A search for Robert Jungk on the internet or in printed publications will yield many characterizations: Futurologist, author, historian, teacher, political activist, peace campaigner, agitator for survival – to name just a few. His work as a scientific journalist, columnist, highly coveted lecturer and speaker, and head of countless Future Workshops must be mentioned as well. More than 4.5 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide.
We owe many valuable insights into Robert Jungk’s thoughts and work to his autobiography Trotzdem. Mein Leben für die Zukunft [Nevertheless. My Life for the Future], which he managed to complete in 1993, one year before his death. It provides an invaluable inside view into recent world history as well, since Jungk had been close to many of the 20th century’s momentous events. A sense of perspective emerges from this rich experience, which tells us much about deep trends in our society.
Youth and Wartime
Born 1913 in Berlin into a family of artists, Robert Jungk grew up during a period that celebrates militarism. In 1932, he took his high-school diploma in his birth city. Even though – like so many other boys – he was enthusiastic about flags, uniforms, march music, victory, fame, and death on the battlefield, visiting the Anti-War Museum in Berlin (a center of cultural and pacifist activities from 1925 until it was destroyed by the Nazis in March of 1933. His founder Ernst Friedrich was arrested) is a key moment for his turn to political pacifism (Zukunft zwischen Angst und Hoffnung, p. 240; Trotzdem, p. 42).
A role model of the young Robert Jungk is “roving reporter” Egon Erwin Kisch, next door neighbor and a friend of Jungk’s parents. Jungk would later-on adopt many views of Kisch’s. The day after the Reichstagsbrand (the burning of the Reichstag) in February 1933, the young student at Berlin University was temporarily arrested for his protest against antisemitic propaganda. With luck and the help of friends he was released. But Jungk decided that life in Germany had become too dangerous for him. Thus, he left, first for France.
Escape from Germany – Exile in Switzerland
In Paris, Jungk studied psychology and sociology at the Sorbonne. Already deprived of his German citizenship, he returns to Berlin illegally to visit his ailing parents and to write for a subversive press-service. In November 1936, after his cover is blown, he and his family are forced to flee again. His path, via Prague, where Jungk makes friends with the painter and (later-on) writer Peter Weiss, leads him to Switzerland, eventually. Unlike so many of his Jewish relatives, he would remain protected there for the remainder of the war and thus manages to escape the persecution by the Hitler regime.
Reporting Under a Pseudonym about Nazi Germany
Robert Jungk worked on his dissertation in Zurich and St. Gallen – while being temporarily jailed and interned in a camp – and began writing articles under various pseudonyms for Swiss daily and weekly newspapers, especially for the – back then – well reputed Weltwoche. As an authority on Germany, he reported about the events in the Third Reich. In his articles, he repeatedly pointed out the terrors and crimes of the Nazi regime. However, no one believes his news from the Polish and Jewish underground about the cruel proceedings in the concentration camps from 1942 onwards; thus, some of his texts never went into print, as he mentioned in the prologue of a book published in 1990. Deutschland von außen. Beobachtungen eines illegalen Zeitzeugen [Germany From the Outside. Observations by an Illegal Contemporary Witness] consists of selected contributions to Weltwoche. Not even French and English newspaper correspondents in the Swiss capital Berne, who valued him as a reliable source, thought of Hitler being capable of an industrially operated genocide of innumerable women, children, and elderly people. “It – understandably – defied their imagination.”
Observations by an Illegal Contemporary Witness
Of particular interest are Jungk’s observations and analyses depicting the military strategies of Nazi Germany and the psychological mechanisms that kept the terror regime afloat for such a long time.
An article published on December 12, 1941, examined the relationship between the growing dissatisfaction of the German people after the tailing off of the first war victories and the further accentuation of the persecution of Jews. Dissatisfaction was growing as the German population began to feel the downside of the war due to an increasing number of soldiers being killed. Manipulating the negative feelings of the German population – discomfort, anger and even hatred – in a manner that fostered anger and even hatred towards the already disempowered and humiliated Jews was “not quite enough”, wrote Jungk. (Deutschland von außen, p. 93).
