Mascha Kaléko about serious material concerns as a refugee in New York, 1941

Mascha Kaléko writes in a diary entry of 20 June 1941 in New York about the many, mainly material worries as a refugee family dependent on charity.

„Wir sind ohne Geld. Ohne Freunde. Ohne Verbindungen. Ohne Hoffnung.
Fahrgeld fehlt. Schuhe fehlen. Medizin für Stephen 11Mascha Kalékos Sohn Evjatar Alexander Michael Vinaver, dessen Name in Exil in Steven Vinaver (1936-1968) geändert wurde. fehlt. Schule wird ihn nicht halten, wenn wir nicht zahlen können. Verfluchtes Geld. Demütigend, keines zu haben. Oh, wie die ‚Freunde‘ weichen, wie von Pestkranken. Mittelmäßigkeit ist meist mit Ellbogenkraft verbunden. Chemjo 22Gemeint ist ihr Ehemann, der Musiker Chemjo Vinaver (1895–1973). ist ein Genie. Er ist weltfremd. Er kann nur Musik machen. Kein Business. Oh! Liebster Chemjo! Geld haben ist nicht schön. Aber Geld nicht haben ist schrecklich. Ein Bankkonto ist eine gute Vorbeugung gegen Depression.
[…]
Nun sind Ferien. Wie ich die Schule für ihn vermisse. Hitze. Und wir müssen packen, bald haben wir auch keine Wohnung mehr. Noch nie waren wir so “refugees”  wie jetzt.
Selbst die Pfandleiher scheinen sich verschworen zu haben. Wenn wir kommen, ist zu. Mit gezähltem Fahrgeld reisen wir ins jüdische Forum. Wenn wir uns aber verfahren? Organisierte Wohlfahrt macht die Menschen verantwortungslos dem leidenden Einzelwesen gegenüber. Sie haben ihren Beitrag gezahlt. Ihr Gewissen ist rein. Du verrecke. Warum bist du nicht successful? Wobei success – nur Geld heißt.
[…]
Ich entfliehe. Bücher. Nietzsche, Heine, Wolfe, Steinbeck, Whitman.
Ich glaube nicht, daß wir hier je zur Ruhe kommen.”

    Footnotes

  • 1Mascha Kalékos Sohn Evjatar Alexander Michael Vinaver, dessen Name in Exil in Steven Vinaver (1936-1968) geändert wurde.
  • 2Gemeint ist ihr Ehemann, der Musiker Chemjo Vinaver (1895–1973).

“We are without money. Without friends. Without connections. Without hope.
No fare. No shoes. No medicine for Stephen. 11Mascha Kaléko’s son Evjatar Alexander Michael Vinaver, whose name was changed in exile to Steven Vinaver (1936-1968). School won’t hold him if we can’t pay. Bloody money. It’s humiliating not to have any. Oh, how the friends depart, like from plague. Mediocrity is usually associated with ruthlessness. Chemjo 22Macha Kaléko’s husband, the musician Chemjo Vinaver (1895-1973). is a genius. He is quixotic. He can only make music. No business. Oh! Dearest Chemjo! Having money is not nice. But not having money is terrible. A bank account is a great way to prevent depression.
[…]
Now it’s holiday time. How I miss school for him. Heat. And we have to pack, soon we won’t have a place to live either. We’ve never been “refugees” as we are now.
Even the pawnbrokers seem to have conspired. When we come, it’s closed. With counted fare we travel to the Jewish Forum. But what if we get lost? Organized welfare makes people irresponsible towards the suffering individual. They maid their contributions. Their conscience is clear. You go and die! Why aren’t you successful? And success means only money.
[…]
I’m escaping. Books. Nietzsche, Heine, Wolfe, Steinbeck, Whitman.
I don’t think we’ll ever rest easy here.”

    Footnotes

  • 1Mascha Kaléko’s son Evjatar Alexander Michael Vinaver, whose name was changed in exile to Steven Vinaver (1936-1968).
  • 2Macha Kaléko’s husband, the musician Chemjo Vinaver (1895-1973).

Mascha Kaléko (7 June 1907 – 21 January 1975) was a poet. She was born in West Galicia (today Poland). After the outbreak of World War I, her family fled to Germany for fear of anti-Jewish pogroms. Mascha Kaléko is seven years old when she arrives in Germany. Early on she follows her calling as a poet and becomes a part of the Berlin artistic milieu. Many of her poems deal with everyday life in Berlin. In 1935, however, the Nazis impose a ban on Mascha Kaléko, preventing her from working. At first Kaléko does not want to part with Berlin, but in 1938 the situation became unbearable: she flees to New York with her second husband, the musician Chemjo Vinaver, and her young son. The family finds it difficult to gain a foothold in New York. Kaléko finds small jobs and writes for the German-Jewish emigrant newspaper Aufbau, among others. In 1945, her book of poetry “Verse für Zeitgenossen” (Verses for Contemporaries) is published in the USA in German. In 1959, Kaléko and her husband move from there to Israel.

In the works we show in our archive, Kaléko deals with her experiences of emigration, her homesickness for Berlin and her identity as a Jew, refugee, poet and emigrant. The rupture that the loss of language following her emigration to the USA meant especially for her as a poet can be felt in many of her poems.

In the diary entry of 20 June 1941, Kaléko writes about her severe material worries. Because she and her husband Chemjo Vinaver initially find it difficult to find adequately paid work and commissions, the family is dependent on the help of welfare organizations, whose harshness seems inhuman to her. German and American literature offers her distraction from her worries.

Kaléko, Mascha, 1941: Diary entry, 20 June 1941.

Partly published in:

Zoch-Westphal, Gisela, 1987: Aus den sechs Leben der Mascha Kaléko. Berlin: Arani. Pp. 120-121.

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