Hommage a Paul Celan (section) (detail) View full image

Polzin's Hommage à Paul Celan unveiled in Paris

Paul Celan, the author of Death Fugue, died in 1970 in Paris - on 31 May a monument was finally unveiled in the city. 

It took German sculptor, Alexander Polzin 17 years to fulfil his ambition to erect a monument to the poet Paul Celan in the city of Paris. His desire growing out of his love of the poetry, the sculpture now stands in the heart of the city, in the Anne Frank Garden, in the shadow of the Pompidou Centre, near the Jewish Museum of Art and History.

It took 30 trips to Paris, a similar number of meetings and many talks about locations and much looking for sponsors with the help of his many supporters. Polzin persisted: It spurred me on, Celan is a European figure, there is always talk of the Franco-German axis but Celan is a pan-European person:.. Born in Czernowitz, Ukraine today, a victim the Holocaust, but living and dying in Paris. Such figures are exactly what we need for this cultural vessel, Europe.

At the age of 28, Paul Celan moved to Paris, living there until his death in 1970. Astonishingly, no road, no place in Paris bears his name, only an auditorium was named after him in the École Normale Supérieure, where Celan taught. Polzin wanted to change this absence of recognition, something that drove him for 17 years. Celan is considered one of the most important poets of the 20th century, by people in all countries, even those who can only read translations of his poetry. Celan is a great example of something that concerns us today.

Polzin’s bronze consists of two figures. A woman standing, her hair covering her face, reaching to her knees. She is pregnant and bound to a stake. Your ashen hair Shulamith we dig a grave in the air there is no one close. The image brings Celan's Death Fugue to mind. At her feet, a man's arching figure, screams in agony, his hands to his head. Only his toes and head touch the ground. 

After the years, I do not feel a triumph, more a feeling of quiet seclusion. When we set it in the garden, a lot of children passed with their parents on the way to the playground. The curious, open, questioning eyes of a child, as they touched the figures, was a moment of happiness.

A truly European delegation inaugurated the sculpture on the 31 May, with representatives from France, Germany and Romania attending and creating a shared European memory.

In the run up to the unveiling, a talk at the Arts Arena, hosted by Margery Arent Safir, focussed on the installation of the monument as a symbol of national memory, art as an advocator of tolerance amongst the city’s multicultural, multi-religious, and multiracial communities at a particularly challenging time in France’s history.