Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in May 1942 in Montreal, Canada

Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger Vicomte de Saint-Exupéry (short Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ; born June 29, 1900 in Lyon , †  July 31, 1944 near the Île de Riou near Marseille ) was a French writer and pilot .

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was already a recognized and successful author during his lifetime and became a cult author of the post-war decades, although he saw himself more as a professional pilot who wrote only on the side. His fairytale story The Little Prince is one of the most successful books in the world, with over 140 million copies sold.


Childhood and youth

Birthplace of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in Lyon. The street was named after him.

De Saint-Exupéry was born on June 29, 1900 in Lyon as the third of five children and the first son of Comte Jean-Marc de Saint Exupéry (1863-1904). He died when the boy was four years old.

Antoine first grew up in Lyon and on family estates in southern France. In 1909 he and his younger brother went to a boarding school run by Jesuits in Le Mans . In July 1912, during the summer vacation in Ambérieu-en-Bugey, he was taken on a flight for the first time by the pilot and designer Gabriel Salvez-Wroblewski, to whom he had lied about having his mother's permission for the flight. He was fascinated by the flight. He and his brother spent the last years of high school (1915–17) at the Kollegium Heilig Kreuz , a boarding school for Marianists in Friborg / Switzerland .

Training and military service

The signature of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

After graduating from high school ( Baccalauréat 1917), he attended the Lycée Saint-Louis in Paris, the preparatory classes (classes préparatoires) for the entrance examination (concours) of the École navale because he wanted to be a naval officer. However, he was unsuccessful in the examination, failed twice in the subject of literature and did not receive any of the restricted study places. Another blow was the sudden death of his brother in 1917, who died of complications from pericarditis. This loss shook Antoine de Saint-Exupéry deeply.

Antoine studied architecture at the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris from 1920 to 1921 , but did not obtain a degree.

From 1921 to 1923 he did his military service with the cavalry in Strasbourg and was trained as an aircraft mechanic. The army refused him training as a pilot because he had not completed the preparatory course for this. Saint-Exupéry completed his pilot training by taking private flying lessons.

First years as a pilot and author

After that he could have remained in the Air Force as a career officer and pilot, but the noble family of his fiancée Louise de Vilmorin , the sister of a Parisian classmate, was vehemently against such a dangerous existence for their future son-in-law. In anticipation of the marriage, which then did not take place, Saint-Exupéry worked as an employee at Parisian companies. He also flew whenever he could and had first contacts with Parisian writers in the salon of a noble aunt, Yvonne de Lestrange, Duchess of Trieste.

In 1923, Saint-Exupéry was completely destitute and began working as a pilot for the first time, taking tourists on fifteen-minute sightseeing flights over Paris. In 1925 he appeared for the first time as an author with the novella L'Aviateur ("the aviator").

In 1926 he was hired by the air freight company Latécoère in Toulouse, initially with the ground crew. He soon joined the pilots and initially flew the stage Toulouse - Casablanca , then Casablanca - Dakar . In 1927/28 he was chief of the lonely stopover airfield on Cabo Juby with the capital Tarfaya , which belonged to the Spanish-Morocco colony at the time , where a memorial commemorates him for 18 months . In his role as airport manager he often had problems with the warlike Berbers in the area. He had to rescue colleagues who had not landed in the desert several times. For the rescue of a total of 14 pilots in 1930 he was awarded the highest medal in France, which is awarded to civilians, the "Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur ". Most of the time, however, he spent waiting for the next plane. Here he wrote his first longer text, the little novel Courrier Sud ("Südkurier", 1928), which tells the last flight of a pilot including an inserted, equally sad love story.

The time of success

Consuelo de Saint Exupéry

In 1929 Saint-Exupéry completed advanced training in navigation with naval aviators in Brest and then went to Argentina for his company to set up airmail and air freight routes in what was then the richest country in South America . His experiences as the person responsible for the first night flights, which were dutifully carried out despite all the dangers, he processed in the novel Vol de nuit ("Night Flight", December 1930), the plot of which revolves around the fatal last flight of a pilot. The work was awarded the prestigious Prix ​​Femina and brought Saint-Exupéry the breakthrough as an author.

In April 1931 he married Consuelo Suncín Sandoval , a young widowed Salvadoran woman . The civil wedding was in Nice, the church wedding was celebrated by the couple in Agay , where the Saint-Exupéry family had a country estate.

