The World of Yesterday – Stefan Zweig

PREFACE

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I myself cannot help but wonder at the profusion and variety which we have compressed into a single, though highly uncomfortable and dangerous, existence, and the more when I compare it with the manner of living of my ancestors. My father, my grandfather, what did they see? Each of them lived his life in uniformity. A single life from beginning to end, without ascent, without decline, without disturbance or danger, a life of slight anxieties, hardly noticeable transitions. In even rhythm, leisurely and quietly, the wave of time bore them from the cradle to the grave. They lived in the same country, in the same city, and nearly always in the same house. What took place out in the world only occurred in the newspapers and never knocked at their door. In their time some war happened somewhere but, measured by the dimensions of today, it was only a little war. It took place far beyond the border, one did not hear the cannon, and after six months it died down, forgotten, a dry page of history, and the old accustomed life began anew. But in our lives there was no repetition; nothing of the past survived, nothing came back. It was reserved for us to participate to the full in that which history formerly distributed, sparingly and from time to time, to a single country, to a single century. At most, one generation had gone through a revolution, another experienced a putsch, the third a war, the fourth a famine, the fifth national bankruptcy; and many blessed countries, blessed generations, bore none of these. But we, who are sixty today and who, de jure, still have a space of time before us, what have we not seen, not suffered, not lived through? We have plowed through the catalogue of every conceivable catastrophe back and forth, and we have not yet come to the last page. I myself was a contemporary of the two greatest wars of mankind, and even passed through each one of them on a different front, the one on the German, the other on the anti-German. Before the war I knew the highest degree and form of individual freedom, and later its lowest level in hundreds of years; I have been celebrated and despised, free and unfree, rich and poor. All the livid steeds of the Apocalypse have stormed through my life-revolution and famine, inflation and terror, epidemics and emigration. I have seen the great mass ideologies grow and spread before my eyes-Fascism in Italy, National Socialism in Germany, Bolshevism in Russia, and above all else that arch-plague nationalism which has poisoned the flower of our European culture. I was forced to be a defenseless, helpless witness of the most inconceivable decline of humanity into a barbarism which we had believed long since forgotten, with its deliberate and programmatic dogma of anti-humanitarianism. It was reserved for us, after centuries, again to see wars without declarations of war, concentration camps, persecution, mass robbery, bombing attacks on helpless cities, all bestialities unknown to the last fifty generations, and which future generations, it is hoped, will not allow to happen. But paradoxically, in the same era when our world fell back morally a thousand years, I have seen that same mankind lift itself, in technical and intellectual matters, to unheard-of deeds, surpassing the achievement of a million years with a single beat of its wings. It has accomplished the conquest of the air by the airplane, the transmission of the human word in a second around the globe, and with it the conquest of space, the splitting of the atom, the conquest of the most insidious diseases, the almost daily realization of the impossible of yesterday. Not until our time has mankind as a whole behaved so infernally, and never before has it accomplished so much that is godlike.
To give witness of this tense, dramatic life of ours, filled with the unexpected, seems to me a duty; for, I repeat, everyone was a witness of this gigantic transformation, everyone was forced to be a witness. There was no escape for our generation, no standing aside as in times past. Thanks to our new organization of simultaneity we were constantly drawn into our time. When bombs laid waste the houses of Shanghai, we knew of it in our rooms in Europe before the wounded were carried out of their homes. What occurred thousands of miles over the sea leaped bodily before our eyes in pictures. There was no protection, no security against being constantly made aware of things and being drawn into them. There was no country to which one could flee, no quiet which one could purchase; always and everywhere the hand of fate seized us and dragged us back into its insatiable play. Constantly men had to subordinate themselves to the demands of the State, to become the prey of the most stupid politics, to adapt themselves to the most fantastic changes. Always the individual was chained to the common lot, no matter how bitterly he objected; he was carried along irresistibly. Whoever went through this period or, rather, was hunted and driven through it-we knew but few breathing spells-experienced more history than any of his ancestors. And today we again stand at a turning point, an end and a new beginning. It is not without deliberation that I make this retrospect of my life end with a definite date. For that day of September 1939 wrote the final flourish to the epoch which formed and educated us who are in our sixties. But if we with our evidence can transmit out of the decaying structure only one grain of truth to the next generation, we shall not have labored entirely in vain.
I am aware of the unfavorable circumstances, characteristic though they are of our time, in which I am trying to shape my reminiscences. I write them in the midst of war, in a foreign country, and without the least aids to my memory. None of my books, none of my notes, no friends’ letters are at hand in my hotel room. Nowhere can I seek information, for in the whole world the mails from country to country have been disrupted or hampered by censorship. We live cut off from one another as we did a hundred years ago, before steamships, railroads, planes, and mails were invented. I have nothing more of my past with me than what I have retained in my mind. All else at this moment is unobtainable or lost. But the good art of not pining over that which is lost has been thoroughly learned by our generation, and it is quite possible that the loss of documentation and detail may actually be an advantage for my book. For I look upon our memory not as an element which accidentally retains or forgets, but rather as a consciously organizing and wisely exclusionary power. All that one forgets of one’s life was long since predestined by an inner instinct to be forgotten. Only that which wills to preserve itself has the right to be preserved for others. So choose and speak for me, ye memories, and at least give some reflection of my life before it sinks into the dark!

