Stefan Zweig

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Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig / ʃ’tɛfan tsvaɪk / (Vienna, Austria; November 28, 1881 – Petrópolis, Brazil; February 22, 1942) was a Jewish writer, biographer and social activist from Austria. the first half of the 20th century, unrelated to the writer Arnold Zweig and the German writer Stefanie Zweig (born in 1932).

His works were among the first that protested against the intervention of Germany in World War II and was very popular between 1920 and 1930. He wrote novels, stories and biographies. Of the latter, those of María Estuardo and de Fouché, a work half biography and half historical novel, are particularly known. Another of his biographies, dedicated to Marie Antoinette, was adapted to film with the same title in 1938.

Stefan_Zweig’s Biography

Zweig was the son of a wealthy Jewish family. His father, Moritz Zweig, was a wealthy textile manufacturer, and his mother, Ida Brettauer Zweig, daughter of a family of Italian bankers.

He studied at the University of Vienna where he obtained a PhD in Philosophy. He also took courses on the history of literature, which allowed him to rub shoulders with the Viennese cultural avant-garde of the time. In that environment, around 1901, he published his first poems, a collection entitled Silberne Saiten (Silver Strings), influenced by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Rainer Maria Rilke.

In 1904 his first novel appeared, a genre of special frequency in his career. Zweig developed a very particular literary style, which combined a careful psychological construction with a brilliant narrative technique.

In addition to his own creations in theater, journalism and essay, Zweig worked on translations of authors such as Paul Verlaine, Charles Baudelaire and Émile Verhaeren.

Panoramic view of Stefan Zweig street, Kapuzinerberg, Salzburg, Austria.

In 1910 he visited India and in 1912, North America. In 1913 he settled in Salzburg, Austria, where he would live for almost twenty years.

During the First World War, and after having served in the Austrian army for some time as an employee of the War Office, having been declared unfit for combat, he was exiled to Zurich thanks to his anti-war convictions influenced by Romain Rolland, among others.

From this period is Jeremiah, an anti-war work he wrote while in the army, published during his exile in Switzerland. This biblical theatrical piece inspired by the European war was exhibited in New York around 1939.

He immediately settled in Switzerland, where he worked as a correspondent for the Viennese free press and produced some work in Hungarian newspapers. Thanks to his friends, among whom were Eugen Relgis, Hermann Hesse and Pierre-Jean Jouve, he was able to publish his non-partisan views on the turbulent European reality of those days.

He met Thomas Mann and Max Reinhardt.

The economic solvency of his family allowed him his great passion: to travel; thus acquired the great awareness of tolerance that has been embodied in his works, the first to protest against the intervention of Germany in the war.

After the armistice of 1918 he was able to return to Austria: he returned to Salzburg, where in 1920 he married Friderike Maria Burger von Winternitz, an admirer of his work, whom he had met eight years before.

As a committed intellectual, Zweig confronted with vehemence against the nationalist doctrines and the revengeful spirit of the time. Of all that he wrote in a long series of novels and dramas, in what was the most productive period of his life. The historical account Momentos estelares de la humanidad, which he published in 1927, remains among his most successful books.

In 1928, Zweig traveled to the Soviet Union. Two years later he visited Albert Einstein in his exile in Princeton. Zweig would cultivate the friendship of personalities such as Máximo Gorki, Rainer Maria Rilke, Auguste Rodin, Arturo Toscanini and Joseph Roth.

In 1934, he published his triple biography Mental Healers, at the same time an essay on the origins of Christian Science (spiritualist religion founded by Mary Baker Eddy) and psychoanalysis.

After the increase of the national socialist influence in Austria, Zweig moved a time to London; by then he found himself in difficulties to publish in Germany, in spite of which he could write the libretto for Die schweigsame Frau, opera by the composer Richard Strauss.

Defined as “non-Aryan”, it was defended by Strauss, who refused to eliminate Zweig’s name as a librettist for the poster for the play Die Schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman), premiered in Dresden. Hitler refused to go to the premiere, as planned, and a short time later, after only three performances, the work was banned.

The Jewish religion was not part of their education. In an interview he said:

My mother and father were Jews only because of an accident of birth.

However, one of his novels, El candelabro buried, tells the story of a Jew who made the goal of his life to preserve the menorah.

While his political essays were published by the house Neue Freie Presse, whose literary editor was the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, Zweig was never attracted to that movement.

In 1934, he started traveling around South America. In 1936, his books were banned in Germany by the National Socialist regime. In 1938, he divorced his first wife. Like Friderike Zweig, he published a book about him, after his death.

The following year he married Charlotte Elisabeth Altmann and, after the start of the war, Zweig moved to Paris. Soon after, he traveled to England, where he obtained citizenship. He lived in Bath and London before traveling to the United States, Dominican Republic, Argentina, and Uruguay, for a series of conferences.

In Argentina, he received special attention from journalist Bernardo Verbitsky, who will write an essay about the visitor: Meaning of Stefan Zweig (1942).

After the publication of his Chess Novel in 1941 he moved to Brazil, where he wrote La tierra del futuro (1941). In this work, he examines the history, economy and culture of the country. Citing Amerigo Vespucci, he describes how the first European navigators saw the New World:

If paradise exists somewhere on the planet, it could not be far from here!

In Petrópolis, desperate for the future of Europe and its culture (after the fall of Singapore), because they truly believed that National Socialism would spread to the entire planet, on February 22, 1942, he and his wife they had taken their friends off, and left their things in order (even a note about their dog, entrusted to their friends) Zweig had written:

«I think it is better to finish at a good time and stand a life in which intellectual work meant the purest joy and personal freedom the most precious asset on Earth».

With honors, but against their wishes, they were buried in the cemetery of Petrópolis His autobiography El mundo de ayer, with posthumous publication around 1944, is a panegyric to European culture that he considered forever lost.

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