Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
The Schmooze

Meet Stefan Zweig, the Jewish Author Behind ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’

Image by Getty Images

Wes Anderson’s whimsical film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was nominated for nine Academy Awards Thursday morning, just days after winning the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical. Named one of the best films of the year by several top critics, it could earn Anderson, a director whose cult following has steadily grown over the past decade, his first Oscar.

It will also likely raise the profile of Stefan Zweig, the Austrian Jewish novelist who, Anderson has said, inspired the film’s quirky Eastern European setting and several of its characters.

Indeed, a new book about him,“The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World,” just won the Jewish Book Council‘s National Jewish Book Award for Best Jewish Biography.

During the 1920s and ’30s, Zweig was one of the world’s most prominent novelists. Born to wealthy Jewish parents in 1881, he earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Vienna in 1904 and fell in with the Austrian and German literary intellectual crowds of the time. Although he was not a practicing Jew, he became friends with Theodor Herzl, who published some of his earliest essays in the Neue Freie Presse, then Vienna’s leading newspaper. Later, during his peak decades of popularity, Zweig became close with Sigmund Freud, whose psychoanalytic theories influenced his fiction. (Zweig even gave a eulogy at Freud’s funeral in 1939.)

In 1942, after years of unhappy emigration though England and South America forced upon him by Hitler’s rise to power, Zweig and his wife committed suicide by overdosing on barbiturates.

It is unclear why Zweig’s famous works, such as “Beware of Pity” and “Confusion of Feelings,” fell into such obscurity in the years after World War II. Some critics, such as Adam Kirsch writing in The New Republic, have noted that Zweig symbolized a liberal prewar state of mind and was intensely nostalgic. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that Zweig’s autobiography was called “The World of Yesterday.”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” and the award-winning biography are not the only examples of Zweig’s recent re-emergence. The New York Times has reported that new translations and editions of Zweig’s work have gradually reappeared over the past few years before Anderson’s film (which was released in March 2014): New editions of his fiction, including his collected stories, are being published, with some appearing in English for the first time. Movies are being adapted from his writing; a new selection of his letters is in the works; plans to reissue his many biographies and essays are in motion; and his complicated life has provided inspiration for new biographies and a best-selling French novel.

Some of these examples include the 2013 French film “A Promise,” which is based on Zweig’s novella “Journey Into the Past,” and the Swiss film “Mary Queen of Scots” from the same year, which is based on Zweig’s novel “Maria Stuart.” Publishers such as the Pushkin Press have published editions of over 20 of Zweig’s fictional works in recent years.

So regardless of how “The Grand Budapest Hotel” fares at the Oscars, we could be seeing (and reading) a lot more of Stefan Zweig in the years to come.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.