The World of Yesterday, Today: On Maria Schrader’s “Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe”

And I’m trying to start this conversation, exactly this. The most fascinating thing for me was this “level 24, box 15, folder six.” I just tried to visualize how they store it. Zweig’s perspective is diametrically opposed to Ludwig’s. How should we understand Zweig’s suicide? It’s a very complex question and there are probably a thousand reasons for it. And Thomas Mann could. Despite Lotte’s attempt to spare the obviously exhausted Zweig yet another reception, the driver insists on keeping the appointment. It’s the same accusation. Why did he kill himself?” But I don’t think there is a simple answer. You contact all these PEN archives and they say, call New York, no, call the Harry Ransom archives. We now face some of the same concerns that haunted Zweig. At the same time, it’s a fucking lie. The whole part of the PEN congress, almost everything, is an exact, historic quote. Because I think it’s very important to bring it to people and to look at things from different perspectives — and this may trigger a movement, coincidentally. What Zweig claimed he wanted, more than anything, was to get back to his work: “I can’t go on like this. Focusing on the price Zweig paid for his isolation and devotion to principle, the film becomes a meditation on statelessness. But in the usual approach, if you want to do a biopic, you will necessarily become a manipulator, because there are lots of things you have to leave out and still tell a linear story, where A leads to B and B leads to C. For six weeks we looked all over for the others. His suicide, along with that of his wife, casts a funereal shadow over the fecund imagery with which the film opens. At a press meeting before the 1936 PEN Congress, a celebrated and vaguely arrogant Zweig refuses to condemn Germany’s rising militarism: “I will not speak out against Germany. Zweig refuses to budge. He lived in exile until his suicide in Petrópolis, Brazil, in February 1942. Ludwig sees it as his duty to speak out against a spreading wave of censorship and repression: “The fate of German-language writers could be your fate tomorrow.” He receives a standing ovation, and even Zweig does not fail to congratulate him. I cannot stand to the side and watch students being deported.”
Yes, back to Zweig. We found the speech first in Spanish. We wouldn’t be able to tell the story in an hour and a half, like in a biopic. In the background, we hear faint sounds of warbling birds. This was the idea. So we applaud them for surviving all the obstacles we put in their way. You know, I cannot say what’s right or wrong. Then I found out that the Zweigs’ apartment was on the 11th floor — I had put it on second floor — and that they didn’t feel comfortable because it was very impersonal, very cold. These scenes raise more questions than the film answers, which is its strength. And, of course, this is also manipulative. And I’ll make no exceptions.”
“So, politics will have to get by without your voice?” asks one of the journalists. But then, adapting it into the parts of spoken English, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, French … we worked so much on the language, the dialogue. She took him to task for not taking a political stand. Being “an ocean away” and “for the moment […] among the few who have nothing to fear,” he explains, means that “to pass judgment on the other side of the world in a room full of like-minded people” would be “obscene.” Such a gesture of “resistance,” without risk or impact, would merely be a “cry for recognition,” he claims. I think we have seen so many fiction and nonfiction films about World War II that it becomes common historical knowledge, and this is what the film counts on — that we know what Zweig and his colleague Feder see in their inner eyes. But when the Belgian writer Louis Piérard recites the names of exiled German writers, including Zweig’s, Schrader shows Zweig burying his face in his hands, gesturing his growing embarrassment and discomfort at the “honor” of being exiled. You said everywhere it’s been shown it finds a home. Yet, as the audience rises to recognize these victims, Zweig hesitatingly stands too. You exit the train station in Hamburg and there it is. As you say in the film, he spends all his money trying to save people …
Absolutely. On the one hand, you might be tempted to retreat, protect those around you. A highly regarded Austrian Jewish writer, Zweig abandoned his beloved Vienna in 1934 after Hitler’s rise to power. A man who detests my work, who harmed me every way he could.” Friderike replies, “Stefan, that’s half a lifetime ago.” She reminds him that it is he, not Landsberg, who has and always has had influence, “Or he wouldn’t have to humble himself asking you, of all people, for help […] People are asking for your help because you can afford it.” Zweig did, in fact, spend much of his fortune trying to provide a means of escape for as many as he could. You know, this is not only the bildung bourgeois not taking a stand. And if his silence was to be misinterpreted as cowardice, then he would live with that stigma. In “European Thought in its Historical Development,” a lecture he gave at a 1932 conference in Florence, Zweig reprises the themes he first explored in his 1916 essay “The Tower of Babel,” contending that “with humanity as a community all is possible, even the highest aspirations, but only when it is united, and never when it is partitioned into languages and nations which do not understand each other and do not want to understand each other.”
