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HEINE, HEINRICH (1797-1856).

One of the greatest German poets. The French Revolution, which started eight years before Heine’s birth, shook the ghettos of Germany, influenced Heine and made him a poet of liberty. Sent to Goettingen to study law, he obtained his degree only after baptism, because the University of Goettingen did not grant degrees to Jews. Bitterness entered Heine’s soul and made his pen razor-sharp. He never practiced law, instead traveled and wrote his exquisite Harzreise (The Harz Journey) in 1826. Heine’s brilliant political satires attacked tyranny in high places. A pamphlet against the German nobility made him a fugitive. He settled in Paris where he lived and wrote until his death. He spent the last ten years of his life on his “mattress-grave,” suffering from a crippling disease.

Heine’s lyrical poems are masterpieces of world literature. Even the Nazis who burned his books could not erase the love of these poems from the people. Since the Germans persisted in singing Die Lorelei, it was reprinted without the author’s name. Heine’s baptism was never more than expedient. He called it “the admission ticket to European civilization.” His work is full of references, sometimes tender, sometimes ironic, to his Jewishness and to Judaism. Heine’s Jewish sensitivity emerges as tense drama in the unfinished novel Rabbi of Bacharach; it flashes with superb irony in the play Almansor, whose Moslem character disguises Jewish themes. Heine’s Hebrew Melodies contain some of the best Jewish poems ever written outside the Hebrew language.

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