Page 195 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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This suffering o f the Jews is illustrated in the play. The dra­
matic action is based on an historic event, the accusation o f
ritual murder in the Hungarian townlet o f Tisza Eszlar in 1882.
There a fourteen year old Christian girl had disappeared before
Passover and the Jews were accused o f having murdered her
in the synagogue because they needed her blood to make
Matzot. A fter a long trial lasting a year, the Jews were finally
exonerated and freed from prison. However, the impact o f the
libel helped to fan anti-Semitism in Hungary for a long time.
In Zweig’s drama, the chief witness against the Jews is a Bar
Mitzvah boy, who is forced by blows, hunger, thirst and
sleeplessness to testify that he witnessed the ritual murder. The
case collapses when the remorse-ridden lad kills himself. The
rabbi, who suffered with the Jewish community throughout its
ordeal, feels that further living among the incited peasants is
undesirable and that for Jews exodus from the alien land to
Zion is best.
In the final scene, the play reverts to the heavenly region.
There the Baal Shem, passing judgment upon the lad who
sought to atone by death for his sinful testimony, tells him that
he will be reborn in the land o f his ancestors in freedom and
joy, a peasant living close to the sacred soil, since this trial has
stirred the Jews to reflect upon their true condition in exile.
The play voices Zweig’s early Zionist faith in the rejuvenation
o f the Jewish people after their liberation from assimilationist
delusions in alien lands.
Zweig’s third play o f Jewish content was
Die Umkehr
(The Re­
turn), which he completed in 1914, though it was not published
until 1925. Its central character is aJew o f Vilna, who converted
to Christianity at the age o f seventeen and who rose in the Cath­
olic hierarchy to become Bishop o f Brixen in Southern Tyrol
and a persecutor o f Jews. An apparition o f the Baal Shem awak­
ens his conscience and finally leads him to revert to the faith
o f his fathers.
The outbreak o f World War I compelled Zweig to serve at
various fronts. His experiences o f more than a year before the
fortress o f Verdun, his observation o f the carnage among the
lower army echelons, as well as the mismanagement and callous­
ness o f the upper echelons, converted him to pacifism. His con-