Heinrich Böll was born and educated in Cologne, Germany, and served from 1939 to 1945 as an infantryman in the German army. At the end of World War II, he returned to Cologne and began writing. Böll received numerous awards and honors, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972. He was named an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1974.
The essence of Böll's work lies in his compassion, his desire for fairness, his belief that people need to be ministered to, never administrated—that all people have dignity and that human dignity is too often abused in the management of politics and economics. Böll was never ambivalent in his concern for his fictional characters or for the real citizens of this world. His work and life were distinguished by a moral force that thrives in the aesthetic space between moral conviction and righteousness. His message that the past must constantly be reassessed and that compassion is a never-ending need becomes a moral imperative that runs through his entire oeurvre.
Böll supported the new democratic West Germany and many people believe the moral integrity manifested in his writing was instrumental in helping to restore West Germany to the family of nations. Böll's development from writer to "conscience of the nation" makes up the content of Conard's book. Böll did not relish the burden he assumed, but he carried the responsibility with grace and dignity.
Robert C. Conard is professor of German language and literature at the University of Dayton. He has served as visiting scholar at Yale University and at the University of Southern California. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati and attended the University of Vienna and the University of Munich. In addition to several articles and a previous book on Böll, he has written on Bertolt Brecht, Hermann Hesse, and contemporary German politics.