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Illuminating Manuscripts: SUNY's Zweig Collection

In the 1920s, Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) was the most published author in the world, and it seemed he knew everyone worth knowing. What you might not know is that the State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia houses a significant archival collection of Zweig documents and letters in Reed Library. In fact, it is the largest collection in North America and among one of the largest in the world. Zweig was born in Austria, the second son of Moritz Zweig, a millionaire Jewish textile manufacturer and social power player in Vienna. When Stefan Zweig was 19 years old, he sent an unsolicited poetry essay to the “Neue Freie Presse.” Theodore Herzi, the Viennese newspaper’s literary editor, invited Zweig to his office and agreed to publish the essay — and thus began Zweig’s wildly successful career. During his life, Zweig wrote poetry, biographies and fiction, and his work was translated into 30 languages. Following Zweig’s first trip to the United States and, more specifically, to New York City, he described the experience in his autobiography, "The World of Yesterday":

My impression — I declare it frankly — was a fairly romantic one. For me America was Walt Whitman, the land of the new rhythm and the coming world brotherhood … I remember that the first thing that I did when I got to the hotel was to ask the porter to direct me to Walt Whitman’s grave, but my desire greatly embarrassed the poor Italian who had never even heard the name. My first impression was overpowering, although New York did not yet have the enchanting night beauty which it now has. The rushing cascades of light in Times Square were not yet present, not the city’s dreamlike heaven which, with its billions of artificial stars, glitters at the real ones in the sky… But to look down from the Brooklyn Bridge, with its constant gently swaying, at the harbor and to wander about in the stone canyons of the avenues, was discovery and excitement enough.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Zweig, a Jew, was working with Richard Strauss, the German composer. Hitler sanctioned the Strauss-Zweig partnership because he held Strauss in high esteem. This only lasted a short while, however. Two years later, after only two runs of the play “The Silent Woman,” the performance was banned due to Zweig’s involvement, along with all of Zweig’s work. Following a Nazi search of his Salzburg home, in 1934, Zweig emigrated from Austria to the United Kingdom. The advancement of Nazi occupation across Europe led Zweig and his wife, Lotte, to move across the Atlantic, first to the United States; they would later settle in Brazil. Zweig’s work continued to have great impact across the world, and his books continued to be printed and translated. According to Jeffrey B. Berlin’s introduction to the 2000 Holmes & Meier Publishers publication of Zweig’s “The Royal Game and Other Short Stories”: “Even during the war years, when writers whose native language was German were shunned in the United States and Great Britain, Zweig’s works received critical and public acclaim in those countries.” In 1938, when Zweig was living in London, he wrote an excellent reference for his Austrian friend, Dr. Robert Rie, where he noted Rie’s “universal knowledge in matters of history and literature which would enable him to be an excellent teacher and lecturer.” Rie joined the faculty at SUNY Fredonia as a professor of German language in 1963. Rie was on the committee, along with Robert Noseen and Emerson Jacob, Vice President for Academic Affairs and College Librarian, respectively, which was instrumental in the creation of the Stefan Zweig Center. Friderike Zweig, Stefan Zweig’s first wife, who had met and corresponded with Rie, wrote that she was “delighted to hear that Fredonia College intend[ed] to establish a Stefan Zweig Center,” and that she would be willing to sell the letters published at Scherz Verlag, Bern, and Hastings House, NY for $2,800 and also donate letters of friends of Stefan Zweig and other items.

On March 26, 1968, Friderike Zweig attended a special inauguration at SUNY Fredonia where the items were transferred. Additionally, Fredonia received materials from Dr. Eva Alberman, the niece of Zweig’s second wife and the heiress to the Zweig estate. When Reed Library received the package sent by the Alberman, the committee was startled by its contents: 4,341 letters, 1,702 postcards and mementos from 332 correspondents as well as 400 other items, including telegrams, calling cards and poems. Other materials poured in, as well. The complete history of the collection can be found on the Reed Library Special Collection’s Historical Introduction webpage. (There is an online brief inventory and a phone number for further information.) According to the Historical Introduction, “There was a natural surge of interest in Stefan Zweig in conjunction with several symposia held worldwide during the Zweig Centennial [the Centennial of Zweig’s birth] — at Lee College, Tennessee; London University [University of London], England; Ben Gurion and Beer Shiva, Israel; Metz, France and, of course, Fredonia, New York.” The Stefan Zweig Collection at Reed Library is a closed collection, meaning visitors must work with an employee to gain access to any of the material. Interested persons may order a collection outline. The collection is a treasure trove of wonderful resources, particularly Zweig’s correspondence with friends such as Strauss, Virginial Woolf and Albert Einstein — letters, postcards, calling cards, published works of Zweig, and even the wax seal Zweig used to close envelopes. The letters cover all sorts of events: two examples include a postcard with greetings from Salvador Dalí and a letter from James Joyce, which extends happy birthday wishes to Sigmund Freud, but states that the author did not wish to be a part of the birthday planning committee. “He was an important contact point for writers and helped them with their careers,” says Dr. Birger Vanwesenbeeck, who is an English professor at SUNY Fredonia and also organized the Biannual Stefan Zweig Lecture series. The republic of letters created by Zweig and his correspondence during the early 20th-century is a memento of a tumultuous and shifting era. Certainly, the importance of the Stefan Zweig Collection at SUNY Fredonia should not be underestimated, and is a treasure well worth exploring.

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