Todesfuge. A poem not to be forgotten

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Paul Celan's famous poem Todesfuge (Death Fugue), about the horrors of the Holocaust, is at the heart of the exhibition A Grave in the Clouds, which opens on 11 December at the Jewish Historical Museum. Paul Sars, professor of German language and culture, who has published a lot about Celan, is guest curator of the exhibition, together with artist Helly Oestreicher. A workbook, entitled Todesfuge. A poem not to be forgotten, has been developed with the support of the vfonds and the Faculty of Arts. This workbook, covering the poem, the persecution of the Jews, and the value of remembrance, is intended for secondary-school students and is being made available free of charge.

To encourage the engagement of students with the memory and remembrance of the persecution of the Jews, Paul Sars and his students would like to present this workbook along with a lesson in the classroom, and to offer these classes a visit to the exhibition. An amount of € 12,000 will be needed to make this possible for 500 students. Would you like to help make this happen? If so, please consider making a donation.
The workbook
Starting on 1 October 2020, the workbook will be made available free of charge to 25,000 secondary-school students and their teachers. The educational materials can be used for history lessons, German, Dutch, Cultural and Artistic Education (CKV), and social studies. The website www.celan.nl complements the workbook, and offers further in-depth assignments.

"I've looked at the manuscript and I'm excited about its didactic character: I think it will be really useful in many ways for secondary education."
Dr Mark van Berkel, member of the Dutch Delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance

Presenting the workbook in the classroom
The workbook was developed and tested in close consultation with secondary-school teachers and students. We looked for the right tone, for the right illustrations, and for connections with the experiential world of 15-to-17-year-olds. Experiences in developing the material have helped Paul Sars and his team of teaching specialists realise that a lot of added value can be generated by presenting the workbooks with an introductory lesson in the classroom, also involving Radboud students, who are close in age to the students.

There is something very special about presenting the workbooks in the classroom. Paul Sars has at his disposal an original typescript of Todesfuge from sometime between 1945 and 1949: the poem as typed by Paul Celan himself. These fragile sheets of paper, the story of how they ended up in the Netherlands and eventually ‘right here, right now, in the classroom’, will be used during school visits as an extra support tool for students, to help them pay close attention as they are reading.

Students visiting the exhibition
From 11 December 2020 to 16 May 2021, the poem Todesfuge will be at the heart of the exhibition A Grave in the Clouds at the Jewish Historical Museum. Paul Sars would like to make it possible for 500 of the students who have used the workbook on Todesfuge in their classes to visit the exhibition with their teachers. They will also be given a guided tour of the museum's permanent display. In this way, students also become more acquainted with Jewish history and culture.

Would you like to help?
In 2020 we are celebrating 75 years of freedom. The exhibition and the workbook on Todesfuge also show the meaning and the value of remembrance and commemoration. Seventy-five years after the war, it is important to make a point of involving younger generations. 

An amount of € 12,000 is needed to help the university offer 500 students a nice programme at the Jewish Historical Museum, and to present the workbooks with a lesson and the typescript to 500 students in the classroom. Would you to help? If so, please consider making a donation through this website. No amount is too big or too small. Together we can involve young people in remembering and memorialising the Jews who were persecuted during the Second World War.

The poem Todesfuge

In May 1945, the German-speaking Jewish poet Paul Celan wrote the poem Todesfuge about the horrors of the concentration camps, in which his parents and many of his friends had been murdered. Just after the war, his poetic description of Auschwitz, “Death is a master of Germany”, did not meet with much understanding, and it led to fierce discussions and debate. Today, though, Todesfuge is considered the poetic ‘translation’ of the Holocaust, and Celan is regarded as one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. Todesfuge has been translated into more than 40 languages and is one of the most widely published and discussed poems in German.


The exhibition A Grave in the Clouds

On 11 December 2020, an exhibition on Todesfuge will open in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam: ‘A Grave in the Clouds’. Among other things, the exhibition will highlight the social impact of the poem and the great influence it has had on the work of visual artists, composers and writers. The decision to hold this exhibition this year in particular is no coincidence. 2020 is a special year in relation to Todesfuge: it is exactly 100 years since Celan’s birth, 50 years after his death, and 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz. Paul Sars, Professor of German at Radboud University, is the curator of the exhibition, together with artist Helly Oestreicher.