The Intangibility of the Holocaust
Another report, dated July 31, 1942, covers the mass deportations that threatened all those who were viewed with suspicion by the Hitler regime. In this article, the deportations are explained by Hitler’s fear of sparking riots caused by the upcoming opening of the second front. Every war entails an increasing bluntness of emotions, in the face of atrocities which otherwise cannot be processed – as Jungk observed. When the first shootings of hostages happened, the world was horrified. The article yet stated that the world had become accustomed to ever increasing numbers of unlawful mass executions. (Deutschland von außen, p. 186).
On the Nuremberg Trials
After the end of the war, Robert Jungk, now under his own name, wrote as a foreign correspondent, again primarily for the Zurich weekly Weltwoche. In an article about the main defendants of the Nazi regime facing the Nuremberg Trials, published November 23, 1945, he referred to the contributory fault of collaborators abroad and in Germany: Had we all braced ourselves sooner and more urgently against the rising regime of immorality, that is Nazism, a world of things could have turned out differently (Deutschland von außen, pp. 252-253). His article, ridden with grief about the inconceivable dimensions of the Holocaust, described the callous nature of the judicial proceedings and desire of most of the Germans to no longer being bothered by a litany of destruction and death.
Jungk explains this with the “tiredness of the heart” adding up to the “inertia of the heart”, eventually threatening us with the possibility of yet another new war. In his memoirs, the journalist much later asked himself-critically how those days of rage could have degenerated into dull, trivial court cases, where prosecutors read off statistics about all the suffering and horrors casually as if they were referring to stock prices (Trotzdem, p. 214).
The Fate of Displaced Persons
Robert Jungk is critical about the fate of all the refugees in post-war Europe, the so-called displaced persons, whom the victorious powers of the war were extremely hesitant to accommodate. His Weltwoche article Aus einem Totenland [From a Country of the Dead] caused a sensation. It was even read out in the British House of Commons (Deutschland von außen, pp. 243-253). In the post-war years, Jungk worked as a correspondent at the UN in New York. According to his memoirs, he got to know the United Nations as the “United Bureaucrats” – an observation which reflects his life-long skepticism towards large organizations (Trotzdem, p. 230).
The Lost Peace – the Transition to the Cold War
Der verlorene Friede [The Lost Peace] is the title of his autobiography’s chapter about the transition from the abatement of Nazi Germany to the Cold War: Fascism and nationalism with its millions of victims were not even conquered yet when in 1944 the Russians and the Americans already initialized a new global conflict that should overshadow the following decades (Trotzdem, p. 208). The end of fascism, the fall of the brown and black dictatorship, had only set the stage, he believed, for a new conflict between Americans and Soviets. Although the war was finally over, Jungk wrote, it was impossible to “enjoy ourselves like all the others did – because we were aware of the mass killings. The newspapers were full of hope, plans, projects, expectations. Yet the survivors were consumed by sorrow. No quarrels with God, no curse against the perpetrators or bystanders of war crimes could comfort us” (Trotzdem, p. 211).
Writing Against Nuclear Weapons
The joy about the end of World War II in Europe was tempered by yet another event – the atomic bombings by U.S. forces of the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 that killed at least 129,000 people. In 1959, Jungk impressively depicted the consequences of these bombings in Strahlen aus der Asche [Children of the Ashes].
Writing against the nuclear arms race and an imminent nuclear war subsequently determined his work and established his international reputation as an author.
Immigration to the U.S.
From 1947 to 1948, Robert Jungk worked as a correspondent for European newspapers at the United Nations in New York and in Washington, D.C. In 1948 he married Ruth Suschitzky – an artist and first cousin of photographer Edith Tudor-Hart and cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky. One year later, the Jungks moved to Los Angeles where Robert continued his work as a correspondent. He obtained U.S. citizenship in 1950.
