Ilse Aichinger

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Ilse Aichinger
Born(1921-11-01)1 November 1921
Vienna, Austria
Died11 November 2016(2016-11-11) (aged 95)
Vienna, Austria
OccupationWriter, poet, novelist, playwright
Notable worksDie größere Hoffnung; "Spiegelgeschichte"
SpouseGünter Eich (1953–1972)
RelativesHelga [de] (twin)
Ruth Rix (niece)
Ilse Aichinger (signature).jpg

Ilse Aichinger (1 November 1921 – 11 November 2016) was an Austrian writer known for her accounts of her persecution by the Nazis because of her Jewish ancestry.[1] She wrote poems, short stories and radio plays, and won multiple European literary prizes.[2]

Early life[edit]

Aichinger was born in 1921 in Vienna, along with her twin sister, Helga [de], to Berta, a doctor of Jewish ethnicity, and Ludwig, a teacher.[2][3] As her mother's family was assimilated, the children were raised Catholic.[4] Aichinger spent her childhood in Linz and, after her parents divorced, she moved to Vienna with her mother and sister, attending a Catholic secondary school.[2][5] 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 in a button factory.[2] Her sister Helga escaped from Nazism in July 1939 through a Kindertransport to England where she eventually gave birth to a daughter, who became English artist Ruth Rix.[2] During World War II, Aichinger was able to hide her mother in her assigned room, in front of the Hotel Metropol, the Viennese Gestapo headquarters.[5] But many relatives from her mother's side, among them her grandmother Gisela, of whom she was particularly fond, were sent to the Maly Trostenets extermination camp near Minsk, and murdered.[5]


In 1945, Aichinger began to study medicine at the University of Vienna, while writing in her spare time. In her first publication, Das vierte Tor (The Fourth Gate), she wrote about her experience under Nazism.[5] In 1947 she and her mother Berta were able to travel to London and visit Aichinger's twin Helga and her daughter Ruth. The visit was the inspiration for a short story, "Dover".[2]

She gave up her studies in 1948 in order to finish her novel, Die größere Hoffnung ("The greater hope", translated as Herod's Children).[5] The book went on to become one of the top German-language novels of the twentieth century. It is a surrealist account of a child's persecution by the Nazis in Vienna.[2]

In 1949, Aichinger wrote the short story "Spiegelgeschichte" (English: "Mirror Story" or "Story in a mirror"). It was published in four parts in an Austrian newspaper, and is well known in Austria because it is part of the set of books taught in schools.[6] The story is written backwards, beginning with the end of the biography of the unnamed woman, and ending with her early childhood.[7]

In 1949, Aichinger became a reader for publishing houses in Vienna and Frankfurt, and worked with Inge Scholl to found an Institute of Creative Writing in Ulm, Germany.[8]

In 1951, Aichinger was invited to join the writers' group Gruppe 47, a group which aimed to spread democratic ideas in post-war Austria.[5] She read her story "Spiegelgeschichte" aloud at a meeting of the group, and leading group members such as Hans Werner Richter were impressed with the unusual narrative construction. The following year, she won the group's prize for best text, becoming the first female recipient.[9] In 1956, she joined the Academy of Arts, Berlin. She was also a guest lecturer at the German Institute at the University of Vienna, teaching on literature and psychoanalysis.[8]

Reviewing a 1957 volume of her short works in translation, The Bound Man and Other Stories, Anthony Boucher describes Aichinger as "a sort of concise Kafka," praising the title story, "Der gefesselte Mann" ("The Bound Man"), for its "narrative use of multi-valued symbolism",[10] The similarity to Kafka's work has been frequently commented on, however other critics state that Aichinger's work goes beyond Kafka's in her emphasis on the emotional side of human suffering.[9]

After the death of her husband, the German poet Günter Eich, in 1972, Aichinger and others edited his works and published them as Collected Works of Gunter Eich.[8] In 1996, at the age of 75, she was the host of a German radio series Studio LCB for the Literary Colloquium Berlin.[11]

Aichinger died on 11 November 2016, aged 95.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Aichinger met the poet and radio play author Günter Eich through the Group 47 and they were married in 1953; they had a son Clemens [de] (1954–1998), and in 1958 a daughter, Mirjam.[4]



