Born: 10 December 1891, Berlin, Germany
Died: 12 May 1970, Stockholm, Sweden
Residence at the time of the award: Sweden
Prize motivation: "for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel's destiny with touching strength"
Prize share: 1/2
Nelly Sachs was born in Berlin to a wealthy family with Jewish roots. Her father was a factory owner. Nelly suffered from poor health and so was schooled at home. She became fascinated with Selma Lagerlöf's works at a young age, and corresponded with her by letter. Selma Lagerlöf helped Nelly Sachs and her mother to flee from Nazi Germany to Sweden in 1940. Several members of her immediate family ultimately became victims of the Holocaust. The Nazi persecution left deep scars in Nelly Sachs' psyche and also influenced her writing. She continued to live in Stockholm until her death.
The fate of the Jewish people casts a dark shadow over the 20th century. It is also the basis for Nelly Sachs' literary works. She borrows subjects for her poetry from the Jewish beliefs and mysticism, but her authorship is also strongly colored by Nazi persecution of the Jews, with the horrors of the death camps as its ultimate expression. Nelly Sachs' poetry combines echoes from the poetry of ancient religious texts with modernist language. Besides poetry, her writings also include a couple of plays.