Letters, Postcards, Show a Jewish-Identified, Pro-Zionist Author Stefan Zweig Who Prophesied Rise of NazismWednesday, November 30th, 2016
In 1921, Austrian Jewish novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer Stefan Zweig received a letter from a 16-year-old fan named Hans Rosenkranz, who was seeking advice on becoming a writer. Zweig, who was 40 at the time, wrote back, beginning a long correspondence that turned into a mentoring relationship. From 1921 until Adolf Hitler seized power in 1933, Zweig offered Rosenkranz professional, moral, and even financial support.
The 26 letters and six postcards – all previously unknown, have recently been given to the National Library of Israel. They shed new light on Zweig’s personality, his attitudes toward Judaism and Zionism, and his political prophecy, as he alludes to the rise of Nazism 12 years before the harrowing event.
The letters have been donated to the National Library of Israel by Hannah Jacobcon, Rosenkranz’s step daughter, who lives in the coastal city of Bat Yam, Israel. At the time, Zweig gave Rosenkranz, who had become a publisher, the right to print and market the German version of Anatole France’s “Joan of Arc,” translated by Friderike Zweig, the author’s his first wife.
In their correspondence, Zweig discussed Jewish topics, such as his note in his first response letter: “There is nothing I hate more than the self-worship of nations and their refusal to recognize a variety of forms of peoples and the types of human beings and to experience them as the beauty of being. In terms of history, it is simply clear to me that certainly Judaism is now thriving culturally and flourishing as it has not flourished for hundreds of years. Perhaps this is the flare up before extinguishing. Perhaps this is nothing other than a brief burst in the eruption of the world’s hatred. […] The Jew must be proud of his Judaism and glorify in it – yet it is not appropriate to brag about accomplishments you have achieved with your own hands, not to mention the accomplishments of a mass and homogenous body to which you belong. […] Anti-Semitism, hatred, internal strife are all ancient elements of our historical destiny – always problematic. […] We must therefore look for a way out; we must be brave to remain within our destiny. If Judaism is a tragedy, let us live it.”
In response to Rosenkranz’s inquiry about Zweig’s opinion regarding immigrating to the Land of Israel, Zweig, who had never visited then Mandatory Palestine, was not in favor of the idea, telling the younger man about the death of the son of a friend who had immigrated there, which left his father “a broken vessel.”
On the other hand, Zweig admired Theodore Herzl, writing his protégé: “In recent days I have read Herzl’s diaries: so great was the idea, so pure, so long as it was just a dream, clean of politics and sociology. […] We, who were close to him, were hesitant to hand all of our lives over to him. […] I told him that I cannot do anything which is not complete. […] Art and the world as a whole were too important for me to devote myself to the nation and nothing else. […] Go there only if you believe, not out of disgust from this German world nor due to bitterness seeking an outlet through escape.”
However, according to Amos Elon, Zweig called Herzl’s book Der Judenstaat an “obtuse text, [a] piece of nonsense.”
Rosenkranz was unable to fulfill his literary ambitions. In the early 1930s, he married Lily Hyman, a divorcee and mother of a very young daughter. The family immigrated to Palestine in December 1933 and several years later Rosenkranz joined the Jewish Brigade of the British Army as an officer in a unit that fought in Italy during World War II. During the war, he contracted lung disease from which he never fully recovered.
According to the National Library of Israel, which invites the public to come and view the new collection, Hans Rosenkranz committed suicide in 1956, after having immigrated to Israel. Fourteen years earlier, in 1942, Zweig, on the day after completing his memoir, The World of Yesterday, also committed suicide, together with his wife Lotte Altmann. Rosenkranz’s step daughter Hannah Jacobsohn, a retired police officer, told National Library archivists that her stepfather had a very broad education and vast knowledge of literature and art. In addition to his long correspondence with Zweig, she has learned that Rosenkranz also corresponded with writers Thomas Mann, Klaus Mann, and Franz Goldstein, to name a few.JNi.Media