Jakov Lind, one of the greatest of post-war writers, who bore witness through his darkly surreal and imaginative tales to the madness of our time, was born Heinz Landwirth on February 13, 1927 in Vienna. On March 13th, 1938 the Nazis marched into Austria. "The war against the Jews began practically the next morning", wrote Lind. "By Saturday all of Vienna was one big swastika." It was no longer safe to be a Jew in Austria. In December of 1938 Lind and his sisters were placed on a kindertransport (children's train) bound for Holland. He was eleven years old.
In as yet unoccupied Holland, Lind learned fluent Dutch in a matter of weeks. He lived in a Zionist children's home near the Hague and was later taken in by a Dutch Jewish family. In 1941, he found himself in a Zionist training camp where young "pioneers" received agricultural training to prepare for emigration to Palestine (already forbidden by the Nazi authorities.) After witnessing the first mass roundup of Jews in 1943, Lind made the decision to go underground in June 1943 and obtained false identity papers in the name of Jan Gerrit Overbeek, Dutch laborer. On the way to get his papers, Lind writes: "I pinned my Nazi badge up front, put on my grey hat with the brim down, tied a black tie over my dark grey shirt, and looked like a Nazi home from a spell of duty. I put on a fierce look, and left for Line 3 ... Office workers and labourers on the streetcar moved away from me ..."
Several months later Lind found work on a river barge transporting goods between Holland and Germany, "sailing under a false self", he later wrote. But when the Allied bombing attacks began on the industrial cities along the Rhine, it was time to get off the river. It was then that a miracle, as he referred to it, brought him a job as a courier for the German Air Ministry.
At the end of the war, Jan Overbeek became Jakov Chaklan. Claiming to have been born in Haifa, he was able to board a ship in Marseille which docked in Haifa in July 1945. In Palestine Lind married, had a son, Grisha, and published the Diary of Hanan Edgar Malinek which was translated into Hebrew and published in a weekly magazine. But Israel was too hot and made him melancholy. He returned to Europe. "Writing was all I thought about", he wrote. "But when was I going to write and how?"
Lind went to Vienna and studied for three years at the Max Reinhardt Theater Seminar. But Vienna was swarming with former Nazis and he wanted out. He crisscrossed Europe, always restless. "Without Nazis and madmen after me", he wrote, "survival seemed a dull, uninspiring project."
In 1954 Lind landed in Dover, made his way to London and decided to stay. There he married Faith Henry and had a son, Simon, and a daughter, Oona. Settled in London, he began work on a collection of short stories. Eine Seele aus Holz (Soul of Wood), published in Germany in 1962, was proclaimed a masterpiece, became an immediate literary phenomenon, and was translated into fourteen languages. As one critic wrote: "Lind's general theme is the destruction of European Jewry ... He treats it with a kind of broad gallows humor, utterly grotesque and fascinating ..."
Compared to Kafka, Grass and Gogol, Jakov Lind became an international literary star overnight. But he did not want to be a German writer. It felt like betrayal to write in German, his mother tongue which had so recently been put to such murderous use.
Lind's second novel, Landscape in Concrete was published in 1963. Ergo, a novel, came out in 1968 and became a successful play produced by Joseph Papp in New York. In 1965 and 1968 The Silver Foxes Are Dead and Other Plays were published and performed as radio plays in Germany. And then, encouraged by his publisher, a major shift occurred. Lind wrote his first book in English, Counting My Steps (1969), an autobiography of his childhood in Vienna and his war years in the Netherlands and Germany. This was the beginning of Lind's distancing himself from his mother tongue and the pain and ambivalence of writing in German. But it also distanced him from his roots. "Madder than anything", he wrote, "was to think I could ever unlearn sounds I knew by heart and kidneys and replace them with other and better sounds."
Lind was to write three more autobiographies: Numbers (1972) on his wanderings across Europe after the war; the Trip to Jerusalem(1973); and Crossing: The Discovery of Two Islands (1991) about his arrival in England and the years in London and New York. In the 1980's Lind published a novel, Travels to the Enu: The Story of a Shipwreck (1982), The Stove (1983), a series of short parables, and The Inventor (1987), an epistolary novel, all of them written in English and translated into many languages.
During these years, Lind was much in demand and traveled, read and spoke widely. He taught, wrote articles, directed a film "Die Ose" (The Eye) and starred in "Das Schweigen des Dichters" directed by Peter Lilienthal and shown at the Venice Film Festival. Several of his works were produced on radio and in the theatre. But he was ambivalent about fame. "After so many years adjusting to failure", he wrote, "I found success burned me like an open sore."
Lind was a talented painter as well. His works are brilliantly colored, highly imaginative, mythical creations. His artwork appears on the jackets of most of the English language editions of his books.
Lind, who divided his time between London, an apartment at the Chelsea Hotel in New York, and a summer house in Majorca, was an original, in his work and in his life, a larger than life figure with a thick mustache and a head of wavy hair which made him stand out in any gathering, a man who liked wine, women and words. Anthony Rudolf has written: "He was a coyote, a trickster ... A wicked smile played around his mouth, while witty aphorisms and deep insights tripped off his lips. He emanated inner strength — and an electric intelligence that we all wanted to emulate."
On February 16, 2007, Jakov Lind, one of the major literary figures of our time, died in London of heart failure. He was 80 years old.
Writes Lawrence Langer in The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination (1975): "Behind the imaginative lunacy of Lind's novels and tales — and he never permits us to forget it — looms the historical deracination that inspired it."
Jakov Lind's highly praised works, his dark and grotesque tales which possess such remarkable originality, invention, imagination and wit, essential documents of 20th century madness, will endure.
— Gwen Edelman