In remembrance of the life and work of UCI Professor Emerita of German Ruth Klüger (1931-2020), the city of Vienna has created and dedicated Ruth-Klüger-Platz, a square in the district of Neubau where Klüger and her family lived.
Klüger was born in Vienna, where she experienced the Anschluss (the annexing of Austria into Nazi German) in 1938. At age 11, she was deported with her mother to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The following year, they were transported to Auschwitz and managed, despite Klüger’s young age, to join a work detail that took them to the Christianstadt work camp. Klüger and her mother escaped toward the end of the war, as the prisoners were being marched to another camp. They emigrated to the United States in 1947.
Klüger studied at Hunter College as an undergraduate and ultimately earned her Ph.D. in German from UC Berkeley. She was renowned in academia for her work on Baroque and 18th-century literature and was a prominent feminist-scholar and teacher of Holocaust literature. In 1992, she published her autobiography, weiter leben: Eine Jugend, translated as Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered (Feminist Press, 2001). The powerful document of survival brought her international acclaim as an autobiographer and public intellectual. In 2016, she was invited to address the full Bundestag (German parliament) on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The book won about 20 prestigious literary prizes in Europe, including the Goethe Medal, the Heinrich Heine Medal and the Thomas Mann Prize. It has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
This year, the city of Vienna celebrated "Ruth-Klüger-Tage," a three-day series of events that brought attention to Klüger’s legacy. It began on May 5 with the presentation of an illustrated children's book about Klüger’s life at the site where she first went to school. This was followed by a walking tour of Neubau, the 7th district of Vienna, which started at the building where she lived as a child. On that evening, there was a reception with music, an address by the district manager, a eulogy and food, culminating with a reading of her work in the Kosmos Theater.
On May 6, the new square was dedicated and the sign with "Ruth-Klüger-Platz" unveiled. Doris Schmidauer, the wife of the Austrian president addressed the crowd, followed by other city officials, a representative of the Jewish community in Vienna and a dramatic reading. Later that afternoon, there was a symposium on Klüger and her work at the Literaturhaus Wien with presentations by scholars, writers and artists.
The following morning, a screening of the 2012 documentary film, “Landscapes of Memory: The Life of Ruth Klüger,” by Renata Schmidtkunz, was scheduled in the Admiral Kino, the same movie theater that Klüger sneaked into as a child without her yellow star to see Disney's “Snow White” – one of the most gripping scenes in her autobiography.
The events concluded with a tour of Sigmund Freud's house, which he abandoned when he fled the Third Reich.
Shops and restaurants throughout Neubau had posters with the schedule for the Klüger events on their windows and many citizens of Vienna attended the celebration, along with Klüger's sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren.
Vienna has organized several ceremonies and celebrations to honor her over the years, including the City of Vienna Women's prize. In 2008, the city bought and distributed 100,000 copies of her autobiography for its Eine Stadt, ein Buch (One City, One Book) event, in which everyone is encouraged to read and discuss the same book.
“Klüger had always been ambivalent about Vienna; it was home but a home where she was mistreated and from which she was expelled,” said UCI German Professor Emerita Gail Hart, who attended the three-day event. “Klüger passed away on October 5, 2020, and toward the end of her life, she often expressed the wish to see Vienna again. This latest effort by Vienna to acknowledge her work and her life by making her part of its geography with Ruth Klüger Square, which can be found on Google maps, was a high honor, well-deserved.”