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Améry, Jean


AMÉRY, JEAN (Hans (Chaim ) Maier ); 1912–1978), Austrian writer and essayist. Born in Vienna, Améry started his career as a bookseller and thereafter studied philosophy and literature in Vienna. His first publications appeared under the name Hanns Mayer; together with Ernst Mayer, he published the journal Die Bruecke in 1934. In 1935 he wrote Die Schiffbruechigen, a novel favorably reviewed by Thomas Mann and Robert Musil. In this work Améry created an alter ego: the novel's protagonist, Eugen Althager, an unemployed Jewish intellectual. In 1939 he fled Austria for Belgium and was detained in South France in 1940. A year later Améry illegally returned to Belgium and became a member of the Communist resistance movement. Améry was captured by the Gestapo in 1943 and sent to Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and later Bergen-Belsen. After being liberated from Bergen-Belsen in 1945 he returned to Brussels. It was in Brussels where his wife died, and where he started writing political and literary essays under his pseudonym Hans Mayer for various Swiss and Dutch journals. After 1955 he published under his anagrammatic nom de plume Jean Améry, a name that symbolized his admiration for the humanitarian French ideals of liberty and equality. Known primarily for his essay writing, Améry was influenced by existentialism. He was particularly fond of the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre, whom he met in 1945. One of Améry's first essays was entitled Tortur. It described and analyzed his experiences under Nazi interrogations and in concentration camps. Jenseits von Schuld und Suehne was a survivor's testimony against the Nazi regime that railed against oblivion. With the help of Helmut Heissenbuettel, Améry published his most important texts commencing in the mid-1960s: An den Grenzen des Geistes (At the Mind's Limits, 1980), which depicted the limits of the intellectual's mind in the process of losing its basic quality of transcendence; Ueber das Altern (On Aging, 1994), and Unmeisterliche Wanderjahre. This trilogy was favorably received by intellectuals like Alfred Andersch and Elias Canetti, who praised it for the intersection of autobiographical and contemporary historical perspectives. Jean Améry's writing career also included works of fiction. His most famous literary work Lefeu oder der Abbruch, published in 1974, detailed the life of a Holocaust survivor. His final piece of fiction appeared in 1978 and bore the title, Charles Bovary, Landarzt. The subject of suicide appeared in his 1976 publication Hand an sich legen. Diskurs ueber den Freitod (On Suicide, 1999), and in 1978, Améry took his own life in a Salzburg hotel room.

Améry was a member of the Akademie der Kuenste Berlin, corresponding member of the Deutsche Akademie fuer Sprache und Dichtung, and a member of the German pen-Club. The Jean-Améry-Preis, an award for essay writing, was awarded for the first time in 1982.


I. Heidelberger-Leonhard, Jean Améry. Revolte in der Resignation (2004); S. Steiner, Jean Améry (Hans Maier) (1996); S. Wolf, Von der Verwundbarkeit des Humanismus: ueber Jean Améry (1995); D. Lorenz, Scheitern als Ereignis: der Autor Jean Améry im Kontext europaeischer Kulturkritik (1991); Text u. Kritik, 99 (1988).

[Ann-Kristin Koch (2nd ed.)]

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