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Missing Pictures 2: The Emigrants


When W.G. Sebald’s Ausgewanderten (1991) was translated and published as The Emigrants in England, the new 1996 version came with a renamed fourth chapter and two fewer photographs. The chapter that was originally called Max Aurach in the German edition became Max Ferber in English. As Maya Jaggi recounts in Recovered Memories, an interview-based article in The Guardian September 22, 2001, one of the two sources for the character Max Aurach was the English painter Frank Auerbach, who apparently did not want to be so closely identified with the book now that it was coming out in English. And so the character’s last name was changed from Aurach to Ferber and Auerbach’s painting, which had appeared on page 240 of the German book, was removed. Jaggi writes:

He [Sebald] is conscious of the danger of usurping others’ existences. While all four emigrants are based on real people, the painter Max Ferber, who obsessively scratches out then redoes his work, is a composite of Sebald’s Mancunian landlord (“I found out he’d skiied in the same places as I had”) and the London-based artist Frank Auerbach. Without naming Auerbach, Sebald says he felt he had the right – “because the information on his manner of work is from a published source”. Auerbach, however, refused to allow his paintings to appear in the English edition. Sebald modified the character’s name from Max Aurach in the German. “I withdraw if I get any sense of the person’s discomfort,” he says.

The second photograph that was removed is a close-up of a man’s face, and, given its placement in the text where the narrator of The Emigrants recognizes a painting by “Ferber”an exhibition catalog from the Tate Gallery, it seems safe to say the face probably belongs to one of the two sources for Ferber – either Auerbach or Sebald’s landlord from his Manchester days.

I studied Ferber’s dark eye, looking sideways out of a photograph that accompanied the text, and tried, at least with hindsight, to understand what inhibitions or wariness there had been on his part that had kept our conversations away from his origins… (page 178 of the American edition)


In creating Max Aurach/Ferber, Sebald also transplanted Auerbach from his adopted London to Manchester. In the book, Ferber says:

Manchester has taken possession of me for good. I cannot leave. I do not want to leave. I must not. Even the visits I have to make to London once or twice a year oppress and upset me. (page 169)

Not only did Sebald relocate Auerbach to Manchester, he transfered his allegiance to London onto Manchester. Earlier this year the (February 3, 2007), reported on Auerbach’s dislike for leaving London:

“I HATE leaving my studio. I hate leaving Camden Town. I hate leaving London.” So speaks Frank Auerbach, a German-born artist who came to London from Berlin as a boy on the eve of the second world war, and whose parents died in the Holocaust. Mr Auerbach reckons he hasn’t spent more than four weeks away from his adopted home since he was seven.

By the way, the photograph of Aurach’s eye which goes missing in English-language editions, foreshadows by more than decade Sebald’s book of poems Unerzählt (Unrecounted), in which each poem is accompanied by an illustration showing only the eyes of a person. It also set the stage for the cover photograph used for the British edition of Vertigo (Harvill, 1999).
Marias Eyes

[The eyes of Javier Marias, from Unrecounted]

Sebald Vertigo British cover

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I had no idea about the Max Aurach -> Max Ferber evolution; says so much about Sebald’s writing process & aesthetic principle. Thanks for this. Keep writing; I keep coming back to yr blog to learn more about Sebald. (BTW, I moderated a panel on Sebald this past year with 2 professors from Columbia Univ., and Barbara Epler, Sebald’s editor @ New Directions, who, in effect, introduced him to American readers.)

    August 7, 2007
  2. When I read Die Ausgewanderten for the first time, I was curious about who the painting was by, so I wrote to Sebald and asked him. He very courteously wrote back and explained that Auerbach was one of the sources for Aurach. But he did not tell me about the name change in the English edition.

    You might be interested to know that the German audio book where Sebald reads “Max Aurach” also has the name change (although perhaps you knew that already, as a collector!).

    I’ve been dipping into your site since coming across a link to it recently. Thanks for all the good Sebald information! I’ve posted quite a few comments about him on my own blog (some of them involving repeated references to favorite passages, such as the one about Austerlitz and Turner having been in Wales when they were the same age: “meaningless but nevertheless touching”).

    June 2, 2008
  3. I beg to differ as to Aurach and/or Auerbach as source of the Max Farber capter inSwbald’s book. After a few years of research I met Peter Jordan who lives in Manchester and it seems with quite some certainty that the story is about the Frank family.
    Paula Frank from Bad Kissingen married Fritz Sigfried Jordan from Munich and they both established the art gallery in Munich. Both of them were deported and murdered by the Nazis and their son was saved due to the fact that the brother of Paula lived in England and thus in 1936 Peter reached England, studied Architecture and lives in Manchester.
    Another brother of Paula , Dr. Thomas Dehler became the Ministaer of Justice in the first German Government that was formed in Germany after World War ll.

    May 16, 2009
  4. Joel, As far as I can tell, Sebald did not name the Manchester painter on which the Max Aurach/Max Ferber character was based; he simply called him “a well-known artist” in an interview with Carole Angier. I don’t know if Peter Jordan would qualify as “well-known.” A number of scholars state decisively that Frank Auerbach is the painter to whom Sebald refers, but I presume this is on the basis of the painting that was included in Die Ausgewanderten but pulled from all subsequent editions, as well as the similarity in names Aurach-Auerbach. I’ve not been able to identify the painting precisely, but it’s almost assuredly by Auerbach, though that’s not conclusive proof that Aurach/Ferber was based on Auerbach. Thank you for the new information and the new possibility!

    July 2, 2009
  5. Luis Rainha #

    Stranger still: in the Portuguese version, the chapter is titled “Max Ferber”, but the character is named “Aurach”…

    November 12, 2009
  6. Michael Paine #

    The original proof from Harvill contains the original images, references to Aurach, and in addition textual differences – at the cemetery (“Arnsberg, Frank, Auerbach, Grunwald, Leuthold, Seeligmann,”)in the proof becomes (“Arnsberg, Auerbach, Grunwald, Leuthold, Seeligmann, Frank,”) in the first edition (and presumably later ones). I think there are possibly more textual differences between the proof and first edition besides this but I’ve never done a close comparison.

    July 12, 2014
    • Michael – Thanks for the additional points. You’ve looked more closely at the proof than I have.

      July 12, 2014
      • Michael Paine #

        I can’t claim diligence, sadly. It was pointed out to me when I was given the proof, pre-publication, that changes were going to be made to make Auerbach less apparent. Later I organised a reading by Max (Feb 97) and since he signed the proof, I’ve been loath to subject it to heavy reference.

        July 13, 2014

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