Feature

Hans Keilson: The novelist who’s still fighting the Nazis

Keilson's editor warned him to get out Germany when his novel about a Jewish family’s struggles after World War I was banned in 1934 for being insufficiently German.

Hans Keilson has spent his long life in a private war with the Nazis, said Steven Erlanger in The New York Times. Born in eastern Germany in 1909, Keilson was a promising young psychiatrist and novelist whose first novel, about a Jewish family’s struggles post–World War I, was banned in 1934 for being insufficiently German. “My editor said to me, ‘Get out of here as quickly as possible. I fear the worst,’” Keilson recalls. Yet he did not heed the warning. “I was so German,” he says. “I thought they would not do this to me. I am one of them.” His illusions were stripped for good when he was barred from his medical practice in 1936.

Keilson went into hiding, but his parents, he says, were “too old and ill to really sense the situation” and did not follow him. They were arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where they became part of the Holocaust. Driven by his grief and guilt, Keilson ultimately found his calling treating children directly affected by the Holocaust, and in the ’70s went on to publish the first major study of the effects of Nazi persecution on Jewish children. Now 100, Keilson says he remains haunted that he didn’t save his parents. “Sadness,” he says, “is the basis of my life.” 

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