Those sentiments resonated ironically with world events as I viewed the film at the Goethe-Institut in Los Angeles last December. I’m not doing this. The maître d’ commands the doors to open at the precise moment when the music in the adjacent ballroom stops and a slow procession of well-heeled guests enters the dining hall. It’s the same accusation of cowardice: that Zweig, whose voice has impact and weight, holds it back to protect the purity of the artist and the independence of art. The year is 1936. Yes. When the Charlie Hebdo attack happened in Paris, I got off the train and looked at the house and there was this huge “Je Suis Charlie.” It was all over Europe. The film is so timely. Do you want it? The movie doesn’t give clear answers but, hopefully, makes us reconsider certain strong opinions. This was more or less the birth of the film: try to get the audience interested in the same way about what they’re viewing, just from the content, not though manipulative, linear storytelling. Then, a hand reaches into the massive arrangement to pluck one flower, deftly replacing it with another. Both the departure of Britain from the EU, and the election of Donald Trump, whose campaign had trafficked in racist, anti-immigrant, and misogynist messages, made Zweig’s embrace of the Goethean ideal — that it was possible to see the destiny of all peoples as one’s own — seem somewhat illusory. This subtle disdain echoes the sentiment he expressed in The World of Yesterday: “We have been constantly made to feel that we might have been born free, but we were now regarded as objects, not subjects, and nothing was our right but was merely a favor granted by the authorities.”
Schrader frames Zweig gazing out the car window at the burning sugar cane stalks, then shifts perspective to shoot from outside the car, casting fiery images across Zweig’s pensive expression. Some people are more sensitive and others less sensitive to these things. He became very passionate about the film, very helpful. But the difference is that he feels the burden of his times — the crisis — on a personal level. So this is a language-driven film. There’s this actor who, for years now, has been “protecting” animals. At the same time, these conditions make the questions of personal and political responsibility raised in Schrader’s film seem all the more urgent. I could say, “I’m not doing this film, I’m choosing one of these political formations and putting all I can into that…” But it takes a lot of effort to gain credibility. The story “The Royal Game” is a political piece of art, and it is his strength. And that’s her point. No, they were taking the risk. In addition to numerous academic works, she has published two memoirs:   Living Between Danger and Love   (Rutgers University Press, 2000) and the award-winning Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt. So, yes, Zweig was really overwhelmed by helping others … but … about Arendt’s point, why wouldn’t he just say, “I hate the Nazis, I just want to annoy them”? I cannot help but see all the portraits he has taken for these causes as self-promotion. Following a single cut to a long shot, the camera stays on the emerging scene for more than seven minutes: an elegant banquet reception for an honored guest. What a courageous speech. On the eve of a trip to New York, Zweig is to be feted by a provincial mayor. Yes. I had done the opposite, making it an artistic environment with paintings on the walls and so on. The newspapers ask me what is your opinion about this and that, and I say no to them. He provided us with lots of material. […] He continued to boast of his unpolitical point of view; it never occurred to him that, politically speaking, it might be an honor for him to stand outside the law when all men were no longer equal before it. I personally dislike all these actors who take stands. There is also another layer to this, because we all agree that the people who’ve been paid to get the refugees to Munich illegally, the schleppers, should go to prison. I mean, there is something so complex about it and, at the same time, as a Munich person, going to the platform and welcoming them is such a humanistic and friendly gesture. This is why he became so known, why millions of people listened to his voice. You know, the movie, the script, it was all about language. Instead we see them reflected in a mirror, a vantage point that links the viewer with the neighbors and mourning friends who have gathered to bear witness, whose shock prevents them, at the moment, from questioning Zweig’s choice. Tell us about the research that went into the filmmaking. He always said that he couldn’t write a single word in civilization. You cannot be totally non-manipulative as a filmmaker. With the PEN Congress, we found those