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Stefan Zweig: A Life Between Two Wars

Once a man has found himself there is nothing in this world that he can lose. And once he has understood the humanity in himself, he will understand all human beings.” These striking words belong to the famous Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. With his works, he helped the readers to know and understand themselves; he produced understandable, simple but powerful literary works. He became a world-known writer with his works translated into 40 languages between the two world wars. But the period in which he lived gave him great suffering; the bloody hand of Nazi Germany has haunted him all his life. He had to leave his beloved homeland, he could not find the happiness he was looking for during his years in exile, and he fell into the grip of pessimism and despair. This article was written in order to understand a little bit about this humanist writer who chose suicide because he could not stand the great suffering of humanity.

Stefan Zweig. Artist unkown.

Stefan Zweig, an Austrian writer, essayist, and biographer, was born in Vienna in 1881. The artist, as the only child of a wealthy family, had actually a beautiful childhood and youth. He received a good education and learned various languages. But the years when he began his writing life coincide with the first years when the Nazis began to show their teeth in Germany and Europe. As Zweig's writings spread to Europe over time, the power of the Nazis was growing in parallel and their footsteps were starting to be heard. Because of the fact that he was Jewish, his books are banned and burned by the Nazis. This meant that Zweig could no longer live in the land of his birth, and so he left Vienna and began his life of exile, where he would live until his death.

The lands where the German language is spoken were no longer livable for Zweig. Thus, he tried to live in England, Belgium, Argentina, Paraguay, Portugal, Canada, and America. Eventually, he and his wife settled on the other side of the world, in Brazil. Although Zweig lived here on good terms financially, it was not material what would feed him. While the life he dreamed of and all the values he cared about were destroyed by the Nazis, Zweig was losing hope for the future. For the writer, who always had an anti-war attitude, the world he lived in had entered a meaningless vicious circle. While he wanted Europe to live in unity and peace, Hitler's tanks, so to say, crushed his hopes. He was deeply pessimistic and despondent that he believed that the Nazi tanks would never stop, that the darkness that oppressed the world would never light up. Thus, on February 22, 1942, he and his wife drank poison and ended their lives. The last lines of the letter he left behind reveal his despair:

''I send greetings to all of my friends: May they live to see the dawn after this long night. I, who am most impatient, go before them. ''

Zweig lost hope in the world and found the solution to leave this world, but he left behind countless works. So much so that he wrote stories, novels, biography, monographs, poems, columns, and plays. With his letters, he revealed the tragedies and events of his period. He is one of the most important letter writers of the literary world with his letters approaching 30,000. Interestingly, Stefan Zweig is the most published author among German writers. It is also known that the author, who has a very wide psychology background, is also a close friend of Sigmund Freud. This is perhaps one of the major factors behind the psychological analyzes in his works and the stories that penetrate the human spirit.

Stefan Zweig by Ritzau Scanpix

Zweig also wrote theatre plays. But the bad luck that followed him throughout his life did not leave him in the theater. Matkowsky, one of Germany's two most famous actors, would play Thersites, written by Zweig. However, during the rehearsals, Matkowsky died and the play could not be staged. Thereupon, another famous actor Kainz wanted to stage this play, but unbelievably, this actor also died during rehearsals. Frightened by all these misfortunes, Zweig wanted to try one more time. In his play this time, he deliberately chose no famous actors. Except for the director, Baron Berger. Shockingly, the most famous theater director of the period, also died during rehearsals. Thus, Zweig's three theater attempts ended in three deaths. As it can be seen, death seemed to hover around Zweig, interestingly enough.

With his humanist stance, his works, and his peace-loving identity, Zweig is a very important name that should be known and read. It seems possible to say that the taste taken from the works of the author, who tells a simple idea with an intellectual quality, is almost addictive. Unfortunately, misfortunes followed him, and his loneliness in this world was never understood. Therefore, it will be right to give the last word to the author:

"You waited for something from morning until night, and nothing happened. You went on waiting and waiting. Nothing happened. You waited, waited, waited, thinking, thinking, thinking, until your temples throbbed. Nothing happened. You were alone. Alone. Alone."
Stefan Zweig, Schachnovelle


  • “A Friendship with Freud: Stefan Zweig and the Father of Psychoanalysis.” European Studies Blog, 2015,

  • Deutsche Welle ( “A Humanist in Exile: Stefan Zweig, 75 Years after His Death.” 2017,

  • “Tiyatronun Laneti.” Aposto!, 2021,


Author Photo

Umut Açıkgöz

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