Schwarzenbach was born on May 23rd, 1908 in Zurich, into one
of the richest families in Switzerland of that period. Her
father, Alfred Schwarzenbach, was one of the great patrons
of the textile industry. She grew up in the family house and
studied History in Zurich and Paris. In 1931, she received
her doctorate and wrote her first book. In 1930, she made
friends with Erika and Klaus Mann, with whom she remained
close for most of her life. Schwarzenbach lived as a writer
in Berlin where she had her first experiences with morphine.
From 1933, she began traveling, first with the photographer
Marianne Breslauer, to the Pyrenees, then to the Near East.
Her first six-month trip took her to Beirut, Jerusalem, Baghdad,
Baki and Teheran where she met the French diplomat, Claude
Clarac. In 1934, she accompanied Klaus Mann to the first Congress
of Writers, in Moscow.
was often in conflict with her family. It was because of this
turmoil that she made her first suicide attempt. Shortly thereafter,
she left for Teheran to marry Claude Clarac. She obtained
French nationality and a diplomatic passport. But, soon after,
she fell into a depression, which was aggravated by her appetite
for drugs. In addition, her love affair with the daughter
of the Turkish Ambassador in Teheran, provoked a scandal.
Her meeting with American photographer, Barbara Hamilton-Wright
marked a new period in Schwarzenbach's life. It was with Hamilton-Wright
that she would make her first journey in the United States.
During the summer of 1936, she left for New York. Hamilton-Wright
had proposed that they take a trip to document the great industrial
regions of northeastern United States.
arrived in America in the middle of an economic and social
crisis. It was the time of the Great Depression, of social
upheaval, of great strikes and of President Roosevelt's attempts
to aid these crises with his deep reforms of his New Deal.
In January of 1937, Schwarzenbach left Washington with Hamilton-Wright
to visit the Alleghenies and the industrial center of Pittsburgh.
began for her a year that was a part of the most momentous
and the most important of her life - all under the plan of
a journalistic journey. Everywhere she traveled, she took
photographs which depicted misery in a striking manner. The
snapshots that she brought back to Switzerland had an extraordinary
quality, which are totally unrelated to the insignificant
landscapes she executed at the beginning of her career." (1)
of her stories were published in Switzerland at the end of
her first trip, confirming the interest in her work. After
her return, and two months rest in Switzerland, she left again
in May 1937, this time for eastern Europe: Danzig, Riga, Leningrad,
Moscow. There also, her articles and photographs showed a
careful and relevant observation of the social reality of
a Europe dominated by the rise of fascism.
In September 1937, she returned to the United States. This
time, Schwarzenbach and Hamilton-Wright left for the deep
South, in order to bear witness to the supposed "hinterland
of American prosperity". The two women crossed Virginia, North
and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. The misery and violence
that they witnessed surpassed anything that either of them
had yet seen in their journeys. From social problems came
the added racial conflicts. In the mountains of Tennessee,
they encountered woodcutters who were starting to organize
unions. Schwarzenbach took passionately to these issues, and
published many politically engaged articles reporting on the
suffering and upheaval in the southern United States.
She returned to Europe at the beginning of 1938, profoundly
touched by her journey. But by the time she found herself
on the boat back to Europe, she again was lured by drugs.
What followed was a period where she alternated between writing
and rehabilitation for her drug habit. In 1939, she met the
writer Ella Maillart, who, after much hesitation, took Schwarzenbach
with her by car to Afghanistan. This trip made a great impression
on Ella Maillart, who tried in vain to cure Schwarzenbach
of her drug problem. They left in June 1938, but by the time
they reached Sofia, Schwarzenbach obtained morphine substitution,
which created a great tension between the two women. They
ended by separating in Kabul, Maillart left alone for India.
A scandalous love affair with the woman archeologist Hackin
had left Schwarzenbach forbidden to travel in the excavations
of Turkmenistan, which rendered her journey impossible.
of the stories that Schwarzenbach brought from her voyage
were published in Switzerland, including one written with
Maillart. In May of 1940, Schwarzenbach returned once more
to the United States. She became involved in an unhappy love
affair which caused her to suffered from a depression which
led her, in December, to another suicide attempt and an internment
in a psychiatric clinic. In February of 1941, she was authorized
to leave the clinic on the condition that she leave the United
States. She returned to Switzerland via Lisbon. As soon as
she arrived, however, she left again for the Belgian Congo,
and undertook a voyage in the bush where she continued to
write. In 1942, she left via Lisbon for Morocco where she
found Claude Clarac. She stayed there for two months, then
left for Switzerland with the hopes of working in Lisbon as
a foreign correspondent. But on September 7th, she suffered
a devastating fall on her bicycle, and she fell into a coma
for three days; she awoke to amnesia.
last weeks of her life, she was cared for in her house in
Sils, she did not recognize anyone. Annemarie Schwarzenbach
died on the 15th of November in Sils, and she was buried in
Lorey de Lacharrière, (trans. Gabrielle Giattino)
Dominique Gente, Nicole Müller, L'ange inconsolable, Lieu