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S.Y. Agnon, Miss Sachs Presented with Nobel Prize by King of Sweden

December 12, 1966
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

King Gustav VI Adolf, of Sweden, presented last night the 1966 Nobel Prize for Literature to the two Jewish co-winners — the noted Israeli writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon and Miss Nelly Sachs, Jewish poet, a refugee from Germany who now lives in Sweden — in an impressive ceremony in the Concert Hall here, which was followed by a formal banquet in the Golden Auditorium of the City Hall. Mr. Agnon, 78, writes in Hebrew; Miss Sachs, 75, writes in German. They share the $60,000 Nobel Prize award.

In attendance and among the participants were not only all the members of the Swedish royal family but also the most distinguished of Sweden’s writers, scientists, university professors and members of the Government. Six newly-elected Nobel Laureates were honored. Three were Americans, one Frenchman — and two Jews.

Seated up front, side by side in the Concert Hall, were Mr. Agnon, the Galician-born Israeli, wearing a velvet yarmulke atop his formal, white-tie attire, and Miss Sachs — both diminutive figures of great dignity.

Miss Sachs was called up first and, with absolute composure, bowed to the king as she received her award. In a brief, gracious speech, she recalled that she was a refugee from Nazi Germany — without mentioning either Hitler or Nazism — and that the ceremony coincided in date with her 75th birthday. Then came Mr. Agnon.

Bowing several times both to the king and the celebrated company, Mr. Agnon, who is a deeply devout Jew, opened his remarks by noting that a Jew could not enjoy an occasion of meeting a king without an appropriate blessing. In Hebrew, he recited that benediction: "Blessed art Thou, C Lord, our God, King of the universe, Who hast given of Thy glory to a king of flesh and blood." Mr. Agnon then continued: "To you, distinguished sages of the Swedish Academy, I say: Blessed be He Who lent His wisdom to flesh and blood."


He sketched his own life briefly, noting that, even in his youth in Galicia, he had always regarded himself as "a Jew from Jerusalem." "In your choice," he told the academicians, "I feel humbled. I have never forgotten the Biblical direction enjoining us to go humbly before our God. If I am proud of anything, it is for the privilege vouchsafed me of living in the Holy Land, which God promised to our forefathers and thus fulfilling His command." He concluded with a prayer for peace for Israel, for Sweden and for the entire world.

The Concert Hall ceremonies were concluded with an address by Dr. Ingvar Andersen on behalf of the Swedish Academy. He told Mr. Agnon: "In your writings, we meet once again the ancient unity between literature and science as antiquity knew it. Your great chronicles have a manifold message. We honor in you a combination of tradition and prophecy, of saga and wisdom." To Miss Sachs, Dr. Andersen said" "Your lyrical and dramatic writing belong to the great commentaries of world literature, yet your sadness is free of hate."

The company then adjourned, gathering again at the formal banquet at City Hall. There, Miss Sachs was the king’s table companion, seated at the right of the monarch. Mr. Agnon’s dinner companions were Mrs. Von Euler, wife of the chairman of the Nobel Foundation’s board of directors, and Princess Sibylla. Mr. Agnon was served a specially prepared kosher meal on a plate never used previously but matching the royal dinnerware.

In making the formal announcement of the awards to the two Jewish writers, at the opening of the Concert Hall ceremonies, Dr. Anders Osterling, chairman of the Swedish Academy’s Nobel Committee, noted that the Academy’s purpose of combining the literary winners was "to honor writers who, though writing in different languages, are united in spiritual kinship and complement each other in a splendid striving to present the cultural heritage of the Jewish people by the written word and from a common source of inspiration which, in them, has proved to be a vital power."

Dr. Osterling lauded Mr. Agnon for his admixture of realism and mysticism with "strange, fairy-like poetry reminiscent of Chagall’s motifs from the Old Testament," and praised Miss Sachs for her lyrical poetry which has "given voice to the Jewish race’s world-wide tragedy" in moving laments.

In summarizing the qualities that characterized each of the newly-chosen literature laureates, Dr. Osterling focused particularly on Mr. Agnon’s "A Guest Only for a Night," a novel, and Miss Sach’s mystery play, "Eli." He traced the special affinities both authors had shown for the Jewish heritage. He noted that Mr. Agnon’s works have now been liberated from the bonds of publication in Hebrew only, while Miss Sach’s dramatic poems "have been taken from the dark treasures of Hassidic mysticism, having taken on new vigor and vital meaning."

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