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Salus, Hugo

(1866–1929), poet and physician. Born in the exclusively German-speaking town of Böhmisch-Leipa (now Česká-Lípa in the Czech Republic), Salus studied medicine in Prague and stayed on to work as a gynecologist. In the 1890s, however, he dominated the literary scene in Prague, publishing lyric poetry in prominent fin-de-siècle magazines and in popular collections such as Ehefrühling (Springtime of Marriage; 1900), Die Blumenschale (The Flower Vase; 1908), and Glockenklang (The Sound of a Bell; 1911).

Salus’s simple, musical poetry is neoromantic, indebted to Heine (who speaks in one poem, “Aus der Matratzengruft” [From the Mattress Grave; 1908]), but lacking the latter’s irony. Max Brod describes Salus’s style as “an inextricable mixture of sentimental shallowness with genuine and truthful elements.” Salus was also admired by the young Rainer Maria Rilke, and two poems were set to music by Arnold Schönberg in 1901. Salus also published short stories, which were either gently humorous or melancholy, including Schwache Helden (Weak Heroes; 1910), and a parody of the Gospels, Christa: Ein Evangelium der Schönheit (Christa: A Gospel of Beauty; 1911), whose heroine preaches aestheticism and is crucified by monks.

As was the case with certain other Jewish writers from Bohemia, notably Fritz Mauthner, Salus was an enthusiastic German nationalist who deplored the increasing political power of the Czechs, yet deeply admired the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák. Salus never denied his own Jewishness, even occasionally attending Zionist meetings, and is represented in the literary anthology Das jüdische Prag (Jewish Prague; 1917) by a poem about the Wandering Jew, which proudly contrasts the Jewish fate of attaining full humanity through suffering with the “easier” Christian destiny of redemption through pain: in this poem, he proclaims “Euch winkt ein Golgatha! Mein Seufzen ist mein Stolz, / Ich bin ein Mensch, ein voller Mensch, ich leide ewig” (For you, Golgotha beckons! My groans are my pride, / I am a human being, fully human, suffering forever).

Suggested Reading

Josef Mühlberger, Geschichte der deutschen Literatur in Böhmen, 1900–1939 (Munich, 1981).