THE WORLD OF SECURITY
Chapter I

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It is reasonable that we, who have long since struck the word “security” from our vocabulary as a myth, should smile at the optimistic delusion of that idealistically blinded generation, that the technical progress of mankind must connote an unqualified and equally rapid moral ascent. We of the new generation who have learned not to be surprised by any outbreak of bestiality, we who each new day expect things worse than the day before, are markedly more skeptical about a possible moral improvement of mankind. We must agree with Freud, to whom our culture and civilization were merely a thin layer liable at any moment to be pierced by the destructive forces of the “underworld.” We have had to accustom ourselves gradually to living without the ground beneath our feet, without justice, without freedom, without security. Long since, as far as our existence is concerned, we have denied the religion of our fathers, their faith in a rapid and continuous rise of humanity. To us, gruesomely taught, witnesses of a catastrophe which, at a swoop, hurled us back a thousand years of humane endeavor, that rash optimism seems banal. But even though it was a delusion our fathers served, it was a wonderful and noble delusion, more humane and more fruitful than our watchwords of today; and in spite of my later knowledge and disillusionment, there is still something in me which inwardly prevents me from abandoning it entirely. That which, in his childhood, a man has drawn into his blood out of the air of time cannot be taken from him. And in spite of all that is daily blasted into my ears, and all that I myself and countless other sharers of my destiny have experienced in trials and tribulations, I cannot completely deny the faith of my youth, that some day things will rise again-in spite of all. Even in the abyss of despair in which today, half-blinded, we grope about with distorted and broken souls, I look up again and again to those old star-patterns that shone over my childhood, and comfort myself with the inherited confidence that this collapse will appear, in days to come, as a mere interval in the eternal rhythm of the onward and onward.
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FIRST HOURS OF THE WAR OF 1914
Chapter IX
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The trains were filled with fresh recruits, banners were flying, music sounded, and in Vienna I found the entire city in a tumult. The first shock at the news of war-the war that no one, people or government, had wanted-the war which had slipped, much against their will, out of the clumsy hands of the diplomats who had been bluffing and toying with it, had suddenly been transformed into enthusiasm. There were parades in the street, flags, ribbons, and music burst forth everywhere, young recruits were marching triumphantly, their fates lighting up at the cheering -they, the John Does and Richard Roes who usually go unnoticed and uncelebrated.
And to be truthful, I must acknowledge that there was a majestic, rapturous, and even seductive something in this first outbreak of the people from which one could escape only with difficulty. And in spite of all my hatred and aversion for war, I should not like to have missed the memory of those first days. As never before, thousands and hundreds of thousands felt what they should have felt in peace time, that they belonged together. A city of two million, a country of nearly fifty million, in that hour felt that they were participating in world history, in a moment which would never recur, and that each one was called upon to cast his infinitesimal self into the glowing mass, there to be purified of all selfishness. All differences of class, rank, and language were flooded over at that moment by the rushing feeling of fraternity. Strangers spoke to one another in the streets, people who had avoided each other for years shook hands, everywhere one saw excited faces. Each individual experienced an exaltation of his ego, he was no longer the isolated person of former times, he had been incorporated into the mass, he was part of the people, and his person, his hitherto unnoticed person, had been given meaning. The petty mail clerk, who ordinarily sorted letters early and late, who sorted constantly, who sorted from Monday until Saturday without interruption; the clerk, the cobbler, had suddenly achieved a romantic possibility in life: he could become a hero, and everyone who wore a uniform was already being cheered by the women, and greeted beforehand with this romantic appellation by those who had to remain behind. They acknowledged the unknown power which had lifted them out of their everyday existence. Even mothers with their grief, and women with their fears, were ashamed to manifest their quite natural emotions in the face of this first transformation. But it is quite possible that a deeper, more secret power was at work in this frenzy. So deeply, so quickly did the tide break over humanity that, foaming over the surface, it churned up the depths, the subconscious primitive instincts of the human animal-that which Freud so meaningfully calls “the revulsion from culture,” the desire to break out of the conventional bourgeois world of codes and statutes, and to permit the primitive instincts of the blood to rage at will. It is also possible that these powers of darkness had their share in the wild frenzy into which everything was thrown-self-sacrifice and alcohol, the spirit of adventure and the spirit of pure faith, the old magic of flags and patriotic slogans, that mysterious frenzy of the millions which can hardly be described in words, but which, for the moment, gave a wild and almost rapturous impetus to the greatest crime of our time.
Today’s generation, which has only observed the out. break of the Second World War, may ask: why was our experience different? Why did not the masses in 1939 flare up with the same rapturous madness as in 1914? Why did they respond to the call only with gravity and determination, fatalistically and in silence? Was it not the same thing, were not even holier and higher aims at stake in our present war, which is one of ideas and not merely concerned with frontiers and colonies?
