Posts Tagged 'Stefan Zweig'

Civilizations Can Die, Too

A while back, I was inspired by an essay that reminded me of a short story.  Since then I have found and read a book that reminded me of the same story and essay.  (A lot of reminding for a guy whose memory is so bad.)

The essay is by Phyllis Chesler, entitled “Old Manhattan Still Standing, But Owned By Others“.  The short story is by Stefan Zweig, entitled Buchmendel, written in 1929. My post is entitled “Phyllis Chesler and Old Vienna.”

As I wrote there,

“The title character is an old antiquarian bookseller who operated out of a table in a Vienna café. Zweig weaves together the story of a vibrant city and culture in its dying days, and makes it the backdrop for the life and death of an individual man.   Mendel is a remarkable jewel set in the living-its-final-days culture, instantly transformed into a dirty discarded beggar in the aftermath.

“The Café Gluck, Jacob Mendel, and cosmopolitan Hapsburg Vienna before, during, and after the First World War; it is, like all of Zweig’s works (and life), unutterably and beautifully sad.”

I recently found (at a Goodwill outlet store, I think) a book called Worlds That Passed, by A. S. (Abraham Simchah) Sachs. It is a nostalgic, even romantic recount of the Yiddish culture of Eastern Europe – the world that is now long lost.  (A first edition, I am sure, because it was never re-issued.)

It opens thus:

“Like a deluge the war has overwhelmed and drowned in torrents of blood hundreds of thousands of Jewish families…Like trees pulled up by their roots from their native soil, so was the Jewish life violently torn from the land to which it had been united by inseparable bonds for many centuries.”

Many books about the Holocaust have started in a similar vein.  But this book is not one of them.

This book was published in 1928.  Five years BH (Before Hitler).

The Roaring 20’s. Decades after Sholem Aleichem’s “Fiddler On The Roof” stories of Jewish village life in Eastern Europe, Sachs wrote an obituary for it.  Zweig wrote a similar obit for Jewish urban life in cosmopolitan Vienna.

And yet, a time that two decades later would be seen as the Golden Age, before Hitler expanded the imagination of anti-Semitism to include all-out extermination.  The “Good Old Days”.

I am not sure where I am going with this.

Maybe it is just that a civilization can die, and when it does the survivors may die next.






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