Heinrich Heine

  • Issue: December 2001
  • Artist: Moritz D. Oppenheim
  • Designer: Habib Khoury
  • Stamp Size: 40 mm x 30.8 mm
  • Plate no.: 452 - no phosphor bar
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: E. Lewin-Epstein ltd.
  • Method of printing: Offset

No poet has been as capable as Heinrich Heine of entertaining, stimulating and enchanting his readers, while at the same time arousing objection, hostility, and rage. Heine, the lyric poet, gave the Germans some of their best-loved poetry. Heine, the satirist and prophet of doom, stung them with whips and scorpions. Germans sang his songs enthusiastically, and Germans burned his books. Heine's life is an incomparable story of a love-hate relationship. Harry-Haim Heine was born to a Jewish family in Dusseldorf on December 13, 1797. Following several failed attempts to turn him into a businessman, the family resolved that he should study law, a momentous decision for Heine. At that time a Jew could hope for a career at the bar only if he converted to Christianity. His name was changed to Heinrich when he converted to Christianity.

Heine published his first books of poetry while a student at Berlin University. Poems, (1822) and Tragedies with a Lyrical intermezzo, (1823) ensured him a notable place among the German poets. During this period, he also joined the Society for Culture and Science of the Jews, which lay the foundations for the Science of Judaism. He wrote then The Rabbi of Bacherach, the first attempt at a historical Jewish novel, and Lorelei, his most famous German song. The Book of Songs, a collection of poems published in 1827, earned him a reputation as the most important lyric poet in Germany, second only to Goethe, and a shining star in world poetry. Indeed, The Book of Songs is the best-selling book of poetry in Germany of all time, and has been set to music by the greatest composers, among them Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and even Wagner. Thus far, Heine's poems have inspired some ten thousand musical compositions, a record for any work of literature save the Bible.

Nevertheless, Heine wished to be remembered not as a poet, but as "a brave soldier in mankind's war of liberation". He was a satirist whose sharp barbs were aimed at princes and kings, a thinker who influenced Marx and Nietzsche, a prophet of doom who foresaw the Communist Revolution, the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust it would bring down on the Jews. He was the "enfant terrible" of German literature, and paid the price by being ostracized and exiled. He spent his last twenty-five years, nearly half his life, in political exile in Paris, where he was followed by Prussian and Austrian agents and threatened with prison should he ever set foot on German soil. In admiration for his romantic poetry and satirical wit, his French hosts dubbed him the "Voltaire au Clair de Lune". In any discussion on Jewish genius, the name of Heine is invariably linked with those of Spinoza, Marx, Freud, Kafka, and Einstein. Yet even in this context he remains a subject of controversy: was he a German poet of Jewish extraction or a Jewish poet who wrote in German; is he to be extolled as a great Jewish mind or reviled for converting to Christianity? In fact, Heine himself reviled his conversion. Throughout his life, he denounced those who baptized to Christianity or denied their Judaism, and at times of crisis he ardently and courageously defended Jews against persecution.

Frail from childhood, Heine collapsed in 1848 and was confined to his bed. He suffered eight more years of agony–paralyzed, almost totally  blind, and subject to seizures, headaches, and unbearable pain. Incredibly, only his mind and creative talent remained unaffected. Despite indescribable physical disability, he continued to amaze the world with superb new works of prose and verse. This heroic chapter in his life is unmatched anywhere in the history of literature.

Here, in his "mattress grave," as Heine called his sickroom, he wrote some of his most beautiful poetry, publishing Romanzero (the  illustration of the original cover appears on the stamp and tab) in 1852. The book contains three sections: "Histories", "Lamentations" and "Hebrew Melodies." The first of these melodies, "Princess Sabbath," lauds the traditional Jewish way of life. The second, "Jehudah ben Halevy," is one of the most lovely and moving songs of the yearning for Jerusalem (two lines from this poem appear on the tab: "And his heart already quivered / At the word Jerusalem"). The third melody, "The Disputation," is a satire of the debates between Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages.

"Hebrew Melodies," and Heine's Confessions, caused a sensation. When he was told on his deathbed that everyone was talking about his return to Judaism, he replied: "I never denied my Judaism, to which I never returned, because I never left it."

Heine died on February 17, 1856 and was buried several days later in the Montmartre cemetery in Paris.

Yigal Lossin

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Heinrich Heine