The answer is simple: because the world of 1939 does not possess so much childishly naive credulity as did that of 1914. Then the people had unqualified confidence in their leaders; no one in Austria would have ventured the thought that the all-high ruler Emperor Franz Josef, in his eighty-third year, would have called his people to war unless from direct necessity, would have demanded such a sacrifice of blood unless evil, sinister, and criminal foes were threatening the peace of the Empire. The Germans, on the. other hand, had read the telegrams of their Emperor to the Tsar in which he struggled for peace; a mighty respect for the “authorities,” the ministers, the diplomats, and for their discernment and honesty still animated the simple man. If war had come, then it could only have come against the wishes of their own statesmen; they themselves were not at fault, indeed no one in the entire land was at fault. Therefore the criminals, the war mongers must be the other fellows; we had taken up arms in self-defense against a villainous and crafty enemy, who had “attacked” peaceful Austria and Germany without the slightest provocation. In 1939, however, this almost religious faith in the honesty or at least in the capacity of one’s own government had disappeared throughout Europe. Diplomacy was despised, since one had seen with bitterness how the possibility of a lasting peace had been betrayed at Versailles; nations remembered all too clearly how they had been shamefully cheated of the promises of disarmament and the abolition of secret diplomacy. In truth, there was not a single statesman in 1939 for whom anyone had respect and none in whom one would confidently entrust his destiny. The humblest French crossing-sweeper ridiculed Daladier, and in England, since Munich-“peace in our time”-all confidence in Chamberlain’s perspicacity had vanished; in Italy and in Germany the masses looked upon Mussolini and Hitler with anxiety: Where will he drive us now? To be sure, they had no choice. the Fatherland was at stake: and so the soldiers shouldered their guns, the women let their children go, but not with the unswerving belief of other times that this sacrifice had been unavoidable. They obeyed but without rejoicing. They went to the front, but without the old dream of being a hero; the people, and each individual, already knew that they were naught but the victims either of mundane, political stupidity or of an incomprehensible and malicious force of destiny.
Besides, what did the great mass know of war in 1914. after nearly half a century of peace? They did not know war, they had hardly given it a thought. It had become legendary, and distance had made it seem romantic and heroic. They still saw it in the perspective of their school readers and of paintings in museums; brilliant cavalry attacks in glittering uniforms, the fatal shot always straight through the heart, the entire campaign a resounding march of victory-“We’ll be home at Christmas,” the recruits shouted laughingly to their mothers in August of 1914. Who in the villages and the cities of Austria remembered “real” war? A few ancients at best, who in 1866 had fought against Prussia, which was now their ally. But what a quick, bloodless, far-off war that had been, a campaign that had ended in three weeks with few victims and before it had well started I A rapid excursion into the romantic, a wild, manly adventure-that is how the war of 1914 was painted in the imagination of the simple man, and the young people were honestly afraid that they might miss this most wonderful and exciting experience of their lives; that is why they hurried and thronged to the colors, and that is why they shouted and sang in the trains that carried them to the slaughter; wildly and feverishly the red wave of blood coursed through the veins of the entire nation. But the generation of 1939 knew war. It no longer deceived itself. It knew that it was not romantic but barbaric. It knew that it would last for years and years, an irretrievable span of time. It knew that men did not storm the enemy, decorated with oak leaves and ribbons, but hung about for weeks at a time in trenches or quarters covered with vermin and mad with thirst and that men were crushed and mutilated from afar without ever coming face to face with the foe. The newspapers and cinemas had already made the new and devilish techniques of destruction familiar: people k.new how the giant tanks ground the wounded under in their path, and how airplanes destroyed women and children in their beds. They knew that a World ‘War of 1939, because of its soulless mechanization, would be a thousand times more cruel, more bestial, more inhuman than all of the former wars of mankind. Not a single individual of the generation of 1939 believed any longer in a God-decreed justice of war: and what was worse they no longer believed in the justice and permanence of the peace it was to achieve. For they remembered all too well the disappointments that the last war had brought; impoverization instead of riches, bitterness instead of contentment, famine, inflation, revolts, the loss of civil rights, enslavement by the State, nerve-destroying uncertainty, distrust of each against all.
That is what made the difference. The war of 1939 had a spiritual meaning, a question of freedom and the preservation of moral possessions; and to fight for an idea makes man hard and determined. The war of 1914, on the other hand, knew nothing of realities, it still served a delusion, the dream of a better, a righteous and peaceful world. And it is only delusion, and not knowledge, that bestows happiness. That is why the victims, crowned with flowers and with oak leaves in their helmets, marched jubilating on their way to the shambles through streets that rumbled and sparkled as if on a holiday.
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Their emotions were honest and they thought they were acting honestly, the professors and poets, the sudden patriots of that time. I do not deny it. But it took little time for it to become apparent how terrible a disaster had been caused by these songs in praise of war and orgies of hatred. In 1914 all the warring nations were already in a state of over-excitation and the worst rumor was immediately transformed into truth, the most absurd slander believed. In Germany men by the dozen swore that they had seen with their own eyes automobiles laden with gold going from France to Russia shortly before the outbreak of the war; the tales of gouged-out eyes and severed hands which appear on the third or fourth day of every war filled the newspapers. They did not know, those innocents who spread such lies, that the accusation of every possible cruelty against the enemy is as much war materiel as are munitions and planes, and that they are systematically taken out of storage at the beginning of every war. War does not permit itself to be coordinated with reason and righteousness. It needs stimulated emotions, enthusiasm for its own cause and hatred for the adversary.
It lies in human nature that deep emotion cannot be prolonged indefinitely, either in the individual or in a people, a fact that is known to all military organizations. Therefore it requires an artificial stimulation, a constant “doping” of excitement; and this whipping up was to be performed by the intellectuals, the poets, the writers and the journalists, scrupulously or otherwise, honestly or as a matter of professional routine. They were to beat the drums of hatred and beat them they did, until the ears of the unprejudiced hummed and their hearts quaked. In Germany, in France, in Italy, in Russia, and in Belgium, they all obediently served the war propaganda and thus the mass delusion and mass hatred, instead of fighting against it.