Ilse Aichinger - Die groessere Hoffnung
  • 1945: Das vierte Tor (The Fourth Gate), essay[11]
  • 1948: Die größere Hoffnung (The Greater Hope), novel,[5] adapted to a stage play in 2015[14]
  • 1949: "Spiegelgeschichte", short story[6]
  • 1951: Rede unter dem Galgen (Speech under the Gallows), short stories[1]
  • 1953: Der Gefesselte (The Bound Man), short stories[8]
  • 1953: Knöpfe (Buttons), radio play,[5] adapted to stage play in 1957
  • 1954: Plätze und Strassen (Squares and streets), short stories[1]
  • 1957: Zu keiner Stunde. Szenen und Dialoge (Not at Any Time. Scenes and dialogues), radio plays,[8] dramatised in 1996 at the Volkstheater, Vienna
  • 1963: Wo ich wohne (Where I Live), short stories[8]
  • 1965: Eliza, Eliza, short stories[8]
  • 1968: Meine Sprache und ich, short stories[15]
  • 1969: Auckland, radio plays[16]
  • 1970: Nachricht vom Tag (News of the Day), short stories[8]
  • 1973: Zweifel an Balkonen (Doubts about Balconies), short story[8]
  • 1974: Gare maritime, radio play[17]
  • 1976: Schlechte Wörter (Inferior Words), short stories;[8]
  • 1978: Verschenkter Rat, poems[18]
  • 1996: Kleist, Moos, Fasane, collection of short works[19]
  • 2001: Film und Verhängnis. Blitzlichter auf ein Leben (Film and fate. Flashlights on a life), autobiography
  • 2005: Unglaubwürdige Reisen, short stories[20]
  • 2006: Subtexte, essay[21]


  • The Bound Man and Other Stories. Translated by Eric Mosbacher. Secker & Warburg, London 1955[22]
  • Herod's Children. Translated by Cornelia Schaeffer. Atheneum, New York 1963[23][24]
  • Selected Stories and Dialogs. Ed. by James C. Alldridge. Pergamon Press, Oxford, New York 1966[citation needed]
  • Selected Poetry and Prose. Ed. and translated by Allen H. Chappel. With an introduction by Lawrence L. Langer. Logbridge-Rhodes, Durango, Colorado 1983[citation needed]
  • The Greater Hope. Translated by Geoff Wilkes. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2016
  • Bad Words. Selected Short Prose. Translated by Uljana Wolf and Christian Hawkey. Seagull Books, London / New York / Kalkutta 2019[25]
  • Squandered Advice. Translated by Steph Morris. Seagull Books, 2022


  1. ^ a b c "Ilse Aichinger", Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "World War II saga: Gail Wiltshire revisits Ilse Aichinger’s novel" by Tess Livingstone, The Australian, 8 August 2015
  3. ^ "Ilse Aichinger" by Meike Fechner and Susanne Wirtz, in Lebendiges Museum Online (in German)
  4. ^ a b Krispyn, Egbert (1971). Günter Eich. Twayne's World Authors. New York: Twayne Publishers.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Postwar narrator of Nazi persecution, Ilse Aichinger, dies aged 95". Deutsche Welle (DW.COM). 11 November 2016. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  6. ^ a b 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)
  7. ^ See Stanley, Patricia Haas: "Ilse Aichinger's Absurd 'I'", in: German Studies Review, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Oct., 1979), pp. 331–350 (jstor-link).
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Herrmann, Elizabeth Rütschi (2014). German Women Writers of the Twentieth Century. Elsevier. p. 67.
  9. ^ a b acfl28 (2016-03-03). "Inspiring Austrian Women: Ilse Aichinger". ACF Digital Salon. Archived from the original on 2016-11-13. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  10. ^ "Recommended Reading", F&SF, July 1957, p. 91.
  11. ^ a b c d "Unerkundbar, undurchschaubar" (in German). Deutschlandfunk. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  12. ^ "Literatur: Schriftstellerin Ilse Aichinger ist tot". Süddeutsche Zeitung. 11 November 2016.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Konzett, Matthias (2000). Encyclopedia of German Literature. U.S. and U.K.: Fitzroy Dearborn. ISBN 1-57958-138-2.
  14. ^ Livingstone, Tess (August 8, 2015). "World War II saga: Gail Wiltshire revisits Ilse Aichinger's novel". The Australian. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  15. ^ Ivanovic, Christine (2010-01-01). "Meine Sprache und Ich. Ilse Aichingers Zwiesprache im Vergleich mit Derridas Le monolinguisme de l'autre". Arcadia – International Journal for Literary Studies. 45 (1). doi:10.1515/arca.2010.006. ISSN 1613-0642. S2CID 177057290.
  16. ^ "S. Fischer Verlage – Auckland (Taschenbuch)". (in German). Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  17. ^ " – Fischer Theater". Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  18. ^ "S. Fischer Verlage – Verschenkter Rat (Taschenbuch)". (in German). Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  19. ^ "S. Fischer Verlage – Kleist, Moos, Fasane (Taschenbuch)". (in German). Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  20. ^ "S. Fischer Verlage – Unglaubwürdige Reisen (Taschenbuch)". (in German). Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  21. ^ "Ilse Aichinger". Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  22. ^ "The Bound Man, and Other Stories by Ilse Aichinger |". Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  23. ^ "Review: Ilse Aichinger's Die größere Hoffnung". Dialog International. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  24. ^ "Herod's children / Ilse Aichinger; translated from the German by Cornelia Schaeffer – Collections Search – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum". Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  25. ^ See the interview with U. Wolfː "Out Into Nowhere-ness", Cagibi, April 5, 2019.

Further reading[edit]

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