Karl Krolow and the Poetics of Amnesia in Postwar Germany

Karl Krolow (1915-1999) was one of the most prominent German poets of the second half of the twentieth century. The sharply distinct phases of Krolow's work reflect the phases of German postwar poetry in general, giving his work a representative stature for the period; and his production as one of Germany's leading poetry critics is almost as impressive. Yet his poetry, despite its prominence, its stylistic facility, and his prolific output, has surprisingly not received sustained critical attention.This study locates for the first time the hidden thread that runs through Krolow's work: his uneasy relationship to the recent German past. During the entire period of Germany's gradual and often painful coming to terms with the Nazi regime, the war, and the Holocaust, Krolow engaged his technical virtuosity as a poet in a stunning avoidance of historical content, both Germany's and his own. He never addressed publicly his own activities in the Third Reich and during the war: this study fills in that gap and examines for the first time, with new historical research and documentation, his life during the Nazi period and his literary production before 1945, a body of work that has never before received any critical evaluation or even acknowledgment.With this new foundation, Neil Donahue presents Krolow's career from a wholly new perspective and provides a new foundation for future consideration of his work and of postwar German poetry in general. In so doing, Donahue presents in sum, but overturns, decades of Krolow criticism which, begun on a false footing, missed the real historical depth in his poems: the depth of avoidance. Neil H. Donahue is professor of German and Comparative Literature at Hofstra University.