Spanish writer, politician Semprun dies at 87

AP News
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Posted: Jun 08, 2011 8:33 AM
Spanish writer, politician Semprun dies at 87

Writer and politician Jorge Semprun, who chronicled his own experiences in the Nazis' Buchenwald death camp, struggled against dictatorship in his native Spain and later became that country's culture minister, has died, the French and Spanish governments said Wednesday. He was 87.

Semprun died Tuesday in Paris, where he spent most of his life, the French capital's mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, said in a statement.

A prolific author who helped develop the genre of the autobiographical novel, Semprun was widely considered one of the foremost chroniclers of the Holocaust. Equal parts memoir and essay, his "Literature or Life" (1994) elegantly describes his experience in Buchenwald, even as it ponders the larger philosophical questions.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed the book, which was written in French, as "a testimony that's as mind-blowing as it is lucid," and called Semprun "one of the last great protagonists of an epic."

In a separate statement Wednesday, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Semprun's "personality and his work can be summarized in two words: commitment and courage.

"Jorge Semprun's life coincided with all the great tragedies and the great sagas of the 20th century. He was a witness, victim, protagonist and chronicler of it all."

Spain's prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, called Semprun "the conscience of his era, an extraordinary writer and witness to horror and to hope.

"We shall be faithful to our duty to honor the memory of his legacy," a statement quoted the Spanish premier as saying.

Semprun was born in Madrid in 1923, but the family fled the country during the country's bloody civil war, settling in France. Semprun went to high school and college in Paris and would write the bulk of his more than a dozen books in French.

A politically engaged young man and member of the Spanish Communist Party and the Resistance, he was detained by the Gestapo and deported to the Buchenwald. He spent more than a year in the camp _ an experience that would inform much of his literary career, starting with his first book, "The Long Voyage" (1963).

Other Semprun works include "The Second Death of Ramon Mercader," a 1969 novel which won France's prestigious Femina literary prize, and "Twenty Years and a Day," from 2004.

Upon his return from Buchenwald in 1945, Semprun worked as a translator at UNESCO and took part in the Spanish Communist Party's long struggle against the nation's longtime dictator, Gen. Francisco Franco. Semprun was ousted from the Communist Party in 1962 over ideological differences.

He was named Spain's culture minister under Socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, from 1988-1991. Semprun was also elected to France's prestigious Goncourt literary academy in 1996.

Semprun also worked as a screenwriter, working with politically engaged directors such as Alain Resnais and Costa-Gavras.

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Associated Press writer Daniel Woolls in Madrid contributed to this report.