Paul Celan's parents were taken across the Southern Bug and handed over to the Germans, where his father likely perished of typhus and his mother was shot dead after being exhausted by forced labor. Later on, after having himself been taken to the labor camps in the Old Kingdom, Celan would receive reports of his parents' deaths earlier that year. Celan remained in these labor camps until February 1944, when the Red Army's advance forced the Romanians to abandon them, whereupon he returned to Cernăuţi shortly before the Soviets returned to reassert their control. There, he worked briefly as a nurse in the mental hospital. Early versions of Todesfuge were circulated at this time, a poem that clearly relied on accounts coming from the now-liberated camps in Poland. Friends from this period recall expression of immense guilt over his separation from his parents, whom he had tried to convince to go into hiding prior to the deportations, shortly before their death. The dual character of Margarete-Shulamith, with her golden-ashen hair, appears as a reflection of Celan's Jewish-German culture, while the blue-eyed "Master from Germany" embodies German Nazism.


Todesfuge (Death Fugue)

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink it and drink it
we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair
  Margarete
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are flashing he
  whistles his pack out
he whistles his Jews out in earth has them dig for a grave
he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you in the morning at noon we drink you at sundown
we drink and we drink you
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair
  Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith we dig a grave in the breezes there
  one lies unconfined

He calls out jab deeper into the earth you lot you others sing
  now and play
he grabs at the iron in his belt he waves it his eyes are blue
jab deeper you lot with your spades you others play on for the
  dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon in the morning we drink you at
  sundown
we drink and we drink you
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents
He calls out more sweetly play death death is a master from
  Germany
he calls out more darkly now stroke your strings then as
  smoke you will rise into air
then a grave you will have in the clouds there one lies
  unconfined

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink and
  we drink you
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his pack on to us he grants us a grave in the air
he plays with the serpents and daydreams death is a master
  from Germany

your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith

Paul Celan
(Translated by Michael Hamburger)