Gertrud Chodziesner was born in Berlin and grew up in a middle-class German-Jewish family. She was educated at several private schools, taught in a kindergarten and learned to speak Russian, English and French. From 1917-1918 she was employed as an interpreter and censor of correspondence of soldiers in the Döberitz prisoner of war camp near Berlin. In 1917 she published her first book, called simply ‘Poems‘, under the pseudonym Gertrud Kolmar, the name of the town from which her family originated. By the late 1920s her poems were appearing in various literary journals and anthologies. Her third volume of poetry, Die Frau und die Tiere was published in August 1938 but was pulped after the Kristalnacht pogrom in November 1938. In that same year her sister, Hilde Wenzel, emigrated to Switzerland: Gertrud and her father were forced to sell their house and move into ‘Jewish housing’ in a Berlin suburb.

In July 1941 Gertrud was ordered to work in a German armaments factory. Her elderly father was deported to Theresienstadt in September 1942 where he died in February 1943. Gertrud was arrested in the course of a factory raid on 27 February 1943 and transported to Auschwitz on 2 March. It is assumed that at this time her personal papers, letters and documents were destroyed.  The exact date of her death is unknown.

Her surviving work consists of 450 poems, three plays and two short stories. Shortly after the November 1938 pogrom Gertrud had begun sending her most treasured writings to her sister in Switzerland and gave other manuscripts to her brother-in-law Peter Wenzel and to her cousin’s wife. Peter Wenzel eventually oversaw the posthumous publication of poems Welten (Worlds) in 1947.

Gertrud Kolmar’s Poems:

Dark Soliloquy: The Selected Poems of Gertrud Kolmar, Seabury Press, 1975

Resources for Gertrud Kolmar

Jewish Women’s Archive Encyclopedia

My Gaze is Turned Inward: Letters 1934-1943, Northwestern University Press, 2002

Dieter Kühn, Gertrud Kolmar: A Literary Life, Northwestern University Press, 2013

In Memoriam: Gertrud Kolmar, 1943 Poem by A.D. Hope