Weigel, Hans

   Critic, translator, essayist, novelist, and editor, Weigel was among the founders of the cabaret Theater am Naschmarkt in 1934. For a few years thereafter he wrote several librettos for their productions. His parents were Jews; they fled to the United States in the 1930s and never set foot in Austria again. Weigel himself immigrated to Switzerland in 1938. Unlike his father and mother, however, he remained strongly attached to his native city. He returned to Vienna in 1945, bringing with him two senses—presence in a place and absence from it—that helped him to toggle between acceptance and criticism of an environment that he had left out of necessity, not choice.
   By 1947, Weigel was the center of a group of intellectuals who gathered at the Café Raimund directly across from the Vienna People’s Theater (Volkstheater). Almost without exception they were burdened with the experience of having lived through World War II either as young adults or as children.
   Among them was the young Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann, with whom Weigel had an exceedingly complex erotic and professional relationship. His most important novel, Unfinished Symphony (Unvollendete Symphonie, 1992), is a frankly autobiographical account of an exiled Jew’s return to Austria and his efforts to reconnect with, yet retain, his sense of Jewish particularity. The specific conceit in which he centers this personal drama is a relationship with a youthful Austrian female artist, whom Weigel later admitted was Bachmann. Written chiefly from the perspective of a female protagonist who expresses herself through inner monologues, which Bachmann used heavily, the narrative also reveals the emotional bonds between Weigel and Vienna’s distinctive features: its differentiated neighborhoods, its psychologically resonant architecture, and its still-powerful commitment to a musical and theatrical heritage that had survived the military and moral catastrophe of the Nazi regime and World War II.
   For all of his self-involvement, Weigel was sincerely supportive, intellectually and materially, of fresh literary talent in Austria. He also labored to keep alive the work of great Austrian writers of the past. His commentaries on the work of the great comic playwright Johann Nestroy were notably sensitive. In his last years, Weigel became an ardent anticommunist. He led the movement to deny Bertolt Brecht Austrian citizenship when the stateless German poet and playwright left the United States in 1947 under pressure from the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities.
   See also Literature.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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