The Kennedy Center

Peter Ulrich Weiss


Playwright, filmmaker, and novelist, Peter Weiss was born in Nowawes, Germany to a textile Jewish manufacturer. In 1934, Weiss and his family were forced into exile by the Nazi persecutions. He lived in England, Switzerland, and Czechoslovakia before settling in Sweden in 1939.

Much of Weiss' early work was influenced by Franz Kafka's writings and reflected the encroachments of a menacing world and continual frustrations. Weiss was also influenced by American writer Henry Miller. Behind the plays written by Weiss were his early experiences with homelessness and isolation. At the age of 18 when he fled to Sweden his repressed childhood was reflected in his early autobiographical work.

One of his early plays, Die Versicherung (The Insurance Policy), uses images of violence and chaos to mock the bourgeois desire for security, but ends with an anarchic call for revolution. The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, commonly known as Marat/Sade, pits the ideals of individualism and of revolution against each other in a setting in which madness and reason are inseparable. The play was first performed in West Berlin in 1964 and established Weiss' international reputation.

In 1965 Weiss wrote Die Ermittlung (The Investigation) which was a documentary drama recreating the Frankfurt trials of the men who committed mass murders at Auschwitz but also compared the attacks on German hypocrisy over the existence of concentration camps. Weiss'other plays include documentary dramas attacking Portuguese imperialism in Angola, and the American destructive policy in the Vietnam War in 1968. He also wrote three semi-autobiographical novels, The Shadow of the Body of the Coachman in 1960, The Leave Taking in 1961, and Exile in 1962. Weiss won the Charles Veillon literary award in 1963 for Exile.

Peter Weiss died in Stockholm, Sweden on May 10, 1982.
Peter Weiss