Rolf Hochhuth was born in 1931 in Eschwege in Hesse. While apprenticing to be a bookseller and working in bookshops, he also attended lectures in history, philosophy and literature at the Universities of Heidelberg and Munich. As of 1955 Hochhuth was able to work afternoons as an editor for the Bertelsmann Lesering (book club) and to dedicate his mornings to his own writing – primarily of stories, which, however, remained unpublished. Hochhuth made use of a special leave – awarded to him as a bonus for the successful sale of a Wilhelm Busch edition under his editorship – to carry out research in Rome for his first play »Der Stellvertreter« (Eng. »The Deputy: A Play«, 1964), which premiered and was published in 1963.
The combination of documentary material, as well as historical persons with fictional figures and events, came to subsequently characterize his work and decisively influenced the documentary theater movement of the 1960s. Examining the question of whether Pope Pius XII was complicit in the Holocaust for failing to denounce publically the deportation of Jews to the extermination camps, the theater adaptation of »Der Stellvertreter« resulted in controversy and protests in Germany and internationally, and earned the author the Berliner Literaturpreis der jungen Generation in 1963. As a freelance writer Hochhuth has continued to address current political and social questions while also voicing moral admonishment in keeping the memory of the German past alive in literature, such as in the 1979 play »Juristen« (tr: The lawyers) about the role of former National Socialist judges in the Federal Republic of Germany. A more current example of how he broaches contemporary history in his plays with an unwavering instinct for charged issues which will trigger intense debate is the play »McKinsey kommt« (2003, tr: McKinsey is coming), which deals with large-scale layoffs aimed solely at increasing profitability. In 2014, to commemorate the centenary of World War I, his play »Sommer 14 – Ein Totentanz« (tr: Summer 14 – A dance of death), which premiered at the Vienna Burgtheater in 1990, was restaged at the Berliner Ensemble. After having released his first collection of poetry and stories, »Panik im Mai« (tr: Panic in May) in 1991, Hochhuth presented his most recent publication »Das Grundbuch« (2016, tr: The land register) with its »365 Sieben- bis Zwölfzeiler« (tr: 365 Seven to twelve liners), describing it as »life’s insights in a nutshell rather than poems«, citing, for instance, »You shall not remain silent« as the Eleventh Commandment.
Hochhuth has received numerous honors for his literary work, including the Lessing-Preis of the city of Hamburg (1980), the Elisabeth-Langgässer-Literaturpreis (1991), the Jacob-Grimm-Preis Deutsche Sprache (2001) and the Cicero-Rednerpreis (2002). The author, who lived near Basel in Switzerland from 1963 to 2007, lives in Berlin.