Authors: Arnold Zweig

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

German novelist, short-story writer, and playwright

November 10, 1887

Gross-Glogau, Prussia (now Głogów, Poland)

November 26, 1968

East Berlin, East Germany (now Berlin, Germany)


Arnold Zweig was born into a Jewish middle-class family in 1887. His father, Adolf Zweig, was a saddler and grocer; his mother was Bianca von Spandow. He was educated at the technical school in Kattowitz, Upper Silesia, and then at several German universities, including Breslau, Munich, Berlin, Göttingen, Rostock, and Tübingen, where he studied philosophy and languages and developed an interest in psychology, history, and the arts. {$I[AN]9810000005} {$I[A]Zweig, Arnold} {$I[geo]GERMANY;Zweig, Arnold} {$I[geo]JEWISH;Zweig, Arnold} {$I[tim]1887;Zweig, Arnold}

Arnold Zweig had planned to be a teacher, but during his education he began to devote considerable time to writing; his earliest short stories date from 1909. His first novel, a series of episodes unified by a central character, Claudia, appeared in 1912. Traces of his careful, ironic style are apparent in that early work, an experimental book in which he portrayed the sufferings and growth of a sensitive, upper-class woman as she strives, while married to a shy professor, to free herself from her inhibitions and release her natural forces. Zweig’s interest in the psychology of the individual continued to govern most of his work.

During World War I he was a private in a labor battalion in France and Serbia, and from 1917 to the armistice he worked in the press section of the German army at the eastern front. He had already attracted some attention with his short stories and plays. Abigail und Nabal was presented in 1913, and Ritualmord in Ungarn, written in 1914; it was revised and produced four years later as Die Sendung Semaels by Max Reinhardt in Berlin. After a successful tour in Germany and Austria, the play received the Kleist Prize in 1915.

After the war Zweig lived in Bavaria. His war novel The Case of Sergeant Grischa, which appeared after Adolf Hitler’s putsch of 1923, compelled him to leave his home in Starnberg. The novel is a powerful story about a Russian sergeant who falls victim to the power of the Prussian war machine. As a study of war and the individual, the book ranks as Zweig’s best and has won a place as one of the outstanding war novels in modern literature. It demonstrates Zweig’s progress from a concern with the problems of young intellectuals to an absorption in the inner lives of persons confronting situations in which their entire systems of values are upset.

The books of the Grischa cycle, which also includes Young Woman of 1914, Education Before Verdun, and The Crowning of a King, are characterized by pacifism, antinationalism, and opposition to German imperial philosophy. After the Nazis forced Zweig to leave Berlin in 1933 he traveled across Europe and settled in Palestine, where he became closely identified with the Zionist movement. At that time a serious eye disease forced him to dictate his books, including Education Before Verdun, the manuscript of which was destroyed when he left Berlin. Many of Zweig’s essays and some of his novels and plays show his concern for the Zionist cause; De Vriendt Goes Home, set in Palestine and centering on the Jewish problem, expresses growing aversion to Zionist nationalism.

Increasing conversion to Marxism brought him to East Berlin in 1948, where he remained for the rest of his life. There he won prizes and other honors from the Communist government and served as president of the East German Academy of Letters. His communism and rejection of Israeli nationalism coincided with a marked loss of appreciation of him and his work on the part of American scholars and the public.

