Jorge Semprún was born in Madrid on 10 December 1923. In 1937, early in the Spanish Civil War, he went into exile in Paris and studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. In 1941 he joined the communist resistance movement Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, and in 1942 became a member of the Spanish Communist Party.
Arrested in September 1943, in late January 1944 he was deported, as a "Spanish political", to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Here he had an influential position as the clerk recording labour statistics, and he belonged to the illegal Spanish resistance organization. He was liberated on 11 April 1945.
He returned to Paris, intending to become a writer. His first attempts to put into words the experiences of his deportation were unsuccessful. To begin with, he worked as a translator for the UNESCO. From 1953 he played an important, clandestine role in the communist resistance to Franco, first from France and then, from 1956 to 1962, in Spain under the cover name Federico Sánchez. In 1961 he wrote The Long Journey, a novel about his deportation from the French internment camp at Compiègne to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. In 1964 he was expelled from the Spanish Communist Party because of his criticism of structures in late Stalinist Russia. As a writer of screenplays, Semprún worked with the directors Alain Resnais and Costa-Gavras on films including The War is Over (1966) and Z (1969). 1980 saw the publication of his second great novel, What a Beautiful Sunday, which deals with his communist past against the background of his experiences in Buchenwald. From 1988 to 1991 he was Spain’s minister of culture. Following numerous other novels, mostly autobiographical, Literature or Life appeared in 1994. In that year he was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, in 1995 the Prize of the City of Weimar, in 2003 the Goethe Medal and in 2007 an honorary doctorate from the University of Potsdam.
Jorge Semprún died in Paris on 7 June 2011.