Arnold Zweig

Photograph: Arnold Zweig by Eric Schaal
Portrait photograph of the writer Arnold Zweig, New York 1939. Photographer: Eric Schaal
Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933-1945 der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek, estate of Eric Schaal, EB 2003/051, © Weidle-Verlag, Bonn

Arnold Zweig

Deutschland verbrennt meine Bücher.

[Germany is burning my books. (ed. trans.)]

Arnold Zweig in his pocket diary, 10 May 1933

Bornon 10 November 1887 in Glogau, now Polen
Diedon 26 November 1968 in Berlin, Germany
ExileCzechoslovakia, France, Palestine
RemigrationGerman Democratic Republic

A modest upbringing as the son of a Jewish settler in Katowice in Silesia, a committed Prussian soldier during World War I, then a pacifist, a Zionist, a socialist: the life of Arnold Zweig appears to be full of contradictions. However, these supposed contrasts describe his lifelong confrontation with his own identity.

Inspired by his father, Zweig confronted the concept of Zionism early on. As a soldier he was stationed in what is now Lithuania, and after meeting Eastern European Jews there, he became a supporter of Zionism. From 1918 onwards he wrote for Jewish newspapers, opposing the growing anti-Semitism in the Weimar Republic. He already harboured plans to emigrate to Palestine. Zweig became an enemy figure for far-right and anti-Semitic parties. When threatening letters were sent to his residence in Starnberg in 1923, the family moved to Berlin. From 1925 onwards Zweig published critical articles and novels covering political themes in the Weimar Republic, earning him recognition even amongst a non-Jewish audience. He formed close friendships with Sigmund Freud, Lion Feuchtwanger, Bertolt Brecht and Carl von Ossietzky. Despite many warnings from his friends, he only left the country in March 1933, later moving from Prague to Sanary-sur-Mer. At the end of 1933 he emigrated to Palestine. The Hebrew nationalism was a disappointment for the Prussian Zionist Zweig, who wrote in German, and he felt restricted. Isolated in Palestine, he moved to the Soviet Occupation Zone in 1948, which later became the German Democratic Republic. There he was celebrated as a writer and became an important representative of literature in the GDR.

Selected works:
The Case of Sergeant Grischa (orig.: Der Streit um den Sergeanten Grischa, novel, 1927)
De Vriendt Goes Home (orig.: De Vriendt kehrt heim, novel, 1932)
Bilanz der deutschen Judenheit 1933 (volume of essays, 1933)
The Axe of Wandsbek (orig.: Das Beil von Wandsbek, novel, 1943/1947)

Further reading:
Hermand, Jost: Arnold Zweig mit Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten (Rowohlt Monographien). Reinbeck: Rowohlt 1990
Hermand, Jost: Arnold Zweig in der Weimarer Republik. In: Kraiker, Gerhard / Grathoff, Dirk (Hg.): Carl von Ossietzky und die politische Kultur der Weimarer Republik: Symposium zum 100. Geburtstag. Oldenburg: BIS 1999
Sternburg, Wilhelm von: Um Deutschland geht es uns. Arnold Zweig. Die Biographie. Berlin: Aufbau 2004