Stefan Zweig the World of Yesterday Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1822 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Drama - World

¶ … Stefan Zweig's book the World of Yesterday he refers to the "world of security" - his homeland of Austria - in reference to more than a geographic place. The place where Zweig was raised gave him a "feeling of security" (Zweig, 2); while at first only the wealthy enjoyed this sensation of security, in time the "great masses forced their way into it" (2). In fact this world was one where houses were insured against fire, there were funds put aside for old age, everyone had a safe home and "violence" seemed to be "impossible." In his own family the feeling of security was established because his father was very rich and his family lived comfortably though not pretentiously. But security also meant having an education, being thought of as "fine people" and participating in the cultural life of the city.

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It turned out that all that safety, the democracy, the orderliness and happiness that being healthy and hearty can bring - all those nice things were nothing "...but a castle of dreams" (5). But prior to the crushing roar of Hitler's tanks and airplanes, the Jewish family in Vienna, Austria was not so much interested in accumulating wealth as it was rising to the top of the cultural and intellectual world. The longing for a place of peace and friendliness brings Jews to a place where they "attach themselves passionately to the culture of the world around them" (20). The attitude about youth was directed towards getting a good education, though Zweig saw it as "a constant and wearisome boredom" (29). Young people were considered "a doubtful element which was to be held down or kept inactive..." (33). As for sex, "sensual desire was the sting of the Devil, and that bodily lust was unchaste and sinful..." (68). Women were bound up in clothing that hid the shape of their bodies, even their ankles; it was, as Zweig writes, a "clumsy business of concealment" (75) and the obsession that adults had about preventing young people from experiencing what their bodies wanted them to experience "brought forth nothing but mistrust and bitterness against all authorities" (76).

Term Paper on Stefan Zweig the World of Yesterday Assignment

QUESTION TWO: Europeans did not want to believe war would come because there was such openness leading up to it and "the world had begun to take itself more youthfully" (194). Travel and new comforts ("bathrooms...telephones") were part of life for nearly everyone. Trains and cars gave people freedom, and feelings were "soaring" during the "last years of confidence in Europe" (196). Against this backdrop of success, joy and there was a "blind belief that reason would balk the madness at the last minute" (199). There was an "intellectual brotherhood beyond language and frontier" and young people had "renounced all narrow nationalism and aggressive imperialism" (198).

On page 212, even though war seemed inevitable and just around the corner, Zweig writes that the "trees were in blossom, the air was mild and sweet; who had any desire in the presence of so much rapture to think of the inconceivable?" But the reaction of most Austrians to the war was of excitement; people felt "that they were participating in world history...all differences in class, rank, and language were flooded the rushing feeling of fraternity" (223). But Zweig says he "did not succumb to this sudden rapture of patriotism" (228) because he was secure in his "world citizenship" and believed "there was nothing heroic in my nature" (229). His writer friends believed they should "strengthen the enthusiasm of the masses" and support the "supposed beauty of war with poetic appeals or scientific ideologies" (229).

In other words, Zweig was a true pacifist and he saw the bigger picture of the world as a place where talent and energy were not to be used nationalistically but creatively. His writer friends wrote poems designed to "inflame the advancing warriors with enthusiasm for death" (230). Zweig not only was different from the other writers when it came to the drumbeats of war, he realized what a "terrible disaster" the poems and songs of talented writers had become, songs and poems "in praise of war and orgies of hatred" (233).

Instead of fighting against the madness the writers and journalists and poets were eager to contribute to the "artificial stimulation" people needed by beating the "drums of hatred" which would lead to "mass delusion and mass hatred" (234). During the war Zweig worked in the library of the War Archives. Most people believed that the war would last only a few weeks, and that their leaders knew everything there was to know about the conflict and causes of it.

QUESTION THREE: Why was Hitler not thought of as a threat? At the time of his initial news-making appearances few had read his book and it was known he hadn't finished high school, let along college; most thought of him as a "beer-hall agitator" (362). And when he became chancellor he was seen as a "temporary incumbent"; he was doing things that people approved of like promising to "abolish the big department stores" (363) which would help the small shopkeepers. People were afraid of the communists and Hitler's rhetoric convinced them that he was on the side of anticommunism. Moreover, what could Hitler possible "put through by force" in a country were "law was securely anchored" and where the majority in parliament stood against Hitler? (364).

Also, Zweig notes that Hitler gave the German society "Only a single pill at a time" followed by a pause to "observe the effect of its strength" - then the Nazis waited to see how far they could go. It happened phase by phase, frame by frame, and then the book-burning began and Zweig became involved in the Nazi purge simply because an order had gone out to German theaters "not to produce any works by non-Aryans or even such in which a Jew had merely participated" (372). Zweig was shocked that Jews weren't worried when Hitler cancelled "all the rights of physicians, lawyers, scholars and actors" (378). The Jews were comfortable in their homes, he wrote, driving around in their cars believing that "this cannot last long." This attitude was due to the "self-deception" and unwillingness to "abandon our accustomed life," he wrote on 378. The author began to notice that a "number" of his friends were "staying away" from him in fear of being identified as friendly to a Jewish person. He was getting the message now of how ugly the Nazi rule would become.

On pages 387-389 the author has his house searched for possible weapons, and he now knows "how serious the situation had become in Austria" and hence was willing to abandon his home and his property. "Personal liberty was the most important thing on earth"; no matter where he went, the war and Hitler's scourge seemed to be there. On a train between Houston and another city in Texas, he hears Hitler's speech on a radio. Then on March 13, 1938, the Nazis take over Austria. The answer to the question of what happened to Jews in Europe doesn't require and research in Zweig's book to answer. But from his perspective, he had escaped and would never return. Nazi youths dragged "pious white-bearded Jews" into the synagogues and "forced to do knee-exercises and to shout 'Heil Hitler' in chorus" (405).

Zweig's thoughts about the Nazi takeover of Europe are written in descriptive narrative, using the kind of examples and comparisons only a gifted writer who had been there and seen the beginning of the end could write. As to his personal fate, once Hitler occupied Austria Zweig lost his passport rights and had to apply for an "English certificate." Overnight, Zweig writes on page 409, "I found myself one rung lower." He has slipped to a "lesser, even if not dishonorable, category...[that of] an immigrant, a 'refugee'." Part of his "natural identity" that comes from his ego "was destroyed forever" (412). One reads this portion of Zweig's book, knowing that in the end he took his own life, and the reader can begin to see and experience the despair and desperation and depression this great thinker and writer went through. It is beginning to seem hopeless to him. His thoughts are dark and darker, he is not so much angry as he is feeling isolated and confused.

He rationalizes that maybe he had been "too greatly pampered" (412), and he searches for ways to describe his emotions. He goes over and over the events that led him to where he is, and to events that allowed a simple man who didn't finish high school to run rampant over Europe, slaughtering all the Jews he could on the say. On page 413 he admits that there were only two are three days in the past several months of "constant and growing fear of war in Europe" that he believed there might be a chance war could be averted. Again, it seems reasonably clear that Zweig was feeling… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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