Antoine then went back to West Africa, partly as a cross-country pilot, and partly as a test pilot for seaplanes (where he almost drowned once). In 1934 he was hired by the new Air France , to which several airlines had merged.

Saint-Exupéry (right) with Marcel Peyrouton in Tunis, 1935

In the next few years he led a mixed existence as an aviator, advertising agent, journalist and author. For example, in 1934 he flew to Saigon (at that time the capital of the French colony of Vietnam at the time ) in 1934 and undertook a lecture tour around the Mediterranean by plane in 1935. In May 1935, when the French and Soviet governments had just signed a pact of assistance against the German Reich, he visited Moscow on behalf of the Paris-Soir newspaper and wrote a series of articles about his stay.

Saint-Exupéry after crash landing in Egypt in 1935

On December 29, 1935, while attempting to set the Paris – Saigon route record, it fell 200 kilometers from Cairo in the Egyptian desert after it had touched the ground in poor visibility. Saint-Exupéry and his mechanic Prévot survived the crash landing unharmed, but were now exposed to the sun and heat of the desert without an adequate supply of drinking water. After a five-day march through the desert, they came across a caravan and were rescued.

In the spring of 1937 he spent a month for Paris-Soir as a reporter in Spain during the civil war , which he described from the republican side (which was half-heartedly supported by the new French Popular Front government).

In mid-February 1938 he attempted a record flight from New York to Tierra del Fuego (southern Argentina), but crashed in Guatemala on take-off after a stopover and was seriously injured. During his recovery in New York he put together the anthology Terre des hommes (“The earth of people”, English title wind, sand and stars ), whose partly new and partly older texts are primarily a song of praise for comradeship among men Duty and idealism as well as solidarity and humanity sing. When it appeared in early 1939, the work hit the nerve of the times and was a great success. It received the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie française ; The American translation under the title Wind, Sand and Stars also sold extremely well and was awarded a prize.


Antoine de Saint-Exupéry had just returned from a trip to his American publisher when World War II broke out in early September 1939 . He was drafted and initially served as an instructor for pilots. He later became a pilot in a reconnaissance squadron and in May / June 1940 witnessed how northeastern France sank into chaos after the German attack, the "blitz allemand". He experienced the armistice on June 25 and the subsequent demobilization of the French armed forces in Algeria , after which he initially stayed on a sister's estate in Agay / southern France. Here he was writing a larger philosophical-moralistic, lyrical-narrative work that had already begun in 1936: Citadelle (Eng. Title The city in the desert ), the fragment of which was only published posthumously .

At the end of 1940 he traveled via Morocco and neutral Portugal to the USA, where his American authors' fees had accumulated. But he didn't feel at home in New York because he had problems with the French there, who - unlike him - mostly sympathized with Marshal Pétain and his newly established right-wing authoritarian regime. During his time in the United States, he changed his family name from Saint Exupéry to Saint-Exupéry. During a longer visit to California, where the exiled director Jean Renoir wanted to film his work Terre des hommes , Saint-Exupéry wrote the work Pilote de guerre ("War Aviator"; English title Flight to Arras ), which deals with his war experiences . It was published in 1942, initially in an American translation (Flight to Arras), and also in the French original under the title Pilote de Guerre. The book was also initially allowed to be published in France. The German censors only suppressed a subset in which Hitler was mentioned. After the press had dealt extensively with the work, the Germans put it on the index. Still, the book continued to circulate underground.

In early 1943 he brought out two shorter texts in New York: Lettre à un otage ("Letter to a hostage") and Le petit prince ( The Little Prince ). The Lettre is a fictional letter to a Jewish friend with lyrical, essayistic and narrative passages, through which Saint-Exupéry tries to call the French all over the world to solidarity with France, which had just (November 11, 1942) been completely occupied by German troops . Le petit prince, which was to become his most famous text in the long term (to date, the work has been translated into over 140 languages ​​worldwide), is a fairy tale-like story about an aviator who crashed in the desert and met a little boy who was hit by an asteroid fell to earth. The text, which mixes real and surreal elements, reads like a desperate confrontation by the author with the oppressive situation in gagged France, his unease in utilitarian America and, last but not least, his guilty conscience towards his wife, who was left behind in France - the "rose" of " little prince ”. At Le petit prince remembered today in the southern French city Agay a fountain monument, bearing a key phrase from the book. In 1943 he was elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters .

In May 1943, Saint-Exupéry went to Algeria, which was now controlled by Anglo-American troops, and was again an air force pilot. But his flying skills had suffered after the long break. When he crash-landed on his return from one of his first flights in July, he was retired due to his age and various injuries.

