Best known for his memoir The World of Yesterday—an elegy for the pre-World War I Hapsburg empire—the Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig also wrote fiction, biographies, and much else, becoming one of the most popular German-language writers of his day. His work even inspired a 2014 film by the director Wes Anderson. Reviewing Zweig’s diaries from the years 1931 to 1940, recently published in English, Robert Philpot writes:
Zweig’s pessimism about the fascist threat is evident from the outset of his 1931 diary. “The political panorama looks grim,” he writes in October 1931. And, referring to the armed far-right militia formed shortly after World War I: “The Heimwehr acting out in the open worries me. It is all causing me to become obsessed with finding a temporary refuge.” Days later, as the economic crisis worsened, Zweig wrote: “I am sure there’s another coup brewing, and I think it will be successful.”
On a trip from Paris to London four years later—by which time he had fled Austria and Hitler was installed in power—Zweig’s apprehensions about the future had grown. “Each new day we are more prepared for a new cataclysm, always feeling that low underground rumble in our hearts,” he notes. “We are constantly seeing the straight being made crooked and the plain being made rough. It’s as if a drunken madman has taken hold of the world’s rudder and is sending us zigzagging into the abyss.”
Appalled by the growth of National Socialism in his native Austria, Zweig went into exile in Britain in 1934, but he remained on the Nazis’ radar: his books were banned, citizenship revoked, and his name and address in London entered into the notorious “Black Book”—a hit list of prominent Britons and refugees whom the SS intended to round up after it occupied the UK.”
Fearing just such an occupation of Britain, Zweig fled to Brazil in 1940. Two years later, he committed suicide.