German Writer and Holocaust Survivor Ralph Giordano Dies at 91

Author prodded Germany 'toward a self-critical and rigorous reckoning' with its past, eulogizes German culture minister Monika Gruetters.

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Ralph Giordano during a reception for his 90th birthday, pictured March 20, 2013 in Hamburg.
Ralph Giordano during a reception for his 90th birthday, pictured March 20, 2013 in Hamburg.Credit: AFP

German author and Holocaust survivor Ralph Giordano died last week in the German city of Cologne at the age of 91, the AFP news agency reported, citing an announcement by Giordano's publisher.

Born in 1923 to a German Jewish mother and a father from Italy, he and his family escaped the clutches of the Nazis by hiding part of the World War in a friend's cellar in Hamburg. "It was a time of my life that marked everything I did after that," Giordano said of his wartime experiences. The family reportedly nearly starved to death during the war.

His novel "Die Bertinis," which is semi-autobiographical, tells the story of the experiences of a German-Italian Jewish family during the Nazi period. After World War II, Giordano joined the Communist Party, but then became disillusioned due to Communist abuses.

Reacting to Giordano's death, Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said Germany had lost a "potent and contentious character in Germany's political culture" who prodded the country "toward a self-critical and rigorous reckoning with our past," according to AFP.

In 2007, Giordano became a target of criticism for his fervent opposition to the construction of one of Europe's biggest mosques in Cologne. Muslim women "veiled from head to toe" look like "human penguins," AFP quoted him as saying. He also defended German author Gunter Grass after Grass ultimately acknowledged in 2006 that he had served in the Nazi Waffen SS at the end of the war. "I believe he suffered terribly for keeping his silence about this."

Giordano wrote 23 books, many of which became bestsellers. He also worked as a journalist at Germany's WDR public broadcasting outlet.

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