The results were disastrous. At that time, propaganda not yet having worn itself thin in peace time, the nations believed everything that they saw in print in spite of thousands of disillusionments. And so the pure, beautiful, sacrificial enthusiasm of the opening days became gradually transformed into an orgy of the worst and most stupid impulses. In Vienna and Berlin one “fought” France and England in the Ringstrasse and the Friedrichstrasse, which was definitely more comfortable. The French and English signs on the shops were made to disappear and even a can. vent Zu den Englischen Fraulein had to change its name because the people were aroused, not knowing that englische referred to the angels and not the Anglo-Saxons. Sober merchants stamped or pasted Gott strafe England on their letters, and society ladies swore, (so they wrote to the newspapers), that never again would they speak a single word of French. Shakespeare was banned from the German stage, Mozart and Wagner from the French and English concert halls, German professors declared that Dante had been Germanic, the French that Beethoven had been a Belgian, intellectual culture was requisitioned without scruple from the enemy countries like grain and ore. It was not enough that thousands of peace-loving citizens were killing each other daily at the front. In the hinterland there was mutual berating and slandering of the great dead of the enemy countries, who had been slumbering in their graves for centuries. The mental confusion increased in absurdity. The cook at her stove, who had never been outside the city and had never looked at an atlas since her school days, believed that Austria could not endure without Sanchschak (a small frontier hamlet somewhere in Bosnia). Cabdrivers argued on the streets about the reparations to be imposed on France, fifty billions or a hundred, without knowing how much a billion was. There was no city, no group that had not fallen prey to this dreadful hysteria of hatred. The ministers preached from their pulpits, the Social Democrats, who but a month before had branded militarism as the greatest crime, clamored perhaps louder than all the others so as not to be classed as “people without a fatherland” in the words of Emperor Wilhelm. It was the war of an unsuspicious generation, and the greatest peril was the inexhaustible faith of the nations in the singlesided justice of their cause.
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HOMECOMING TO AUSTRIA
Chapter XII
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The strangest thing is that I cannot recall, however I may try, how we kept house during that era, or in what manner the Austrians kept on raising the thousands and tens of thousands of kronen and the Germans, in their: turn, the millions which were daily needed to keep body and soul together. Mysteriously enough, they did raise them. Habits are acquired and the chaos became normal to life. It stands to reason that one who was not a witness would imagine that, at a time when an egg cost what a fine motor-car used to cost, (in Germany eggs went up to four billion marks, the approximate past value of all the real estate in Greater Berlin, women must have been running wildly through the streets with tousled hair, that shops were deserted for lack of purchasing power and that theaters and amusement places were surely empty. Astonishingly enough, just the opposite was the case. The will to pursue life was great enough to overcome the instability of the currency. Financial chaos prevailed yet the daily round seemed little affected. There were widespread individual changes, suchas those who had wealth in the form of cash in bank or government bonds became impoverished, speculators became rich. But the balance-wheel maintained its rhythm unconcerned with single fates, there was no standstill; bakers baked bread, cobblers made boots, authors wrote books, peasants sowed and reaped, trains ran on schedule, the morning newspaper never failed, and it was just the places of entertainment, bars, and theaters, that were filled to capacity. The very fact that what once represented the greatest stability-money-was dwindling in value daily caused people to assess the true values of life-work, love, friendships, art and Nature the more highly, and the whole nation lived more intensively and more buoyantly than ever despite the catastrophe; young people went on mountain tramps and returned healthily tanned, dance halls kept going until late at night, new factories and business enterprises sprang up. I don’t think that I ever lived and worked with greater zest than in those years. Whatever had meant much to us in days gone by meant even more now; at no time had we ever been so devoted to art in Austria as in those years of chaos, because the collapse of money made us feel that nothing was enduring except the eternal within ourselves.
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INTO THE WORLD AGAIN
Chapter XIII
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On that day, I was already in ‘Vesterland. Hundreds of vacationists were bathing gaily in the surf. Again, as on the day when the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was announced, a band played to carefree people when, like white petrels, the newsboys stormed over the boardwalk. “Walter Rathenau assassinated.” A panic broke out and the tremor spread through the whole Reich. Abruptly the mark plunged down, never to stop until it had reached the fantastic figures of madness, the millions, the billions and trillions. Now the real witches’ sabbath of inflation started, against which our Austrian inflation with its absurd enough ratio of 15,000 old to 1 of new currency had been shabby child’s play. To describe it in detail, with its incredibilities, would take a whole book and to readers of today it would seem like a fairy tale. I have known days when I had to pay fifty thousand marks for a newspaper in the morning and a hundred thousand in the evening; whoever had foreign currency to exchange did so from hour to hour, because at four o’clock he would get a better rate than at three, and at five o’clock he would get much more than he had got an hour earlier. For instance, I sent a manuscript to my publisher on which I had worked for a year; to be on the safe side I asked for an advance payment of royalties on ten thousand copies. By the time the check was deposited, it hardly paid the postage I had put on the parcel a week before; on street cars one paid in millions, trucks carried the paper money from the Reichsbank to the other banks, and a fortnight later one found hundred thousand mark notes in the gutter; a beggar had thrown them away con. temptuously. A pair of shoe laces cost more than a shoe had once cost, no, more than a fashionable store with two thousand pairs of shoes had cost before; to repair a broken window more than the whole house had formerly cost, a book more than