Hannes Richter

Egon Schwarz: Adventurer and Scholar

Hannes Richter

by Peter Pabisch 

Sometimes an exiled person is grateful that his fate allowed him to live far from his birth place because he recognized how dull his life might have been otherwise.  Egon Schwarz, professor emeritus and one of the world’s leading university academicians in German Studies, Comparative Literature and Philology from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, made this statement while taking me through his romantic garden last April, 2009, a horticultural miracle. We passed by certain plants, associating their geography with the multiple places, where he had lived during his exciting and eventful life. He mentioned three places  Austria, South America and the United States,   where he had acquired his perfect knowledge of German, Spanish and English, languages he uses for his research, lectures and writing of books and papers.

His private home library is filled with an enormous scholarly output which is the result of his indefatigable energy. I skimmed through the pages of his literary reviews in the renowned German daily newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Reviews of the German writers F. C. Delius, Hermann Hesse, Friedrich Schiller, Thomas Mann and Joseph Eichendorff, the Enlightenment and Austrian writers such as Gertrud Fussenegger, Josef Haslinger or Klaus Hoffer were all included. 

Expelled from Nazi-prone Austria in 1938 he was forced to interrupt his secondary school education at the Gymnasium in Vienna. After an adventurous journey half way around the world via a no man’s land and a stay in a refugee camp in an enclave for refugees near Pressburg and Prague, he and his parents received passports, flew to Paris, and, some time later, boarded an English ship which took them to Bolivia in South America; while on board they met, among others, participants returning from the Spanish civil war.  

In Bolivia he worked initially in various low-paid positions, including the mining industry. He also spent time in Chile and Ecuador.  He studied and read by himself, but managed to attend secondary school and university in Ecuador, where he passed his exams with flying colors in “humanidades modernas” at the Facultad de Jurisprudencia y Ciencias Sociales. This helped him to get a scholarship in the U.S. and from 1949 to 1951 he completed his BA and MA degrees at Ohio State University and from 1953 to 1954 he completed his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in Seattle with a thesis on Georg Christoph Lichtenberg.  He and his late wife went to Harvard for seven years, where he was an assistant professor of German. After joining Washington University in St. Louis in 1961, where he later became the Rosa May Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities, Professor Schwarz chaired the Department of German Languages and Literature for thirty-two years. Upon retirement his position was filled by his deserving successor, Paul Michael Lützeler. In addition to his outstanding academic career he established an international reputation in literary studies and became literary reviewer and critic for the most prestigious German newspapers, Frankfurter Allgemeine and Die Zeit. He also wrote for many other papers and journals throughout Europe and America. 

As a leading scholar of 19th and 20th century German Literature, he is one of the most respected ‘Germanists’ in the U.S. and is internationally recognized for his writing on the work of poet Rainer Maria Rilke and novelists Arthur Schnitzler, Herman Hesse, Thomas Mann, and many others. His work, “Verbannung” (“In Exile”) (1964), became the first major study of exiled writers who had fled the Hitler regime. “Keine Zeit für Eichendorff” (“No Time for Eichendorff”) (1979) tells the story of his emigration to South America in autobiographical form and was translated into English under the title, “Refuge. Chronicle of a Flight from Hitler (2002).” 

Egon Schwarz has been a visiting scholar and guest lecturer at many universities and is the recipient of many distinguished awards. Austria has honored him with the Grand Decoration of Honor for Arts and Science (1990) and the Grand Decoration of Honor for Services to the Republic of Austria, presented by Austrian Ambassador to the U.S. Eva Novotny at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C in 2007. 

I have known Egon Schwarz for 35 years and during that time he has been a supporter and adviser as well as a friend one could always count on. Equipped with a sharp mind and quick, credible responses to difficult questions, he also exudes a friendliness that has won him many friends and admirers. 

Paul Michael Lützeler 

Egon Schwarz’s successor at Washington University in St. Louis, Paul Lützeler, Ph.D. Professor of German and Comparative Literature, is most noted for establishing the Max Kade Center for Contemporary German Literature in 1980. The Center sponsors writers and critics from German-speaking countries who are invited to teach at the university, offers summer grants, organizes weekend seminars with participants from throughout the U.S. and houses a valuable literary collection. With the help of some 150 German publishers, the Center now enjoys a noteworthy collection and a marked improvement in resources. 

Lützeler, a scholar of German descent, has been teaching for some thirty years at Washington University and was honored as Rosa May Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities. He is well known for having expanded the graduate program at the university by founding the European Studies Program. He was awarded the Austrian Grand Decoration of Honor in Arts and Sciences First Class and the Grand Decoration of Honor for Services to the Republic of Austria for his valuable comprehensive work on Austrian exile author, Hermann Broch. 


Tradition of Scholarly Ambassadors of Austria in St. Louis

There is a strong link between St. Louis, Missouri and Austria which has existed for decades and can be attributed to significant academic contributions that have been made  to scholarship at universities and other institutions in St. Louis. Austrian guest lecturers were invited by various universities and were provided the opportunity to offer their expertise to a receptive audience in the U.S.

