Ruth Klüger was born in Vienna in 1931 as the daughter of a Jewish doctor. Her childhood was affected by her experiences of anti-Semitism and the exclusion of Jewish people from public life in the city of her birth. Her father fled from the Nazis to France, but was unable to escape and fell victim to the Nazi extermination of the Jews in Ausschwitz. At the age of eleven, Ruth Klüger was deported with her mother to Theresienstadt, after that to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and finally to Christianstadt, form where she managed to escape in 1945 before the War ended. She lived in Bavaria following the War and completed her secondary school qualifications as part of the War-related »Notabitur« system.
She writes about the horrors she experienced in childhood in her book »weiter leben« (1992; tr. keep living), which is characterised by the clarity and sobriety of its style. The narrative chronology is interrupted repeatedly by references to the present. She triggered off intense debate due to her critical stance towards the kitschy way in which the Holocaust is dealt with in most literature. A sequel followed in 2008, titled »unterwegs verloren« (tr. lost along the way). This book is not so much a memoir, but more a collection of essays which examines different themes as »life portraits«. Ruth Klüger looks at personal questions, but also reflects on developments within society in Europe and the USA, such as discrimination, racism and the role of women in modern western society.
Before Ruth Klüger emigrated to the USA in 1947, she studied at Regensburg University becoming friends with Martin Walser there. After the release of »Tod eines Kritikers« (tr. Death of a Critic) in 2002, she broke off all contact with him. She continued her studied in the USA at New York and Berkeley universities and, from 1967, taught German language and literature at Princeton and Irvine universities. Since 1988, she has been visiting professor at Georg-August University in Göttingen. In addition to her teaching work, she has written numerous papers on literature and also takes part in lectures and writes essays, which contribute towards a critical examination of German history and literature. Her feminist analysis »Frauen lesen anders« (1996; tr. Women Read Differently) and her examination of the works of contemporary female writers »Was Frauen schreiben« (2010; tr. What Women Write) are much-discussed contributions to the feminist debate. She has also worked as a literary scholar on Heinrich von Kleist, was editor of the »German Quarterly« for many years and was involved in the »Frankfrut Anthology«, a collection of German-language writings with interpretations initiated by Marcel Reich-Ranicki.
Ruth Klüger has been awarded many prizes including the Austrian State Prize for Literary Criticism in 1997, the Thomas Mann Prize in 1999 and the Publishing Prize of the City of Vienna in 2003. She lives in Irvine, California and Göttingen.