Stefan Zweig Tells Plan for Review, Says Folks Don’t Trust Intellectuals
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Stefan Zweig Tells Plan for Review, Says Folks Don’t Trust Intellectuals

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Stating that anything he might say against the present German regime would be interpreted as having been said against Germany itself, Stefan Zweig, exiled German Jewish author, declined to comment on Germany, Nazism or Hitler at a press conference held Tuesday afternoon at the offices of his publishers, Viking Press, 18 East Forty-eighth street.

The author of “Erasmus of Rotterdam,” “Marie Antoinette,” “Volpone” and other works well known to Americans sailed for his home in Salzburg yesterday afternoon on the S. S. Manhattan. He did, however, following his general press interview, reveal to a reporter for The Jewish Daily Bulletin, that he is keenly conscious of the Nazi persecution of Jews and that his two-week visit to this country was in behalf of an international Jewish literary project.


Zweig envisions an International Literary Review, which will publish the works of contemporary Jewish writers, scientists and other creative artists. Without “polemics”—and Dr. Zweig was very emphatic on this point—it would be a roundup of Jewish month-by-month cultural achievement. It undoubtedly is his answer to the Nazi charge of “Aryan” superiority.

Subtle in that it would include no defense of Jews other than the high value of its content, the publication would be of a reflection of Dr. Zweig’s creative philosophy, which holds that the writer’s place is with the books, not in the hurlyburly of the larger arena of world politics and leadership.

As yet, the Review is only a dream, the vision of a man who would fight the materialism of dictatorships on a plane so high they wouldn’t quite understand it.

But Dr. Zweig, while editing a contemporary Review, would be editing it for the future. It is clear, from his views, that he believes that such a project would live while the published day-to-day polemics and argumentive discourses of the current German and world scene change and lose their values almost before they achieve print.


His Review—which he discussed in this country with Rabbi Wise and other Jewish leaders—would be printed in English and German editions. Parts of its literary contributions would be printed in the language of its origin. A poem by Bialik would appear in the Hebrew; a contribution by Andre Spire would remain in its mellifluous French.

Ushered into the scene of the interview by B. W. Huebsch, vice-president and editorial director of Viking Press. Dr. Zweig smilingly seated himself at a desk surrounded by a semi-circle of interviewers.

After venturing some trivial reflections on the America of today as compared with the America of twenty-six years ago—when last the author visited this country— the serious business of the interview got under way when this reporter made bold to ask Dr. Zweig to comment on the anniversary of two years of the dictatorship of Hitler.

“It is three years since I have been in Germany,” said Dr. Zweig to our question.

“But you followed events, you have spoken with people who have come out of Germany?” we pressed.

“But people visiting Germany for a fortnight or so,” the author protested, “can’t know what is really going on. How can they judge the state of mind of the Germans? How do they know what new alliance will develop the next day to alter the entire situation?

“I have,” he went on, “been in America only a fortnight and after that brief visit, I couldn’t say whether the people are satisfied with President Roosevelt.

“As for Germany, prophecies are impossible. Every prophecy already uttered has been disproved. Every single one has been wrong. I will make no prophecy.”

It was the historian and biographer talking, the artist who sought to write only after he had gained the proper perspective of time.


The Jew in him spoke when he said that, to berate Germany, would only be to make more difficult the life of the 500,000 Jews who must continue to live in the country.

The gentle, scholarly man who would reside in an ivory tower— as far as the world of politics is concerned—said:

“I would never speak against Germany. I would never speak against any country. I make no #istinctions.”

Nevertheless Dr. Zweig has his fears about Palestine, fears which he expressed in the statement that he is very much afraid “Palestine is displaying a tendency to become a dangerous nationalist movement.”

Questioned, after this statement about his early literary association with Dr. Herzl and other pioneer Zionists, Dr. Zweig said that he “had never been a real Zionist.”

“I hate all kinds of nationalism. I wouldn’t want the Jews to become nationalists.”


He, however, expressed a sympathy for the Zionist movement and pointed out that he devoutly hoped the homeland would not become a nationalist movement because all nationalist movements were dangerous.

Dr. Zweig was now becoming interested in the discussion. It wasn’t just a perfunctory interview. Although he measured his words, he was ever cautious and escaped trap after trap set by his questioners. His eyes took on a new light.

He leaned forward on the desk that separated him from his interviewers.