Tomorrow is Already Here
In 1952, Robert Jungk’s first book Die Zukunft hat schon begonnen. Amerikas Allmacht und Ohnmacht [Tomorrow Is Already Here. Scenes from a Man-Made World] got published. It created an international stir well beyond the German-speaking world. The same year his son, Peter Stephan, was born in Santa Monica, CA.
Jungk wrote about U.S. armament laboratories, secret atomic plants, and nuclear weapons tests as well as the uranium mining that destroyed both the land and the lives of Native Americans. This was one of the first books critical of the United States – published at a time when the entire world admired her technological progress! Inspired by reports of technological advancements, he described a hubristic nation challenging God – not only “reaching for the atom” but also for dominance over nature, humankind, and the universe. The central goal of his book was to warn of the dangers of an American post-war “newest world”, of a leading western power which embodies an immense potential threat at a global level.
Many Successful Books
In 1956 his second literary success followed: Heller als tausend Sonnen. Das Schicksal der Atomforscher [Brighter Than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists]. Robert Jungk was probably the first to write about the history of the atomic bomb and its inventors. The reports, based on intense research and many personal conversations with eminent physicists, make clear that scientists can no longer claim to be conducting fundamental research. They must bear responsibility for the technical, political, and social consequences of their actions.
Brighter Than a Thousand Suns describes the technological and industrial development of atomic research in detail — from the first attempt at nuclear fission and the building of the first atomic bomb to the completion of the American H-bomb, for which President Truman fired the starting pistol in 1950. Jungk was especially interested in those scientists, who were willing to put their knowledge into commission for the military, even after 1945. Key figures are J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller.
In a revised edition of the book in the 1960s, when the world almost became witness of an atomic confrontation in the days of the Cuba Crisis, Jungk acknowledged those who not only distanced themselves from using nuclear fission at an early stage but also publicly warned of the dangers. This was, among others, done in the context of the Pugwash Movement, founded by Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell.
What if in 1945 “the atomic scientists [had] chosen to remain indifferent and silent after Hiroshima or if they had even been proud of their achievement there? Their contemporaries would then probably have been left ignorant about the nature of the nuclear revolutions”, Jungk speculated: “The men in power on both sides, unhampered by public opinion, would then probably have fallen prey more easily to the temptation to use their atomic swords to slash entangled political knots”.
He ended his book expressing his hope “to contribute something to the great debate which may perhaps eventually lead to plans for a future without fear” (Brighter Than a Thousand Suns: 1982 ed., pp. 304-305).
In the same year as Brighter than a Thousand Suns was published, Jungk traveled to Japan for research on a book project about the consequences and victims of the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Germany’s aspirations to get hold of its own nuclear weapons – and her citizens collectively looking away – led Jungk to write Strahlen aus der Asche, a book released in 1959. In the early 1960s a film followed, co-produced with German TV journalist Dagobert Lindlau.
Jungk described his encounters with the Hibakushas, the survivors of the great Pikadon, which is the Japanese term for the atomic bombing and means lightning and thunder. He pointed out the publicly neglected long-term effects of radioactive contamination, from which the victims would suffer all their lives. This was meant to counteract the danger of downplaying dangers and suppression of information, even in Japan.
“The monumental municipal buildings are not Hiroshima’s memorial, but the survivors whose skin, blood and genes are branded with the memory of ‘that day’. They are the first victims of an entirely new sort of war,” Jungk pointed out in the epilogue of this book, which got translated into many languages. To him, Children of the Ashes became the most important and dearest of all the books he ever wrote.
A Mastermind of the Anti-Nuclear Movement
Meeting the Hibakushas motivated Jungk to warn even more intensely about the risks of nuclear weapons in the following years: “What have we, the survivors of the Second World War, so far done to justify our survival? Like many others I had [..] thoughtlessly accepted the fact that I had been spared. But then I met the atomic victims of Hiroshima. From them I received a warning of the new evil that menaces us all”, he ended his book.
Robert Jungk got actively involved in the German movement Kampf dem Atomtod [Fighting Nuclear Death] in 1958, as well as in international associations such as the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, founded in 1957 by Joseph Rotblat and Bertrand Russell after the release of the Russell–Einstein Manifesto in 1955.
