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January 1, 2019 1:23 pm

Edgar Hilsenrath, Holocaust Survivor and Controversial Satirist, Dies at Age of 92

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The late German-Jewish writer Edgar Hilsenrath. Photo: Screenshot.

Edgar Hilsenrath — a leading German-Jewish author who fled the Nazi regime in 1938 — has died at the age of 92.

Hilsenrath passed away on Sunday at a hospital in Germany — where he returned to after World War II — following a lung infection.

A satirist who never shied away from controversy, Hilsenrath’s  most famous novel was The Nazi and the Barber, first published in English in 1971 by the US imprint Doubleday. Hilsenrath’s text was rejected by more than 60 German publishers, all of whom were wary that the dark humor suffusing the novel could be interpreted as lampooning the Nazi Holocaust.

The novel tells the story of a fictitious SS officer, Max Schulz, who assumes the identity of a Jewish childhood friend murdered during the Holocaust to escape the victorious Allies. Using the name of Itzig Finkelstein, Schulz ends up moving to Israel, where he opens a hair salon. The novel eventually appeared in German in 1977.

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Hilsenrath’s other works include Night; a Novel, published to great acclaim in 1954, based on Hilsenrath’s experiences of the Mogilyov-Podolski ghetto in Nazi-occupied Romania in the early part of the war. Another novel published in 1980 — boldly titled F— America — told the story of a Jewish immigrant to the US, Jakob Bronsky, who fell on hard times during the 1950s.

In his 1989 novel The Story of the Last Thought, Hilsenrath turned to the 1915 genocide of the Armenians by Turkey, and was awarded Germany’s prestigious Alfred Döblin Prize for Literature.

In a 2006 profile of Hilsenrath, the German broadcaster DW remarked, “Germany is the land of his birth, but it has been a struggle to achieve recognition in his home country.” While his “novels have sold in the millions in the United States and Western Europe,” the broadcaster noted, “[Hilsenrath] makes German publishers feel uneasy. They say his works are ‘too gruesome, too satirical and too vulgar.'”

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