Photography Articles

Some words & her books: “Death in Iran“ & “All the ways are open”
Translation: Said Firouz-abadi Bukhara Magazine, No.53, summer 2006
This article is published in "Bukhara" Magazine, 2007, Tehran. Visit photos at the same issue of the magazine.

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A glance at Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s Life & Works

Ali Dehbashi

Tehran, Iran, 2007

Annemarie Schwarzenbach was born on the 23rd May 1908 in Zurich. Her father, Alfred Schwarzenbach, was the greatest manufacturer of silk of his time. Her mother, Renee, was the daughter of “Ulrich Wille”, who was the general of The Swiss Army during World War I. Thus, Annemarie spent her childhood in a military and cultural environment. At first, she did not attend school, but she was educated at home, by a private teacher. Piano and riding lessons were a matter of course and Annemarie, the third child of the family, enjoyed them.
Schwarzenbach experienced the pleasure of story writing for the first time, when she was nine years old. She writes: “During my childhood, whatever I saw, whatever I did, experienced and felt, I wrote down immediately. I was nine years old, when I wrote my first story in a ruled notebook. I knew that the grown ups did not pay much attention to nine-year-old, therefore the hero of my story was eleven years old”.

Annemarie began to study history, philosophy, psychology and German Literature in 1927 at the University of Zurich. She traveled to America for the first time in 1928, and afterwards moved to Paris to study there for one year. At the same time, she began to write articles for different publications, and her name became well known. She made the acquaintance of the children of famous German writer Thomas Mann, Klaus and Erika Mann, and the friendship last for years. In the spring of 1931, she graduated from university with a doctorate in history. At the same time, she published her first novel “Freunde um Bernhard” (Friends around Bernhard).

From the fall of 1931 until the spring of 1933, Annemarie lived in Berlin as a writer. But with the coming of Hitler to power on 1933, she should leave Germany together with her friends Klaus and Erika Mann. At the same time, two works entitled “Fruhherbst” (Early Autmn) and “Flucht nach Oben” (Escape Upwards) were published.
All these times, she was thinking on a journey to the East. In 1932, she was determined to travel to Iran by car, together with Klaus and Erika, but the suicide of their close friend “Ricki Hallgarten”, who wanted to travel with them, prevented the journey. The despair resulting from this blow led her into drug addiction, and from that time onwards the addiction would cast a somber shadow over her life and works.

In the spring of 1933, Annemarie, Klaus Mann and Claude Bourdet decided to found a publication for the exiled German in Zurich; but for the political reasons, the journal “Die Sammlung” was printed in Amsterdam. Schwarzenbach’s articles against Hitler regime were published there. After a journey to Spain in Fall 1933, she traveled to the Middle East and Iran, and in the next year repeated this journey. These two journeys were the beginning of Schwarzenbach’s cooperation with the important German language publications of Switzerland. Annemarie became the first Swiss journalist and photographer, who traveled to Iran and Afghanistan.

In the summer of 1934, she returned to Switzerland and rented a house in Engadine; this house became a refuge for her and her friends. Shortly afterwards, she attended the Soviet Writers Congress in Moscow, with Klaus Mann; afterwards she traveled to Iran to work in the excavations at Rey.
During her stay in Iran, she married Claude Clarac, a French diplomat; thus obtaining a French diplomatic passport made her future journeys easier. During her stay in Tehran and Lar Valley, she wrote parts of her “Unpersonliches Tagebuch” (Impersonal Diary), which became the basis of “Tod in Persien” (Death in Persia). An unhappy marriage, illness and addiction compelled her to return to Switzerland and undergo treatment.

Annemarie Schwarzenbach became acquainted with Barbara Hamilton-Wright in 1936 and traveled to the United States. During this journey, she wrote political articles analyzing the situation of the southern States.

In February 1938, Annemarie returned to Switzerland and met Ella Maillart in Zurich. The two women decided to travel to Afghanistan together, as Annemarie father had brought her a Ford car, which seemed to be the best mean of transport. They set off on the 6th of July 1939. Annemarie Schwarzenbach wanted to flee from the social conditions and feeling of futility dominating Europe and also to test her strength to leave drugs alone once and for all. But her strength was not up to the task of freeing 31-year-old Annemarie from the addiction. She began to consume drugs again during the very first days of the journey.
Via Istanbul and Ankara, Tabriz, Tehra, Mazandaran and Meshed, at least the travelers reached Heart and traveled to Mazar Sharif and Kabul in Afghanistan in August. In
Kabul, they heard the news of the outbreak of World War II. This shocked Annemarie
so much that she became ill, and at last she and Ella separated.
For a short time, she worked with a French archeological team in Afghanistan and then traveled to Peshawar, Lahore and New Delhi with Jacques Meunie. On the 7th of January 1940, she boarded a ship and returned again to Switzerland.

Then she planned trips to Alaska and Finland, but in the end she traveled to America again and wrote articles on the hidden ties between Switzerland and the Fascist countries. At the same time, she was entered in a psychiatric hospital and at the end expulsed from America. In 1940, Annemarie Schwarzenbach traveled to Congo to write a report, but she was accused of espionage and expulsed from Congo. She went to Morocco, where she met her husband for the last time. At last she returns to Switzerland with a huge file of photos and dies on the 15th of November 1942 after a bicycle accident.

With no doubt this account of Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s life reveals much about her intellect and also her psychological condition; but the question remains why did and do people like her from Europe and the West come to the “mysterious” East?
An answer to this question was given by Rudolph Gelpke, the famous Swiss Iranologist, who has translated many works of contemporary Iranian literature. He wrote: “Europeans like Schwarzenbach, Arthur Rimbaud and Lawrence of Arabia do not take the trouble of traveling upon themselves just out of love or interest for their journey’s destination, but because they are attracted by the idea of being on the roads and searching for a new and permanent homeland.”

But why Iran? Why did not they choose this far away country? No doubt because Iran was untouched by and far away from the Western World. The natural beauties, the people with their belief in god’s existence would be mysterious and attractive for people who were tired of corrupted Europe. From this point of view, the novel “Death in Persia” can be read as the reflection of a human being’s loneliness at the height of nihilism in Europe.

Works by Annemarie Schwarzenbach
Erik, 1929
Freunde um Bernhard, 1931
Lyrische Novelle, 1931
Flucht nach Oben, 1933
Winter in Vorderasien, 1934
Tod in Persien, 1935
Lorenz Saladin, Ein Leben fur die Berge, 1938
Das gluckliche Tal, 1938

Recently published collections of articles and reports
Bei diesem Regen, Jenseits von New York, Auf der Schattenseite, Alle Wege sind Offen, Winter in Vorderasien, Insel Europa
Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s works are published by Lenos Verlag, Basel:
“Alle Wege sind Offen” and “Tod in Persien” are translated to Persian and will be published by Shahab Pub. as soon.

Biographies of Annemarie Schwarzenbach
- Annemarie Schwarzenbach ou Le Mal de l’Europe, Dominique-Laure Miermont, French
- Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Bernhard Korner, French
- Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Elvira Willems, German
- Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Walter Fahnders & Sabine Rohlf, German
- Das Leben zerfetzt sich mir in tausend Stucke: Annemarie Schwarzenbach, eine Biographie, Areti Georgiadou, German