Wolfgang Borchert (20 May 1921 ‚Äď 20 November 1947) was a
German author and playwright (Tr√ľmmerliteratur) whose work was
affected by his experience of dictatorship and his service in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War.
was born in Hamburg, the only
child of teacher Fritz Borchert and author Hertha Borchert.
Far from being an enthusiastic Nazi
hated his (compulsory) time in the party's youth wing, the Hitler Youth
, from which (after much effort) he
managed to resign. In 1940 he was arrested by the Gestapo (Secret
State Police) and then released.
The same year he
reluctantly took up an apprenticeship at a Hamburg bookshop. While
at the bookshop, Borchert secretly took acting lessons.
upon passing his acting examination, he left the apprenticeship and
began working at a theatre in Hanover.
nascent theatrical career was cut short, however, by his conscription
into the Wehrmacht only a few
Borchert was posted to the Eastern front, where he saw the full
horror of the eastern conflict, witnessing the numerous casualties
in battle and those sustained due to cold, starvation, and
inadequate equipment. When a cut on his hand became infected,
Borchert contracted hepatitis
superiors, accusing him of attempting to evade military service by
, had him arrested
and placed in isolation. He was convicted of making "statements
endangering the country" and sentenced to serve a further six weeks
of detention and was then sent back to the Eastern front "to prove
himself at the front". There he suffered frostbite
and several further bouts of hepatitis,
after which he was granted medical leave. On leave he again acted
in theatre in the now ravaged city of Hamburg. Following a
performance in which he parodied Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels
, Borchert was arrested and
sentenced to nine months in prison. On his release he was again
returned to the army, this time serving on the western front.
company surrendered to the French in March
During their transportation to a prisoners of war
camp Borchert evaded the
guards and escaped, and then walked home to Hamburg (a distance of
around 370 miles).
Following the war, Borchert's condition continued to worsen. In
1946 doctors told him the damage to his liver would kill him within
a year. He resumed his work with the theater, and began writing. He
wrote short prose and published a collection of poems Laterne, Nacht und Sterne
(Lantern, Night and Stars
). In January 1947 he wrote the
play The Man Outside
(Drau√üen vor der T√ľr
). Shortly after its publication the
play was performed on the radio, meeting with much acclaim.
1947 Wolfgang Borchert entered a hepatic sanitorium in the Swiss city of Basel, where he
continued with short stories and wrote his manifesto against war
Dann gibt es nur
(Then there is only one thing!
shortly before his death.