In memory of the life and work of UCI Emeritus Professor of Germany Ruth Klüger (1931-2020), the city of Vienna created and dedicated Ruth-Klüger-Platz, a square in the Neubau district where Klüger and his family lived.
Klüger was born in Vienna, where she experienced the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany) in 1938. At age 11, she was deported with her mother to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The following year, they were transported to Auschwitz and managed, despite Klüger’s young age, to join a labor detachment that took them to the Christianstadt labor camp. Klüger and his mother escaped towards the end of the war, while the prisoners were taken to another camp. They emigrated to the United States in 1947.
Klüger studied at Hunter College as an undergraduate and eventually earned his doctorate. in German from UC Berkeley. She was renowned in academia for her work on Baroque and 18th century literature and was a prominent feminist scholar and professor of Holocaust literature. In 1992, she published her autobiography, further: Eine Jugendtranslated by Still Alive: A Holocaust Childhood Remembered (Feminist Press, 2001). The powerful survival document earned him international acclaim as an autobiographer and public intellectual. In 2016, she was invited to address the ensemble Bundestag (German Parliament) on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The book has won around twenty prestigious literary prizes in Europe, including the Goethe Medal, the Heinrich Heine Medal and the Thomas Mann Prize. It has been translated into over a dozen languages.
This year, the city of Vienna celebrated “Ruth-Klüger-Tage”, a three-day series of events that brought attention to Klüger’s legacy. It began on May 5 with the presentation of an illustrated children’s book about Klüger’s life at the site where she first went to school. This was followed by a walking tour of Neubau, Vienna’s 7th district, which began in the building where she lived as a child. That evening there was a reception with music, an address by the district manager, a eulogy and food, culminating in a reading of his work at the Kosmos Theater.
On May 6, the new square was inaugurated and the sign “Ruth-Klüger-Platz” was unveiled. Doris Schmidauer, wife of the Austrian President addressed the crowd, followed by other city officials, a representative of Vienna’s Jewish community and a theatrical reading. Later in the afternoon there was a symposium on Klüger and his work at the Literaturhaus Wien with presentations by scholars, writers and artists.
The next morning, a screening of the 2012 documentary film, “Landscapes of Memory: The Life of Ruth Klüger,” by Renata Schmidtkunz, was scheduled at Admiral Kino, the same movie theater Klüger snuck into as a child without its yellow star. to see Disney’s “Snow White” – one of the most captivating scenes from his autobiography.
The events concluded with a visit to Sigmund Freud’s home, which he abandoned when he fled the Third Reich.
Shops and restaurants in Neubau had posters with the Klüger event calendar on their windows and many citizens of Vienna attended the celebration, as well as Klüger’s sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren.
Vienna has held several ceremonies and celebrations to honor her over the years, including the City of Vienna Women’s Award. In 2008, the city purchased and distributed 100,000 copies of his autobiography for its Eine Stadt, ein Buch (One City, One Book), in which everyone is encouraged to read and discuss the same book.
“Klüger has always been ambivalent about Vienna; it was her home, but a home where she was abused and kicked out,” said German UCI Professor Emeritus Gail Hart, who attended the three-day event. “Klüger died on October 5, 2020 and towards the end of her life she often expressed a wish to see Vienna again. This latest effort by Vienna to recognize his work and life by integrating it into its geography with Ruth Klüger Square, which can be found on Google Maps, was a great and well-deserved honour.