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David G.  John


(Emer. Prof.,  U. of Waterloo, Canada)



Hans Eichner's Poetic Legacy

Hans Eichner (1921-2009) grew up in the Jewish Leopoldstadt district of Vienna. Soon after Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938 he fled to England, spent some time in an internment camp in Australia, and then returned to the University of London to study, earn his PhD in 1949, and teach at Bedford College until 1950 when he emigrated to Canada. He held professorial and major administrative posts then at Queen’s University, Kingston and the University of Toronto. Eichner’s  international reputation as a scholar of German literature rests on his voluminous and influential writings ranging from Goethe to Thomas Mann, especially German Romanticism and Friedrich Schlegel.  In his late years, he wrote a fictionalized autobiographical novel, Kahn und Engelmann. Eine Familiensaga (Wien: Picus, 2000), which was translated into English by the Canadian Germanist Jean M. Snook with the title Kahn & Engelmann. A Novel, the subtitle of which itself is an indication of Eichner’s inclination to fictionalize—some might say suppress—his past. Aside from book reviews, scholarly treatments of Kahn & Engelmann to date are limited to David G. John’s article “Kahn, Engelmann, and Eichner: Autobiography, Fiction and Identity” in Mayer, Mayer and Wilson (239-62), and the essay “Poetry and Politics – Hans Eichner deutet Erich Fried,” authored by Eichner’s long-time friend Hermann Patsch, which is expected to be published later this year. Eichner and Fried became close friends during the time they were together in London, sharing ideas, politics, their sense of Jewishness, and even after, at a distance, when Eichner emigrated to Canada. One of their mutual interests was poetry.
     This is where Eichner’s “Poetic Legacy” began, but it is scarcely recorded in published form. In the German version of Kahn und Engelmann he included three of these poems, two of them in the novel’s translation (he required Snook to omit the third, which itself is telling). Yet he wrote many more, as witnessed by a little blue book containing twenty-one hand-written poems by Eichner, the three printed in Kahn und Engelmann and eighteen more, which he gave to his wife Joan on her birthday in 1958, who has generously shared it with the presenter. These poems, combined with the novel, can be seen as Hans Eichner’s entire “poetic” legacy. They reflect the nature and phases of Hans Eichner’s identities, as a Jew, an Austrian, a man with no country, and finally, a Canadian.

1)   Biographical information from Hartwig Mayer, Paula Mayer, and Jean Wilson. Romanticism, Humanism, Judaism. The Legacy of Hans Eichner / Romantik, Humanismus, Judentum. Hans Eichners Vermächtnis. Kanadische Studien zur deutschen Literatur, hrsg. v. Rodney Symington, Bd. 52 (Bern: Lang, 2013), p.11.


David G. John was a professor of German Studies at the University of Waterloo, Canada for thirty-eight years before retiring in 2012. His studies at the University of Toronto included seminars with Hans Eichner and many further contacts with Eichner later as a colleague in the field of Germanistik. John is primarily a specialist in eighteenth-century German literature, Goethe, Schiller, theatre, and intercultural performance, but has also published in a variety of other areas. His major studies include Johann Christian Krüger, Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1984), The German Nachspiel in the Eighteenth Century (Toronto: UTP, 1991), Images of Goethe through Schiller’s ‘Egmont’ (McGill-Queen’s UP, 1998), and Bennewitz, Goethe, ‘Faust’: German and Intercultural Stagings (Toronto, UTP, 2012). He has served in numerous administrative positions, as Chair and Associate Dean at the University of Waterloo, as President of the Canadian Association of University Teachers of German, and as Director of the Waterloo Centre for German Studies, which he founded in 2004. Recently he was awarded the title of Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Waterloo, the Hermann Boeschenstein Medal of the Canadian Association of University Teachers of German, and the Bundesverdienstkreuz of the Federal Republic of Germany. 


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