NEW YORK — Günter Kunert, a German writer who rose to prominence in the 1960s with satirical and increasingly critical works about the repressive communist government in East Germany, which eventually led him to flee to the West, died from complications of pneumonia on Sept. 21 at his home in the village of Kaiserborstel, in northern Germany. He was 90.
Mr. Kunert had settled in Kaiserborstel in 1979, drawn by the peace and privacy he had craved during his final years in East Germany.
His searingly satirical voice was rooted in the deprivations he suffered as a half-Jewish child under the Nazis and came into its own under the repressions of Erich Honecker’s East Germany in the 1970s.
“I write to bear the world as it steadily crumbles into nothingness,” he was quoted as saying in the 1979 anthology “The Poet’s Work.”
Considered one of modern Germany’s most profound and prolific writers, he examined the complexities and contradictions of his country’s post-World War II history through his two novels and his many poems, short stories, and essays. After his emigration, and even after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, he continued to highlight the differences between the two countries that had opposed each other during the Cold War.
“In many of his works, he was a politically conscious and observant person, but he also reflected a lot on life,” Jo Lendle, his publisher at Carl Hanser Verlag, told the radio network Deutschlandfunk.
Born in Berlin on March 6, 1929, to a Jewish mother and a Roman Catholic father, he survived the war but lost many relatives on his mother’s side to the Holocaust. As a so-called mixed-race child, he was forbidden to attend a college preparatory school, but he took up the study of graphic design after the war.
Like many young intellectuals in the early years of East Germany, he was an antifascist committed to the ideals of building an egalitarian society; he joined the Communist Party in 1949.
His writing caught the attention of Bertolt Brecht and the author and politician Johannes R. Becher, who became mentors and helped promote his works.
In 1962 he won the Heinrich Mann Prize for essay writing, the first of more than a dozen awards he collected throughout his lifetime.
In an open letter published in 1977 in the West German weekly Die Zeit, Mr. Kunert wrote that the East German government was deliberately driving critical artists into emigration. “According to the American principle of love it or leave it, the removal of critical artists is seen as a painful amputation of a diseased member of society,” he wrote.
Two years later he fled to the West, where he continued to write, supporting his art with commissions for radio plays.
Mr. Kunert leaves his wife, Erika Hinckel, and a stepdaughter, Lore Reimann. His first wife, Marianne, died in 2013.
His first novel, “Im Namen der Hüte” (“In the Name of the Hats”), was published in West Germany in 1967. His second, “Die Zweite Frau” (“The Second Wife”), a biting satire of life in East Germany dedicated to Hinckel, was written in 1975 but not published until this February. He knew when he wrote it that the cultural authorities would never allow him to publish it; it languished in an unopened moving box for years before he rediscovered it.
A final book of his previously unpublished essays from the same era, as well as more recent prose works, is to be published early next year under the title “Accomplished Truth.”