Suicide Notes

Jean Améry

Illustration by Hong-An Tran

To the Salzburg police authorities,

Salzburg, October 16, 1978

To the pertinent police authorities

          Dear Gentlemen:

          I, the undersigned,

          Hans Maier (yclept: Jean Améry)

          Author, resident in 56, Avenue Coghen, Brussels,

         
Hereby declare that I voluntarily, in full possession of my mental faculties, bring my life to an end. I request the immediate notification (by telephone, if at all possible) of my wife, or in the present case, widow: Maria Maier, née Eschenauer, who is staying in the Hotel Regina, Währingerstrasse, Vienna until the 19th of the present month. It is of the utmost importance to me that this occur without delay, so that my wife may be spared gratuitous formalities from Belgium. I belong to no religious group and would prefer the cremation of my remains over any other sort of burial; should my wife nonetheless demand interment, then her wishes should be respected.

          A considerable sum of money (around 4,000 deutschmarks) and a number of Belgian francs have been left to cover the cost of the hotel as well as any necessary expenses accrued by my widow. The funds are in an envelope on my table. My passport is lying beside it.

          Decreed by the present party with sincerest thanks, and apologies for the inconveniences he has caused.



Hans Maier

Jean Améry

Honorary Member of the Austrian PEN
(Member of the German PEN
Of the Academy of the Arts, Berlin
Of the German Academy for Language and Poetry, Darmstadt
Winner of the Literature Prize of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts 1972
Of the Lessing Prize of the city of Hamburg 1977
Of the Journalism Prize of the city of Vienna 1977)

I have disclosed these distinctions simply in order that my widow should be treated with due consideration.

Telephone number of the Hotel Regina: Vienna 427681





To the management of the Hotel Österreichischer Hof,


Salzburg, October 16, 1978


          To the Hotel management

          Please pardon, kind ladies and gentlemen, the annoyances that I have caused you. – Your, or rather, my fees, will be taken care of by the police authorities in accordance with my written instructions. – I have already requested of the gentlemen from the authorities that they notify my wife, Mme. Maria Maier-Améry, presently installed at the Hotel Regina in Vienna, by telephone. – As I am acquainted, however, with the habitual (and often unavoidable) lentitude of official channels, I cordially request that you as well notify her immediately by telephone.

          With thanks in advance, and my renewed apologies,

Hans Maier

Jean Améry


Telephone number of the Hotel Regina: Vienna 427681





To Hubert Arbogast, Salzburg, October 16, 1978

          Dear Mr. Arbogast –

Just a brief word from the night: Please pardon me the inconveniences I am in all probability presenting for you. May Michael Klett forgive me as well; I was a bad investment [in English in the original]. But he is kind and sensible. And his father, even more than he, will grasp that one may wish to lay the plane aside. Give my greetings to the people at the publisher, who were well-disposed to me, and especially to our friend Heissenbüttel. But above all, to you, cher ami, thank you for so much. How sad that it is now coming to an end. I leave with a heavy heart, but know it cannot be otherwise. I kept my head high for as long as my powers held out. Now they are dwindling, and I have to go.

          In sincerest friendship and affection, yours,

Jean Améry






To Maria Améry
Salzburg, October 16, 1978

          My beloved little treasure,

Beloved above all, I kneel before you, dying, in guilt–

          I am on the road to the open. It is not easy, but it is deliverance all the same. Think of me, if you can, without rancor and without excessive torment. You already know everything I have to say to you: that I loved you eternally and that you are the last image that stands before my eyes. You see, my heart's beloved, I am at the end of my powers and cannot look on at my physical, mental, and intellectual decline. Think, as well, of that beautiful poem of Christian Wagner that you once clipped for me.

          I have—with the exception of the years of infamy—lived on my feet and I want to die on my feet as well (a pity, with the help of poison). You are all that concerns me. It is a small consolation that you will be insured—if only modestly—to a certain extent. For me, as for poor Charles, it is an elementary torment, thinking of you, and I feel intensely sordid. But you have always understood me, and so, on this last evening of my life, I have the hope that you will understand me this one last time.

          Please, please do not hold it against me—it seems to me now as though I have always felt you would forgive me in the end. A glimmer, the barest inkling of inner peace.

          Go to Vienna, my little heart's treasure, where your closest friends are. I thank you for everything, for so much, for Jean Améry, who only existed through you, at your side.

          In deepest love, I kiss you,

Your Pink


(Please don't chuck out the "raggedy children"...)

PS: Mary: She came to Europe under pressure from me. Her flight back to Pocatello should be covered, with a bit left for her first few weeks there. I hardly dare express my heart's wish, that you should embrace her once again, as a sister.

translated from the German by Adrian West

The original German text appears by the gracious courtesy of Klett-Cotta and is available in Jean Améry's Werke, Band 8: Briefe.



Read the original in German

Jean Améry (1912-1978) was born in Vienna, Austria to a Catholic mother and a Jewish father who died in combat in the First World War. He studied literature and philosophy in the capital and fled, first to France, then to Belgium, with his first wife, after the German annexation of Austria in 1938. Arrested for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets, he was deported to Auschwitz in 1943. As Soviet troops entered Poland, he was evacuated to Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen before being freed in April, 1945. Upon his return to Belgium, he learned of his first wife's death from a heart ailment. He supported himself as a journalist for the Swiss-German press before publishing his writings on Auschwitz, At the Mind's Limits, in 1964. Several other books followed, including the philosophical essay "On Suicide" and the novel Charles Bovary. Landarzt. Améry committed suicide in 1978.

Adrian West is a contributing editor at Asymptote. His translations include the long poem cycle Alma Venus by Pere Gimferrer and Büchner-prize–winning novelist Josef Winkler's Natura Morta and When the Time Comes. His essays, translations, and short fiction have been published in numerous print and online journals, including McSweeney's, 3:AM, and Words Without Borders. He lives with the cinema critic Beatriz Leal Riesco.