His relations with the supporters of the head of the "Free French Armed Forces", Charles de Gaulle , were characterized by mutual distrust at this time. Saint-Exupéry resented the Gaullists for being fixated on the seizure of power. He assumed that they would perform too severe a puration, which he found counterproductive.

He then dealt with technical problems with the new jet engines in Algiers (he already had several aeronautical patents), but continued to write to Citadelle. Thanks to his fame, he managed to be reactivated for a limited number of reconnaissance flights. He undertook this first from Sardinia, which was now occupied by the Americans, and then from the reconquered Corsica.

A Lockheed F-5 ( reconnaissance version of the Lockheed P-38 ), the type with which Saint-Exupéry took off on its last flight on July 31, 1944

The last flight

On July 31, 1944, Saint-Exupéry took off from Bastia airport in the morning for his last scheduled reconnaissance flight in a Lockheed F-5 (registration number 42-68223) towards Grenoble , but did not return, it was lost. Various possibilities were considered as the cause of his disappearance: shooting down, technical defect, but also suicide , because this flight was not to follow afterwards and Saint-Exupéry was very depressed , as letters from this time show.

In 1948 Hermann Korth, a pastor from Aachen, wrote to Saint-Exupéry's publisher Gaston Gallimard that a war diary for July 31, 1944 contained the entry: “Call Tribun Kant shot down I scouts burning over sea. Enlightenment Ajaccio unchanged. "

Clarification of the circumstances of death

Saint-Exupéry's silver bracelet found in 1998

In 1998, while cleaning his nets, the Marseille fisherman Jean-Claude Bianco found Saint-Exupéry's silver bracelet in the sea east of the Île de Riou ( map ), south of Marseille . It bears the engraving with his name and that of his wife Consuelo, as well as the name and address of his publishers Reynal & Hitchcock in New York.

It was not until 2000 that Luc Vanrell, a Marseilles diver and underwater researcher, located parts of the machine on the Mediterranean floor near the Île de Riou, recovered them in autumn 2003 and in 2004 using the number "2734" engraved in the turbocharger of one of the two engines “Identified. The site is located far west of the specified flight route of Saint-Exupéry's reconnaissance flight. Presumably Saint-Exupéry wanted to make reconnaissance photos of Marseille on his own initiative and thus force it to be used by the air forces. The wreckage was handed over to the Musée de l'air et de l'espace in Le Bourget in June 2004 and is exhibited there together with the silver bracelet found in 1998.

According to research by Luc Vanrell and Jacques Pradel (published in French in 2008 and in German by Claas Triebel and Lino von Gartzen), the German fighter pilot Horst Rippert , who later became a sports reporter for ZDF , as a member of Jagdgruppe 200 shot down the Saint-Exupérys machine. An official shooting report is not available, however, since shooting reports from his unit were lost after the Wehrmacht withdrew from June 1944. Even an index card made later according to Rippert's information shows no shooting on the day in question. Rippert stated that he felt neither pride nor honor for this shooting, which could be a motive for not being named. The conditions for a confirmed launch were not given, since Rippert flew alone and thus had no witness and since no visible crash site remains in the event of a launch over sea.

The twin-engine P-38 flown from Saint-Exupéry had almost no chance against a manoeuvrable single-engine interceptor like the Bf 109 as a heavy escort fighter, just like its German counterpart Messerschmitt Bf 110 . Therefore, after heavy losses, the P-38 was taken out of the role of the escort fighter in Europe and only used as a fast high-flying Lockheed F-5 reconnaissance aircraft, as Saint-Exupéry flew it on its last mission. In the Saint-Exupéry records, one can clearly see his personal aversion to this type of fast and powerful fighter aircraft. Years ago he flew biplanes and did not feel particularly comfortable in the cockpit of modern, fast and very demanding high-performance aircraft like the P-38J.


Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (portrait on a 50 franc banknote)
Back of the banknote

Saint-Exupéry left no will. As a result, the inheritance passed to his mother and sisters, in accordance with the regulations at the time. Consuelo came away empty-handed and denied this arrangement. The conflict between the heir communities “La Succesion Antoine de Saint-Exupéry-d'Agay” and “Consuelo de Saint-Exupéry” has not been resolved. The authors' rights lay with the descendants of the sisters of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. They were managed by the French publisher Gallimard .

