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The Narrow Foothold

Authors: Carina Birman

Published by Hearing Eye

ISBN: 9781905082100

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“How this work was written: rung by rung, according as chance would offer a narrow foothold, and always like someone who scales dangerous heights and never allows himself a moment to look round, for fear of becoming dizzy (but also because he would save for the end the full force of the panorama opening out to him).”
— Walter Benjamin, from The Arcade Project

The author of this memoir of escape from Nazi occupied Europe was Carina Birman (1895–1996), the Conseil Juridique at the Austrian Embassy in Paris between 1926 and 1938. It tells of her escape with her friend Sophie Lippmann (1885–1975) over the Pyrenees through Spain and Portugal and eventually to New York.

The memoir is fascinating, not just as testimony to an escape from Nazi occupied Paris 1939, but also as an account of the last day in the life of celebrated philosopher and literary critic, Walter Benjamin. It provides additional corroborative detail of the circumstances surrounding Benjamin’s last journey as well as his state of mind during the last night of his life. It also shows the desperate plight of refugees and the corruption of Spanish border officials.

The memoir was written in 1975, but never published during the author’s lifetime. The typescript was only found recently by Kathy Duggan, the grand-daughter of Sophie Lippmann, and this is its first publication. Includes maps, archive photographs and contemporary photographs of the terrain by Christopher North, and a poem by Stephen Watts.

With this memoir the dossier of testimony to Walter Benjamin’s death is probably as complete as it ever will be, leaving many questions still open for discussion.
— Howard Caygill, Professor of Cultural History, Goldsmiths College, University of London

This account gives a glimpse of how a whole stream of german artists and thinkers escaped from the Nazi horror.
— Olwyn Hughes, sister of the late Poet Laureate

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