23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023

Jorge Semprún

Jorge Semprún was born in Madrid in 1923. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 the upper middle class, leftist liberal family fled to Paris, where Semprún attended the Lycée Henri IV. While studying Philosophy at the Sorbonne he focused on Marx and Hegel, whom he read in German. He joined the Resistance and shortly afterwards Spain’s Communist Party, and in 1943 he was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to Buchenwald. Following the liberation he returned to Paris and became the acting director of the Spanish translation division at UNESCO. As member of the Spain’s exiled Communist Party he coordinated the opposition to Franco starting in 1953 and under the alias Federico Sánchez worked from 1957 to 1962 in the Spanish underground, assisting in setting up a Communist organisation. He returned to his native country and served as Minister of Culture without party allegiance under González’s government from 1988 to 1991.
Only in 1963, after an eighteen year pause, when he was expelled from the Communist party did Semprún take up the literary treatment of his life in the camp. In »Le grand voyage« (1963; Eng. »The Long Voyage«, 1964) he delineates strings of associations starting from the description of his five-day journey to the concentration camp and structuring earlier and later experiences and memories in a non-chronological order. Semprún employed this multi-faceted structural principle in the vein of Faulkner and Claude Simon in his entire, mostly autobiographical work, together with frequent references to literature and cultural history. In novels like »Quel beau dimanche!« (1977; Eng. »What a Beautiful Sunday«, 1982) and »L’écriture ou la vie« (1994; Eng. »Literature or Life«, 1997), he constantly reshapes his memory of Buchenwald through literary accounts.
The »Autobiografía de Federico Sánchez« (1977; Eng. »Autobiography of Federico Sánchez and the Communist Underground in Spain«, 1979) – which was followed by the second part »Federico Sánchez se depide de ustedes« (t: Federico Sánchez says goodbye) in 1993 – depicts Semprún’s growing critique of both Stalinism and the structure of the Communist Party, and deals with his resulting expulsion from the party. From then on he began to devote himself entirely to writing. At the end of the sixties he wrote a couple of screenplays, among them the script for Costas Gravas’ »Z« (1968). Again and again Semprún refers back to the crimes of Communism, as with his Weimar speech on the occasion of the »Sixtieth Anniversary of the Liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camps«. It is included in the recently published collection of texts »Pensar en Europa« (2006; t: To think of Europe), whose title already alludes to Semprún’s political perspective on overall European integration. He also shows himself as its champion in a book co-authored with the then French Minister of Interior, Dominique de Villepin, entitled »L’Homme européen« (2005; t: The European man).
Semprún was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 1994. He also received the Jerusalem Prize, the Goethe Medal, the Bruno Kreisky Prize and the honourary doctorate from the University of Turin. His most recent novel, »Veinte años y un día« (2005; t: Twenty years and a day) was hailed by critics as the work of a master storyteller. The author lives in Paris.

© internationales literaturfestival berlin


Federico Sánchez. Eine Autobiographie
Frankfurt/Main, Berlin, Wien, 1981
[Ü: Heide Mahler-Knirsch]

Die große Reise
Frankfurt/Main, 1995
[Ü: Abelle Christaller]

Schreiben oder Leben
Frankfurt/Main, 1997
[Ü: Eva Moldenhauer]

Was für ein schöner Sonntag
Süddeutsche Zeitung
München, 2004
[Ü: Johannes Piron]

Zwanzig Jahre und ein Tag
Frankfurt/Main, 2005
[Ü: Elke Wehr]

Pensar en Europa
Barcelona, 2006

Was es heißt, Europäer zu sein
[mit Dominique de Villepin]
Hamburg, 2006
[Ü: Michael Hein]