Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)

 

Stefan Zweig was an Austrian novelist and journalist born to a wealthy mercantile family in Vienna.  Though he was of Jewish descent and his work often touched on Jewish themes, Zweig described his upbringing as being largely secular. 

Zweig is best known for the work which he published in the inter-war years.  Among these novels are The Royal Game, Amok, Beware of Pity, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Conqueror of the Seas: The Story of Magellan, and Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles.  The biographies were most popular, including his biography of Marie Antoinette, which was later adapted as a film starring Norma Shearer.

In addition to his literary works, Zweig also provided librettos for a number of works by composer Richard Strauss.  Famously, Strauss' Die Schweigsame Frau (1934) caused a great stir when the composer refused to remove Zweig's name from the posters which advertised the premiere of the work.  Hitler himself boycotted the performance due to Strauss’ refusal and the opera was banned after only three performances.  It was at this time that Zweig fled Austria and emigrated to England.

A lifelong pacifist, Zweig was among the first to condemn WWI in his anti-war tragedy Jeremias.  His great affection for Europe was evident from the earliest days when he advocated the unification of its separate nations.  In fact, he is sometimes credited with beginning the movement that eventually led to the formation of the European Union.  Unfortunately, Zweig’s despair at the fate of European culture led him to emigrate to Brazil, where in 1942, he and his wife committed suicide together:

“I think it better to conclude in good time and in erect bearing, a life in which intellectual labor meant the purest joy and personal freedom; the highest good on Earth.”

His autobiography The World of Yesterday is an ode to the European culture he considered lost.