Jean Améry / Hans maier

1912 (Vienna) - 1978 (Salzburg)


"My resentments are there, however, so that the crime will become a moral reality for the criminal, so that he will be dragged into the truth of his atrocity."

Hans Maier was born in Vienna on 31 October 1912, the son of Jewish parents. He grew up in Bad Ischl; his family converted to Catholicism. In 1924, he returned to Vienna and, after doing casual work, began training as a bookseller. He completed literary and philosophical studies, particularly on the Vienna Circle. In 1934, he wrote a novel in which he explored suicide: Die Schiffbrüchigen (“The Shipwrecked”); it was never published. In November 1937, shortly before his marriage to Regine Berger-Baumgarten, who was Jewish, he joined the Jewish religious community.
In December 1938, Maier fled to Antwerp; in 1940 he was arrested and interned as an “enemy alien” and taken to the Gurs camp in October 1940, which he fled in the summer of 1941. In July 1943, he was arrested again, and this was followed by interrogation by the Gestapo and torture at Fort Breendonk. On 15 January 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz. From there he was transported to Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp in January 1945, then evacuated to Bergen-Belsen, and finally liberated on 15 April 1945.
At the end of April 1945, Maier returned to Belgium, where his wife had died five days earlier. He began to write again, about politics and culture, portraits of the literary, artistic and political world, which he published under the name Jean Améry after 1955. In 1955 he married Maria Leitner. Beginning in 1964, he wrote about “the existential problem of the universe of the concentration camp”, composed radio essays that were published in English as At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities in 1966; in the summer, the second edition of 4,000 copies came out. Améry performed on West German television, and in discussion forums he was considered an obstinate leftist. In 1976 came the essay “On Suicide: A Discourse on Voluntary Death”; in 1977, he received the Lessing Prize of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. On 17 October 1978, while on a reading tour, Jean Améry took his life in a Salzburg hotel.