Born on this day in 1891 Berlin, Nelly Sachs is the subject of today’s Google Doodle. The illustration by German/Finish artist Daniel Stolle is in black and white and portrays elements of Sachs’s work, as well as her own life—in 1940, Sachs and her mother learned they were to be sent to a forced-labour camp, and fled Germany for Sweden with the help of author Selma Lagerlöf.
Sachs’s poetics and her deeply haunting explorations of suffering are noted for the way she draws from German Romanticism, traditional Jewish texts, and the struggle of speaking the unspeakable. In the doodle, we see an allusion to her famous poem O die Schornsteine” (“O the Chimneys”), which reflects on her family members who died in the concentration camps.
The description on Google points out that “Sachs described the ‘metaphors’ in her poetry as ‘wounds,'” and we can see how much the ability to write means for Sachs. She writes in the same letter, “Had I not been able to write, I would not have survived”. As the Nazis were gaining power, Sachs was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo and describes feeling the terror so acutely that she lost the ability to speak for a week—silence would go on to be a theme in her work. After fleeing for Stockholm, she and her mother were left with little to nothing and had no knowledge of the language. Sachs would go on to become translator of Swedish poetry. Her poetry and plays continued being published and she was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature with Shumel Yosef in 1966, and also received the 1965 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.
Sachs died of cancer in 1970 at the age of 78. To learn more about Nelly Sachs, S. Lillian Kremer’s Holocaust Literature, The Seeker, and Other Poems, or the Guide to the Papers of Nelly Sachs are great places to start.
Happy 127th birthday, Nelly Sachs.
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