Der Klang der Worte (The Sound of the Words)

  • December 28, 2014
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Gert Krell, December 6, 2009

“Der Klang der Worte” is a film about a group of Jewish Holocaust survivors in Israel who write poems and short stories in German. They are members of the “Verband deutschspra­chiger Schriftsteller in Israel” (Union of German-Speaking Writers in Israel). “Why should we let Hitler take away our native language?” says one of them at the beginning. They came from Germany, Austria or the Bukovina to Palestine or Israel; several are from Czernowitz, formerly a multicultural center in the far east of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. (It is a Ukrainian city today.) Some came before, some after the war.

Of course, they have all learned Hebrew which they use in everyday conversation even in the family. But most of them still feel more familiar with their native German, when they want to express themselves in their literary writings. There is also a book about the group who call themselves “Lyris”, standing for lyrics in Israel. It includes short biographies based on inter­views of ten writers. Almost all of the group’s poems show a strong element of melancholy, but there is no resentment in them. Many are just beautiful and very moving.

Eva Avi-Yonah, nee Boyko, who was born in Vienna in 1921 and emigrated with her parents to Palestine in 1936, is the heart, a kind of directing spirit of the Lyris group. In “Was ich lernen sollte” (What I was supposed to learn) she remembers a wasp which had frozen onth a cold window. (She was a child then.) She picked it up and put it beside her coffee pot where it came to life again and then stung her. “That should teach you a lesson”, her mother said. Now she has been thinking about this lesson for close to seventy years. Would she have to give up her childish trusting, should she mistrust everybody and everything? Was there no protection anywhere? Should she walk around without compassion, hardened and shielded? In “Ver­söhnungstag” (Yom Kippur) she says that life always has to be wrested from death, love from hate and even more from flat indifference.

The Jewish German-speaking European middle class was one of strongest pillars of German culture; they knew more about it and loved it more than many, probably most non-Jewish Germans. Lyris is one of the few surviving examples of this tradition; it is a great gift, a consolation saved from our pathological past. And a personal consolation for myself:


Frag nicht wer schuld ist.

Spricht nicht

von Strafe, von Rache.


an Mittel und Wege,

an die Listen der Liebe.

Geh unbeirrt und beanspruche

keinen Gegenwert.

Nur so

wird es erträglich.“


[From Eva Avi-Jonah, Versöhnungstag, in: Dorothee Wahl (ed.), Lyris. Deutschsprachige Dichterinnen und Dichter in Israel, Frankfurt am Main 2004, p. 31]


Do not ask who is guilty. Do not talk about penalty or revenge. Think of ways and means, the little cunnings of love. Do not waver in your path and do not claim equivalent value. This is the only way to bear it. (My unauthorized translation)

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