German-Jewish author, literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki dies

(JTA) – German-Jewish author and literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, sometimes referred to in Germany as the “Pope of literature,” has died at the age of 93.

A gruff and direct voice in the German literary landscape, Reich-Ranicki was a Holocaust survivor and a spokesperson for reconciliation between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans. His death was announced on Sept. 18.

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“We are mourning the loss of a great person… and a piece of erman-Jewish history,” Charlotte Knobloch, former head of the Central
Council of Jews in Germany and head of the Jewish community of Bavaria and Munich, said in a statement.  “The fact that this son of a Jewish German-Polish family, who lost his parents and relatives in the Nazi death camps, found a home in Germany again and gave our country so much is one of the postwar occurrences we can only be grateful for.”

Born in Wroclawek, Poland in 1920, Reich-Ranicki – his original name was Marceli Reich – moved with his family to Berlin in 1929, only to
be deported back to Poland with tens of thousands of Polish Jews nearly ten years later.

Forced to live in the Warsaw Ghetto under Nazi occupation, Reich-Ranicki became a translator and writer for the ghetto’s Jewish council and Jewish newspaper. He also wrote reviews of concerts under a pseudonym. He married Teofila Langnas, in 1942 and they escaped the
ghetto in 1943, surviving in hiding for 16 months with friends.

He joined the Polish People’s Army in 1944 and ultimately worked for the Polish communist party, becoming consul general and intelligence officer at the Polish Consul in London from 1948-49. He subsequently held positions in publishing in Poland. In 1950, he served time in solitary confinement in a Polish prison for so-called “ideological alienation.” In 1958, after working several years as an editor for German literature and publishing his own writing as well, Reich-Ranicki and his wife immigrated to West Germany with their son,
Andrew, fed up by the restrictions of personal freedom in Poland.

In Germany, Reich-Ranicki launched what would become a long and influential career as writer and literary critic – starting immediately with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, where he eventually headed the literature department.

Revered and feared as a critic, he became famous for his TV roundtable with authors and critics, called “The Literary Quartet,” which aired
from 1988 to 2001.

Reich-Ranicki’s wife died in 2011, at the age of 91. Though his own health was declining – he discussed his fight against cancer this year
– he continued to write regularly until this year for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In 2012, the critic spoke before the German Bundestag on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Among his many awards are honorary doctorates from the University of Tel Aviv (2006) and the Humboldt University in Berlin (2007).