Page 196 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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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,
and by none o f the many other German war novels.
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
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.