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Stefan Zweig


Stefan Zweig was a Jewish Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer.

He was born in Vienna on November 28, 1881 to Moritz Zweig and Ida Brettauer, both from wealthy Jewish families. Zweig studied philosophy at the University of Vienna and earned his PhD there in 1904. Although he was not religious and said once that "my mother and father were Jewish only through an accident of birth," he never renounced his Judaism and his writings often centered about Jewish and Jewith themes. One example is his 1929 short story, Buchmendel, about a Viennese book peddler named Jakob Mendel.

Zweig was close with Theodor Herzl, whom he met when Herzl edited Neue Freie Presse, Vienna's leading newspaper. Herzl printed some of Zweig's early essays in the newspaper.

When World War I began, Zweig and his contemporaries Marin Buber and Hermann Cohen supported the patriotic waves that swept through Germany and Austria, extending to Jewish Europeans. He worked in the Archives of the War Ministry during the war and moved to Switzerland before the war's end.

From 1920 until 1938, Zweig was married to Friderike Maria von Winterniz (nee Burger). They left Austria soon after Hitler rose to power. He lived in London and then Bath, married his secretary, and the couple settled in 1940 in New York City. Several months later they moved to Petropolis, near Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Zweig grew deeply depressed by the rapidly rising intolerance, authoritarianism and Nazism in the world, and wrote about his desperation. In February 1942 he and his wife committed suicide and were found holding each other's hands. Their house in Petropolis is now a museum called Casa Stefan Zweig.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Zweig was among the most popular writers in the world. He was friends with Arthur Schnitzler and Sigmund Freud, and his writing was popular throughout the U.S., Europe and South America. Beginning in the 1990s, several publishers made concerted efforts to publish his work in English.

In the mid 2010s there was an even larger resurgance of interest in his work, which spans the genres of fiction, biographies, history and plays. Zweig's writings inspired Wes Anderson's acclaimed 2014 Grand Budapest Hotel film.  The film went on to win the award for Best Motion Picture-Comedy award at the 2014 Golden Globe Awards. 

Sources: Wikipedia, A. O. Scott, "Bittersweet Chocolate on the Pillow: Wes Anderson's 'Grand Budapest Hotel' is a Complex Caper," New York Times (March 6, 2014), Jerusalem Post (January 12, 2015)