He didn’t always seem to catch the meaning of the questions directed at him in English. Whether this was because he didn’t want to answer all the questions in the manner they were put to him is hard to say. In his answers, though, he spoke what may be described as a good English in that particular German accent that is characterized by use of the phrase “ze” for “the.”

Every once in a while he would lapse into a word of German and look to his friend, Mr. Huebsch, for translation. At other times, when he wasn’t quite sure that he had used the correct English word, he would also turn in the direction of Mr. Huebsch for affirmation.

Allowing him to talk for himself, Dr. Zweig’s philosophic feelings can best be described as follows:

“Intellectuals shouldn’t assume leadership in world affairs because the responsibility is too great and no intellectual has ever, in the history of the world been properly equipped for the needs of popular leadership.

“The intellectual can only give advice. He should remain close to his books—that is his sphere of greatest influence. That was the secret of Rousseau’s influence on the French.”


The reason Dr. Zweig believes that the intellectual should stay out of politics is that success in that field is possible only through parties and the true intellectual is never a good party man.

“Justice,” he said, “is not possible if you join a party. Joining a party, you must overlook all the injustices of the party and you must sacrifice personal freedom, too great a sacrifice for the artist.

“To be intellectual,” he continued, “is to be too just, to understand the opponent and thus weaken conviction of your own righteousness.

“The writer must stand aloof. He may fight in a spiritual sense but the great writers and artists have never been good politicians. They have always been diverted by some abstract judgment — they have always failed.

“It is impossible to be a good politician without lying. The artist who believes in justice can never fascinate the masses nor give them slogans to rally around.”


Speaking specifically about the current world situation, Dr. Zweig said that leadership doesn’t seem possible without violence. And the intellectual, he said, “should never indulge in violence or appeal to violent measures.”

Not a single one of the present world dictators, Dr. Zweig pointed out, has the slightest academic or intellectual background.

“The masses at the moment,” he said, “distrust the intellectual. They seek leadership from within themselves, the masses. It is so with Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, the late Dollfuss and now, in France, with Laval.

Dr. Zweig explained that he wrote “Erasmus of Rotterdam,” his latest American published work, to show that violence is not particular to these times.

He wrote it to show that the intellectual writer has no influence outside of his books. Erasmus, in public life failed in every crisis. The intellectual, Zweig held, always will fail and always has. That is why he shouldn’t leave the cloistered protection of his works.

“The influence of critics,” he pointed out, “is greater than ever, but not in politics.”

Intellectual protest, even though it be world-wide, as in the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, is always doomed to failure, he stated.

But Dr. Zweig is far from a defeatist. He thinks in positive terms. He says of himself:

“I can only write positive things; I can’t attack. All my artistic strength comes from positive things. I cannot write from hate; neither can I write without perspective.”

That undoubtedly is the inner explanation of Dr. Zweig’s silence on present day affairs in Germany. He says if such silence is a sign of weakness, he is afraid he must accept the stigma.

When it was pointed out to him that Franz Werfel in “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” wrote of the present without sacrificing artistic integrity, Dr. Zweig revealed the generally unknown fact that Werfel started his great work two years before the advent of Hitlerism. Its coincidental timeliness, it would seem, is just his publisher’s good fortune.

But to get back to Dr. Zweig’s positive philosophy despite its apparent defeatism. He explained it quite succinctly.

“I don’t think the inner liberty of a man can be destroyed. In the last analysis nothing can be suppressed. No book in a thousand years has really been banned. Book sales can be banned, play royalties halted; but a creative artist’s works live on.”


Dr. Zweig is an out-and-out internationalist. He thinks the artist is a citizen of the world; that all people should be so. He looks forward to the day when he can travel from one country to another without a passport and visas. Immigration quotas, he hopes, will soon be a thing of the past.

Certainly Stefan Zweig, the artist, is a citizen of the world by his own definition. His works have been translated from their original German into twenty-two languages, including the Chinese, Yiddish, Catalan and the ever present Scandinavian. Fifty-four years old, Zweig, who has forty published works to his credit, has now almost completed a biography of Mary Stuart, which he calls a companion piece to “Marie Antoinette.” A novel is next on the schedule.

“I have had enough of biography,’ he said.

But Mr. Huebsch of Viking, remembering the sales figures on Zweig biographies, smiled a knowing “no.” Not # he can help it.

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