In 2006 the Department of Philosophy and Humanities at Freie Universität conferred an honorary doctorate on Reich-Ranicki in recognition of his long-standing commitment to literary life in Germany. For decades, as an eloquent and pugnacious critic, he exerted a defining influence over German literary life.
Marcel Reich-Ranicki was born in 1920 as the son of a German-Polish family in Wloclawek on the Vistula River. He grew up in Berlin. After completing secondary school in 1938, he applied in vain to study at Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin. Because of his Jewish ancestry, he was not admitted. In the fall of that year, he was arrested and deported to Poland. As of 1940 he lived in the Warsaw ghetto, from which he escaped with his wife Theofila in 1943. His parents and his brother were murdered in Auschwitz.
From 1951 on Reich-Ranicki worked as a freelance journalist in Poland. In 1958 he returned to Germany, where he first lived in Hamburg and later in Frankfurt am Main. From 1960 to 1973 he was literary critic for the Germany weekly Die Zeit, and from 1973 to 1988 he was head of the literature staff of the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In 1968/69 Reich-Ranicki taught at American universities, and from 1971 to 1975 he was a regular visiting professor of modern German literature at the universities of Stockholm and Uppsala. In 1974 he became an adjunct professor at the University of Tübingen, and in 1991/92 the Heinrich Heine Visiting Professor at the University of Düsseldorf.
Reich-Ranicki received numerous awards, including the Thomas-Mann-Preis (1987) and the Goethe Prize of Frankfurt am Main (2002). He was also the recipient of many honorary doctorates. His most successful books are Thomas Mann und die Seinen (1987) and Mein Leben (1999, English title: The Author of Himself: The Life of Marcel Reich-Ranicki).