Marcel Reich-Ranicki

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Marcel Reich-Ranicki
Reich-Ranicki in 2007
Reich-Ranicki in 2007
BornMarceli Reich
(1920-06-02)2 June 1920
Włocławek, Kuyavia, Poland
Died18 September 2013(2013-09-18) (aged 93)
Frankfurt, Hesse, Germany
OccupationLiterary critic
Notable awardsGoethe Prize (2002)
(m. 1942; died 2011)

Marcel Reich-Ranicki (German: [maʁˈsɛl ˌʁaɪçʁaˈnɪtskiː]; 2 June 1920 – 18 September 2013) was a Polish-born German literary critic and member of the informal literary association Gruppe 47.[1] He was regarded as one of the most influential contemporary literary critics in the field of German literature and has often been called Literaturpapst ("Pope of Literature") in Germany.[2]


Early life[edit]

Marcel Reich was born on 2 June 1920 in Włocławek, Poland,[3] to David Reich, a Polish Jewish merchant, and his wife, Helene (née Auerbach) Reich, who came from a German Jewish family. Reich and his family moved to Berlin in 1929.[3] He attended a German school there but was later sent to Berlin to study.[4]

Reich dedicated himself to the reading of German classics and practicing the theatre. The literary critic Volker Weidermann wrote that "he found his salvation in literature".[5] As a Jew he was unable to enroll at university and was then expelled back to Poland in 1938.[6] After being denied at university of Berlin, he was arrested and deported to Poland. In his 1999 autobiography, The Author of Himself, Ranicki affirmed, "I had a ticket for [a] première that evening – I wouldn't be needing it."[5]

In November 1940, Reich and his parents found themselves in the Warsaw Ghetto, during which time he worked for the Judenrat as a chief translator,[3][5] and contributed to the collaborative newspaper Gazeta Żydowska (The Jewish Newspaper) as a music critic. Reich's translation work meant that he was an eyewitness to meetings between the Jewish and Nazi authorities.[3]

Ranicki survived to the Jewish deportation in the Warsaw Ghetto, where he married his wife Teofila, whereas his parents were murdered in the Treblinka extermination camp.[7] In 1943 Reich and his wife managed to escape the Ghetto. His parents and brother were murdered in the Holocaust. His sister survived, having escaped to England shortly before the war.[3]

In 1944 he joined the Polish People's Army, and became an officer in Urząd Bezpieczeństwa, Soviet-controlled Poland's secret police, known for using torture and human rights violations, where he worked in the censorship department.[8] He joined the communist Polish Workers' Party after the war.

From 1948 to 1949 he was a Polish diplomat and intelligence worker (operating under the pseudonym "Ranicki") in London.[6] The couple's only child, Andrew Ranicki, who became a notable topologist and mathematics professor, was born in London in 1948. Reich was recalled from London in 1949, sacked from the intelligence service, and expelled from the Party on charges of "ideological estrangement", for which he was also jailed for a short time.[6] Subsequently, he developed a career as an editor, publisher of East German authors, and freelance writer for newspapers and radio with a focus on German literature.[9][10][11][12]

Life in Germany[edit]

Bust of Reich-Ranicki in Literaturhaus Frankfurt

Frustrated by the curtailment of his liberty in the People's Republic of Poland he emigrated in 1958 with his wife and son to the Federal Republic of Germany,[3] living in the city of Hamburg.[6] Here he began writing for leading German periodicals, including Die Welt and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In Poland, he had published under the pseudonym "Ranicki"[3] as his intelligence codename. On the advice of the arts editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine he adopted the name Marcel Reich-Ranicki professionally. From 1963 to 1973, he was literary critic for the German weekly Die Zeit, published in Hamburg.[13]

In 1973 he moved to Frankfurt, where, from 1973 to 1988, he was head of the literature staff at the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.[6] Reich-Ranicki would go on to write and edit for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung for the rest of his life. In 1969 he taught at an American university.[14] From 1971 to 1975 he held visiting professorships at Stockholm and Uppsala.[15]

