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The German Refugee



Bernard Malamud

(April 26, 1914 – March 18, 1986)



357  Danzig: a free city-state on the coast of the Baltic sea bordering Poland that was annexed to Germany in September 1939

357–58  Acht Uhr Abendblatt:


358  Kristallnacht


358  Bauhaus


358  gentile: a person who is not Jewish

  • gentile (Merriam-Webster)
    1 often capitalized: a person of a non-Jewish nation or of non-Jewish faith; especially: a Christian as distinguished from a Jew
    2: heathen, pagan
    3 often capitalized: a non-Mormon


358  Stettin


359  Weimar Republic


359  Ich weiss nicht, wie ich weiter machen soll


360  Macy's: flagship location of a well-known U.S. department store chain


360  Automat: vending machine operated fast food restaurants popular in the United States in the first half of the 20th century


362  the Palisades: scenic steep cliffs west of the Hudson River stretching from northeastern New Jersey to southern New York


362  Life on the Mississippi: an 1883 memoir by Mark Twain

362  peacogs: Oskar's mispronunciation of peacocks


362  barbiturates: sedative drugs first introduced in the early 1900s and popular until the 1970s


363  Ich bin dir siebenundzwanzig Jahre treu gewesen


364  Walt Whitman: 19th century American poet


365  Soviet-Nazi nonaggression pact: signed on August 23, 1939

368  Brown Shirts: nickname for the Sturmabteilung ("Storm Troopers") or SA, Hitler's Nazi soldiers, because of the color of their uniform







I would write a book, or a short story, at least three times—once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose and a third to compel it to say what it still must say. (Lecture, Bennington College; source)




Study Questions


    Bernard Malamud, in a 1974 interview with Paris Review, gives this assessment of short fiction:

    I like packing a self or two into a few pages, predicating lifetimes.  The drama is terse, happens faster, and is often outlandish.  A short story is a way of indicating the complexity of life in a few pages, producing the surprise and effect of a profound knowledge in a short time.  There’s, among other things, a drama, a resonance, of the reconciliation of opposites: much to say, little time to say it, something like the effect of a poem. (23)

    What role does setting play in conveying drama, resonance, or reconciliation of opposites in this 1964 story that we are reading?


  • The narrator of “The German Refugee” makes a paradoxical self-introduction at the beginning: “I was in those days a poor student and would brashly attempt to teach anybody anything…although I have since learned better” (438).  How is the student who dares to take on the role of teacher and, even more brashly, to teach a professional how to teach humbled by his association with Oskar Gassner?

  • We come almost to the end of the story before learning the narrator’s full name.  Why would we come to this knowledge just as he learns about Oskar’s wife?  How might Whitman’s poetry, and specifically his “Song of Myself,” be relevant?









Review Sheet


Oskar Gassner – "Oskar was maybe fifty, his thick hair turning gray. He had a big face and heavy hands. His shoulders sagged. His eyes, too, were heavy, a clouded blue" (358); "meaty hand" (358); "he had lost close to twenty pounds" (366);

Martin Goldberg – the narrator; "a poor student" (357); "Mostly I gave English lessons to recently arrived refugees." (357); "just twenty, on my way into my senior year in college, a skinny, life-hungry kid, eating himself waiting for the next world war to start." (357); "thin, elongated, red-headed" (359); speaks pidgin-German and Yiddish (358)

rg – the




        end of May "He [Oskar] was living, at the end of May, in a small hotel, and had one night filled himself with barbiturates" (362)


        late June "I had met Oskar at the end of June" (361); "Outside, across the sky, a late-June green twilight fades in darkness." (357)

        July – "It was a sticky, hot July" (361); "by the seventeenth of July we [the narrator and Oskar] were no longer doing lessons" (361)

        mid-August "It was by then mid-August and things were growing steadily worse wherever one looked. The Poles were mobilizing for war. Oskar hardly moved." (364)

        end of August "toward the end of August, I brought Oskar what I had written" (365)

        early September "Oskar completed his lecture—wrote and rewrote it—during the first week in September." (366)

        early October – "the lecture he [Oskar] had to give early in October" (361)



New York – "His [Oskar's] new job was in the Institute for Public Studies, in New York" (359)

    West Tenth Street – "his stuffy, hot, dark hotel room on West Tenth Street" (357)

    West Eighty-fifth Street – "Oskar moved to a two-room apartment in a house on West Eighty-fifth Street, near the Drive" (360)

    Seventy-second Street – "[the narrator and Oskar] had supper at the Seventy-second Street Automat" (360)




    Stettin – 

Warsaw – "Warsaw had fallen" (367)








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