Tuesday, 23 May 2023

Remembering the life of Annemarie Schwarzenbach :Swiss photographer, writer and anti-fascist (23 May 1908 – 15 November 1942)


On 23 May 1908 Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Bisexual Swiss photographer, writer,  and anti-fascist  was born,  in Zurich, in German-speaking Switzerland ,When she was four, the family moved to the Bocken Estate in Horgen, near Lake Zurich, where she grew up. Her father, Alfred Schwarzenbach, was a textile magnate/.
Her mother Renee Schwarzenbach-Wille, the daughter of the Swiss general Ulricj Wille and descended from German aristocracy, was a prominent hostess, Olympic equestrian sportswoman and amateur photographer. is said to have almost bled to death at the birth of her daughter and to have clung to her fiercely all her life. Terrible feelings of loneliness were later to torment this daughter, who remained tied to her mother in a kind of love-hate relationship. Her imposing shadow hangs over the childhood of young Annemarie, as she grew up in the luxurious property of Bocken. Her mother had an imposing and devouring personality and while she  was growing up, her mother conducted a long-term affair with opera singer Emmy Krüger, which her father  and may have catalyzed Annemarie's awareness of her own attractions to women. In childhood, Annemarie was not only allowed to wear traditionally masculine clothes, but it was encouraged by her mother.
Her family might have been one of the wealthiest families in Switzerland, but Annemarie spent most of her adult life trying to get away from them. Tensions evolved .into major political disagreements with her mother, who had a domineering personality.But from an early age, it was in writing that Annemarie  found freedom and a way to emancipate herself from her mother’s suffocating presence.
At her private school in Zurich she studied mainly German, history and music, neglecting the other subjects. She liked dancing and was a keen piano player, but her heart was set on becoming a writer. She studied in Zürich and Paris and in 1931, at the age of 23,  she received her doctorate in history at the University of Zurich and wrote her first book freunde um bernhard (bernhard's circle).  
Annemarie left Switzerland for the bohemian underground of Berlin. There, she met fellow writers and her life became a flurry of words, lovers, projects, international expeditions and disappointments.
Though her beauty caught the eye of men and women alike, her androgynous style also baffled people and gave way to cruelty. Throughout history a male-dominated world has enforced a very rigid idea of what women should  look like and how a woman should behave Annemarie Schwarzenbach.was a trailblazer and a seductress, who dared to challenge the norm.
Both women and  men  found her painfully attractive. after all there’s nothing more tempting than a beautiful woman who breaks the rules. She was introspective, sensitive and passionate. Stylish and daring while at the same time she also developed intense anti-Fascist political views..
Annemarie loved the Bohemian lifestyle Berlin offered and was described by her friend Ruth Landshoff stating, “ She lived dangerously. She drank too much. She never went to sleep before dawn.” It was during this time period she befriended the children of author Thomas Mann, Klaus and Erika Mann, and like their father, they hated Nazi’s.
In 1933 bohemian Berlin disappeared with the Nazi take-over Annemarie found her carefree lifestyle coming to. an end. Her mother was a Nazi sympathizer and demanded Annemarie cut ties with her Berlin friends, especially the Mann family. Annemarie who was devoutly anti-fascist refused, and remained friends with them anyway, rejecting her pro neo-nazi family she soon starting a relationship with Erika. This relationship would not last, though, as while Annemarie was head over heels for Erika, Erika soon moved on to a new woman, an actress named Therese Giehse.  Something she never fully got over.
She spent much of her time with Klaus in Berlin. Klaus however was the one to first introduce her to morphine the drug that would haunt her.. Annemarie would spend the rest of her life battling her on again/off again addiction.
She helped Klaus Mann finance an anti-fascist literary review called “Die Sammlung.” This review helped writers in exile from Germany by publishing their articles and short stories. But the complications and strain of being pulled between what she knew was right and her family took its toll on her mental health and Annemarie attempted suicide which caused a scandal among her family and their conservative circle in Switzerland. .
Annemarie is portrayed by Klaus Mann in two of his novels: as Johanna in Flucht in den Norden (1934) and as the Angel of the Dispossessed in Der Vulkan (The Volcano, 1939).
Thomas Mann called her a “ravaged angel”; another writer, Roger Martin du Gard, said she had “the face of an inconsolable angel”; while German photographer Marianne Breslauer, who took numerous photos of Schwarzenbach, likened her to “the Archangel Gabriel standing before Heaven”.the portraits that remain still retain their  androgonous  alllure
Over the next several years Annemarie travels to France, Italy and Scandinavia with Klauss. To Spain, with fellow photographer Marianne Bresleaur. She visited Moscow with Klaus for the Soviet Writers Union Congress. There she met André Malraux and Louis Aragon. Annemarie did not hide her enthusiasm for the Bolshevik model, stressing in a letter to her friend Claude Bourdet the place of literature in the USSR: “Here, a man like Gorky is, with Stalin, at the center of the interest of the greatest number, he is a true national hero – and here everyone is concerned with literature”.
In 1935 Annemarie returns to Persia. Here she meets French diplomat Claude Clarac. After just a few weeks they decide to marry. Their marriage was one of convenience as they were both gay but allowed her to obtain a French diplomatic passport and to travel without restrictions.. She stays with Claude for a while but has an affair with the daughter of a Turkish diplomat that does not end well.
