Ilse Aichinger

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Ilse Aichinger
Born (1921-11-01)1 November 1921
Vienna, Austria
Occupation Writer, poet, novelist, playwright
Nationality Austrian
Notable works Die größere Hoffnung; Spiegelgeschichte
Spouse Günter Eich (1953–1972)


Ilse Aichinger (born 1 November 1921) is an Austrian writer noted for her accounts of her persecution by the Nazis because of her Jewish ancestry.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Aichinger was born in 1921 in Vienna, along with her twin sister, Helga (de), to a doctor, her mother Berta of Jewish ethnicity, and a teacher, Ludwig.[2] As her mother's family was assimilated, Ilse was raised a Catholic.[3] She spent her childhood in Linz and, after her parents divorced, she moved to Vienna with her mother and sister. After the Anschluss in 1938 her family was subjected to Nazi persecution. As a half Jew she was not allowed to continue her studies and became a slave labourer. Her sister Helga escaped from Nazism in July 1939 through a Kindertransport to England where she eventually gave birth to the prospective English artist Ruth Rix.[4] Ilse Aichinger was able during the war to hide her mother in her assigned room, right in front of the Hotel Metropol, the Viennese Gestapo headquarter. But many relatives from her mother side, among them her beloved grandmother Gisela, were forcefully "resettled" to the east, in the Maly Trostenets extermination camp, near Minsk, and killed.

In 1945, after the war, Aichinger began to study medicine, working as a writer on the side. In her first publication, "Das vierte Tor" (The Fourth Gate), she wrote of her own experience under Nazism.

After studying for five semesters, Aichinger interrupted her studies in medicine again in 1948 in order to finish her only novel, Die größere Hoffnung (The Greater Hope, translated as Herod's Children).

Aichinger was invited in 1951 to join the writer's group Gruppe 47 where she met the poet and radio play author Günter Eich. She won the group's literary prize in 1952 for her short story "Spiegelgeschichte". Aichinger and Eich married in 1953; they had a son Clemens (de) (1954–1998), and in 1958 a daughter, Mirjam.[3]

In 1955, Aichinger was awarded the Immermann-Preis by the city of Düsseldorf and in 1956, she joined the Akademie der Künste of Berlin. In 1957, Aichinger won the Literaturpreis der Stadt Bremen. In 1963, Aichinger moved to Großgmain, near Salzburg. In 1971, she was awarded the Nelly Sachs Prize.

Reviewing a 1957 volume of her short works in translation, The Bound Man and Other Stories, Anthony Boucher described Aichinger as "a sort of concise Kafka," praising the title story, "Der gefesselte Mann", for its "narrative use of multi-valued symbolism."[5]

She was honored with the German international literary Petrarca-Preis in 1982. After 1985 Aichinger increasingly retreated from public life.[3] In 1987, she received the Europalia Literature Prize, and in 1961 and 1991, she was awarded the Großer Literaturpreis der Bayerischen Akademie der Schönen Künste. Other honors included the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 1995 and the 2000 Joseph-Breitbach-Preis, which she received along with W. G. Sebald and Markus Werner.



Spiegelgeschichte (English: Mirror Story or Story in a mirror) is a short story by the Austrian author Ilse Aichinger written in 1949 and published in four parts in an Austrian newspaper. At the third meeting of the Group 47 in 1953 she recived (as the first woman) their price of the group for the best text.[6] It is well known in Austria because it is part of the educational set books.[7]

The story is unique in that it is written backwards, beginning with the end of the biography of the unnamed woman, and ending with her early childhood. It is written in the second-person narrative.[8]

  • 1945: "Das vierte Tor", essay
  • 1948: Die größere Hoffnung, novel
  • 1953: Der Gefesselte, short stories
  • 1953: Knöpfe (1953), radio play, adapted to stage play in 1957
  • 1957: Zu keiner Stunde. Szenen und Dialoge (At no hour. Scenes and dialogues), dramatised in 1996 at the Volkstheater, Vienna
  • 1963: Wo ich wohne, short stories
  • 1965: Eliza, Eliza, short stories
  • 1969: Auckland, radio plays
  • 1970: Nachricht vom Tag, short stories
  • 1976: Schlechte Wörter, short stories, radio play Gare maritime
  • 1978: Verschenkter Rat, poems
  • 1978: Meine Sprache und ich, short stories
  • 1996: Kleist, Moos, Fasane, collection of short works
  • 2001: Film und Verhängnis. Blitzlichter auf ein Leben (Film and fate. Flashlights on a life), autobiography
  • 2005: Unglaubwürdige Reisen, short stories
  • 2006: Subtexte, essay


  • The Bound Man and Other Stories. Translated by Eric Mosbacher. Secker & Warburg, London 1955
  • Selected Stories and Dialogs. Ed. by James C. Alldridge. Pergamon Press, Oxford, New York 1966
  • Selected Poetry and Prose. Ed. and translated by Allen H. Chappel. With an introduction by Lawrence L. Langer. Logbridge-Rhodes, Durango, Colorado 1983



  1. ^ "Ilse Aichinger", Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ "Ilse Aichinger" by Meike Fechner and Susanne Wirtz, in Lebendiges Museum Online (German)
  3. ^ a b c Krispyn, Egbert (1971). Günter Eich. Twayne's World Authors. New York: Twayne Publishers. 
  4. ^ "World War II saga: Gail Wiltshire revisits Ilse Aichinger’s novel" by Tess Livingstone, The Australian, 8 August 2015
  5. ^ "Recommended Reading", F&SF, July 1957, p. 91.
  6. ^ See Britannica Online Encyclopedia: Ilse Aichinger (Austrian author)
  7. ^ See Resler, W. Michael: "A Structural Approach to Aichinger's 'Spiegelgeschichte'", in: Die Unterrichtspraxis / Teaching German, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1979), pp. 30-37 (jstor-link)
  8. ^ See Stanley, Patricia Haas: "Ilse Aichinger's Absurd 'I'", in: German Studies Review, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Oct., 1979), pp. 331-350 (jstor-link).

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