John M. Efron
University of California, Berkeley
Arnold Zweig's long life bore witness to the most important events in the history of Zionism, and indeed the Jewish people in modern times. When he was born in Gross-Glogau in Silesia in 1887, the first stirrings of Zionist aspirations were already being heard. At the time of his death in East Germany in 1968, Israel was still reveling in its stunning, recent victory in 1967's Six Day War. Not merely a passive observer of these developments, Zweig, a celebrated novelist and playwright—he succeeded Heinrich Mann as president of the East German Academy of Arts in 1950 and was awarded the International Lenin Prize in 1958—was also a participant in many of them, and as such, his life's journey is illustrative of larger trends within modern German Jewry, especially its creative responses to some of the more acute pressures of modernity: assimilation, antisemitism, Zionism, German nationalism and militarism, and Communist internationalism, and imperialism.
In this essay I seek to give meaning to Zweig's Zionism by locating him in the context of the Zionism of his German contemporaries, setting forth the Jewish intellectual and political background to his own activities. Beyond that, this essay specifically attempts to establish that the fin-de-siècle psychiatric discourse about Jews influenced much of Zweig's own view of the world, and in particular, informed his strikingly dichotomous evaluation of Eastern and Western European Jewry. Such an approach not only permits us to understand Zweig, per se, but also facilitates a broader discussion of the Zionist world he inherited and inhabited.
German Zionism came about as a result of three interrelated developments: Jewish access to higher education, Russian Jewish emigration to Germany, and the rise of organized antisemitism toward the end of the nineteenth century. In the wake of the unification of 1871, German Jewry was emancipated and thereafter underwent