1999 Goethe Prize Winner

Siegfried Lenz

Siegfried Lenz (17 March 1926 – 7 October 2014) was a German writer of novels, short stories and essays, as well as dramas for radio and the theatre. In 2000 he received the Goethe Prize on the 250th Anniversary of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's birth.


Siegfried Lenz was born in Lyck, East Prussia (now Ełk, Poland), the son of a customs officer. After graduating in 1943, he was drafted into Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine.

According to documents released in June 2007, he may have joined the Nazi party at the age of 18 on 20 April 1944 along with several other German authors and personalities, such as Dieter Hildebrandt and Martin Walser. However, Lenz subsequently said he had been included in a collective "joining" of the Party without his knowledge. Shortly before the end of World War II, he fled to Denmark, but was held briefly as a prisoner of war in Schleswig-Holstein. He then worked as a translator for the British army.

At the University of Hamburg he studied philosophy, English, and literary history. His studies were cut off early when he became an intern for the daily newspaper Die Welt, where he served as an editor from 1950 to 1951. It was there he met his future wife, Liselotte whom he married in 1949.

In 1951, Lenz used the money he had earned from his first novel Habichte in der Luft to finance a trip to Kenya. During his time there, he wrote about the Mau Mau Uprising in his short story "Lukas, sanftmütiger Knecht". After 1951 Lenz worked as a freelance writer in Hamburg, where he joined the Group 47 group of writers. Together with Günter Grass, he became engaged with the Social Democratic Party and championed the Ostpolitik of Willy Brandt. As a supporter of rapprochement with Eastern Europe he was invited to the signing of the Treaty of Warsaw (1970).[clarification needed] In October 2011 he was made an honorary citizen of his home town Ełk, which had become Polish as a result of the border changes promulgated in 1945 by the Potsdam Conference.

In 2003, Lenz joined the Verein für deutsche Rechtschreibung und Sprachpflege (Society for German Spelling and Language Cultivation) to protest the German orthography reform of 1996.

He died at the age of 88 on 7 October 2014 in Hamburg.


Critic Gerhardt Csejka described Lenz as one of the German authors who saw it as his duty to help the German people "pay off the enormous debts", which "the Germans together with their honoured Führer had burdened themselves." Lenz saw it as his obligation to "take preventive actions against any danger of a reoccurrence."


In 1988 Lenz was awarded with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, a prize given annually at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The Goethe Prize of Frankfurt am Main (Goethepreis der Stadt Frankfurt) was given to Lenz in 2000. A year later, Lenz was honored with the highest decoration of Hamburg, the honorary citizenship. Since 2004 Lenz has been honorary citizen of Schleswig Holstein, since 18 October 2011 honorary citizen of his hometown Ełk (Lyck). In 2010 he won the Italian International Nonino Prize.