In 1974 he was awarded an honorary professorship at the University of Tübingen,[15] Germany. In 1990 and 1991 he received the Heinrich-Hertz visiting professorship of the University of Karlsruhe,[16] and in 1991 and 1992 he received the Heinrich-Heine visiting professorship at the University of Düsseldorf.[17]

From 1988 to 2001, Reich-Ranicki hosted the literary talk show Literarisches Quartett on German public television.[1] Through the show he became a household name in Germany;[6] according to a survey 98% of Germans knew his name.[18] In Summer 2000, fellow panelist Sigrid Löffler left the panel, complaining because Reich-Ranicki had put forward Haruki Murakami's erotic novel South of the Border, West of the Sun for discussion, which Löffler disliked. Reich-Ranicki answered that she had a problem with erotic literature in general. Although differences over the Murakami provided a catalyst for Löffler's widely publicised departure from the programme, it does appear that tensions between Löffler and Reich-Ranicki were more broadly based and longstanding, having indeed nourished the programme's dynamic over the years.[19][20] In 2002 the show was followed by a similar but short-lived programme, Reich-Ranicki Solo, which consisted of him talking about old and new books in front of a studio audience.[21] Jack Zipes wrote: "On his television show Reich-Ranicki often played the clown, a mixture of Milton Berle and Jack Benny, but you always had to take him seriously because his knowledge of German culture was so comprehensive."[6]

In 1993, the weekly Der Spiegel gave him a dossier of about fifteen pages, under the title The Lord of Books, tracing his career, first to Die Zeit, then to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.[22] Many writers, and readers too, disagreed with some traits of his complex personality, while universally recognizing his culture and passion for German literature.[22]

Having written about German literature for most of his life, he published books on American and Polish literature, after cutting down on his television appearances. Reich-Ranicki's wife and son encouraged him to write an autobiography "before it was too late". Published in 1999, The Author of Himself: The Life of Marcel Reich-Ranicki was a bestseller in Germany, cementing his status. Mainly dealing with life and survival during the war, the book was adapted for television and broadcast starring Matthias Schweighöfer as Reich-Ranicki in April 2009.[6]

In February 2006 he received the honorary degree of Doctor Philosophiae Honoris Causa from Tel Aviv University, which later that year established an endowed chair for German literature named after him.[23][24][25] In February 2007 the Humboldt University in Berlin awarded him an honorary degree.[26][27] This is the same university that Reich-Ranicki applied to in 1938, when his application was turned down because of his Jewish ancestry.[26][27]

In October 2008, he was awarded a lifetime achievement award during at the German Television Awards telecast for Literarisches Quartett. He made headlines with his acceptance speech, in which he spurned the prize and criticized the state of German television.[28][29] He also declared he would have paid any monetary award back, had the prize been associated with a monetary.[30]

In 2012, Reich-Ranicki made a speech at the Bundestag at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He continued to write a weekly column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung until shortly before his death.[6]

The autobiographic book "The Author of Himself", published in 1999, begins with Reich-Ranicki reporting a conversation of 1958 with Günter Grass asking him: "Are you German, or Polish, or what?". The answer was: "Half German...".[22]


Reich-Ranicki died on 18 September 2013 in Frankfurt, having previously been diagnosed with prostate cancer.[1][31] German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid tribute: "We lose in him a peerless friend of literature, but also of freedom and democracy. I will miss this passionate and brilliant man."[6] The Süddeutsche Zeitung described Reich-Ranicki as "the man who taught us how to read."[31]

Marcel's son, Andrew Ranicki (1948–2018),[32] was a professor of mathematics at the University of Edinburgh.[6] Marcel's wife, Teofila Reich-Ranicki, predeceased her husband by two years, dying in 2011.[33] According to The Economist, "He appreciated Jewish culture, especially its way with words, but found religion pointless and, after Warsaw, God inconceivable."[34]

