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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 Drawing on a wide range of previously unpublished documents, Heidelberger-Leonard illuminates the turbulent life of this complex figure, from his middle class origins in pre-war Austria; his flight from his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.
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.