Hans Alex Keilson (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈhɑns ˈkɛilsɔn]; 12 December 1909 – 31 May 2011) was a Jewish German/Dutch novelist, poet, psychoanalyst, and child psychologist. He was best known for his novels set during the Second World War, during which he was an active member of the Dutch resistance.
Keilson, having worked with traumatized orphans, mainly wrote about traumas induced by the war. His first novel was published in 1934, but most of his works were published after the war. In 2010, The New York Times ‘s Francine Prose described Keilson as “one of the world’s greatest writers”, notably honouring Keilson’s achievements in the year in which he turned 101 years old.
From 1928 to 1934, Keilson studied pharmacology in Berlin, but due to the Nazi law prohibiting Jews from employment, Keilson was employed as a professional gym teacher to Jewish private schools, and occasionally made money as a musician. During this period, Keilson also met his first wife, graphologist Gertud Manz (1901). In 1936, the couple went into exile and fled to the Netherlands. During his time here, Keilson wrote a few books in Dutch language, crediting himself under the pseudonym Benjamin Cooper.
1941–69: WWII and aftermath
In 1941, Keilson went into hiding and had to leave his pregnant wife behind. His wife gave birth to a daughter, Barbara, in the same year; she pretended the girl’s father was a German officer to prevent prosecution. Meanwhile, Keilson had moved in with a married couple in Delft, taking on a new identity as physician Dr. Van der Linden. During this time, the Dutch resistance asked him to pay visits to Jewish children that had been separated from their parents after they had gone into hiding. These experiences in particular formed the main inspiration for Keilson’s later works. Keilson reunited with his wife and daughter after the war. He and Gertrud were unable to marry before the war. In Germany they couldn’t marry because of Keilson’s Jewish origins. In the Netherlands it was not possible to marry for the Dutch law as German citizens. And so, when the war was over they married within the Liberal Jewish Community of Amsterdam. After the war Gertrud had to explain to the Dutch neighbours that her husband was indeed German, but also Jewish, to avoid further consequenses. Keilson had to requalify for his physician’s license, should he want to work in the Netherlands, and did so. He specialized as a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyticus. In 1969, Gertrud died.
During the war, Keilson’s parents were deported to Auschwitz, where both died. In later interviews Keilson expressed deep regret for being unable to save his parents.
1970–2009: Second marriage
In 1970 Keilson married literature historian Marita Lauritz (1935), 25 years his junior. Marita gave birth to his, and her, second daughter, Bloeme, in 1974. He published several more works and received little media attention. On his special birthday anniversaries, such as his 70th, 80th and 90th birthday, Dutch media would do interviews with him.
2010–11: Media attention
In 2010, The New York Times ‘s Francine Prose described Keilson as “one of the world’s greatest writers”. Much media attention, in both the United States and his native Netherlands, was given to the fact that Keilson received this acknowledgement at the age of 100. Keilson was invited to Dutch talkshow De Wereld Draait Door (“The World Keeps Spinning”), where he was interviewed by presenter Matthijs van Nieuwkerk. Many more articles and interviews would appear in the year following, world-wide. “Der Tod des Widersachers” (“The Death of the Adversary”) has been translated in 20 languages.
He died on May 31, 2011 in Hilversum, the Netherlands at the age of 101.