Andre Aciman on Stefan Zweig

Andre Aciman has a beautiful essay on Stefan Zweig in Slate:

From Aus­tria, to France, to England, to the United States, and now far-flung Brazil, he must have felt like an untethered punt drifting up against a river­bank. "I ceased to feel as if I quite belonged to myself. A part of the natural identity with my original and essential ego was destroyed for­ever." He might well have been glad to build a new existence in Brazil, since, as he wrote, "the world of my own language [had] disap­peared for me and my spiritual home, Europe, [had] destroyed itself." But not at the age of 60. Suddenly, thrust into the wings of his­tory, this urbane man about Europe had be­come yesterday's man.

But the damage was done not in 1933 when Hitler became chancellor of Germany, or on Kristallnacht in 1938, or on Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany unleashed World War II. The real damage was done in 1914 when the "world of security," as Zweig referred to it, came to a sudden end. Unfit for military serv­ice, he had been assigned to the archives of the Ministry of War, but by 1917, while on leave in Switzerland, was finally dismissed from service. It was in neutral Switzerland, under the aegis of the 1915 Nobel laureate Romain Rolland, that he became a confirmed pacifist. It was also in Switzerland that he became aware of a certain cast of people who, in his words, lived "amphibiously"—that is, between countries, between languages, between loyalties and identities: in short, in exile.

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