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Horst Bienek


Bienek was born in Gleiwitz (now Gliwice), in Upper Silesia in 1930. He has said that, at the age of thirteen, he remembers the Jews shipped off to Auschwitz while, at the age of fifteen, the Russians occupied Gleiwitz and set fire to it. At the age of sixteen, he had to leave the area for ever. At that time, Silesia straddled the German and Polish borders but is now mainly in Poland. He started his literary career in Berlin, studying at the Berliner Ensemble, where he met Brecht. In 1951, he took part in anti-Stalin demonstrations and was deported to the Soviet Union. He was sentenced to twenty-five years’ imprisonment and he spent four years in the Vorkuta gulag. He was released after an amnesty and went to West Germany, living mainly in the Munich area. He cites several American authors as influences on his work, including Faulkner, McCullers, Thomas Wolfe, Capote and Pound (he made the last film of Pound). He died in 1990.

Though a first-class poet, he will be best remembered for his superb Gleiwitzer Tetralogie (Gleiwitz Tetralogy), a series of four novels set in his home town of Gleitwitz, during World War II. The first three focus on only one day (31 August, 1939, 4 September 1939 and Good Friday, 1943, respectively), while the final one is set during February 1945. Bienek is mainly concerned with the action and fates of the ordinary people of the town and how they try to continue their lives while the war carries on around them. His tetralogy is one of the great works of modern German literature.

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Horst Bienek
Horst Bienek (in German)


1957 Traumbuch eines Gefangenen (collection of poetry and prose)
1959 Nachtstücke (stories)
1962 Werkstattgespräche mit Schriftstellern (criticism)
1966 was war was ist (poetry)
1968 Die Zelle (The Cell) (novel)
1969 Vorgefundene Gedichte (Poetry)
1969 Bienek (selected poetry, in German with English translations)
1971 Selected Poems (poems of Bienek and Johannes Bobrowski Johannes)
1972 Bakunin: Eine Invention (Bakunin, An Invention )
1972 Solschenizyn und andere (Essays)
1972 Der Verurteilte (story)
1972 Im Untergrund (play, based on Dostoevsky story)
1974 Die Zeit danach (poetry)
1975 Gleiwitzer Tetralogie (Gleiwitz Tetralogy) (1975 Die erste Polka (The First Polka); 1977 Septemberlicht (September Light); 1979 Zeit ohne Glocken (Time Without Bells); 1982 Erde und Feuer (Earth and Fire))
1976 Gleiwitzer Kindheit (poetry)
1980 Von Zeit und Erinnerung (stories, poems and essays)
1981 Der Freitag der kleinen Freuden (stories)
1983 Beschreibung einer Provinz (memoirs)
1984 Königswald, oder, Die letzte Geschichte (story)
1986 Der Blinde in der Bibliothek: literarische Portraits (criticism)
1987 Das allmähliche Ersticken von Schreien: Sprache und Exil heute (criticism)
1988 Der nichtverlorene Sohn (story)
1988 Reise in die Kindheit (memoirs)
1989 Selected Poems 1957-1987
1990 Birken und Hochöfen : eine Kindheit in Oberschlesien (memoirs)
1990 Die langsame Heimkehr des Doktor Schiwago : Essay>nbr>
1990 Die Zeit der Fluss der Wind (poetry)
1991 Wer antwortet wem (poetry)