meeting records. In the car on the way to the celebration, Lotte reviews the papers for their safe passage: “Passports, Brazilian residence permits, plane tickets, visa, fingerprints, photographs, speech invitations.” Zweig shakes his head at these reminders of his refugee status. He says, “I cannot be in New York because I am not Thomas Mann. So we thought, if we look just at a few moments, and then jump, it becomes very obvious that we aren’t painting a complete picture, and aren’t pretending to paint one. Can an international writer’s conference remain indifferent to such matters? Also where I come from, in Austria. And then we read Stefan Zweig’s perspective, how he despised all the instruments of language that Ludwig used: hysteria, rhetoric, polemic. Resisting traditional biopic filmic strategies, Schrader’s Farewell to Europe tracks Zweig’s exilic years in a series of vignettes structured like one of Zweig’s novellas, with a prologue, four chapters, and an epilogue. We all know those who’ve arrived would not have arrived without the help of the smugglers that we want to go after. FEBRUARY 17, 2017

GERMAN DIRECTOR Maria Schrader’s new film about the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig’s years of exile, Vor der Morgenröte, has been given the title Stefan Zweig:   Farewell to Europe in English. So we thought, imagine you would have a film where you would just hear Ludwig’s whole speech, just be there in real time and see it all. We know because we’ve seen it before. Yet the position of deciding who should be saved added a moral crisis to his depression. While praising Zweig’s writing (“There is no better document of the Jewish situation on this period than the opening chapters of Zweig’s book”), Arendt faults Zweig for his political aloofness, which she believes explains his suicide: “Thus this Jewish bourgeois man of letters, who had never concerned himself with the affairs of his own people, became nevertheless a victim of their foes — and felt so disgraced that he could bear his life no longer.”
Was Arendt’s judgment too harsh? I am not. We found it so interesting, this conflict about how to behave, being on the other side of the world. ¤
KATHLEEN B. Because he was a writer. I understand, like back then, people applauding Zweig is a sign of solidarity and empathy, and these are all good things. Days earlier, Austria had rejected the far-right nationalist candidate, Norbert Hofer, in favor of Alexander Van der Bellen, a member of the Austrian Greens, in the second round of presidential elections, a positive moment in otherwise dark times. The next scene provides comic relief, as the mayor, not fully prepared for their arrival, scrambles to get the festivities in order. Can one remain politically silent among those Hannah Arendt called the “superfluous” people? And Zweig remains there. She says, when the chips are down, you are asked to make a judgment and bear the burden of your decision. I’m sure you know about Hannah Arendt’s review of Zweig’s The World of Yesterday. And the people gathering at platforms and welcoming them and applauding them. Brazil morphs into Europe: “traveling, even as far as to other worlds under other stars, did not allow me to escape Europe and my anxieties […] However far I went from Europe its fate came with me” (The World of Yesterday). Again and again we writers are asked to stay in this intellectual Garden of Eden […] Where is the line between literature and politics? After we finished shooting, Eva, Lotte’s niece, who was referred to in the movie and who is still alive, in England, gave one or two of Friderike’s daughters’ letters to Matuschek and he gave them to me. Salzburg is not far and they have the big Stefan Zweig Centre there, and I invited the director of the Centre to read the script. I mean, with our view about what happened then … how he talked about the war, how insightful … history proved him right. Taking a very small example, I could be the chairwoman or spokesperson of countless organizations. Jones taught Women’s Studies for 24   years at San Diego State University. And then the audience applauding and then going out and having a coffee and feeling better. I wasn’t taking it. In counterpoint, Emil Ludwig’s very public, rousing condemnation of Hitler and Nazi Germany at the ensuing PEN meeting takes place before a large sympathetic audience — a different sort of “mirror”:
Nearly all of Goethe’s books have been banned from schools. Concerned only with his personal dignity, he had kept himself so completely aloof from politics that, in retrospect, the catastrophe of the last ten years seemed to him like a lightning bolt from the sky. ¤