Naturally, the mysterious end of Saint-Exupéry also gave rise to literary interpretations. In The Last Flight of the Little Prince , the writer Jean-Pierre de Villers describes how he met an old man who was fighting back tears at the 1993 Saint Exupéry exhibition in New York. It turns out that he is the (fictional) German pilot Wilhelm von Stadde, who made friends with Saint-Exupéry over the radio and kept looking for him on reconnaissance flights. The German Air Force received the order to shoot down the legendary writer. When he had a wingman on a reconnaissance flight and he saw the Saint-Exupérys aircraft, he tried to protect Exupéry, but his wingman first destroyed the Stadde aircraft and then the Exupérys.

In 1975, asteroid 2578 was named after Saint-Exupéry. Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport has been named after him since 2000 . Also in 2000, memoirs of his widow Mémoires de la rose (German: The rose of the little prince ) were published from estate papers .

In the last series of French franc banknotes before the introduction of the euro , the 50-franc note was dedicated to Saint-Exupéry. This banknote finally lost its official face value of 50 francs on February 17, 2012, making it purely a collector's item.

A street is named after him in the Gateway Gardens conversion area near Frankfurt am Main Airport , as well as in the city of Freiburg i. Ue. where he spent part of his teenage years.

On December 3, 2016, a copy of the original edition Le Petit Prince from 1943, with a dedication and drawing by the author, was auctioned in Paris.

In the stubbornness. A fairy tale (2017), Mirko Bonné deals with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's plane crash in the North Sahara in 1935. While searching for his plane wreck, the narrator encounters a fox in the desert, with whom he starts a conversation.

In 2019, The Little Prince received the Retro Hugo Award 1944 in the Best Novella category.


Monument to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry at Bastia Airport
Night flight . Foreword by André Gide , German Hans Reisiger , S. Fischer, Berlin 1932, further editions in the Aryanized S. Fischer Verlag 1933 to 1943. After the end of National Socialism, many more editions in the S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt. Most recently as p. 2015 under ISBN 978-3-596-90594-2 .
New edition, translation by Annette Lallemand, Karl Rauch Verlag, Düsseldorf 2017, ISBN 978-3-7920-0072-4 .

Film adaptations


  • The sky, the sea ... Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Documentary, Germany, 2014, 44 min., Script and director: Birgitta Ashoff, production: Bayerischer Rundfunk , series: Lido , first broadcast: January 11, 2014 on BR, summary from Bayerischer Fernsehen.

Stage works

  • Romantic opera: The Little Prince for solos, choir and orchestra by Nikolaus Schapfl , 2000 (orchestral suite 1996: premier in Shanghai 1997; first performance in concert: Salzburg 2003, title role: Yvonne Moules; first performance in stage: Badischen Staatstheater Karlsruhe, March 23, 2006; title role: Robert Crowe)
  • Rock opera: B612 by Riccardo Romano Land after 'The Little Prince' by Saint-Exupéry, Marakash Records , 2017
  • Andreas Willscher: The little prince. 15 organ pieces based on poems by Klaus Lutterbüse. Butz-Verlag 2019, publisher no. BU 2896


  • René Delange, Léon Werth : Our friend Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Karl Rauch Verlag, Bad Salzig and Düsseldorf 1952
  • Marcel Migeo: Saint-Exupéry. His life. Wunderlich, Tübingen 1958
  • Maria de Crisenoy: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Man, poet and pilot. Rex, Lucerne and Munich 1964
  • John Phillips, Charles-Henri Favrod: Poet and Pilot: Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Scalo Publishers, 1994 ISBN 978-1881616238 . The illustrated book deals with the aviation activities of ASP.
  • Paul Webster: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Life and Death of the Little Prince. Translated from Theresia Übelhör. Metamorphosis, Munich 1994 ISBN 3-928692-11-9
  • Stacy ship: Saint-Exupéry. A biography. Translated by Eva Brückner-Tuckwiller. Knaus, Munich 1995 ISBN 3-8135-1247-9
  • Nathalie des Vallières, Roselyne de Ayala: You can only see rightly with the heart: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. An illustrated biography. Translated from Bernadette Ott. Knesebeck, Munich 2003 ISBN 3-89660-184-9
  • Karlheinrich Biermann: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2012 ISBN 978-3-499-50547-8
  • Léon Werth: My best friend. Memories of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Translated by Christel Gersch. Aufbau-Verlag , Berlin 2012 ISBN 978-3-351-03514-3
  • Joseph Hanimann : Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The melancholy globetrotter. A biography. Orell Füssli , Zurich 2013 ISBN 978-3-280-05508-3
  • Alain Vircondelet (ed.): Antoine de Saint Exupéry in pictures and documents . Edition Olms, Oetwil am See 2013 ISBN 978-3-283-01170-3

