Page 196 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
elusions about the futility o f war were mirrored in his novel
Erziehung vor Verdun,
1935 (Education Before Verdun, 1936).
On being transferred to the Russian front in the summer
o f 1917, he became acquainted with the case o f an escaping
Russian prisoner who had been caught, sentenced to death as
a spy and executed, despite clear evidence o f his innocence.
This incident inspired him to his novel
Der Streit um den
Sergeanten Grischa,
1927 (The Case o f Sergeant Grischa, 1928),
which brought him international recognition. It ushered in the
literary movement o f Neue Sachlichkeit or Neorealism, a move­
ment that supplanted the dominant Expressionism o f the pre­
ceding decade. The novel’s popularity was exceeded only by
Erich Maria Remarque’s
All Quiet On the Western Front,
1929,
and by none o f the many other German war novels.
PRUSS IAN INEQU ITY
Interest in Zweig’s tensely dramatic narrative centers on the
single, simple Russian sergeant, whose unimportant life and
mistaken end challenge the entire Prussian system o f admin­
istering justice. Jewish characters were painted in glowing col­
ors, even though they proved to be ineffective against the ar­
rogant military machine. Among them was legal officer Dr.
Posnansky, modelled after Sammy Gronemann, a prominent
Berlin lawyer and Zionist leader who served on the Eastern
Front and who is today best remembered for his play
Solomon
and the Cobbler,
which became in the translation o f the poet Na­
than Alterman, the first successful Hebrew musical comedy. It
has been popular for decades in Israel, where Gronemann set­
tled in 1936. Another Jewish character was the scribe Benin,
in whom Zweig mirrored himself both in the Grischa-novel and
in greater detail in
Erziehung vor Verdun.
In the latter novel, Zweig, speaking through the mask o f
Bertin, confessed that at war’s beginning he felt himself to be
Prussian in every respect, admiring Prussian traditions, robust­
ness, discipline and correctness. However, his enthusiasm
waned as the war dragged on and ground out its millions o f
dead and maimed.
Zweig projected a cycle o f five additional novels, making a
total o f seven, to cover the German scene from the pre-1914
premonition o f a global conflict to the final debacle o f 1918.