the printer’s shop with a hundred presses. For a hundred dollars one could buy rows of six-story houses on Kurfiirstendamm, and factories were to be had for the old equivalent of a wheelbarrow. Some adolescent boys who had found a case of soap forgotten in the harbor disported themselves for months in cars and lived like kings, selling a cake every day, while their parents, formerly well-to-do, slunk about like beggars. Messenger boys established foreign exchange businesses and speculated in currencies of all lands. Towering over all of them was the gigantic figure of the superprofiteer Stinnes. Expanding his credit and in thus exploiting the mark he bought whatever was for sale, coal mines and ships, factories and stocks, castles and country estates, actually for nothing because every payment, every promise became equal to naught. Soon a quarter of Germany was in his hands and, perversely, the masses, who in Germany always become intoxicated at a success that they can see with their eyes, cheered him as a genius. The unemployed stood around by the thousands and shook their fists at the profiteers and foreigners in their luxurious cars who bought whole rows of streets like a box of matches; everyone who could read and write traded, speculated and profited and had a secret sense that they were deceiving themselves and were being deceived by a hidden force which brought about this chaos deliberately in order to liberate the State from its debts and obligations. I have a pretty thorough knowledge of history, but never, to my recollection, has it produced such madness in such gigantic proportions. All values were changed, and not only material ones; the laws of the State were flouted, no tradition, no moral code was respected, Berlin was transformed into the Babylon of the world. Bars, amusement parks, honky-tonks sprang up like mushrooms. What we had seen in Austria proved to be just a mild and shy prologue to this witches’ sabbath; for the Germans introduced all their vehemence and methodical organization into the perversion. Along the entire Kurfiirstendamm powdered and rouged young men sauntered and they were not all professionals; every high school boy wanted to earn some money and in the dimly lit bars one might see government officials and men of the world of finance tenderly courting drunken sailors without any shame. Even the Rome of Suetonius had never known such orgies as the pervert balls of Berlin, where hundreds of men costumed as women and hundreds of women as men danced under the benevolent eyes of the police. In the collapse of all values a kind of madness gained hold particularly in the bourgeois circles which until then had been unshakeable in their probity. Young girls bragged proudly of their perversion, to be sixteen and still under suspicion of virginity would have been considered a disgrace in any school of Berlin at that time, every girl wanted to be able to tell of her adventures and the more exotic, the better. But the most revolting thing about this pathetic eroticism was its spuriousness. At bottom the orgiastic period which broke out in Germany simultaneously with the inflation was nothing more than feverish imitation; one could see that these girls of the decent middle class families much rather would have worn their hair in a simple arrangement than in a sleek man’s haircut, that they would much rather have eaten apple pie with whipped cream than drink strong liquor; everywhere it was unmistakable that this over-excitation was unbearable for the people, this being stretched daily on the rack of inflation and that the whole nation, tired of war, actually only longed for order, quiet, and a little security and bourgeois life. And, secretly it hated the republic, not because it suppressed this wild freedom, but on the contrary, because it held the reins too loosely.
Whoever lived through these apocalyptic months, these years, disgusted and embittered, sensed the coming of a counterblow, a horrible reaction. And behind the scenes, smiling, there waited, watch in hand, those same people who had driven the German nation into the chaos: “The worse it is for the country, the better for us.” They knew that their hour was at hand. Around Ludendorff, more than around the then still powerless Hitler, the counterrevolution was already crystallizing openly; the officers whose epaulettes had been torn off their shoulders organized in secret, the small tradesmen who had been cheated out of their savings silently closed ranks and aligned themselves in readiness for any slogan that promised order. Nothing was as fateful to the German Republic as the idealistic attempt to give liberty not only to the people but even to its enemies. For the German people, a disciplined folk, did not know what to do with their freedom and already looked impatiently toward those who were to take it from them.
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Nothing embittered the German people so much – it is important to remember this-nothing made them so furious with hate and so ripe for Hitler as inflation. For the war, murderous as it was, had yet yielded hours of jubilation, with ringing of bells and fanfares of victory. And, being an incurably militaristic nation, Germany felt lifted in her pride by her temporary victories; while the inflation served only to make it feel soiled, cheated, and humiliated; a whole generation never forgot or forgave the German Republic for those years and preferred to reinstate the butchers.
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As a biographer and essayist I had always felt it incumbent on me to study the causes of the influence or lack of influence of books or personages within their own time, and I could not but ask myself in hours of reflection to what particular characteristics my books owed their, to me, unexpected success. In the final analysis, I believe it sprang from a personal bad habit of mine, namely, that I myself am an impatient and temperamental reader. Every redundance, all embellishment and anything vaguely rapturous, everything nebulous and unclear, whatever tends to retard a novel, a biography, an intellectual discussion, irritates me. Only a book that steadily, page after page, maintains its level and that seizes and carries one breathlessly to the last line, gives me perfect enjoyment. Nine-tenths of the books that happen into my hands are too greatly expanded by superfluous description, talky dialogue, and unnecessary minor characters, hence fail in magnetism and dynamic power. Even in the most celebrated classics the many sandy and dragging passages disturb me, and often I have laid before publishers the bold notion of a comprehensive series of the literature of the world from Homer through Balzac and Dostoievsky to The Magic Mountain thoroughly curtailing the superfluous in each; then all of those works whose timeless value is undoubted could acquire new life and influence in our day.