Web links

Commons : Antoine de Saint-Exupéry  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Notes and individual references

  1. The father of the "Little Prince" dies 75 years ago. In: AERO International No. 7/2019, p. 80
  2. ^ 'Little Prince' discovery offers new insight into classic book. In: May 3, 2012, accessed in 2012 : "a literary phenomenon that has since sold 140 million copies, in about 260 languages"
  3. ^ Freiburg Tourism: Saint-Exupéry and Freiburg
  4. Peter Rawert: Under the spell of thirst. In: . June 12, 2009. Retrieved October 13, 2018 .
  5. ^ Honorary Members: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed March 20, 2019 .
  6. ^ A. de Saint Exupéry: Oeuvres complètes. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Editions Gallimard, 1999, pp. 926, 953, 969, 978.
  7. Map of Marseille and the surrounding area on Commons
  8. "Saint-Exupéry committed suicide" says the diver who found the plane wreck, according to Cyber ​​Diver News Network, August 7, 2004. - Addition 2008: The cited "diver" is Luc Vanrell , who later on Article section is mentioned. The suicide hypothesis he initially favored is withdrawn.
  9. Saint-Exupéry's silver bracelet ( Memento from December 8, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
  10. During the search for Saint-Exupéry's aircraft wreck, the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was discovered, in which Alexis Prince von Bentheim-Steinfurt was killed. Alexis was the older brother of the current head of the family, Christian Fürst von Bentheim-Steinfurt.
  11. ^ Claas Triebel and Lino von Gartzen: The Prince, the Pilot and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry . Herbig, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-7766-2569-1 . This work brings together the different levels of knowledge about the death of Saint-Exupéry and comes to the conclusion that nothing speaks against the portrayal of Rippert, who first made his statement to Lino von Gartzen in 2006. Horst Rippert is quoted as follows: “You can stop looking, I shot down Saint-Exupéry. It happened near Toulon, it flew under me. I was on a reconnaissance flight over the sea. ”He saw the French national emblem on the plane, flown a curve and sat behind the French plane, then shot it down. Of course, according to Rippert today, he regretted this very much afterwards, because he admired the author very much. See interview of March 17, 2008 in FAZ No. 65, p. 9, and Lino von Gartzen, In die Geschichte abgetaucht . In: FAZ , March 18, 2008, No. 66, p. 7; also interview with von Gartzen in the Süddeutsche Zeitung of March 18, 2008, p. 11: Rippert is telling the truth .
  12. Georg Bönisch, Romain Leick: Let in death. In: Der Spiegel. No. 13, March 22, 2008 ( online ). Jürg Altweg gives an overview of the skeptical reception of the new research results in France: Skeptical from experience: French doubts about Saint-Exupéry's shooting down by Horst Rippert . In: FAZ , March 28, 2008, No. 32, p. 44. According to a letter to the editor from Hermann Schreiber in the Süddeutsche of April 7, 2008, p. 33 under the title of acquittal from a burden of conscience , Saint-Exupéry's machine belonged to a US -american squadron and wore not French, but American national emblems. However, this letter to the editor refers to the announcement of March 17th, not to the detailed account of March 18th. In addition, Rippert describes in an interview that the national emblems were painted over. So there is no contradiction.
  13. ^ Joseph Hanimann: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The melancholy globetrotter. A biography. Zurich 2013. page 281 ff
  14. "Lorsqu'Antoine de Saint-Exupéry disparait le 31 july 1944, n'ayant pas eu d'enfant, il avait désigné sa famille comme dévolutaire des droits sur son œuvre et son nom. Entre son frère François (1902–1917) et ses trois sœurs Marie-Madeleine (1896–1927), Simone (1897–1979) et Gabrielle (1903–1986), seule la cadette eu une descendance. Aujourd'hui, ses quatre neveux, sont les héritiers et ayant droits de son œuvre. "( Gabrielle, dite Didi (1903–1986).
  15. Tagesschau ( Memento from February 19, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Last day for the beloved Franc (ARD) accessed on February 17, 2012.
  16. “The Little Prince” auctioned for almost 90,000 euros. In: December 4, 2016, accessed December 4, 2016 .