Farewell to Egon Schwarz (1922-2017)
Half a century ago, Egon Schwarz and Guy Stern were organizing in a systematic manner a new field
of literary research: that of exile literature of the 1930s and 1940s. In both cases this interest
had its roots in their experiences as refugees from Austria and Germany. In 1938 Egon Schwarz
fled, as a young Jewish man of 16, together with his parents from Vienna to Prague, and from
there to France and to Latin America. Under the most horrific circumstances they escaped from a
racist regime that left – with the holocaust and a world war – Europe in ruins. Exile and
banishment had a deep impact on Egon Schwarz’ anti-racist, anti-war, and anti-authoritarian world
view, and it formed his humanistic value judgments when dealing with literature in the social
context. His books on Hofmannsthal, Rilke, Eichendorff and on Jewish Viennese literature are proof
of it. Washington University was lucky to hire him in the early 1960s after he had studied at Ohio
State University and the University of Washington, and after serving as instructor and assistant
professor at Harvard University. Liselotte Dieckmann, a refugee from Germany as well, hired him.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s he chaired the German Department and was able to expand the
graduate program. Together with his colleagues David Bronsen and Peter Uwe Hohendahl he started to
arrange international and interdisciplinary conferences, and the first one, in 1972, was on Exile
literature. The proceedings of this symposium had a lasting impact on further research in this
field, both in the U.S. and in Europe. A few years later he published his autobiography about the
ten years in Latin American exile. This book has literary qualities and reads like a picaresque
novel; no wonder that it has been translated by Philip Boehm, one of the very best translators
from German into American English; and no wonder that it appeared in three editions and is still on
the market. Egon Schwarz was not the inhabitant of an ivory tower but saw to it that the results of
his studies reached broader audiences beyond the confines of the university. He liked to
publish essays and reviews in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and he enjoyed giving
interviews to newspapers. In that regard he continued a tradition of faculty members in the
Department: Otto Heller, founder of the German Department in the late 1890s and founding Dean of
the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the 1920s, had been a regular contributor to the St.
Louis Post Dispatch at a time when it was one of the best daily papers in the country.
Over time Egon Schwarz received many honors: he became the Rosa May Distinguished University Professor in the
Humanities at Washington University in 1976, was elected a member of the German Academy of Language
and Literature in 1986, received an honorary doctoral degree both from the University of Vienna and
from Washington University as well as the Cotta Prize for Literary Criticism in Stuttgart, and he
had visiting appointments in the U.S., Germany and New Zealand. A few years ago Marcel Lepper saw
to it that the Egon Schwarz papers are housed now in the exile literature section of the German
Literary Archives in Marbach. His students and colleagues remember him as one of the most
humorous, funny, ironic, laconic, melancholic, hospitable, supportive and inspiring persons they
have ever met. Egon Schwarz suddenly died on February 11, 2017 in St. Louis. In his other life he
is probably fulfilling one of his many wishes he had for the future: to watch again the movies of
his favorite actor/director Charly Chaplin.
Paul Michael LützelerRosa May Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St.