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The Philosopher of Auschwitz: Jean Amery and Living with the Holocaust

The Philosopher of Auschwitz: Jean Amery and Living with the Holocaust
Irene Heidelberger-Leonard

Translated by: Anthea Bell

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Who was Jean Amery? Victim or survivor? Agnostic or Jew? Austrian or exile? Philosopher or journalist? Jean Amery is not easy to classify but what this biography (the first in any language) demonstrates is that he is more - far more - than some enigmatic cult figure: he is one of the most influential of Holocaust survivors and one of the most provocative writers and thinkers of the 20th century. Jean Amery - born Hans Maier in Austria in 1912 - is perhaps best known for his seminal work, "At the Mind's Limits", one of the central texts on what Amery himself described as 'the subjective state of the victim.' But as Irene Heidelberger-Leonard's book reveals, Amery was not just a 'professional concentration camper', as he sometimes dubbed himself in a mixture of mockery and resignation. Drawing on a wide range of previously unpublished documents, Heidelberger-Leonard illuminates the turbulent life of this complex figure, from his middle class origins in pre-war Austria; his flight from his homeland to join the Resistance; his imprisonment in Auschwitz and Belsen; to his eventual suicide in 1978.

This definitive biography examines how Amery grappled with what it meant to be both a victim and survivor of the concentration camps and what his experiences there reveal about the tension between human dignity and the reality of horror. Focusing chiefly on Amery's literary works, one of the book's great strengths lies in exploring how every aspect of Amery's life and thought is inextricably connected with his writings. This biography brilliantly demonstrates the importance of Amery in his own time and shows how his relevance extends far beyond.

Author Info

Irene Heidelberger-Leonard is Professor of German Literature at the Free University of Brussels. She has written extensively on the German post-war period and its relationship to National Socialism and is the editor of a nine-volume edition of Amery's writings. Her biography of Jean Amery was named as non-fiction Book of the Year by the German Cultural Foundation in 2004 and was awarded the prestigious biennial Einhard Prize for Outstanding European Biography 2005.


'[Jean Amery was] one of the few authentic voices on the Holocaust...based on the most "ponderous insights into the irreparable condition of the victims, and that it is from such insights alone that the true nature of the terror visited on them can be extrapolated with some precision."'
W. G. Sebald;'

one reads [At the Mind's Limits] with almost physical pain...all the way to its stoic conclusion'
Primo Levi;'

[Jean Amery's] experience of torture at the hands of the Gestapo remains the locus classicus on the subject. Speaking out on behalf of the hitherto silent victims, Amery was one of the first
along with his fellow Auschwitz inmate Primo Levi
to universalize his ordeal. Irene Heidelberger-Leonard has evoked an unnecessary martyr whose death was as ignoble as his life was noble. The collective recollection of the Holocaust, more in anger than in sorrow, is Amery's legacy to a world in which he saw himself as a superfluous man. As this biography demonstrates, his witness has never been more necessary than today.'
Daniel Johnson, TLS;'

Jean Amery offers a perceptive view of Amery's life and work and is like all of Prof. Heidelberger's other books very well written and accessible also to the interested 'lay' public. I think it would be a very valuable book to be made available to an English readership.'
Andrea Reiter, Senior Lecturer in Modern Languages and Parkes Fellow in the Department of History at the University of Southampton;'

The Holocaust has its own saints, just like any other subculture. Jean Amery is one of them. There are biographies which transcend the boundaries of their genre, and can be read like novels. This is true of Irene Heidelberger-Leonard's work on Jean Amery which at the same time succeeds in conveying a monumental view of the historical era which he lived through.'
Imre Kertesz

Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd.

ISBN: 9781848851504
Publication Date: 29 Jul 2010
Number of Pages: 304
Height: 234
Width: 156
Illustrations: 24 integrated b/w illustrations

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