This distaste for everything redundant and long-winded necessarily had to transfer itself from the reading of other peoples’ works to my own writing and had to train me to a special caution. Usually I produce very easily and fluently, and in the first draft of a book I let my fancy run away with me and put no brake in my pen. Similarly, in a biography, in the beginning I use all available documentary details of every kind; preparing for my Marie A ntoinette I actually checked every single account in order to determine her personal expenditures, I pored over contemporary newspapers and pamphlets, ploughed through legal documents to the last dot. But in the printed book not a single line of that remains because, hardly is there a fair copy of the first approximate version of a book than my real work begins, that of condensing and composing, a task I cannot do too thoroughly from version to version. It is an unrelenting throwing overboard of ballast, an ever tightening and clarifying of the inner structure; where many others cannot bring themselves to withhold something that they know and, with a sort of infatuation for every rounded period seek to display a greater breadth and depth than they possess, it is my ambition always to know more than the surface discloses.
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THE AGONY OF PEACE
Chapter XVI
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Austrians knew well that on this point Hitler would never yield. Significantly, that list of subjects for discussion appeared only in that noon edition of the Evening Standard and by the afternoon it had vanished without trace in any later edition of the same newspaper. (Afterward there was a rumor that this information had been slipped over to the paper by the Italian Legation for in 1937 there was nothing Italy feared more than an agreement between Germany and England behind her back.) How much of the article (which went unnoticed by the general public) was factually correct I cannot judge. I know only how greatly I was frightened at the thought that Hitler and England were already negotiating about Austria; I am not ashamed to say that the newspaper trembled in my hands. True or false, the story excited me as none had for years because I knew that if only a fraction of it came true it was the beginning of the end, then the stone would fall out of the wall and the wall with it. I reversed my steps immediately and made for the Imperial Airways to book passage for the next morning. I wanted to see myoid mother, my family, my homeland once more. Fortunately I was able to get a ticket; I quickly threw a few things into a bag and fiew to Vienna.
My friends were astonished at my quick and unexpected return. But how they ridiculed me when I indicated my concern; I was still the same old “Jeremiah,” they mocked. Was I not aware that the whole population of Austria now stood one hundred per cent strong behind Schuschnigg? They praised in detail the magnifIcent demonstrations of the Vaterlandische Front) of which I well knew of old from Salzburg that most of the participants wore the prescribed insignia of unity only outwardly on their jacket collar in order not to jeopardize their jobs, but that at the same time they had long since prudently registered with the National Socialists in Munich. I had learned and written too much history not to know that the great masses always and at once respond to the force of gravity in the direction of the powers that be. I knew that the same voices which yelled “Heil Schuschnigg” today would thunder “Heil Hitler” tomorrow. But everybody I spoke to in Vienna showed an honest unconcern. They invited each other to full-dress parties (little thinking that they would soon be wearing prisoner’s clothes in a concentration camp), they were lavish customers at Christmas for their beautiful homes (little think. ing that in a few months they would be confiscated and plundered). And this eternal gay unconcern of old Vienna which I had formerly so much loved and which, as a matter of fact, I am always redreaming, this gay unconcern which Vienna’s poet laureate Anzengruber once caught concisely in Es kann Dir nix g’schehn-for the first time it gave me pain. In the last analysis it seems likely that they were wiser than I, all those friends in Vienna, because they suffered everything only when it really happened, whereas I had already suffered the disaster in advance in my fantasy. and then again when it became reality. In any event, I no longer understood them and could not make myself understood by them. I stopped warning people after the second day. Why disturb people who do not wish to be disturbed?
It is not a decorative afterthought but the sober truth when I say that in those last two days in Vienna I looked at all the familiar streets, every church, every park, every hidden corner of my native city, with a despairing, silent “nevermore.” I embraced my mother with the secret thought, “It is the last time.” I reached to everything in the city, in the land, with this “never again,” knowing that it was a farewell, a farewell for ever. I passed through Salzburg where stood the house in which I had worked for twenty years without even getting off at the station. I could have seen my house on the hill from the train window, with all its memories of faded years. But I did not look. What was the use? I would never again occupy it. And the moment when the train rolled across the Austrian border I knew, as did Lot in the Bible, that all that I had left behind was and ashes, a past frozen to a pillar of salt.
I thought that I had foreboded all the terror that would come to pass when Hitler’s dream of hate would come true he would triumphantly occupy Vienna, the city which had turned him off, poor and a failure, in his youth. But how timid, how petty, how lamentable my imagination. all human imagination, in the light of the inhumanity which larged itself on that March 13, 1938, that day when Austria and Europe with it fell prey to sheer violence! The mask was off. The other States having plainly shown their fear, there was no further need to check moral inhibitions ) employ hypocritical pretexts about “Marxists” having to be politically liquidated. Who cared for England, France, for the whole world! Now there was no longer mere robbery theft, but every private lust for revenge was given free rein. University professors were obliged to scrub the streets with their naked hands, pious white-bearded Jews were ged into the synagogue by hooting youths and forced to do knee-exercises and to shout “Heil Hitler” in chorus. Innocent people in the streets were trapped like rabbits and herded off to clean the latrines in the S. A. barracks. All the sickly, unclean fantasies of hate that had been conceived in many orgiastic nights found raging expression in bright daylight. Breaking into homes and tearing earrings from trembling women may well have happened in the looting of cities, hundreds of years ago during medieval wars; what new, however, was the shameless delight in public tortures, in spiritual martyrization, in the refinements of humiliation. All this has been recorded not by one but by thousands who suffered it; and a more peaceful day-not one already morally fatigued as ours is-will shudder to read what a single hate-crazed man perpetrated in that city of culture in the twentieth century. For amidst his military and political victories Hitler’s most diabolic triumph was that he succeeded through progressive excesses in blunting every sense of law and order. Before this “New Order,” the murder of a single man without legal process and without apparent reason would have shocked the world; torture was considered unthinkable in the twentieth century, expropriations were know by the old names, theft and robbery. But now after successive Bartholomew nights the daily mortal tortures in the S. A. prisons and behind barbed wire, what did a single injustice or earthly suffering signify? In 1938, after Austria, our universe had become accustomed to inhumanity, to lawlessness, and brutality as never in centuries before. In a former day the occurrences in unhappy Vienna alone would have been sufficient to cause international proscription, but in 1938 the world conscience was silent or merely muttered surlily before it forgot and forgave.
