The New Israelite Hospital in Hamburg (1841)



Ein Hospital für arme, kranke Juden,
Für Menschenkinder, welche dreifach elend,
Behaftet mit den bösen drei Gebresten,
Mit Armut, Körperschmerz und Judentume!

A hospital for poor, sick Jews,
For human beings three-ways screwed,
By three misfortunes cruelly maimed:
By poverty, pain and Judaism.

Das schlimmste von den dreien ist das letzte,
Das tausendjährige Familienübel,
Die aus dem Niltal mitgeschleppte Plage,
Der altägyptisch ungesunde Glauben.

Of these three the last is worst:

That unrelenting family scourge,
That plague borne from the Nile plain,
That old Egyptian toxic faith.

Unheilbar tiefes Leid! Dagegen helfen
Nicht Dampfbad, Dusche, nicht die Apparate
Der Chirurgie, noch all die Arzeneien,
Die dieses Haus den siechen Gästen bietet.

Ineradicable woe!  Against it nothing works:
Not the steam bath – not immersion – no implement
Of surgery, nor all the treatments that
This hospice can offer to its ailing guests.

Wird einst die Zeit, die ew'ge Göttin, tilgen
Das dunkle Weh, das sich vererbt vom Vater
Herunter auf den Sohn - wird einst der Enkel
Genesen und vernünftig sein und glücklich?

Will Time, eternal goddess, one day stop
This dark ache handed down from father

to son – will ever yet a son be born

Stout of body, sound of mind, and happy?

Ich weiß es nicht! Doch mittlerweile wollen
Wir preisen jenes Herz, das klug und liebreich
Zu lindern suchte, was der Lindrung fähig,
Zeitlichen Balsam träufelnd in die Wunden.

That I don’t know.  But meanwhile, let us praise
That pragmatic heart who, with ruling love,
Sought to relieve what could be relieved,
Applying a palliative to the wounds.

Der teure Mann! Er baute hier ein Obdach
Für Leiden, welche heilbar durch die Künste
Des Arztes (oder auch des Todes!), sorgte
Für Polster, Labetrank, Wartung und Pflege -

The dear man!  Here he built a home

For torments susceptible to the scalpel
(Or else the scythe), and furnished
Cots and tonics, therapy and care –

Ein Mann der Tat, tat er, was eben tunlich;
Für gute Werke gab er hin den Taglohn
Am Abend seines Lebens, menschenfreundlich,
Durch Wohltun sich erholend von der Arbeit.

A doer, the man did what was doable:
He gave a day’s pay to charity
In the eve of his life, philanthropically,

Business-sick and getting well by doing good.

Er gab mit reicher Hand - doch reichre Spende
Entrollte manchmal seinem Aug', die Träne,
Die kostbar schöne Träne, die er weinte
Ob der unheilbar großen Brüderkrankheit.

He gave with open hand – but more abundant gifts
Were known to issue from his eyes:  the tears
The costly, lovely tears he wept

From our great congenital, incurable condition.


Heinrich Heine



Translation by Joe Schwartz



A hospital for sick and needy Jews,
For those poor mortals who are trebly wretched,
With three great evil maladies afflicted:
With poverty and pain and Jewishness.

The worst of these three evils is the last one,
The thousand-year-old family affliction,
The plague they carried from the grim Nile valley,
The old Egyptian faith so long unhealthful.

Incurable deep-seated hurt! No treatment
By vapour bath or douche can help to heal it,
No surgery, nor all the medications,
This hospital can offer to its patients.

Will Time, eternal goddess, some day end it,
Root out this black misfortune that the fathers
Hand down to sons? And some day will the grandsons
Be healed and whole, and rational and happy?

I do not know! But meanwhile let us honour
The heart that sought so lovingly and wisely
To soften the afflictions one can soften,
By pouring timely balm upon the lesions.

The worthy man! He builded here a refuge
For sufferings the doctors' arts could physic -
Or death's could cure, as well! - providing
For beds, refreshments, care, and tender nursing.

A man of deeds, he did what could be done;
A day's wage for good works this man devoted
In his life's evening, out of love of mankind,
To find relief from toil in benefaction.

He gave with open hand - but gifts still richer
Rolled from his eyes at times, the precious teardrops,
The lovely teardrops that he wept lamenting
The great incurable malady of his brothers.

Translation by Hal Draper