In 1957, Robert Jungk set up his permanent residence in Vienna. In the 1960s, he became an organizer of the Austrian anti-nuclear movement and made friends with philosopher and poet Günther Anders. Anders’ first volume of Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen, 1956 [The Obsolescence of Humankind] revealed the monstrosity of nuclear technology and the atomic bomb, which exceeds the human capacities of control and therefore could lead to the self-effacement of humankind. Anders’ radical philosophical critique of the nuclear age created an international stir.
In 1959, a conference of the European Committee against Nuclear Armament, founded by the German writer Hans Werner Richter, took place in London. For this purpose, Jungk drafts a Charter of Hope – a call for Europe to fight for complete nuclear disarmament.
Weltwoche Cancels their Collaboration with Robert Jungk
Jungk’s staunch anti-nuclear position caused his dismissal from the Weltwoche after 20 years of editorial collaboration – at the time, even Switzerland was considering going nuclear! As he mentions in his memoirs, the dismissal might be attributed to pressure from the German government. The “Adenauer regime” had subscribed to a considerable number of copies of Weltwoche, paid with a slush fund, to secure an influence on a well reputed publication in neutral Switzerland (Trotzdem, pp. 316-317).
In 1966, his well-intentioned book Die große Maschine. Auf dem Weg in eine andere Welt [The Big Machine] about the European nuclear research center CERN, located outside of Geneva, was released. This “European science factory”– “considered by many scientists and engineers to be the contemporary counterpart to the temples of antiquity” claimed to contribute to global peace through international co-production, with the common product being knowledge.
Robert Jungk turned much more critical about CERN as he found out that this venture did not so much promote building peace but was rather motivated by a rivalry with scientists both in the U.S. and the Soviet Union (Trotzdem, p. 350).
Robert Jungk – a Co-Founder of Futurology
The early 1960s stirred Jungk’s interest for Future Studies, a field growing in international importance. In 1964, he founded the short lived Institut für Zukunftsfragen [Institute for Future Studies] in Vienna – the first such institute in Europe – and began to work on a ten-volume series entitled Modelle für eine neue Welt [Models for a New World], which he published together with Hans J. Mundt.
In 1967, after the release of his new book, he follows the invitation of Mankind 2000, an international association, dedicated to purposes including “to support and promote all aspects of human development: in the individual: within and between groups; and in the emerging world community, with special reference to the mental, moral and essential well-being of each person and of the human community as a whole”, according to the statute. This historical initiative has been closely associated with the early development of the international futures research movement, notably the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF). It emerged from the ideas and pioneering work of Igor Bestuzhev-Lada, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Johan Galtung, Robert Jungk, James Wellesley Wesley, John McHale and Magda Cordell McHale who in the 1960s conceived of the concept of futures studies at the global level.
Together with Norwegian sociologist and peace researcher Johan Galtung, Jungk organized the first World Conference on Future Research in Oslo in September of 1967. Mankind 2000 sought ways to promote futures research – with a special focus on human development. The Oslo conference was followed by futures conferences in Kyoto (1970) and Bucharest (1972).
Robert Jungk received an honorary doctorate for founding the science of examining the world of tomorrow from Berlin Technical University (TU) in 1970, where he taught as a guest lecturer between 1968 and 1975, while simultaneously taking part in world conferences on futurology.
In 1973, Der Jahrtausendmensch [The Everyman Project. Resources for a Humane Future] was published. It was meant to provide “reassurance to its readers that possibilities of a humane society are alive”. The book contains a tool kit “for social action leading to change” – eventually leading to publications about the method of Future Workshops that Jungk was developing together with students from the TU. This was impressively depicted in the volume Zukunftswerkstätten [Future Workshops. How to Create Desirable Futures] originally published in 1981, together with Norbert Müllert.