Those days, marked by daily cries for help from the homeland when one knew close friends to be kidnaped and humiliated and one trembled helplessly for every loved one, were among the most terrible of my life. These times have so perverted our hearts that I am not ashamed to say that I was not shocked and did not mourn upon learning of the death of my mother in Vienna; on the contrary, I even felt something like composure in the knowledge that she was now safe from suffering and danger. Eighty-four years old, almost completely deaf, she occupied rooms in our old home and thus could not, even under the new “Aryan” code be evicted for the time being and we had hoped somehow to get her abroad after a while. One of the first Viennese ordinances had hit her hard. At her advanced age she was a little shaky on her legs and was accustomed, when on her daily laborious walk, to rest on a bench in the Ringstrasse or in the park, every five or ten minutes. Hitler had not been master of the city for a week when the bestial order forbidding Jews to sit on public benches was issued-one of those orders obviously thought up only for the sadistic purpose of malicious torture. There was logic and reason in robbing Jews for with the booty from factories, the home furnishings, the villas, and the jobs compulsorily vacated they could feather their followers’ nests, reward their satellites; after all, Goering’s picture-gallery owes its splendor mainly to this generously exercised practice. But to deny an aged woman or an exhausted old man a few minutes on a park bench to catch his breath-this remained reserved to the twentieth century and to the man whom millions worshiped as the greatest in our day.
Fortunately, my mother was spared suffering such brutality and humiliation for long. She died a few months after the occupation of Vienna and I cannot forbear to write about an episode in connection with her passing; it seems important to me to record just such details for a time in which such things will again seem impossible.
One morning the eighty-four year old woman suddenly lost consciousness. The doctor who was called declared that she could hardly live through the night and engaged a nurse, a woman of about forty, to attend her deathbed. Neither my brother nor I, her only children, was there nor could we have come back, because a return to the deathbed of a mother would have been counted a misdeed by the representatives of German culture. A cousin of ours undertook to spend the night in the apartment so that at least one of the family might be present at her death. He was then a man of sixty, and in poor health; in fact he too died about a year later. As he was uncovering his bed in an adjoining room the nurse appeared and declared her regret that because of the new National-Socialist laws it was impossible for her to stay overnight with the dying woman. To her credit be it said that she was rather shamefaced about it. My cousin being a Jew and she a woman under fifty, she was not permitted to spend a night under the same roof with him, even at a deathbed, because according to the Streicher mentality, it must be a Jew’s first thought to practice race defilement upon her. Of course the regulation was extremely embarrassing, but she would have to obey the law. So my sixty-year-old cousin had to leave the house in the evening so that the nurse could stay with my dying mother; it will be intelligible, then, why I considered her almost lucky not to have to live on among such people.
The fall of Austria brought with it a change in my personal life which at first I believed to be a quite unimportant formality: my Austrian passport became void and I had to request an emergency white paper from the English authorities, a passport for the stateless. Often in my cosmopolitan reveries I had imagined how beautiful it would be, how truly in accord with my inmost thoughts, to be stateless, obligated to no one country and for that reason undifferentiatedly attached to all. But once again I had to recognize the shortcomings of our mortal imagination and also that one can comprehend really significant sensations only after one has suffered them oneself. Ten years before, meeting Dmitri Merejkovsky in Paris, he lamented that his books were banned in Russia and I, in my inexperience rather thoughtlessly tried to console him by saying that this really meant little when measured by world distribution. But, when my own works disappeared from the German language I could more clearly grasp his lament at being able to produce the created word only in translation, in a diluted, altered medium. Similarly, I only understood what this exchange of my passport for an alien’s certificate meant in the moment when I was admitted to the English officials after a long wait on the petitioners’ bench in an anteroom. An Austrian passport was a symbol of my rights. Every Austrian consul or officer or police officer was in duty bound to issue one to me on demand as a citizen in good standing. But I had to solicit the English certificate. It was a favor that I had to ask for, and what is more, a favor that could be withdrawn at any moment. Overnight I found myself one rung lower. Only yesterday still a visitor from abroad and, so to speak, a gentleman who was spending his international income and paying his taxes, now I had become an immigrant, a “refugee.” I had slipped down to a lesser, even if not dishonorable, category. Besides that every foreign visa on this travel paper had thenceforth to be specially pleaded for, because all countries were suspicious of the “sort” of people of which I had suddenly become one, of the outlaws, of the men without a country, whom one could not at a pinch pack off and deport to their own State as they could others if they became undesirable or stayed too long. Always I had to think of what an exiled Russian had said to me years ago: “Formerly man had only a body and a soul. Now he needs a passport as well for without it he will not be treated like a human being.”
