n 1938, Celan travelled to Tours, France to study medicine, but returned to Cernăuţi in 1939 to study literature and Romance languages. The Soviet occupation in June 1940 deprived Celan of any illusions about Stalinism and Soviet Communism stemming from his earlier socialist engagements; the Soviets quickly imposed bureaucratic reforms on the university where he was studying Romance philology, and the Red Army brought deportations to Siberia, just as Nazi Germany and Romania brought ghettos, internment, and forced labour a year later.
On arrival in July 1941 the German SS Einsatzkommando and their Romanian allies burned down the city's six-hundred-year-old Great Synagogue. In October, the Romanians deported a large number of Jews after forcing them into a ghetto, where Celan translated William Shakespeare's Sonnets and continued to write his own poetry. Celan remained in these labour camps until February 1944, when the Red Army's advance forced the Romanians to abandon them, whereupon he returned to Cernăuţi shortly before the Soviets returned to reassert their control.
Considering emigration to Palestine and wary of widespread Soviet antisemitism, Celan left Soviet-occupied territory in 1945 for Bucharest, where he remained until 1947. As Romanian autonomy became increasingly tenuous in the course of that year, Celan fled Romania for Vienna. Facing a city divided between occupying powers, he moved to Paris in 1948, where he found a publisher for his first poetry collection.