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe will be released in New York and Los Angeles in May 2017. Where do I put my energy politically? We met with another biographer, Oliver Matuschek, the author of the famous book Three Lives. I’m not Charlie Hebdo. They mingle, anticipating the arrival of the esteemed visitor — none other than the celebrated writer Stefan Zweig. The remaining chapters of the film chart Zweig’s last year of life, from January 1941 until his death in February 1942. He says, “I would never say, ‘I hate.’” He didn’t hate; he was a pacifist. I was thinking of the scene in the men’s washroom, where Zweig says that it would be easy to condemn Nazi Germany in this room full of people who think the way we do and are far from the immediate threat, because it would be risk-free. I always said the movie is more about exile, with Zweig as an example, and this is actually inspired by his own approach in The World of Yesterday. He tries to do something, individually, to save his friends or the people who write to him. And this affected how you structured the rest of the film? In her 1943 review of Zweig’s The World of Yesterday, Hannah Arendt offered a different perspective on Zweig:
A friendly fate protected him from poverty, a favorable star from anonymity. And it seems to me that Brazil has found an answer […] [I]t has seemed to me like a vision of the future. Schrader’s film remains equivocal on the subject. In the Q-and-A after the film, people often ask, “So what do you think? That’s what I found interesting from a filmmaker’s point of view, to have this double layer of visibility and invisibility. Have you heard of the Harry Ransom archives in Texas? Every nation, in every generation — and therefore ours too — must find an answer to the most simple and vital question of all: How do we achieve a peaceful coexistence in today’s world despite all our differences in race, class, and religion? MARIA SCHRADER: When my co-writer, Jan Schomburg, and I first read Emil Ludwig’s speech from the PEN Congress of 1936, we were very impressed. I’m taking the effort to present this work, which turns out to be a much more political work than it originally was. JONES: What motivated you to make this film? And they told us they found a letter from Jules Romains in level 24, box 15, folder six. And of course you are referring to so many things you’ve read — and diaries and letters — and trying to recreate a sense of that time. You show it so well in the film — the judgment he makes to stay out of the fight, and the consequences he bears. Also, you may have heard about the refugees arriving in Munich. He’s even in the movie in the opening scene, receiving the first autographed copy of Zweig’s book. So there are no easy answers to things like this. Zweig graciously thanks his hosts for kindly welcoming him, a refugee:
Apart from the personal joys your country has given me, apart from its beauty […] there is an even more powerful impression that I would like to share with you. I cannot say no to people.” And Friderike says, “That’s why people love coming to you.” And that’s probably one of the many reasons why he seeks solitude; he always flees these metropolitan regions. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it made me think about the difference between taking a stand in a safer environment and in one where one’s life is more immediately threatened. These chains of associations, these arousing invisible images are already in our heads. Schrader frames this confrontation in front of an ornate mirror, as if Zweig’s concern at the moment is limited to his self-image. We follow Zweig and his second wife, Lotte, on his research into Brazilian sugar cane production, which informed the book he published to mixed reviews, Brazil: Land of the Future. What about the sources you consulted? I never even graduated from school, so this was my first true academic research. By the end of the film, Zweig can no longer sustain this utopian vision in light of a Europe shattered by war and the Holocaust. And on the other hand, you wonder, “What can I do? And if he could move people with an allegory or parable like “The Royal Game,” than he might be right in saying this is where his influence lay. It would be like we were kind of “the audience” to it. Can devotion to the purity of art suffice, either for the individual or the larger society? This creative “translation” couldn’t be more appropriate to our moment, when the rise of right-wing nationalist populism in Europe and the United States threatens both the utopian ideal of peace and the social fabric of pluralism and cosmopolitanism to which Zweig devoted his life. One can’t help but wonder whether the following lines from his memoir, The World of Yesterday, weren’t, in part, a self-condemnation: “[I]n 1938 the conscience of the world kept quiet, or murmured just a little before forgetting and forgiving.”
