In a Vienna Coffeehouse, 1935

“It didn’t begin until 1935, when I was sitting over a newspaper in a Vienna coffeehouse and was studying the Nuremberg Laws, which had just been enacted across the border in Germany. I needed only to skim them and already I could perceive that they applied to me. Society, concretized in the National Socialist German state, which the world recognized absolutely as the legitimate representative of the German people, had just made me formally and beyond any question a Jew, or rather it had given a new dimension to what I had already known earlier, but which at the time was of no great consequence to me, namely, that I was a Jew. 

What sort of new dimension? Not one that was immediately fathomable. After I had read the Nuremberg Laws I was no more Jewish than a half hour before. My features had not become more Mediterranean-Semitic, my frame of reference had not suddenly been filled by magic power with Hebrew allusions, the Christmas tree had not wondrously transformed itself into the seven-armed candelabra. If the sentence that society had passed on me had a tangible meaning, it could only be that henceforth I was a quarry of Death.”

The writer Jean Améry would have been one hundred years old today. In honor of his birthday, the Institute for the History of Communication and Media Cultures (IKK) at the Free University Berlin will host a symposium to discuss the life and work of the philosopher, critic and political commentator. The symposium will take place on 17 November 2012 at the Akademie der Künste.

(Jean Améry, Jenseits von Schuld und Sühne. Bewältigungsversuche eines Überwältigten, München: Szczesny 1966, S. 135; in English: At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities, translated by Sidney Rosenfeld and Stella P. Rosenfeld, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980, pg. 85.)