Reinhard Sorge

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Reinhard Johannes Sorge
Reinhard Sorge.jpg
Born (1892-01-29)29 January 1892
Berlin, Germany
Died 20 July 1916(1916-07-20) (aged 24)
Ablaincourt, France
Occupation Writer
Nationality German
Literary movement Expressionism

Reinhard Sorge (29 January 1892, Berlin, German Empire – 20 July 1916, Ablaincourt, France) was a German dramatist and poet. He is best known for writing the Expressionist play The Beggar (Der Bettler), which won the Kleist Prize in 1912. Sorge served in the Imperial German Army in World War I beginning in 1915. He was killed in action at the Battle of the Somme in summer 1916.

Early life[edit]

Sorge was born in Berlin-Rixdorf, the son of a middle class salesman. When he was nine years old, his family moved to Jena. According to Tim Cross,

"The blight of his childhood was his father's mental illness. To escape the oppressive atmosphere at home, Sorge was sent to East Prussia to live with a parson and his family. Here he recovered an inner balance, a sense of purpose which was essentially Christian, and which laid the foundation for his future development."[1]

He began to write at the age of sixteen, but lost his faith after discovering the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. He was also greatly inspired by the writings of Stefan George and August Strindberg. According to Rev. B. O'Brien,

"The result was that he soon launched an attack on all that he conceived as a check on himself and his comrades. He caused common prayers and grace at table to be given up in his pious Lutheran home, and destroyed his young brother's belief in God and Heaven. In order to be free from the restrictions of school life, he left school a year before the end, with the resolution of studying for the leaving examination privately -- which he never did."[2]

Writing career[edit]

Facsimile of Sorge's Handwriting

After leaving school, Sorge switched to writing full-time. According to O'Brien,

"His first poem was called, 'The Youth,' and described his own Nietzschean ideals. The second was a complete play called, 'The Beggar: A Theatrical Mission,' which was again a drama about himself, a describes in a series of violent scenes how he tests and rejects various classes of men as unfit for the highest ideals."[3]

In 1912, "The Beggar" was published to rapt reviews and subsequently awarded that year's Kleist Prize. Sorge used his winnings to marry his longtime fiancee, Susanne Maria Handewerk. Together, they took a honeymoon cruise via North German Lloyd to Italy. While on tour in Naples and Rome, the Sorges were deeply moved by the pious Catholicism of the Italian people.

In a letter to his mother, Sorge wrote,

"In the Revelation of St. John the heavenly visions are so depicted -- golden censers are swung; people kneel and worship in solemn vesture, with crowns on their heads, a woman clothed with the sun appears (Mary). See, all quite Catholic, and that from St. John, a favorite disciple of the Lord. Our earthly Church must be a copy of the heavenly."[4]


After returning to Germany, the Sorges were received into the Roman Catholic Church at Jena in September 1913. He subsequently wrote to a friend,

"My soul was always inherently Christian, but I was misled by Nietzsche, entangled in suns and stars. In Der Bettler, I invoked the Name of God many a time quite unconsciously, and yet thought myself a fervent disciple of Nietzsche, who denies God's very existence."[5]

To the distress of Germany's Expressionist movement, Sorge vowed, "Thenceforth my pen has been and forever will be Christ's stylus—until my death."[6] As a result, his subsequent writings were all centered on fervently religious themes. He also succeeded in winning over many of his friends and relatives to Catholicism. Sorge had less success in his evangelizing letters to Ranier Maria Rilke and to his former mentor, Richard Dehmel. The subsequent influence of Sorge on German Catholic poetry led Rev. B. O'Brien to compare him to Francis Thompson.

Military service in the First World War and death[edit]

Reinhard Johannes Sorge on Furlough in Berlin, 1915

Sorge was drafted in the Imperial German Army in 1915. According to his letters to Susanne, Sorge used his devout Catholic beliefs in order to deal with the horrors of trench warfare. He also spent much of his free time trying to win his fellow soldiers over to Roman Catholicism. While serving at the Somme, Sorge was severely wounded and died the same day, 20 July 1916, at a field dressing station near Ablaincourt.[7] A short time before, he had written to Susanne,

"I suppose it is the imperfection of it all that I feel, and then the longing for our life together breaks through; but soon my soul is soothed and consoled by the conviction that this period has to be, that without it there can be no perfection."[8]


According to the website of the German War Graves Commission, Reinhard Johannes Sorge lies buried in a communal war grave at the Vermandovillers German war cemetery, located near the battlefield where he died.[9] The remains of the Expressionist poet Alfred Lichtenstein lie in the same cemetery.


Stage Plays[edit]

  • Der Bettler. Eine dramatische Sendung (1912);
  • Guntwar. Die Stunde eines Propheten (1914);
  • Metanoeite. Drei Mysterien (1915);
  • König David (1916);
  • Mystische Zwiesprache (1922);
  • Der Sieg des Christos. Eine Vision (1924);
  • Der Jüngling (frühere Dramen umfassend;1925);


  • Mutter der Himmel. Ein Sang in zwölf Gesängen (1917);
  • Gericht über Zarathustra. Vision (1921);
  • Preis der Unbefleckten. Sang über die Begegnung zu Lourde's (1924);
  • Nachgelassene Gedichte (1925);

Collected works[edit]

  • Werke, 3 Volumes (1962–67).


  • Bekenntnisse und Lobpreisungen, edited by Otto Karrera (München, 1960).


  • Rev. B. O'Brien, S.J., "From Nietzsche to Christ: Reinhard Johannes Sorge," Irish Monthly, December 1932, pages 713-722.
  • Private, Reserve Infantry Regiment 69, 6 Kompagnie; Prussian casualty list No. 607 of 15 August 1916, p 14057/Deutsche casualty list.


  1. ^ Tim Cross, "The Lost Voices of World War I: An International Anthology of Writers, Poets, and Playwrights," University of Iowa Press, 1989. Page 144.
  2. ^ "From Nietzsche to Christ," page 714.
  3. ^ "From Nietzsche to Christ", page 716.
  4. ^ "From Nietzsche to Christ", page 719.
  5. ^ "The Lost Voices of World War I," page 144.
  6. ^ "The Lost Voices of World War I," page 144.
  7. ^ Gefreiter, Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment 69, 6. Kompagnie; Preußische Verlustliste Nr. 607 vom 15. August 1916, S. 14057/Deutsche Verlustliste. (prussian R.I.R. 69/15th Reserve Division/German casualty roll entry)
  8. ^ "The Lost Voices of World War I," page 144.
  9. ^ Vermandovillers, Département Somme, 22632 German Casualties of the First World War (in German)

External links[edit]