Relationships with authors[edit]

As a tough critic Reich-Ranicki had a difficult relationship with other authors. Following the publication of Too Far Afield by his fellow Gruppe 47 member Günter Grass, Reich-Ranicki appeared on the cover of the magazine Der Spiegel, tearing the novel apart. The magazine included his unfavorable review of the book.[31][35] Reich-Ranicki praised Grass' next book, Crabwalk.[36] Another frequent target of Reich-Ranicki was writer Martin Walser. In 2002, Walser published the crime novel Death of a Critic (Tod eines Kritikers) as a revenge against Reich-Ranicki. In the book a prominent, bigoted critic named André Ehrl-König – who shares many similarities with Reich-Ranicki – is murdered. The novel became a hot topic of debate in Germany.

Australian writer Clive James stated, "Every living German writer wants his praise, but it has always been hard to get: the reason, of course, why they would like to have it."[37]


  • Literarisches Leben in Deutschland 1963
  • Deutsche Literatur in Ost und West Piper 1963, DTV 1983 (revised)
  • Literarisches Leben in Deutschland. Kommentare u. Pamphlete. Munich: Piper 1965
  • Wer schreibt, provoziert 1966, 1992
  • Literatur der kleinen Schritte. Deutsche Schriftsteller heute. Piper 1967
  • Die Ungeliebten. Sieben Emigranten. 1968
  • In Sachen Böll. Ansichten und Einsichten. 1968, 1994
  • Über Ruhestörer. Juden in der deutschen Literatur. Piper 1973.
  • Nachprüfung, Aufsätze über deutsche Schriftsteller von gestern. Piper 1977, DTV 1980, 1990 (revised)
  • (Ed.) Frankfurter Anthologie. Volume 1–29, Frankfurt: Insel 1978–2006
  • Entgegnung, Zur deutschen Literatur der siebziger Jahre. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 1981
  • Nichts als Literatur. Aufsätze und Anmerkungen. Reclam 1986
  • Thomas Mann und die Seinen. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 1987, ISBN 3-421-06364-8
  • (Ed.) Deutsche Erzählungen des 20. Jahrhunderts. (5 volumes) 1991
  • Der doppelte Boden. (Interviews with Peter von Matt) 1992
  • Lauter Verrisse. Munich: DTV 1993, ISBN 3-423-11578-5
  • Die Anwälte der Literatur. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 1994
  • Herz, Arzt und Literatur: Zwei Aufsätze. Ammann 1994
  • Romane von gestern, heute gelesen II. 1918 – 1933. Fischer 1996
  • Verweile doch – 111 Gedichte mit Interpretationen Insel 1999
  • Mein Leben. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 1999, ISBN 3-423-13056-3The Author of Himself: The Life of Marcel Reich-Ranicki