Protesting the Vietnam War – New Peace Movements
One of Jungk’s first encounters with his new home town of Salzburg – the Jungk family has been living there since 1970 – should not go unmentioned. Attending a student rally against the Vietnam war during U.S. president Richard Nixon’s stop-over in Salzburg on the way to Moscow in May of 1972, Jungk was dragged to the ground by police and injured on the head. The scene was filmed and got broadcasted on Austrian TV news the same evening. According to his memoirs, Jungk joined in the demonstration in solidarity with the students. At the same time, he wanted to keep an eye on his son Peter, who also took part in the rally.
A curious side note: Lord Kenneth, a member of the British Labour party and friend of Jungk’s, planned to secretly meet the head of the U.S. State Department, Henry Kissinger, in Jungk’s flat the day after the incident. The meeting, however, was cancelled by the American delegation and the two politicians met in a luxury restaurant instead (Trotzdem, pp. 432-434).
Resistance Against the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy
The realization that the peaceful and military use of atomic power are inseparable turned Jungk into an advocate for the mid-1970’s environmental resistance to the construction of new nuclear plants, which demanded the general withdrawal from the nuclear energy program especially in Western Germany. Places such as Wyhl (1975) and Brokdorf in Northern Germany (1976) were the first hot spots of the dispute. The long-lasting, but eventually successful civil resistance against a reprocessing plant in Wackersdorf (1984-1988), in vicinity of the Czech border, became a milestone in the history of the anti-nuclear movement.
In 1977, Der Atomstaat. Vom Fortschritt in die Unmenschlichkeit [The Nuclear State] was published. Like many of Jungk’s earlier publications, this book receives international attention. It particularly addressed social conflicts and threats to civil rights inherent in technologies such as nuclear plants. It exposed the lobbies that stop the development of alternative, replaceable, non-threatening forms of energy and the political pressure put on governments by the nuclear lobby.
Jungk also got actively involved in the resistance against the planned stationing of new nuclear middle-range missiles in Western Europe as part of the so-called NATO Double-Track Decision in the early 1980s. He built his hopes on the “survival movement” consisting of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators throughout Europe as well as non-violent blockades at designated stationing sites such as Mutlangen, Greenham Common or Comiso, in which he took part himself. As a participant and engaged observer, Jungk documented this resistance against new nuclear missiles in his book Menschenbeben, der Aufstand gegen das Unerträgliche [Humanquake. The Uprising Against the Unbearable], published in 1983.
In 1986, Robert Jungk’s columns for the professional journal Bild der Wissenschaft, published from 1972 to 1985, were released in the anthology Und Wasser bricht den Stein [And Water Splits the Rock]). His op-eds provide a brilliant insight into Jungk’s work as a critical science journalist as he discussed new technical inventions and evaluated their social impacts.
Robert Jungk’s Ties to Austria and Salzburg
Robert Jungk moved to Vienna in 1957 and became an Austrian citizen in 1964. From 1970 on, the Jungks’ permanent residence was Salzburg, where they obtained a flat at Steingasse 31.
“The historic Steingasse is most beautiful on a late summer afternoon. The sunlight then falls diagonally on the windows and glances off a hundred times on the bumpy street”, Jungk writes in his memoirs. “When I walk on this carpet of light I know how fortunate I can consider myself to have found a home here” (Trotzdem, p. 435).
He appreciated the city where the musical genius W.A. Mozart was born – a center of culture and public discourse during a time characterized by an atmosphere of change. Memorable are Jungk’s contributions to the Salzburger Humanismusgespräche on the topic Is There a Need for a Different Science? in 1980; the Goldegg dialogues in 1989 featuring Fears of Life – Living Fears, were Jungk lead a Future Workshop; or the 1992 symposium Mozartian Future, organized by the Robert-Jungk foundation jointly with Gerard Mortier, at that time general director of the Salzburg Festival.
A Birthday Wish Comes True: An International Futures Library
A long-held wish – establishing a repository of Futures material – expressed to the Austrian scientist, author (and later to become politician) Gerhart Bruckmann for the first time on Jungk’s 60th birthday in 1973, becomes reality around 1985/86 on the initiative of Peter Krön, then the top official responsible for culture in the province of Salzburg, actively supported by governor Wilfried Haslauer: 1986, the Internationale Bibliothek für Zukunftsfragen [International Futures Library] opens in Salzburg. Jungk donated his extensive private book collection to the library.