Author Works Long Fiction: Die Novellen um Claudia, 1912 (Claudia, 1930) Der Streit um den Sergeanten Grischa, 1927 (The Case of Sergeant Grischa, 1928) Junge Frau von 1914, 1931 (Young Woman of 1914, 1932) De Vriendt kehrt heim, 1932 (De Vriendt Goes Home, 1933) Erziehung vor Verdun, 1935 (Education Before Verdun, 1936; Outside Verdun, 2014) Einsetzung eines Königs, 1937 (The Crowning of a King, 1938) Versunkene Tage, 1938 Das Beil von Wandsbek, 1946 (The Axe of Wandsbek, 1947) Die Feuerpause, 1954 Die Zeit ist reif, 1957 (The Time Is Ripe, 1962) Traum ist teuer, 1962 Short Fiction: Aufzeichnungen über eine Familie Klopfer, 1911 Die Bestie, 1914 Geschichtenbuch, 1916 Bennarone, 1918 Drei Erzählungen, 1920 Gerufene Schatten, 1923 Söhne: Das zweite Geschichtenbuch, 1923 Frühe Fährten, 1925 Regenbogen: Erzählungen, 1925 Der Spiegel des grossen Kaisers, 1926 Knaben und Männer, 1931 Mädchen und Frauen, 1931 Spielzeug der Zeit, 1933 (Playthings of Time, 1935) Stufen: Fünf Erzählungen, 1949 Über den Nebeln, 1950 Der Elfenbeinfächer, 1952 Westlandsaga: Erzählung, 1952 Der Regenbogen, 1955 A Bit of Blood, and Other Stories, 1959 Drama: Abigail und Nabal: Tragödie in drei Akten, pr., pb. 1913, revised pb. 1920 Ritualmord in Ungarn: Jüdische Tragödie in fünf Aufzügen, pr., pb. 1914, revised pb. 1918 (as Die Sendung Semaels) Die Lucilla, wr. 1921 Die Umkehr des Abtrünnigen, pb. 1925 Das Spiel vom Sergeanten Grischa, pb. 1929 Die Aufrichtung der Menorah: Entwurf einer Pantomime, pb. 1930 Laubheu und keine Bleibe: Schicksalscomödie, pb. 1930 Bonaparte in Jaffa: Historisches Schauspiel, pb. 1949 Soldatenspiele: Drei dramatische Historien, pb. 1956 Poetry: Der englishche Garten, 1910 Entrückung und Aufruhr, 1920 Fünf Romanzen, 1958 Nonfiction: Das ostjüdische Antlitz, 1920 Das neue Kanaan, 1925 Lessing-Kleist-Büchner, 1925 Caliban: Oder, Politik und Leidenschaft, 1927 Juden auf der deutschen Bühne, 1928 Herkunft und Zukunft: Zwei Essays zum Schicksal eines Volkes, 1929 Bilanz der deutschen Judenheit, 1934 (Insulted and Exiled: The Truth About the German Jews, 1937) Der Früchtekorb, 1956 Literatur und Theater, 1959 Über Schriftsteller, 1967 Sigmund Freud-Arnold Zweig: Briefwechsel, 1968 (The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Arnold Zweig, 1970) Bibliography Feuchtwanger, Lion. “The Case of Sergeant Grischa: Germany’s First Great War Novel.” Chicago Tribune, December 1, 1928, sec. 2, p. 21. An insightful review by a noted German novelist. Fishman, Solomon. “The War Novels of Arnold Zweig.” Sewanee Review 49, no. 4 (October/December, 1941): 433-451. An overview of Zweig’s war novels published before 1941. Provides the best place for the general reader to begin further study. Freud, Sigmund, and Arnold Zweig. The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Arnold Zweig. Edited by Ernst L. Freud. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970. An informative source. Kahn, Lothar. “Arnold Zweig: From Zionism to Marxism.” In Mirrors of the Jewish Mind: A Gallery of Portraits of European Jewish Writers of Our Time. New York: T. Yoseloff, 1968. Analyzes Zweig’s philosophic evolution and his impact. Pfeiler, William K. “Arnold Zweig.” In War and the German Mind. New York: Columbia University Press, 1941. Published a number of years after Zweig’s forced departure from Germany, this assessment shows how living in exile affected his writing and his thinking. A valuable assessment written even as Zweig’s literary and intellectual development were undergoing substantial changes. Salamon, George. Arnold Zweig. New York: Twayne, 1975. A comprehensive treatment of Zweig’s works in English. The bulk of the book explores Zweig’s war novels. An excellent overview for the general reader. Also contains biographical information on Zweig and a brief bibliography. White, Ray Lewis. Arnold Zweig in the U.S.A. New York: Peter Lang, 1986. Reprints many American reviews of English translations of Zweig’s works and evaluates his changing reputation in the United States.

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