Bobrowski, Johannes

Bobrowski, Johannes
© Roger Melis

Johannes Bobrowski was born in 1917 in Tilsit (Sovetsk), the son of a railway official. In Königsberg (Kaliningrad) he attended a high school with Latin and Greek on the curriculum, learnt to play the organ, and in 1936 joined the “Confessing Church”, which opposed the Nazis. He frequently spent his holidays staying with relatives in the Memel Territory, which was under Lithuanian administration. Here, he not only met Johanna Buddrus, who he would marry in 1943, but also became familiar with a multicultural landscape which was later to form an important biographical background to his literary work. As a private in a signals unit, Bobrowski was involved in the Second World War over its entire course, and in 1945 he fell into Soviet captivity as a prisoner of war. After returning to his family, who were now living in (East) Berlin, he worked as an editor in a publishing house from 1950 onwards, and began to develop as a poet, creating a poetic space for himself which he called “Sarmatia”, taking up a name from ancient times. His experience of the war and of the crimes that accompanied it led him to his major literary theme: the Germans and their eastern neighbours.

From 1961 on he published three volumes of poetry, two novels, and several short stories; among other awards, he received the Literature Prize of the Gruppe 47. He was one of the few writers who were respected in both East and West Germany. His poems, short stories and novels are characterized by a fascinating sensuality and a high degree of linguistic precision. Bobrowski died in 1965 at the age of 48.