Northern Light

The World of Yesterday

The Austrian-Jewish writer Stefan Zweig wrote The World of Yesterday in a hotel room in New York and New Haven in the summer of 1941 before he set off to Brazil and committed suicide with his wife.

The memoires, an illuminating account of Europe’s road to disaster from the end of the 19th century till the ourbreak of World War II, were published in 1943 after the author’s death.

Zweig left his native Salzburg in 1934 after an intimidating search of his house. He moved to the UK, where he stayed through 1940. As Patrick Wright writes in the Guardian:

”He noted the popularity among the British of Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, but did not feel able to speak out against it.”

So he left for the US. Before leaving he made this observation about the British’s press’ coverage of Hitler on the verge of war:

”Hitler only had to utter the word ”peace” in a speech to arouse the newspapers to enthusiasm, to make them forget all his past deeds, and desist from asking why, after all, Germany was arming so madly.”

Patrick Wright compares Zweig’s autobiography with the narcissistic confessions of our time:

”It could scarsely be less like the popular confessions autobiographies of our time, which tend to be softcentred victimologies in which the self is presented as an innocent, childlike entity, while history comes across as a form of absue. Zweig tells his story without vanity or self-pity. He tends to keep a tigtly closed lid on personal feelings, preferring to articulate his life as affected by larger events.”