Obituary: Egon Schwarz, professor emeritus, 94

Influential Germanist was an authority on Rainer Maria Rilke, Arthur Schnitzler

Egon Schwarz, the Rosa May Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Humanities in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, died in St. Louis Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, following a stroke. He was 94.

Egon Schwarz. (Photo: Washington University Archives)

“Professor Schwarz was an icon in the field of German studies, a remarkable individual, and a wise and generous colleague,” said Matt Erlin, professor and chair of Germanic languages and literatures in Arts & Sciences.

“The scope of his expertise was incredible, ranging from fin-de-siècle Austria to German fairy tales,” Erlin added. “He was also a pioneer in the field of Exile Studies and authored a best-selling autobiography about his own period of exile in South America. I am honored to have had the opportunity to know him.”

Born in Vienna in 1922, Schwarz and his parents fled Austria following the Nazi invasion in 1938. The family spent harrowing months in Czechoslovakia and Hungary before making their way to South America, residing in Chile and Bolivia before eventually settling in Ecuador.

Schwarz studied law at the University of Cuenca but transferred to The Ohio State University, where he was mentored by the distinguished literary critic and fellow refugee Bernhard Blume. Schwarz ultimately earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree there.

He earned a doctorate from the University of Washington in 1954 and taught for seven years at Harvard before coming to St. Louis in 1961. He spent 32 years on the Washington University faculty, serving as chair of German from 1967-71. He received honorary doctorates from the University of Vienna, Austria, in 1997, and from the University of Örebro in Sweden in 2002, as well as an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Washington University in 2008.

An authority on Rainer Maria Rilke, Arthur Schnitzler, Herman Hesse and Thomas Mann, Schwarz was author or editor of more than 20 books. These include his autobiography “Unfreiwillige Wanderjahre. Auf der Flucht vor Hitler durch drei Kontinente” (2005), for which he received the Johann Friedrich von Cotta Literaturpreis der Stadt Stuttgart in 2008. This book also was published in English as “Refuge: Chronicle of a Flight from Hitler” and in Spanish as “Años de vagabundeo forzado. Huyendo de Hitler a través de tres continentes.”

Schwarz also wrote hundreds of articles, book chapters and book reviews, and was a regular contributor to major German and European newspapers, including the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and Die Zeit.

Schwarz’s many honors include the Joseph von Eichendorff Medal (1986); the Austrian “Ehrenzeichen” for Science and the Arts (1990); the Alexander von Humboldt Scholarship Prize (1995); the Grand “Ehrenzeichen” for Services to the Republic of Austria (2007); as well as fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Fulbright and Guggenheim foundations. In 2009, he was named an Ageless Remarkable St. Louisan.

Schwarz is survived by his wife, Irène Lindgren-Schwarz; his children, Rudolf, Caroline and Gabriela; and grandchildren Vanessa, Julian, Raphael and Adam. A campus memorial service is planned for later this spring.

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