Albrecht Goes: The Irremovable Shackle

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Children were also victims of the Shoah. Albrecht Goes memorialized Jewish children with his poem “The Irremovable Shackle” written in 1960. His first published volume of postwar poetry, “Verses for a Child” starts with the first poem he wrote after returning home from the war. It opens:

Since death released me from his hands, / which are like the hands of a stranger, /

I returned to my own home and found life, / I found you, beloved you, life’s child.

His own children had been allowed to live; Jewish children went to their deaths by the thousand.

The poet linked remembrance of the murder of Jews by the cultured nation that produced a Friedrich Hölderlin with remembrance of his own life.

In his poem “The Irremovable Shackle”, three trees stand for the three ages of the then fifty-two year old:

The thuja tree in the yard of the parsonage in Langenbeutingen stands for his carefree childhood. HHe recalls his mother, who died prematurely, as well as his older brother Helmut. His recollection the humanist education enjoyed as a boy changes into the utterly different proposition:


The Wehrmacht, of which he himself had been a member, was, as did not become public knowledge until decades later, actively involved in the killing The Wehrmacht, as Goes later wrote, was a killing squad machine (Mordkommandomaschine).

The avenue of plane trees along the Neckar opposite from Hölderlin tower stands for the student’s manhood in Tübingen. There are still voices of Jewish girls, they are temporary, they will soon fall silent. Then all that remains is:


The third stanza stands for the autumn of life, deluding one to believe in bliss, because the memory, which is demanded relentlessly, is bitter. The life of his generation, of the Wehrmacht chaplain, of the Christian, of the German is indissolubly shackled to the history of Abraham’s children with all its suffering. Instead of innocence,

now, though, the irremovable shackle suddenly strangles the neck:

Fruit of the Tree Kernal of the Fruit Core Prussic Acid Auschwitz.

(This interpretation follows Helmut Zwanger: Albrecht Goes. Freund Martin Bubers und des Judentums, Tübingen 2008, p. 265–273)

Source / title

  • © From the Martin Buber archive, ARC. Ms. Var. 350 008 240, Archives Department, the National Library of Israel; S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt

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