The China Times

Jorge Semprun Died, As Well As a Memory of the Twentieth Century

June 7, 2011

Jorge Semprun has died in Paris on Tuesday, as reported by sources close to the family. He was 87. With it is lost forever part of the memories of the prisoner number 44,904, their enrollment at Buchenwald, the German concentration camp where he lived deported between 20 and 22 years. Semprún built his literary work with the fragments of his own memory and it is therefore the memory of the facts and the feelings of a life marked by fire by all modern barbarism.

With the loss, however, disappears for a memory that will not fit on the books: the smell of burning flesh. He said it himself in 2000, in an interview. What worried him most was that very future of memory: “They are disappearing witnesses of the extermination. Well, every generation has a twilight of those characteristics. Witnesses disappear. But now I live it is touching to me. There are still older than me who have gone through the experience of the camps. But not all writers, of course. In the twilight of memory becomes more tense, but also more subject to deformation. Then there’s something … Do you know what is best important to have gone through a field? Do you know what exactly is it? Do you know that, which is the most important and most terrible, the only thing that can not be explained? The smell of burning flesh. What do you do with the memory of the smell of burning flesh? For those circumstances is precisely the literature. But how do you talk about that? You compare? comparison Obscenity? say, for example, that smells like burnt chicken? Or attempt a detailed reconstruction of the general circumstances of memory, spinning around to smell, round and round, not face it? I have inside my head, live, smell largest concentration camp. And I can not explain it. And that smell is going to go with me as we have gone with others. “Today those words are truer than ever.

Memory literature

“I have more memories than if I had a thousand years. ” Baudelaire’s words that Jorge Semprun used in Goodbye, summer light … accurately describe the life of a man whose eight decades of existence can be traced in his narrative, which contains fictions as the White Mountain has become Netchaiev or twenty years and one day but that will go down in history as one of the great cycles autobiographical contemporary literature.

Like memory itself, the book memoirs of Semprún not work as a straight line but as a spiral: sometimes the same episodes are told in different books with different intent. “Because my life is like a river “, reads this Sunday, “especially as a river is always different, never the same, in which one can not bathe twice: my life is completely the already seen, what deja vu, it repeated the same thing over and over again, to become another, strange, by dint of being identical. ”

Even so, one would reconstruct key moments in the writer’s life in chronological reading a series of books that were not written respecting this order: the teens in the exile of the Civil War (Goodbye, summer light …), anti-Nazi resistance and experience of Buchenwald (The Long Journey, I will live with his name die with me, that Sunday and, above all, writing or life), the expulsion of the Communist Party of Spain (Autobiography of Federico Sanchez) or the period as culture minister in the second term of Felipe González (Federico Sánchez goodbye to you.)

Grandson by the mother of the conservative politician Antonio Maura, Chairman of the Government to Alfonso XIII, Jorge Semprun was born in Madrid on December 10, 1923. His mother died before he turned eight and, with the Civil War, the brothers went to The Hague to join his father, Ambassador of the Republic in the Netherlands. The future writer and began an exile that has lasted a lifetime. In 1939, the lost war, the family moved to Paris, where George and his brother Gonzalo studied as interns in the demanding lycée Henri IV. In Farewell, light summers … (1998), Semprún remember those years when, after being the subject of joke in a bakery for his French accent conspired to remove all traces abroad in the pronunciation of which end up as his literary language essential.

If Levinas’s discovery earned him his first special prize philosophy, political commitment made him join the Communist Party of Spain in 1942. A year later he was arrested as a member of the anti-Nazi resistance, tortured and deported to Buchenwald concentration camp. There was spared the death that awaited probable intellectuals when it was registered as a plasterer rather than as a student. His knowledge of German, an obsession of his father, also helped him cope with the two years he spent with the red triangle and Spanier S (Spanish) on the chest.

On April 11, 1945, two U.S. soldiers opened the gate of the field, marked with a wry inscription: “To each what he deserves.” But with the release and the memories of the concentration experience for Jorge Semprun also came a dilemma: either write about the past (and past) or live in the present. The first thing I would say then, would have led to suicide not been for years. Although already in 1963 had turned part of his experience in the long journey, it was not until 1994 that the narrator dives to the bottom of that wound. The result was a mythical title today: The writing or life.

While it came to the cathartic Semprún turned in militant Communist turned Federico Sanchez, his name in the underground of Franco’s Spain. But the world he broke for the second time in 1964. That year, with Fernando Claudin, was expelled from the PCE for his disagreement with the official line of Dolores Ibarruri and Santiago Carrillo. This episode would serve as the backbone to the book, written in Spanish, won him the Metro 1977: The Autobiography of Federico Sanchez.

Years later, Federico Sanchez Yours (1993), the writer is definitely undid his alias in the story picked up his last step in politics. Between 1988 and 1991 had been Minister of Culture and that book became a unique piece, by infrequent, Spanish literature, public reports of a government member. Public and emaciated. With a height literary house brand, Semprún openly tells his disagreements with the PSOE apparatus, embodied in the Vice President Alfonso Guerra. A rawness which becomes irony in telling some of the episodes in which he lived, whether it was in negotiations with Baroness Thyssen to condition the Villahermosa Palace or a visit of the Queen of England at the Museo del Prado.

Last visit to the concentration camp

The reports from the ministries of Jorge Semprun start with a call from Javier Solana kept asking the writer if a Spanish passport, a sine qua non for membership of the Government. The answer was yes. Semprun, author of screenplays for directors like Alain Resnais (War Is Over) and Costa Gavras (Z, The Confession), wrote most of his work in French. Never lost, however, the Spanish nationality. If you do not write more in Spanish denied him the Cervantes Prize may not leave the Spanish nationality prevented him from being admitted, not without some controversy, at the Académie Française, but it was in the Académie Goncourt. That was the fate of European writer, it earned him international awards including the Formentor (1964), that of the German Book Trade Peace (1994) and Jerusalem (1996).

The Europe in which he believed Jorge Semprun was begun, he said, the diversity of the resisters deported to Buchenwald, the dark side of the Weimar of Goethe, just a few steps. On April 11, 2010, the writer went there last time to make a speech. It celebrated the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the camp and days before published in this journal an article in which he recognized with clarity extreme, but with anger, he approached the end: “For the last time, then, on April 11 or resigned to dying or distressed by the death, but angry, extremely irritated by the idea that soon will not be here, amidst the beauty of the world or, conversely, in his gray blandness, which in this case are the same thing, “one last time, tell you what I have to say.”

And he said it. Overcoming the grief of the disease, Semprún went to Buchenwald and spoke. Appelplatz did in the field, the same place in alternating voice – “guttural, angry, aggressive” – ​​the Rapportführer, thundering daily, with the background music on Sunday issued some of the speakers the “everlasting ditties of love “Zarah Leander. They reminded the Jewish children in 1945, were brought from Poland to Weimar from the advancing Russian army. Among them were Imre Kertész and Elie Wiesel, Nobel future.

A confident that generation Semprún his testimony. “All European memories of resistance and suffering,” he said, “only have, as a last refuge and stronghold, within ten years, the extermination of Jewish memory. The earliest memory of that life, and that was precisely , the youngest experience of death. ”

With the disappearance of Jorge Semprun lost memory of the century. The rest is in his work. Indelible. These books, full of life and love of life, beautiful, gray, are also full of readings that once served as a refuge. He who carefully chose each of your appointments, put a sentence 10 years ago the actor and poet Roland Dubillard in front of your name will live, die with me. Nine words that say something that sounds like turning on the voice of a writer’s memory: “I’m sure I remember something my death …”.

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