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Who was Nelly Sachs? Google honors poet who escaped Nazi Germany

In honor of what would have been Nobel Prize-winning poet Nelly Sachs’ 127th birthday, Google’s doodle team created a beautiful black-and-white illustration for the search engine’s homepage.

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Sachs, who was born to a Jewish family on Dec. 10, 1891, in Berlin, began writing poetry as a teenager, fascinated by the work of renowned Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf, who she often corresponded with.

During the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1940s, Lagerlöf helped Sachs and her mother escape to Sweden after they received orders to report to a forced labor camp.

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Sachs, who lost many of her family members in the Holocaust, would go on to channel her deep pains into prose, describing the “metaphors” in her poetry as “wounds.”

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“Her haunting poem ‘O die Schornsteine’ (’O the Chimneys’), evokes the spirits of the dearly departed through the image of smoke rising from the camps,” according to the Google blog

Sachs’ best-known play, “Eli: Ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels” (Eli: A Mystery Play of the Sufferings of Israel), is the first Holocaust drama ever written. 

It features 17 episodes of “musical, dreamlike, rather than realistic, form” and characters engaged in “long verse monologues more suited for poetry than for theater,” University of Memphis literature professor Gene Plunka wrote in a 2009 issue of the South Central Review.

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After its initial broadcast in Germany in 1958, the play gained global recognition and received high praise “for its spirit of conciliation.”

In 1966, Sachs was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature along with Hebrew writer Samuel Joseph Agnon. 

Before earning the coveted Nobel Prize, Sachs also won the 1965 Peace Prize of German Publishers. When accepting the award from the country she once escaped, she said, “In spite of all the horrors of the past, I believe in you.”

Sachs died of intestinal cancer on May 12, 1970 in Stockholm, Sweden. She was 79.

Learn more about Sachs at google.com/doodles.

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