Who was Robert Jungk?

Presentation of the autobiography “Trotzdem. Mein Leben für die Zukunft” at the Earth Day 1992 (photo: Delmar Mavignier, JBZ archive)

This is the short introduction to his life. More details and an extended version can be found here.


Who was Robert Jungk and what relevant information does he have for us today?

Throughout his time in modern history, Jungk has been called a forward thinker, and explorer of the future and a proponent of peace. He was a co-founder of the inoovative and sometimes heavily criticized field of futurology and among the first proponents of what is now known as “Civil Society.” Jungk was also an integral part of the non-violent, ecologically conscious and anti-atomic movements which grew significantly in the 1970s. Were he still alive today, he would likely be a part of the worldwide protests against the massive excesses of the financial sector.

From 1971, Jungk established Salzburg, Austria as his permanent residence, where he died in July 1994. He and his wife Ruth, who passed away in March 1995, are buried in the Jewish cemetery of Salzburg with a memorial. Jungk was awarded the “Alternative Nobel Prize” in 1986, the second resident of Salzburg to receive this distinction after Leopold Kohr in 1983. The following information documents the life and work of Robert Jungk, as well as his publications and personal beliefs, all of which continue to be relevant today.

Robert Jungk living in exile in Switzerland, where he writes articles for the newspaper “Weltwoche” under a pseudonym (JBZ archive)

Youth and Wartime

Born in 1913 Berlin, Robert Jungk was raised by a family of artists. Growing up during a period that celebrated militarism, a visit to the Berlin Anti-War Museum was a deciding point in the life of the young man, putting him on the path to pacifism. Modeling himself after “wild reporter” and family friend Egon Erwin, Jungk was arrested as a student for his opposition to what he called the Nazi’s “brown propaganda” in 1933. Although released shortly afterward, he decided that life in Germany was becoming too dangerous. He soon sought refuge in Paris, where he studied psychology and sociology, briefly returning to Germany in 1936 to visit his sick parents, a trip done in secret.

A year later he would leave again for Prague, where he befriended painter and future writer Peter Weiss, before fleeing once more for Switzerland in 1939. He would remain protected there for the remainder of the war, unlike the majority of his Jewish family. From Switzerland Jungk would finish his education and publish in numerous Swiss newspapers under a pseudonym which he used to report on events within German, including ongoing Nazi war crimes. After the end of World War II, Jungk continued to write for his most famous publication, the Swiss World Weekly, during coverage of the Nuremberg Trials; there he described the callous nature of the judicial proceedings and the reactionary behavior of the German population.

In his autobiography, Jungk writes of what he calls the “forlorn peace” between the end of the Nazi Era and the Cold War. The end of fascism had only set the stage, he believed, for a new conflict between the Americans and the Soviets. “Although the war was finally over,” he wrote, “we could not enjoy ourselves the way others did because of our awareness of the mass killings. The newspapers were full of hopeful expectations but we, the survivors, were consumed by sorrow. No quarrels with God, nor curse against the perpetrators or bystanders of war crimes could comfort us” (Trotzdem, 1993: p. 211).

Visiting Hiroshima 1959 (Photo: JBZ-Archive)

It was the end of World War II and the American nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – which Jungk depicts in his 1958 book, Children of the Ashes – that would thereafter determine Jungk’s lifework, centered on the nuclear arms race and the threat of global nuclear war. In 1952, after his marriage to Ruth Suschitzky and the birth of his son Peter Stephan, Jungk released his first book, Tomorrow Is Already Here: America’s Omnipotence and Impotence. Inspired by reports of new technological advancements, Jungk describes how the United States was not only “reaching for the atom” but also for dominance over nature, mankind and the universe. The central goal of Jungk’s book was to warn of the dangers of an American post-war “new world,” believing that once the American bid for omnipotence collapses, a hubristic America would find itself humiliated and even separated from God” (1990: p. 27).

Jungk followed this in 1956 with his second literary success, Brighter than a Thousand Suns: The Personal History of the Atomic Scientists. Here, Jungk describes the history of atomic research, paying special attention to the scientists, such as Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller, who were quick to place themselves into the service of the military. Revised in the 1960s to include the Cuban Missile Crisis, Jungk commends those scientists who distanced themselves from the military and used their influence to warn the public of nuclear technology.

The same year Brighter than a Thousand Suns was published, Jungk traveled to Japan to begin his next project on the victims and fallout of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In his resulting 1958 book Children of the Ashes, Jungk would highlight Germany’s early pursuit of the atomic bomb, as well as the “collective blind eye” of civilization to the after effects of the bombings, a work which would be followed by a joint film produced with Dagobert Lindlau for German television in the 1960s. In Children, Jungk would strikingly report on his encounters with the “Hibakusha” motivated Jungk to continue his message about the risks of nuclear science. He would do so not only from his desk, but also through involvement in the “Germans Against Atomic Death” movement of 1958 and with the international Pugwash Conference, a group against nuclear armament whose membership also included Albert Einstein.