  • Der Fall Heine. DTV 2000, ISBN 3-423-12774-0
  • (with Sigrid Löffler and Hellmuth Karasek) ... und alle Fragen offen. Das Beste aus dem Literarischen Quartett. Heyne 2000. ISBN 3-453-16506-3.
  • (Ed.) Hundert Gedichte des Jahrhunderts. Insel 2001
  • (Ed.) Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen. Deutsche Gedichte und ihre Interpretationen. Insel 2001
  • Ungeheuer oben. Über Bertolt Brecht. Aufbau 2001
  • Deutsche Literatur in West und Ost. DTV 2002
  • Sieben Wegbereiter. Schriftsteller des 20. Jahrhunderts. Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 2002, ISBN 3-421-05514-9
  • Kritik als Beruf. Fischer 2002, ISBN 3-596-15577-0
  • Über Literaturkritik. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 2002
  • Erst leben, dann spielen. Über polnische Literatur. Wallstein 2002
  • Lauter schwierige Patienten. List 2003
  • Meine Bilder. Porträts und Aufsätze. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 2003, ISBN 3-421-05619-6
  • Meine Geschichten. Von Johann Wolfgang Goethe bis heute. Insel 2003
  • Unser Grass. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 2003, ISBN 3-421-05796-6
  • Vom Tag gefordert. Reden in deutschen Angelegenheiten. DTV 2003, ISBN 3-423-13145-4
  • Meine Geschichten. Von Johann Wolfgang von Goethe bis heute. Insel, 2003, ISBN 3-458-17166-5
  • (Ed.) Meine Gedichte. Seit Walther von der Vogelweide. Insel 2003
  • (Ed.) Hundert Gedichte des Jahrhunderts 2003
  • (Ed.) Der Kanon. Die deutsche Literatur Erzählungen. Insel 2002–2006
  • Sieben Wegbereiter: Schriftsteller des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts. DTV 2004
  • Goethe noch einmal: Reden und Anmerkungen. DTV 2004
  • (Ed.) Meine Schulzeit im Dritten Reich. Erinnerungen deutscher Schriftsteller. DTV 2006
  • Marcel Reich-Ranicki im Gespräch mit Wolfgang Koeppen. Suhrkamp 2006
  • Der Mond über Soho: 66 Gedichte mit Interpretationen. (poems by Bertolt Brecht) Insel 2006
  • Über Amerikaner. Von Hemingway und Bellow bis Updike und Philip Roth. DTV 2006
  • Aus persönlicher Sicht. Gespräche 1999 bis 2006 Marcel Reich- Ranicki, Christiane Schmidt; DVA 2006
  • Marcel Reich-Ranicki antwortet auf 99 Fragen. Insel 2006, ISBN 3-458-34888-3
  • Herrlich wie am ersten Tag: 125 Gedichte und ihre Interpretationen Insel 2008
  • Die Literatur, eine Heimat: Reden über und von Marcel Reich-Ranicki DVA 2008
  • (Ed.) Mein Schiller Insel 2009
  • (Ed.) Mein Lessing Hoffmann und Campe 2009
  • Für alle Fragen offen: Antworten zur Weltliteratur 2009