 n 1937 and 1938, her photographs documented the rise of fascism in Europe, visiting Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Ultimately, she leaves Claude, although still married, and travels to America. This is the first of two trips to the US for Annemarie. She spends her time there as a freelance photographer and reporter working alongside  her friend American photographer, Barbara Hamilton-Wright. . She is completely taken with capturing the social dynamics and everyday life for those in the mining and steel industries during the Great Depression. 
She returned again the following year and traveled to the deep South—Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. Anniemarie published several articles depicting the suffering and violence happening there. The pair encountered lumberjacks in Tennessee, who were starting to organize unions—And her support for the formation of labor unions, caused a deeper rift with her family who owned many textile mills in the US.
On her second trip to America she has an affair with fellow writer Carson McCullers. Carson fell madly in love with Annemarie saying “She had a face that I knew would haunt me for the rest of my life.” But the relationship became rather one-sided. Annemarie’s depression rears its head again and she makes her second attempt at suicide. This time she’s admitted to a psychiatric hospital. When she’s finally released it is with the agreement that she leaves the US. Carson never quite gets over Annemarie. She dedicates several books to Annemarie.
She then embarks on a daunting 4,000 mile road trip from Geneva to Kabul, Afghanistan with her friend the ethnologist Ella Maillart. To finance the adventurous journey  the two women signed contracts with a Swiss press and photo agency, a book publisher and several newspapers, which paid them advances. In their luggage they had typewriters, cameras and a movie camera. Schwarzenbach also planned to participate in excavations of the "Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan". The trip was   taken in part in an effort to help cure Annemarie of her addiction to morphine, but failed as she  eventually found her way back to the drug. Ella eventually becomes so frustrated with Annemarie for wasting all her talent on drugs that she abandons her in Kabul. Maillart chronicled the difficult experience in the book All the Roads Are Open: The Afghan Journey It is considered a classic of travel literature, but the name of her troubled and transcendent companion was changed to Christina, presumably at the intervention of Annemarie’s family. 
Schwarzenbach would make her way back to Europe and then on to the U.S. where she met her old friends, the Manns, and worked with them on a committee for helping refugees from Europe.
Annemarie’s last years lead her on writing expeditions to Portugal, the Belgian Congo  as an accredited journalist in order to join the resistance and in particular the Free French Forces., but was prevented from taking up her position. .
In June 1942 in Tétouan, she met up again with her husband, Claude Clarac,before returning to Switzerland. While back home, she started making new plans. She applied for a position as a correspondent for a Swiss newspaper in Lisbon. In August, her friend the actress Therese Giehse stayed with her at Sils. Then on September 7, 1942 tragically she suffered a devastating fall on her bicycle and fell into a coma for three days. she awoke to amnesia ,and died soon after on the 15th of November aged just 34.During her final illness, her mother permitted neither Claude Clarac, who had rushed to Sils from Marseille, nor her friends, to visit her in her sick bed.
After her death, her possessive   mother also destroyed all her letters and diaries.Hundreds of letters from Klaus and Erika Mann,  and Carson McCullers which would have provided an important insight into her fascinating life went up in smoke. Thankfully, one of Schwarzenbach’s friends held on to a collection of photographs and writings, and in the process saved Annemarie Schwarzenbach from the mists of obscurityl
Although Annemarie’s life span was short, wrecked by morphine, as well as a domineering mother  and other disasters before the bicycle crash that ended it.her output in those few years  was prodigious, and eventful She was immensely gifted as a photographer, author, photojournalist, and documentarian in a time dominated by men when few women were represented in these fields.
Between 1933 and 1942 she produced approximately 170 articles and 50 photo-reports for Swiss and German newspapers and magazines.  Schwartzenbach’s subjects, her travels, were widespread and amazingly disparate—linked together chiefly by her liberal-to-radical political emotions.
With thankfully the rediscovery in the late 1980s of Schwarzenbach’s body of work  she gained new interest and e was recognised as a female pioneer and a gay icon.
In 2001, there was even a feature film, The Journey to Kafiristan, tracing her 4,000-mile drive from Geneva to Kabul in a Ford Deluxe with  Ella Maillart.
In life, Annemarie Schwarzenbach may have battled personal demons, but she also waged ideological war against the violent political regimes, social inequalities and gender norms of her time.She rebelled against her prestigious family’s conservative values and struggled with her mother’s possessiveness. Nonetheless, Annemarie lived openly as a lesbian and developed her journalistic voice and camera skills through adventurous travel and keen observation of social conditions. 
Annemarie remains a remarkable trailblazer who dared to challenge the norm. She refused to live within the confines of traditional femininity or masculinity, and instead occupied a space of radical liberation. Antifascist, courageous and lucid, she stood her ground and remained focused in the face of Hitler’s rise to power, while her family saluted.  She traveled the world, as a daring free spirited seeker and despite her traumas and  struggles  in her words. photographs, and fascinating life, her legacy endures. long may her life be celebrated.

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