Marcel Reich-Ranicki

Marcel Reich-Ranicki bigraphy, stories - German literary critic

Marcel Reich-Ranicki : biography

2 June 1920 –

Marcel Reich-Ranicki ( born 2 June 1920) is a Polish-born German literary critic and member of the literary group Gruppe 47. He is regarded as one of the most influential contemporary literary critics in the field of German literature and therefore has often been called the ‘Pope of literature’ (Literaturpapst) in Germany.


Marcel Reich-Ranicki was born Marceli Reich on June 2, 1920, at Włocławek, Poland, to David Reich, a Polish-Jewish merchant, and his wife Helene Auerbach Reich, who came from a German-Jewish family. Reich moved with his family to Berlin in 1929. As a Polish Jew he was deported to Poland in the so-called “Polenaktion” on October 28, 1938, together with more than 12,000 Polish-born Jews. In November 1940 Reich and his parents found themselves in the Warsaw Ghetto. During his stay there he worked for the Judenrat as a chief translator, and also contributed to the collaborative newspaper Gazeta Żydowska (The Jewish Newspaper) as a music critic. He married his wife, Teofila, on July 22, 1942, the first day of the mass transports to the Treblinka extermination camp. In 1943 they managed to escape to the "Aryan side". Their parents did not survive.

In 1944 he joined the Polish People’s Army, and became an officer in the communist secret police Urząd Bezpieczeństwa where he worked in the censorship department. He joined the Polish Workers’ Party in 1945.

From 1948 to 1949 he was a Polish consul-general and intelligence worker (operating under the pseudonym ‘Ranicki’) in London. He was recalled from London in 1949, sacked from the intelligence service and expelled from the Party on charges of "cosmopolitanism" and Trotskyism. He then took a position with the publishing house of the Polish Defence Ministry, where he established a section publishing literature by contemporary authors from the German Democratic Republic. Subsequently he developed a freelance career writing and broadcasting about German literature.

Frustrated by the curtailment of his liberty in the People’s Republic of Poland he emigrated in 1958 with his wife and son to the Federal Republic of Germany. Here he began writing for leading German periodicals, including Die Welt and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In Poland he had published under the pseudonym Ranicki, his intelligence codename. On the advice of the arts editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine he adopted the name Marcel Reich-Ranicki professionally.

From 1960 to 1973 he was literary critic for the German weekly Die Zeit, published in Hamburg. From 1973 to 1988 he was head of the literature staff at the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. His successor was Frank Schirrmacher. Currently Reich-Ranicki edits the "Frankfurter Anthologie" in that newspaper. In 1968 and 1969 he taught at American universities. From 1971 to 1975 he held visiting professorships at Stockholm and Uppsala. Since 1974 he has been an honorary professor at the University of Tübingen. In 1990 he received the Heine visiting professorship at the University of Düsseldorf, and in 1991 he received the Heinrich-Hertz visiting professorship of the University of Karlsruhe.

From 1988 to 2002 Reich-Ranicki hosted the literary talk show Literarisches Quartett on the German public television broadcaster ZDF. Through the show he became a household name in Germany. The show was followed by a similar show that consisted of him talking about old and new books in front of a studio audience. Following the publication of Too Far Afield by his fellow Gruppe 47 member Günter Grass, Reich-Ranicki appeared on the cover of the magazine Der Spiegel, tearing the novel apart. The magazine included his unfavorable review of the book. However, Reich-Ranicki praised Grass’ next book, Crabwalk. Having written about German literature for most of his life, Reich-Ranicki published books about American and Polish literature, after cutting down on his television appearances.