Footnote: Frau Kern’s obituary

27 Oct


(I have written, as part of my ”Three German Women” project, two profiles of Irmgard Rexroth-Kern–see my blog for 25 and 8 June 2015. I have now found the obituary that was written for her in the paper she often worked for, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The author was an old friend of hers, Karl Korn, who in 1949 founded the FAZ. Korn was a controversial figure–a defender of Heidegger, and a contrarian conservative. George, who knew and liked Frau Kern very much, finds this obituary a bit dour, but I do feel that she was always a little lost and sad, having suffered so much, physically and spiritually. We did know her, too, in those final years when she was so active in Erbach, when she had a moment of happy creativity. I do wish I could provide photos, but I have none, and her son Vincent seems to be reluctant to continue his participation in my efforts to honor his mother. The following is my translation of a rather complicated journalistic German, so I beg for understanding if it reads a little haltingly.)

Obituary for Frau Kern, FAZ 13. July 1983, by Karl Korn:

The writer and journalist Irmgard Kern-Rexroth died recently in Darmstadt after a long illness. When, after long silent intervals, she would appear again in one of the publications of the Rhein-Main region, there was always an aura of homelessness and loneliness about her. The last time I saw her she was wearing, as always in dreary winter weather, her broad coat, which always reminded me of the coat Sherlock Holmes wore. She seemed to be looking for someone–and I, who had known her in passing since student days, seemed to fit the bill. She seemed more unsteady, shyer, lonelier, and also more stubborn than I remembered her from the 1950s. As a writer she had achieved a name for herself long ago. She worked for quite a while for the city page of this newspaper. She had an affinity for sensitive profiles, chiefly of women, and children, too.  I remember a literary vignette in which she depicts a little boy with his mother waiting at a street light; the boy starts to cross at the wrong moment and is with horrifying force pulled back by a protective arm.

In 1936, Irmgard Kern had married against her parents’ wishes the talented literary student H.G. Rexroth. Her Berlin family had been of the bourgeois educated milieu. She had already caused a sensation in 1934 when, as a 27-year-old, she had written a highly unusual series of anonymously autobiographical observations in the Frankfurter Zeitung.  Apparently Benno Reifenberg and Eugen Claasen, who ran the press at the time, and who prized Kern’s talent, had spurred her on to this literary achievement, which was perhaps her best work. Whoever reads this ‘Autobiography of a Young Woman’ today will experience an eyewitness account–or, more to the point, a testimonial of suffering–that still has relevance today, because it is filled with merciless truth, with hardly a moment’s reflection on the experiences recounted. Only toward the conclusion, shortly before the break with her family and what today would be called a ‘healthy’ world, does she write:  ‘We discovered, only hazily, that we had lost the norms that still determined the directions of our parents and teachers…Our revolutionary will was forced into our souls—I observed the students [at a dance lesson] in a kind of spiteful irritability…my nastiness a kind of original sin that I had to bear.’

Irmgard Kern-Rexroth was a motherly woman. One can see her marriage with the talented, proletarian H.G. Rexroth in this light. When she lost her husband in the war in 1944, she lived for her son who had not yet been born; she named him Vincent in remembrance of Van Gogh. She never understood how to make a professional career. She could write, as the saying goes, but she remained unsure of herself, never found her footing. She was in spirit wide awake, and believed she could gain some peace of mind through educated discussions. Only late in life did she manage for a few years to have an effect on the regional cultural life of Erbach, in the Odenwald, a more marked effect than she knew herself. As heir to her father, the art historian and painter, she reported on topics as diverse as old ivories and East Asian art–and always a little writing about the quiet corners of the destruction of the soul. Years ago now (1976), she–who knew all too well some episodes of suffering–took part in a discussion on WDR Television, with medical professionals, on this topic: pain.

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