Robert Jungk at a demonstration of the Ostermarschbewegung (Easter March movement) in Vienna in 1966 – in the foreground, son Peter Stephan (JBZ archive)

Living primarily in Vienna since 1957, Jungk developed close friendships with others, such as Günther Anders. In 1959, he drafted his “Charter of Hope,” an appeal to Europeans to seek complete nuclear disarmament. In 1960, Jungk became chairman of the Austrian Anti-Nuclear Movement.
It was this staunch anti-nuclear position, Jungk would later write, that caused his dismissal from the Swiss World Week publication – Switzerland was at the time considering going nuclear! – an action which “was probably influenced by Bonn” (Trotzdem, 1993: p. 316).

With the perception that civilian and military uses of nuclear energy were inseparable, Jungk became an advocate of the mid-1970s environmental resistance to the construction of new nuclear plants, particularly in the Federal Republic of Germany. Sites of activity in Wyhl, Switzerland (1975), and Broksdorf, West Germany (1976), were central to this movement. The drawn out, but ultimately successful, civil demonstrations against the Wackersdorf plant (1984-1988) were also a milestone in the anti-nuclear movement, which Jungk actively participated in as well.

Robert Jungk with Futurist Joseph Weizenbaum (Photo: JBZ-Archive)

Pioneer in Futurology

The early 1960s stirred Jungk’s interest for future studies, a field growing in international importance. In 1964, he founded the short -lived “Institute for Future Studies” and began work on a ten part series entitled “Models for a New World,” which was published together with Hans J. Mundt. In 1967, following the release of his new book Mankind 2000, he organized the first World Conference on Future Research in Oslo with sociologist and researcher Johan Galtung.

Jungk would receive an honorary doctorate for his founding of futurology from the Technical University of Berlin, working as a guest lecturer there from 1968 until 1975 while still simultaneously participating in world conferences in futurology.

Among the first public encounter Robert Jungk had since his move from Vienna to Salzburg in 1970 was his participation in a May 1972 rally against the Vietnam War and a visit from US President Richard Nixon where he was injured by police. Jungk would later become involved in the early 1980s resistance to the installation of new nuclear “medium-range missiles” across Western Europe. His role as a participant and observer in a series of non-violent human blockades across Europe was document in his 1983 book Human Earthquake: The Revolt Against the Intolerable. Jungk’s 1970s and 1980s columns, written in the Bild der Wissenschaft, further showed his critical scientific evaluations on new technologies and their social impacts.

Robert Jungk together with the founder of the Right Livelihood Award Jakob von Uexküll in “his” library for future issues opened in 1986 (JBZ archive)

Jungk’s Connection to Austria and Salzburg

It has already been said 1957 was Robert Jungk’s first time in Austria, specifically Vienna. Salzburg became the Jungk family’s main residence by 1970 where they obtained a house on a stone-paved street. “The most beautiful thing is a stone alley on a late summer afternoon,” Jungk writes, “when I walk over these light carpets, I know how fortunate I am to have made here my home” (Trotzdem, 1994: p. 435). Jungk also appreciated Salzburg as a center of culture and intellectual debate, which he contributed to through his work with the Salzburg “Humanism Talks” in 1980 and the conduction of his “future workshops.” On his 70th birthday, Jungk’s wish for a library for future research was granted, against the will of Salzburg’s governor, in an effort to further Jungk’s campaign for hopeful solutions.

His close ties to the environmental movement led to Jungk’s nomination as the Austrian Green Party candidate for president in 1992. While he received only 5.2% percent of the vote in the first round but opted to remain the Green Party candidate in order to increase awareness of his ideals.
Of the many awards given to Jungk during his final years, he received the “Alternative Nobel Prize” (1986), an honorary doctorate from the Univesity of Osnabrück (1993) and the Austrian Cross for Science and Art (1993). In 1989, Jungk was appointed the eighth honorary citizen of Salzburg. Shortly after his 80th birthday, he suffered a severe stroke which he never recovered from. Just months before he had remained active, attending a demonstration against a Czech nuclear plant in Temelin. He died on the 14th of July, 1994 in the freedom, equality and fraternity of Salzburg, where he is buried at the Jewish cemetery in a grave of honor. His wife, Ruth, would follow him one year later in 1995.

His Library
In 1986, the long-held wish of Robert Jungk was fulfilled: the foundation of his international Futures Library (German abbreviation: JBZ) in Salzburg. Jungk’s extensive private book collection, at the time approximately 3,500 volumes, became available to the public while likewise creating a center for discussion of future issues. Conceived as a study center for developments in futurology and as a site for dialogue about “possible futures,” this interdisciplinary library currently includes approximately 15,000 volumes and over 160 periodicals. It serves the JBZ-team as well as those near and far interested in their study topics. In 2006, a small reading café was included to facilitate the public.

Text: Hans Holzinger, Translation: Blake Giragos

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