Paul Antschel was born into a German-speaking Jewish family in Czernowitz shortly after northern Bukowina became part of Greater Romania. During the Second World War, he was placed in a forced labour camp by the anti-Semitic Romanian fascist régime and his parents were deported to an internment camp in Transnistria, where they perished, his father of typhus, his mother shot dead by a camp guard. These traumas were to have a profound effect on the poetry that Antschel wrote under the penname Paul Celan.
In Bucharest after the war, Celan worked as a translator for the ‘Cartea Rusă’ publishing house and was active in Surrealist literary circles, which were still able to flourish in Romania in the brief interval before the establishment of a totalitarian régime. In 1947, he published ‘Tangoul morții’, a Romanian translation of his famous poem ‘Todesfuge’, an evocation of the extermination camps. After the proclamation of the Romanian People’s Republic in December 1947, he fled Romania, arriving in France after a sojourn in Vienna. He became a French citizen in 1955. Celan committed suicide by drowning on 20 April 1970.
A polyglot, Celan wrote not only in his native German, but also in French and Romanian. His writings in Romanian represents only a tiny part of his work as a whole, however. He also translated into and from Romanian literary and philosophical works by writers including Tudor Arghezi, Robert Frost, Charles Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Franz Kafka.