A German Jewish author, Karl Wolfskehl wrote poetry, prose, and drama in German. He also translated from French, English, Italian, Hebrew, Latin and Middle High German into German.
Born 1869 in Darmstadt, Germany, Karl Wolfskehl studied in Leipzig and Berlin, completing a doctorate in Germanic mythology. In 1898 he married Hanna de Haan and they had two daughters.
He was active in the Munich Cosmic Circle, a group of intellectuals in Munich based around Alfred Schuler. This group broke up in 1904 due to a rift between Wolfskehl, supported by Stefan George, and Ludwig Klages, supported by Schuler. He emigrated to Switzerland (1933) and then Italy (1934), ultimately arriving with his new partner Margot Ruben in Auckland in July 1938.
In Germany Wolfskehl had already acquired a reputation as a poet and essayist, but in New Zealand he was almost totally unknown. Having experienced some of the cultural highlights of Sydney before travelling on to New Zealand, Wolfskehl found it difficult to acclimatise to the relatively less developed cultural and intellectual environment in Auckland and yet he continued to write and to write in German, eventually producing some of his best work here.
Upon his death in June 1948 he had arranged for his grave inscription to read “exul poeta” to signify his Jewish, Roman, and German roots.
Further references can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Wolfskehl and http://www.holocaustcentre.org.nz/index.php/holocaust-stories/survivor-stories/40-karl-wolfskehl
Image header: Karl Wolfskehl and figtree (by Maja Blumenfeld) Courtesy of Holloway Press, University of Auckland