Germans, Romanians, Ukranians, Poles, and a large proportion of Jews. The Jewish population had assumed the role of preserving the German culture and of being an intermediary between it and the Slavic culture. As a child, Ausländer was educated in the German-Austrian school system, but she also learned Hebrew and Yiddish. Through her schooling she became acquainted with the German literary classics, especially those by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and Heinrich Heine. She enjoyed a harmonious childhood, which was filled with love toward her parents and her native country. With the advent of World War I and the Russian occupation of Czernowitz, however, this peaceful existence was abruptly terminated. Ausländer’s family fled first to Bucharest and later to Vienna. There they led a life full of suffering and misery. As a result of the Treaty of Versailles, Bukovina became a part of Romania. The family returned to their hometown, where Ausländer finished her secondary education and subsequently attended the University of Czernowitz, majoring in literature and philosophy. At the university, she became especially interested in Plato, Baruch Spinoza, and Constantin Brunner, a follower of Spinoza who lived in Berlin at that time. Later the teachings of Brunner were to become an integral part of her poetry.
Ausländer’s studies and her active membership in literary circles exposed her to the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin, Franz Kafka, Georg Trakl, Rainer Maria Rilke, Else Lasker-Schüler, and Gottfried Benn. Despite their distance from Vienna, the Jewish literary circles in Czernowitz had adopted the Viennese Karl Kraus as mentor. With the publication of the journal Die Fackel (the torch), Kraus had assumed the role of the “high priest of truth,” the herald of an ethical humanism and poetry against nationalist chauvinism and the corruption of bureaucracy and politics.
In 1921, as a result of the worsening of the family’s already dire financial situation following her father’s death, Ausländer decided to emigrate to the United States. She emigrated with her childhood friend Ignaz Ausländer. After failing to establish themselves in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, they settled in New York City, where they were married in 1923. Ausländer had a position in a bank, and her husband worked as a mechanic. The marriage was not to last; they separated in 1926 and were finally divorced in 1930. In 1924, Ausländer met Alfred Margul-Sperber, who later became the major sponsor of her poetry after her return to Czernowitz. In 1926, she became a U.S. citizen and in 1927 visited Constantin Brunner in Berlin. She returned to New York in 1928, where she lived with Helios Hecht, a graphologist, a writer, and an editor of several periodicals. She published her first poems in the Westlicher Herold-Kalender, a Minneapolis publication, and later published a few poems in the New Yorker Volkszeitung. In 1931, she returned to Czernowitz with Hecht and remained there to care for her ailing mother. After her prolonged absence from the United States, her U.S. citizenship was revoked in 1934. Eventually, she and Hecht separated.
Between 1931 and the outbreak of World War II, Ausländer published poems in various periodicals. Margul-Sperber arranged for the publication of her first volume of poetry, Der Regenbogen (the rainbow), despite the Romanian government’s policy of suppressing non-Romanian literature. In 1941, the Germans occupied Czernowitz, forced the Jews to return to the old ghetto, and...
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