Indeed, nothing makes us more sensible of the immense relapse into which the world fell after the First World War than the restrictions on man’s freedom of movement and the diminution of his civil rights. Before 1914 the earth had belonged to all. People went where they wished and stayed as long as they pleased. There were no permits, no visas, and it always gives me pleasure to astonish the young by telling them that before 1914 I traveled from Europe to India and to America without passport and without ever having seen one. One embarked and alighted without questioning or being questioned, one did not have to fill out a single one of the many papers which are required today. The frontiers which, with their customs officers, police and militia, have become wire barriers thanks to the pathological suspicion of everybody against everybody else, were nothing but symbolic lines which one crossed with as little thought as one crosses the Meridian of Greenwich. Nationalism emerged to agitate the world only after the war, and the first visible phenomenon which this intellectual epidemic of our century brought about was xenophobia; morbid dislike of the foreigner, or at least fear of the foreigner. The world was on the defensive against strangers, everywhere they got short shrift. The humiliations which once had been devised with criminals alone in mind now were imposed upon the traveler, before and during every journey. There had to be photographs from right and left, in profile and full face, one’s hair had to be cropped sufficiently to make the ears visible; fingerprints were taken, at first only the thumb but later all ten fingers; furthermore, certificates of health, of vaccination, police certificates of good standing, had to be shown; letters of recommendation were required, invitations to visit a country had to be procured; they asked for the addresses of relatives, for moral and financial guarantees, questionnaires, and forms in triplicate and quadruplicate needed to be filled out, and if only one of this sheaf of papers was missing one was lost.
Petty details, one thinks. And at the first glance it may seem petty in me even to mention them. But our generation has foolishly wasted irretrievable, valuable time on those senseless pettinesses. If I reckon up the many forms I have filled out during these years, declarations on every trip, tax declarations, foreign exchange certificates, border passes, entrance permits, departure permits, registrations on coming and on going; the many hours I have spent in ante-rooms of consulates and officials, the many inspectors, friendly and unfriendly, bored and overworked, before whom I have sat, the many examinations and interrogations at frontiers I have been through, then I feel keenly how much human dignity has been lost in this century which, in our youth, we had credulously dreamed of as one of freedom, as of the federation of the world. The loss in creative work, in thought, as a result of those spirit-crushing procedures is incalculable. Have not many of us spent more time studying official rules and regulations than works of the intellect! The first excursion in a foreign country was no longer to a museum or to a world renowned view, but to a consulate, to a police office, to get a “permit.” When those of us who had once conversed about Baudelaire’s poetry and spiritedly discussed intellectual problems met together, we would catch ourselves talking about affidavits and permits and whether one should apply for an immigration visa or a tourist visa; acquaintance with a stenographer in a consulate, who could cut down one’s waiting-time was more significant to one’s existence than friendship with a Toscanini or a Rolland. Human beings were made to feel that they were objects and not subjects, that nothing was their right but everything merely a favor by official grace. They were codified, registered, numbered, stamped and eyen today I, as a case-hardened creature of an age of freedom and a citizen of the world-republic of my dreams, count every impression of a rubber-stamp in my passport a stigma, everyone of those hearings and searches a humiliation. They are petty trifles, always merely trifles, I am well aware, trifles in a day when human values sink more rapidly than those of currencies. But only if one note!! such insignificant symptoms will a later age be able to make a proper clinical record of the mental state and mental disturbances with which our world was seized between the two World Wars.
It may be that I had been too greatly pampered. Perhaps, too, my sensibility had gradually become unstrung through all the harsh reverses of the past years. Emigration in itself, whatever the reason, inevitably disturbs the equilibrium. On alien soil one’s self-respect tends to diminish, likewise self-assurance and self-confidence; but this cannot be understood until it has been experienced. I have no compunction about admitting that since the day when I had to depend upon identity papers or passports that were indeed alien, 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. I have developed a reserve that is not consonant with my real disposition and-cosmopolite that I once thought myself-I am possessed by the feeling that I ought express particular gratitude for every breath of air of which I deprive a foreign people. On sober thought I am, of course, aware of the absurdity of such whims, but of what avail reason, against one’s emotion? For all that I had been training my heart for almost half a century to beat as that of a citoyen du monde it was useless. On the day I lost my passport I discovered, at the age of fifty- eight, that losing one’s native land implies more than parting with a circumscribed area of soil.
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Suicide note of Stefan Zweig and his wife at Petropolis, Brazil, on February 23, 1942.
Before parting from life of my free will and in my right mind I am impelled to fulfil a last obligation: to give heartfelf thanks to this wonderful land of Brazil which afforded me and my work such kind and hospitable repose. My love for the country increased from day to day, and nowhere else would I have preferred to build up a new existence, the world of my own language having disappeared for me and my spiritual home, Europe, having destroyed itself.
But after one’s sixtieth year unusual powers are needed in order to make another wholly new begining. Those that I possess have been exhausted by long years of homeless wandering. So I think it better to conclude in good time and in erect bearing a life in which intellectual labor meant the purest joy and personal freedom the highest good on earth.
I salute all my friends! May it be granted them yet to see the dawn after the long night! I, all too impatient, go before.
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One response to “The World of Yesterday – Stefan Zweig

  1. How intense this writing. How vivid the deprivation and pain, not physical but mental anguish. How terrible that Zweig’s hopes for a better future are not fulfilled in our present world where wars, deprivation and nationalistic madness still prevail.

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