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Marcel Reich-Ranicki ist tot". Der Spiegel (in German). 18 September 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  2. ^ WHO'S WHO profile: Marcel Reich-Ranicki (in German)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Moulson, Geir (22 September 2013). "MMarcel Reich-Ranicki, German literary critic, dies at 93". The Washington Post.
  4. ^ T. Michael. "Biography of Marcel Reich-Ranicki". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 6 September 2015. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  5. ^ a b c S. McGrane (24 September 2013). "Postscript: Marcel Reich (1920–2013)". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 14 April 2016. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Dillon, Sam (18 September 2013). "Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Literary Critic, Is Dead at 93". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  7. ^ P . Oltermann (18 September 2013). "Marcel Reich-Ranicki, German literary critic, dies aged 93". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 22 March 2016. Retrieved 6 September 2018. Renowned for his putdowns, the 'pope of literature' survived the Warsaw ghetto to become Germany's most influential critic.
  8. ^ Gnauck, Gerhard (10 March 2009). "Vertreibung: Wie Reich-Ranicki in Polen die Zensur organisierte". Die Welt (in German). Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  9. ^ Schneeberger, Ruth (18 September 2013). "Marcel Reich-Ranicki ist tot – Ein Nachruf". Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  10. ^ Hickley, Catherine (19 September 2013). "German Critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, German Dies at 93". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  11. ^ "Germany's top literary critic, Holocaust survivor, dead". France 24. 18 September 2013. Archived from the original on 6 October 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  12. ^ "Marcel Reich-Ranicki". The Guardian. 19 September 2013. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  13. ^ Joel, Fokke (18 September 2013). "Nachruf Marcel Reich-Ranicki: Heimlich Ausreise in die Bundesrepublik". Die Zeit (in German). Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  14. ^ Lückert, Katja (18 September 2013). "Streitbarer Verfechter des Buches – Zum Tode von Marcel Reich-Ranicki" (in German). Deutschlandfunk.
  15. ^ a b "Marcel Reich-Ranicki: Mein Heine (Hoffmann & Campe Verlag)/Leseprobe" (in German). Die Berliner Literaturkritik. 11 December 2009. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  16. ^ "Werner Leonhard erhält 10. Heinrich-Hertz-Gastprofessur" (in German). 10 January 1997. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  17. ^ "Biografie: Marcel Reich-Ranicki". Hessischer Rundfunk. 4 March 2013. Archived from the original on 18 September 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  18. ^ "Auch mit 90 ist Reich-Ranicki noch streitlustig".
  19. ^ Wolfgang Büscher (14 July 2000). "Es geht um Murakami Ein Streit zwischen Marcel Reich-Ranicki und Sigrid Löffler gefährdet die ZDF-Literatursendung". Es geht um Murakami .... Das Quartett, die Liebe und die Qual. WeltN24 GmbH, Berlin. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  20. ^ "Das Ende der "Qual" Sigrid Löffler verlässt das "Literarische Quartett"". Die Journalistin wirft ihrem Mitmoderator Marcel Reich-Ranicki einen "medialen Amoklauf" vor und bedauert, dass die beliebte Fernsehsendung zum "wüsten Spektakel" verkommen sei. Das ZDF denkt über eine vorübergehende Trio-Besetzung nach. Der Spiegel (online). 28 July 2000. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  21. ^ "Marcel Reich-Ranicki: Letztes Solo des ersten Geigers". Der Spiegel (in German). 2 December 2002. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  22. ^ a b c J. Savigneau (19 September 2013). "Le critique littéraire Marcel Reich-Ranicki ne ferraillera plus contre Günter Grass". Le (in French). Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  23. ^ "Tel Aviv University Webflash – February 2006". Tel Aviv University. February 2006. Archived from the original on 9 October 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  24. ^ "Tel Aviv: Kein Interesse an deutscher Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte" (in German). Neue Musikzeitung. 5 March 2008. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  25. ^ Hofmann, Grit (18 January 2006). "Reich-Ranicki-Lehrstuhl in Tel Aviv" (in German). Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  26. ^ a b Glasmacher, Andre (22 February 2007). "Marcel Reich-Ranicki – Lob eines Kritikers". Jüdische Allgemeine (in German). Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  27. ^ a b "Reich-Ranicki spät geehrt – Auszeichnungen, Literatur, Kultur, Bildung, Persönlichkeiten" (in German). 15 February 2007. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  28. ^ Article in The Guardian on Marcel Reich-Ranicki
  29. ^ Video of the acceptance speech (full length) at YouTube
  30. ^ "Marcel Reich-Ranicki: 'I say it openly, I do not accept the prize'". El Mundo (in Spanish). 13 October 2008. Archived from the original on 2 December 2009. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  31. ^ a b c Oltermann, Phillip (18 September 2013). "Marcel Reich-Ranicki, German literary critic, dies aged 93". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  32. ^ "Zum Tod von Andrew Ranicki, Sohn von Teofila und Marcel Reich-Ranicki – :".
  33. ^ "Teofila Reich-Ranicki ist tot" (in German),] (in German)
  34. ^ Marcel Reich-Ranicki
  35. ^ "Reich-Ranicki an Grass: "Ich muss Sie noch einmal belehren"". Der Spiegel (in German). 10 October 2002. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  36. ^ Köhler, Andrea (18 September 2013). "Zum Tod des Literaturkritikers Marcel Reich-Ranicki: Der Herr der Bücher". Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  37. ^ "German literary critic and Holocaust survivor Reich-Ranicki dead at 93". The Jerusalem Post. 18 September 2013.

External links[edit]