Annemarie Schwarzenbach was a Swiss writer, journalist, photographer and traveler who produced more than 300 articles and 5,000 photographs from her journeys across Europe, the United States, the Middle East and Africa.
Schwarzenbach was born in 1908 in Horgen near Zurich, Switzerland to one of the richest families in Switzerland at the time. From an early age she dressed in stereotypically masculine clothing which led to her frequently being mistaken for a boy. She studied German, History and Music at school and expressed ambitions to become a general, then a dancer and a pianist. She continued her education at the University of Zurich, earning a degree in history at the age of 23. While at University, she began writing and shortly after her graduation she published her first novel, Freunde um Bernhard (Bernhard’s Circle).
In 1930, Schwarzenbach moved to Berlin where she met Erika Mann and the two began a short lived romantic relationship. After their break up, Schwarzenbach remained friends with both Erika, and her brother Klaus who first introduced her to Morphine, a drug which she would become addicted to. “”She lived dangerously. She drank too much. She never went to sleep before dawn”, recalled her friend Ruth Landshoff. Her androgynous beauty fascinated and attracted both men and women.”
In 1933, Schwarzenbach’s life changed following the Nazi take-over. Her family had close ties with the far-right Swiss Fronts, who were associated with Nazi Germany. Schwarzenbach, like the Mann’s, was an anti-fascist and refused to join her parents support of Hitler. She began travelling, first to Italy, France and Scandinavia and then on to Spain with the photographer Marianne Breslauer. During ten years of travel, she wrote more than 300 articles and took 5,000 photographers from her journeys across Europe, the United States, the Middle East and Africa.
While visiting Tehran, she met and married Claude Clarac, a French diplomat. Her diplomatic passport was hugely beneficial in her continuing travels, although the relationship only lasted for five months as neither Schwarzenbach nor Clarac were heterosexual. Schwarzenbach’s photographs would document the rise of Fascism in Europe, and she later travelled to the USA where she captured the lives of those in poverty during the depression. She travelled from New York to the Deep South and her photographs are claimed to be the only ones shot by a foreign photographer.
Schwarzenbach wrestled with her addiction to Morphine, and at one point travelled from Geneva to Kabula with ethnologist Ella Maillart in an attempt to get clean. Although she tried many times to free herself from the morphine, all were unsuccessful. Schwarzenbach then returned to the USA, reuniting with the Manns and working on a committee to aid refugees from Europe. She became involved with writer Carson McCullers, but struggled with her feelings for her old friend Erika mann. She sunk into depression and was hospitalised following a suicide attempt.
Schwarzenbach’s terms of release stated she must leave the USA, and she briefly returned to Switzerland and began travelling again. She travelled to the Free French in the Belgian Congo and later applied for a position as a correspondent for a Swiss newspaper in Lisbon. In 1942, Schwarzenbach fell from her bicycle and suffered a serious head injury which led to her death a few short months later at the age of 34. Her mother refused to let either her former husband, nor her friends visit her. Upon her death, Schwarzenbach’s mother destroyed all her letters and diaries although a friend saved her writings and photographs which were later archived in the Swiss Literary Archives in Bern.