Borchert's profile, from a 1996 German stamp
20 May 1921|
|Died||20 November 1947
|Resting place||Friedhof Ohlsdorf, in Hamburg|
|Literary movement||Trümmerliteratur ("Rubble literature")|
Wolfgang Borchert (20 May 1921 – 20 November 1947) was a German author and playwright (Trümmerliteratur) whose work was affected by his experience of dictatorship and his service in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. His work is among the best examples of the Trümmerliteratur movement in post-World War II Germany. His most famous work is the drama "Draußen vor der Tür (The man outside)", which he wrote in the first days after World War II. In his works he never makes compromises in questions of humanity and humanism. He is one of the most popular authors of the German postwar period, also today often read in German schools.
Borchert was born in Hamburg, the only child of teacher Fritz Borchert, who worked also for the Dada magazine "Die Rote Erde" and author Hertha Borchert, who worked for the Hamburg radio and was famous for her dialect poetry. Borchert's family was very liberal and progressive, they operated in Hamburg's intellectual society circles. Far from being an enthusiastic Nazi, Borchert hated his compulsory time in the party's youth wing, the Hitler Youth, from which, after missing meetings, he was released. So long before he wrote his famous drama "The man outside", he rebelled against the NS-dictatorship in his prewar-works (1938–1940). In April 1940 he was arrested by the Gestapo (Secret State Police) and then released. The same year he reluctantly took up an apprenticeship at a Hamburg bookshop. While at the bookshop, Borchert took acting lessons, without, at first, telling his parents. He left the apprenticeship early in 1941. Upon passing his acting examination on 21 March 1941, he began working at for the travelling theatre repertoire company Landesbühne Ost-Hannover based in Lüneburg. His nascent theatrical career was cut short, however, by his conscription into the Wehrmacht in June 1941.
Borchert was posted to the Eastern front, where he saw the full horror of the eastern conflict, witnessing the numerous casualties in battle and those sustained due to cold, starvation, and inadequate equipment. On 23 February 1942, Borchert returned from sentry duty on the Russian front missing the middle finger of his left hand. He claimed that he had surprised a Russian soldier, had engaged in hand-to-hand conflict, his rifle had gone off in the struggle and wounded him. His superior officer, accusing him of attempting to evade military service by self-mutilation, had him arrested and placed in isolation. At his trial, the military prosecutor called for the death penalty, but the court believed Borchert's version of the events, and he was pronounced not guilty. However, he was immediately re-arrested on charges under the Heimtückegesetz – making statements against the regime, He was convicted of making "statements endangering the country" and sentenced to serve a further six weeks of strict-regime detention, and was then sent back to the Eastern front "to prove himself at the front". There he suffered frostbite and several further bouts of hepatitis, after which he was granted medical leave. On leave he again acted in a nightclub in the now ravaged city of Hamburg. He then returned to his barracks, and successfully applied to be transferred to an army theatre group. He was transferred to a transit camp in Koblenz, but in the dormitory on the evening of 30 November 1943 he retold parodies of the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Borchert was denounced by one of the other soldiers in the dormitory, arrested, and on 21 August 1944 sentenced to nine months in prison. The sentence was deferred until the end of the War, so he was again returned to the army, this time mostly spending his time in his barracks in Jena, before being sent, in March 1945, to the area around Frankfurt/M. His company surrendered to the French in March 1945. During their transportation to a prisoners of war camp, Borchert and others jumped off the lorry and escaped, and then he walked home to Hamburg (a distance of around 370 miles). He arrived there, totally exhausted, on 10 May, a week after Hamburg had surrendered to the British without putting up any resistance.
Following the war, Borchert's condition continued to worsen. In 1946 one doctor told his mother he expected Borchert would not live longer than another year, but Borchert himself was never told of this prognosis. He resumed his work with the theater, and continued writing. He wrote short prose and published a collection of poems Laterne, Nacht und Sterne (Lantern, Night and Stars) in December 1946. In December 1946 and/or January 1947 he wrote the play The Man Outside (Draußen vor der Tür). Even before its publication the play was performed on the radio on 13 February 1947, meeting with much acclaim. Later in 1947 Wolfgang Borchert entered a hepatic sanitorium in the Swiss city of Basel, where he continued with short stories and wrote his manifesto against war Dann gibt es nur eins! (Then there is only one thing!) shortly before his death.
- Die drei dunklen Könige (The three dark kings, 1946)
- An diesem Dienstag (On this Tuesday, 1946)
- Das Brot (The Bread, 1946)
- Draußen vor der Tür (The Man Outside, 1946)
- Nachts schlafen die Ratten doch (The rats do sleep nights, 1947)
- Die Kirschen (The cherries, 1947)
- Dann gibt es nur eins! (Then there's only one thing!, 1947)
- Die lange lange Strasse lang (Along the Long, Long Road, 1947)
- these works are for example: Yorrick, der Narr; Granvella! Der schwarze Kardinal; Der Käseladen – two of the works show the individual fight against state power by establishing the stories in ancient time.
Wolf, Rudolf. 1984. Wolfgang Borchert. Werk und Wirkung.Bouvier Verlag. Bonn.
Gumtau, Helmut. 1969. Wolfgang Borchert. Colloquium Verlag. Berlin.
Rühmkopf, Peter. 1961. Wolfgang Borchert. Rowohlt. Reinbeck bei Hamburg.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wolfgang Borchert.|
- English translations of some of Borchert's stories
- International Wolfgang Borchert Society
- Translation of "The Crowned Tooth, Or Why My Cousin No Longer Eats Toffees"