Projekt Ermutigung – Streitschrift wider die Resignation [Project Encouragement – A Polemic Against Resignation] summarized Jungk’s way to look ahead. It was published in 1989 – his last book prior to his memoirs.
Walter Spielmann, who worked on the implementation of this long-cherished dream together with Jungk, depicted the development and aims of this institution in the commemorative for Robert Jungk’s 80th birthday called Triebkraft Hoffnung 1993 (p. 279-294).
Running in the 1992 Austrian Presidential Elections
Robert Jungk’s affinity for environmental movements and newly emerging Green Parties induced the almost eighty-year-old to make his bid for the Austrian presidency in 1992, at the request of the Austrian Greens. He decided to interrupt writing his memoirs for a year and to run for president instead, aiming to draw media focus on his “perception of a good future” (Trotzdem, p. 531). In the first ballot, Jungk received a decent 5.7 percent of the popular vote.
Honors Received in the Late Years of his Life
During the late years of his life, Robert Jungk was accorded many honors such as the Right Livelihood Award in 1986. In 1989, he was declared an honorary citizen of Salzburg. He received an honorary doctorate of Osnabrück University as well as the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art and the Salzburger Landespreis für Zukunftsforschung [Award for Future Research by the Salzburg state Government] in 1993.
Shortly after his 80th birthday, Jungk suffered a severe stroke from which he did not recover. Only some months earlier he had taken part in a demonstration against the Czech nuclear power plant in Temelín. Pictures of the demonstration show, however, that he must have been weak already.
Robert Jungk died on July 14, 1994, the day of liberty, equality and fraternity, in Salzburg. He is laid to rest in the presence of his family and friends in a grave of honor at the Jewish cemetery in Salzburg-Aigen. His wife Ruth followed him one year later, on March 28, 1995.
His Library: JBZ in Salzburg, Austria
In 1986, Robert Jungk’s long-cherished wish came true: the Internationale Bibliothek für Zukunftsfragen [International Futures Library] opened in Salzburg. Jungk’s extensive private book collection – back then around 3,500 books – became publicly accessible. At the same time, the Futures Library was meant as a place of involvement with future issues. Today, he transdisciplinary library features a collection of more than 16,000 printed books. It devotes itself to work in four areas, namely: communication – offering the stage for most interesting debates; documentation – striving to become a creative commons provider; critical and creative future research; activation – to share our tools to help people find solutions responsive to their concerns.
Since JBZ is a not-for-profit organization, it breaks away from trend research approaches and research primarily geared to the short term. According to its foundation charter of 1985, JBZ’s mission is to look at “possible, probable, desired or undesirable futures” and make them accessible to the interested public – “to turn those being affected into participants”. By 2018, JBZ has become an information center for all questions and problems concerning the future. The aim is to collect and communicate information relevant to the future to the public, to promote interdisciplinary and future-oriented thinking and to create opportunities for encounters. About 100 events and lectures take place in the library every year.
With a strong commitment to education, science, and culture, the Robert-Jungk-Bibliothek für Zukunftsfragen is part of Salzburg’s “knowledge landscape”, acting regionally, nationally, and internationally. Future orientation, interdisciplinarity and independence in the sense of Robert Jungk’s guiding principles remain of crucial importance.
In 2015, under the long-time managing director Walter Spielmann, JBZ moved from the city of Salzburg’s old town to the Robert-Jungk-Platz (Robert-Jungk Square) 1 / Strubergasse 18, located in a revitalized part of the city named STADTWERK, where the majority of the city’s civic education institutions have been sheltered since then. In this inspirational new atmosphere of mutual exchange, the work of JBZ in Robert Jungk’s spirit continues – striving for a good future for all.
Who was Robert Jungk?
More about …
… his main writings
… his stand against nuclear energy
… key theses of his work
… his engagement with the new social movements
… Future Workshops