A German journalist who has traveled from New York specifically to pressure Zweig for a public statement against Hitler follows him into the men’s washroom. And it also captures the conflict of people who actually went into exile: my thoughts are back there and I am here. First of all, we wrote it in German and German was the reference — it was the language of Stefan Zweig. Did you consult with other biographers, historians? Who knows how we would deal with it. Zweig remains unmoved, insisting the artist’s duty is to “his works […] his most powerful tool […] An artist can create works with political dimensions, but cannot supply the masses with political slogans […] I cannot write out of hatred […] And if my silence is a sign of weakness, I am afraid I must live with that stigma.”
Although the film is largely sympathetic to Zweig’s position, it nonetheless shows that life with this stigma was not easy, and full of regrets. What about Zweig’s conviction that the artist had to remain true to his art, never stooping to polemics? This is also the taste you give to the locations, the production design, costume design. ¤
Kathleen B. If I had used a very classical narration, I would have included the fact that the Gestapo landed in Rio de Janeiro a month before his death, and then jump to the epilogue, and you have the causal: “Oh, that’s why.” This is what you cannot avoid if you put things in terms of causality within a 100-minute film. Microfilm or scanned, please wire $100. My theater is the biggest in Hamburg. Right — so we are talking about things that could be read as easy and clear, but they’re dancing on top of something much more complex. It is a very clear position. Compared to putting up the razor barbed wire and fences to keep them out at various borders. It ends on the suicide scene cleverly shot to avoid any direct view of the dead couple. In essays penned before and in the midst of both world wars, now newly collected in Messages From a Lost World: Europe on the Brink, Zweig waxed eloquently, if somewhat naïvely, on the “perennial yearning” for a unified, co-existing world. Okay, so we wrote to them. In Manhattan, visiting his first wife, Friderike, Zweig is outraged by a letter he has just received asking for his help: “Emil Landsberg, would you believe that? And then the handwritten note from Thomas Mann saying, “I’m sorry we cannot come to Buenos Aires, to the PEN Congress.” All this correspondence. People are very different. We had guidance. I would never speak out against any country. In the United States, we are dealing with the consequences of the election, which has sent a lot of people into a deep depression, and fear. I know I can’t stand to the side and watch people be rounded up. It’s obscene, in his eyes; it’s obscene. Can you talk a little about the aesthetic decision not to show any of the things actually happening in Germany at the time, just to allude to them. Then you cannot serve any kind of truth, any complex situation … The great benefit of movies is that we can show things which are very uncertain. I need a break from visas and affidavits.”
In the months before he ended his life, Zweig wrote about how difficult it was to “[escape] the present even for a brief time […] it was our fate to be aware of everything catastrophic happening anywhere in the world at the hour and the second when it happened.” Perhaps it was that awareness that led Zweig to take his life. The “Je Suis Charlie” suggests that I am the one who took that risk for years, doing these cartoons after someone in the Netherlands was killed for it. You have no idea how much I worked on the translations. So we knew there must be an exact transcript, every word, of what was written. We all know the ones who’ve arrived were not the ones who drowned in the Mediterranean. You need the time. I asked Maria Schrader this, among other questions, in an interview about why she decided to make this film. The film opens with a shot of gorgeously colored tropical flowers. It’s about statelessness and not particularly about the writer Zweig. But with the structure of the film, are you trying to make a particular point about Zweig’s position? Zweig is visiting Rio de Janeiro on his way to a PEN conference in Buenos Aires. And I can be an agent for it.