Kurt von Schuschnigg

One of the most well-known Austrian figures connected with St. Louis and the St. Louis University was Kurt von Schuschnigg. He served as professor of international law and political science for nineteen years at Saint Louis University, one of America’s oldest colleges with a Jesuit tradition. 

As the former Chancellor of the First Austrian Republic (1934 – 1938) following the assassination of his predecessor Engelbert Dollfuss, Schuschnigg fought for an independent Austria when confronted with the threat of German invasion and the rise of the National Socialists in Austria and had to manage the economy of a near-bankrupt state. During the last days of Austria’s independence, he decided to proclaim a plebiscite to be held on March 13, 1938, to resolve the political uncertainty in the country and to convince the rest of the world that the people of Austria wished to remain Austrian and independent of the Third Reich. This attempt was undermined when the German Wehrmacht invaded Austria two days before the referendum was to take place and Austria was annexed by Germany. He was forced to resign and was interned in various concentration camps until liberated by the American Army in 1945. After WW II, he emigrated to the United States, where as retired statesman he served as a guest professor at Saint Louis University (1948 – 1967). 

His wartime experiences formed the basis for his books, “Austrian Requiem,” “The Brutal Takeover” and “Im Kampf gegen Hitler. Die Überwindung der Anschlussidee,” (In the Fight Against Hitler. Overcoming the Idea of Annexation). He also tried to exonerate Austria from the allegation of willing collaboration with Hitler Germany. The personal incidents shared by Schuschnigg with St. Louis University students and faculty gave them a better understanding of this period. As professor at the university, a time Schuschnigg described as the best of his life, he was viewed as “a superb teacher – courtly in manner, tolerant in controversy, profound in knowledge and dynamic in presentation.” One of his former students who later went on to join academia recalls: “I took every course he taught. He was the man who stood up to Hitler. Schuschnigg made me want to be a teacher.” Recently in 2008, his library was donated to the St. Louis University Library. Schuschnigg’s son Kurt, an art dealer, emigrated to the U.S. in 1957 and in 2008 published memories of his father in a book entitled, “Der lange Weg nach Hause: Der Sohn des Bundeskanzlers erinnert sich” (“The Long Journey Home. Austrian Chancellor’s Son Reminisces”). 

Austrian Scientists in St. Louis

In addition to human sciences and the liberal arts, Austrians have made major contributions to the field of medicine. Dr. Leopold Hofstatter, a neurosurgeon, who left Austria in 1938, obtained a research fellowship at Washington University. He had received his initial medical training at the University of Vienna, where he specialized in Anatomy and Surgery. In St. Louis Dr. Hofstatter first practiced Psychosurgery, and created a transparent model of the brain. He began a career in Neuropsychiatry – a single discipline in Europe at that time - and became particularly fascinated with Psychotherapy. Later, he taught Applied Neuroanatomy and Psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine.

More recently, Dr. Peter Nagele, an anesthesiologist with the Dept. of Anesthesiology at Washington University in St. Louis, was awarded a Mentored Research Training Grant for his research on Pharmacogenetics and Perioperative Outcome and also received the Elmer-Zsigmond Award.  

Dr. Nagele has acted as President of the Austrian Scientists in North America (ASciNA) since November 2008. He studied medicine at the University of Innsbruck, completed his specialization in Anesthesiology at the University Clinic General Hospital in Vienna and earned the Professor of Medicine title from the University of Vienna’s School of Medicine in 2005. He completed his studies in Clinical Research (M.A.) from Washington University in St. Louis in 2009. 

The Webster University of Vienna

A highly successful example of cooperation in Education exists between Webster University in St. Louis and its Austrian branch in Vienna, Webster's biggest campus outside the U.S. It was founded in 1981, and in 2001 was accredited as Austria's third private university. It currently has about 600 students from over 60 nations enrolled in its bachelor's and master's programs. Degrees earned from Webster University in Vienna are accredited in the United States  as well as in Austria. The founding of the Austrian branch of Webster University began when the United Nations headquarters in Vienna was established thirty years ago. Inspired by the success of the University Geneva branch, Vienna’s Mayor Leopold Gratz invited Webster University to establish a branch in Vienna offering the best of the American educational system for UN diplomats and their families. The University maintains close ties with the UN organizations in Vienna and hosts joint conferences on a broad range of issues. The Vienna Journalism Institute of the University also publishes a monthly newspaper, called The Vienna Review. 

To this day the Austrian community and Austrian-American Society in St. Louis are very active and maintain close ties with Austria. The Austrian Honorary Consul, Dieter Ungerboeck, who has been in St. Louis for more than thirty years, founded Ungerboeck Systems International (USI), a software development company that serves all sectors of the events industry throughout the world, including the Olympics.