Dramatist and poet Nelly Sachs was born into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1891. Her father was a manufacturer, and the family lived a comfortable, middle-class life. Sachs studied dance and literature and began writing when she was an adolescent. During that time, she also began corresponding with the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf, a contact who would later help her escape Nazi Germany. Sachs published her early poems in magazines in Germany. She and her mother escaped to Sweden in 1940, where she worked as a translator and became a citizen in 1952.
Sachs’s readings of the mystics and the events of the Holocaust influenced her poem cycles and plays. Her collections of poetry include In den Wohungen des Todes (In the Houses of Death) (1946), Stemverdunkelung (Eclipse of Stars) (1949), Und niemand weiss weiter (And No One Knows Where to Go)(1957), and Flucht und Verwandlung (Flight and Metamorphosis) (1959). Her work is available in English translation in O the Chimneys: Selected Poems, Including the Verse Play, Eli (1967), The Seeker and Other Poems (1970), Collected Poems I 1944–1949 (2007), and Collected Poems II 1950–1969 (2007). Sachs’s correspondence with fellow German-speaking Jewish poet Paul Celan is available in Paul Celan / Nelly Sachs: Correspondence (1995).
In 1966, Sachs and novelist Shmuel Agnon received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Sachs also received the Droste-Hülshoff Prize, the Prize of the Swedish Poets Association, and the German Publishers Peace Prize. She died in 1970.