“Everything is pure chance”

Author and Holocaust survivor Ruth Kluger dead © Kay Nietfeld/picture alliance

As a girl, she slaved for the Nazis in the quarry. Later she became a renowned author. Now Ruth Kluger, a lady with a sense of humor, has died. Rien ne va plus – your last project remains unfinished.

You have to let the statement roll off your tongue: A Holocaust survivor says it would be an honor for her to address the German Bundestag before the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). That was in January 2016, shortly before her 71st birthday. Anniversary of the liberation of prisoners of the Nazi camp Auschwitz-Birkenau and a memorial hour in the parliament in Berlin.

A remarkable statement

The writer Ruth Kluger said the remarkable sentence in an interview with the Catholic News Agency (KNA) – a woman who was in camps as a child and narrowly escaped the extermination of Jews by the Nazis. Conversely, what an honor it was for her to say such a thing as a survivor. Now the writer, who was born in Vienna, emigrated to the U.S. and won several awards, has died. According to the Vienna-based Zsolnay publishing house, Kluger died in California on Tuesday night at the age of 88 after a long illness in the company of her family.

Kluger arrived at 30. She was born in Vienna on October 1931 to Jewish parents. On 27. January 1945 soldiers of the Red Army liberated the prisoners in Auschwitz. Kluger also suffered through the largest Nazi camp. "There was a time when my kind, the Jews, were expelled or killed in this country. And suddenly there is a government that takes in refugees who are in danger of their lives. That impresses me very much," she told the KNA.

And further: "To be able to give a speech before this government, not just any government, but this government, with Mr. Gauck and Mrs. Merkel, that is an honor for me."In her speech in the Bundestag, Kluger then commemorated, among other things, the fate of forced prostitutes in the camps.

Survived the camps

But her own situation as a forced laborer was also the subject of her memoirs in the Bundestag. The freezing cold in the winter of 1944/45. The hard work as a young girl in a quarry – because of which she survived imprisonment, as she said. The Nazis had deported Kluger to the camps Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and Christianstadt. She fled with her mother and foster sister on a death march. The father did not survive.

Previously she had also gotten away with it because of a lie. In Auschwitz she was only twelve and a half years old and claimed she was 15. Many people with whom she had arrived from Theresienstadt had been gassed. "So it was at the last moment."She had made herself older on the advice of a woman in order to get into the group of those who were able to work. Her conclusion: "Everything is pure coincidence."

It took a long time before Kluger also publicly confronted her past. It was easier to write about it than to talk about it, she once said. 1992 saw the publication of the book "weiter leben. A Youth," which has been translated into ten languages. "Death, not sex, was the secret, what adults whispered about, what people would have liked to hear more about," the first sentence reads. At the time, Kluger was living in Vienna; experienced as a child that being Jewish meant no longer being allowed to go to the movies or do other normal things.

Emigration to the USA

In 1947, she emigrated to the U.S., studied English and German studies. She later taught this subject at the University of Virginia, Princeton and the University of California at Irvine. 2008 published "lost on the way. Memories" about Kluger's life and her internationally recognized work after World War II.

Five years later, "Zerreibproben. Annotated Poems" with Kluger's poems from 1944 published. Poems would have helped her survive the Holocaust. "While writing her own poetry, she repeatedly grappled with Adorno's famous phrase 'Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,' only to shrug it aside," the publisher said.

Zsolnay director Herbert Ohrlinger paid tribute to Kluger, a lady with a sense of humor, on Wednesday as a person with rare charisma. He said it was "extraordinary" what she had made of her experiences. "Now and then she went to Las Vegas with friends to gamble. She planned to write a la Dostoyevsky a gambler novel."This last project remains unfinished.

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