The Schmooze

Stefan Zweig: Literary Saint or Suicidal Schmendrik?

Almost 70 years after committing suicide in Brazil in 1942, the Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig still divides readers.

Laurence Mintz, in a preface to the reprint of Zweig’s “Balzac, Dickens, Dostoevsky: Master Builders of the Spirit” from Transaction Publishers, points to how Zweig’s suicide, in safety and comfort, seemed a cop-out to many émigré Jews. In a 1943 article, Hannah Arendt scorned Zweig’s position as an “ivory tower esthete” who saw Nazism mainly as an “affront to his personal dignity and privileged way of life.”

Others, however, worship Zweig, like Jean-Jacques Lafaye, whose “Stefan Zweig: a Jewish Aristocrat at Europe’s Center” has just been reissued from Les Éditions Hermann. For Lafaye, Zweig “genuinely possessed an elite spirit, a conscience for humanity.” French Jewish doctor and novelist Laurent Seksik agrees, offering an ardent fictional account from Flammarion, “The Last Days of Stefan Zweig.”

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Stefan Zweig: Literary Saint or Suicidal Schmendrik?

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