The death of Walter Benjamin  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Walter Benjamin killed himself with an overdose of morphine tablets on the night of 25 September 1940 while staying in the Hotel de Francia; the official Portbou register records 26 September 1940 as the official date of death.

The fact that Benjamin was given a Christian burial (he was buried in the consecrated section of a Roman Catholic cemetery) would indicate that his death was not announced as a suicide.

The others in his party (Lisa Fittko, Henny Gurland and her son Joseph) were allowed passage the next day, and safely reached Lisbon on 30 September.

In an article entitled - "The Mysterious Death of Walter Benjamin", Stephen Schwartz says that Stalinist agents were operating in the south of France and northern Spain during the early years of the war, when the Nazi-Soviet pact was still in operation. The result was that two of the most powerful secret police forces in Europe were working in close co-operation.[1]


Walter Benjamin's suicide note

Walter Benjamin's suicide note (Portbou, 25.9.1940):

«Dans une situation sans issue, je n’ai d’autre choix que d’en finir. C’est dans un petit village dans les Pyrénées où personne ne me connaît que ma vie va s’achever. Je vous prie de transmettre mes pensées à mon ami Adorno et de lui expliquer la situation où je me suis vu placé. Il ne me reste pas assez de temps pour écrire toutes ces lettres que j’eusse voulu écrire.»

The text survives only in Henny Gurland's hand amongst Adorno's literary remains.

The briefcase

According to Lisa Fittko, Benjamin carried with him a heavy briefcase which he claimed to be more important than his life. This story was not confirmed by other accounts, causing some controversy. Authorities such as Chimen Abramsky, who was among the first to hear the story and from Fittko herself, give Fittko's account credibility. A briefcase was mentioned in the Spanish police records, but its contents are not described there. Speculations as to its contents have been the subject of scholarly articles and artistic works inspired by Benjamin's story and Lisa Fittko's account of it in her books.

I remembered Lisa Fittko in Chicago when I first called her from a public phone in the mid-eighties having just found out from Barbara Sahlins, the wife of my anthropologist friend at the university, that the woman who took Benjamin across the border lived but a few blocks away. “Oh! You’re after the briefcase!” were Lisa’s first words on the phone. My heart sank. Didn’t she realize that one might have perfectly innocent reasons for wanting to talk with her and that lost treasure would only get in the way? --Walter Benjamin's Grave by Michael Taussig

See also


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The death of Walter Benjamin" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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