Among the plans of Stefan Zweig in the summer of 36 did not fall into a country at war. Despite being the most read author of his time, the Austrian had recently been exiled to London and his books had been banned by Nazism. It was not prudent to step on a land in which extremisms had just led to a fratricidal outbreak, the Civil War. But from Southampton and on the way to America, where he had to give a series of lectures, he had to stop along with the rest of the passage in Vigo, a city that was mobilizing in favor of the uprising.
"El del 36 is a very short, but very important episode of Zweig's relationship with Spain, a country he visited three times", explains Arturo Larcati to LA RAZÓN, director of the Stefan Zweig Center in Salzburg, who gave a talk on Thursday in Madrid at the Sefarad-Israel Center, in collaboration with the Austrian Cultural Forum. "There are two very different ways of presenting this step in Spain: the one in his hot diaries and how he tells it later in '' El mundo de ayer '' (his autobiography of 1941) .In the middle of these two visions, five years have passed and the Second World War has broken out, "he explains.
The Zweig of 36, already a solid intellectual but in mere transit through Spain, dispassionately sees the facts. I did not even expect that embarrassing scale. "I had left Southampton on an English ship with the idea that the steamboat would avoid the first stop, Vigo, to avoid the area in conflict, but to my surprise, we entered this port and were even allowed to passengers go ashore for a few hours. Vigo was then in the hands of the Francoists and far from the scene of the war itself. However, in those few hours I could see things that gave me justified reasons for overwhelming reflections ", recalls in" El mundo de ayer ".
But, Professor Larcati continues, "at the time, his summary is a bit full of the clichés of his first visit to Spain, in 1905. Zweig attends the recruitment of young soldiers and is impressed by the color of the uniforms and the beauty of the young, but he describes Vigo as something picturesque and exotic, does not underline the dramatic things of the war, he sees it as a marginal episode, he writes that even during the war Spaniards respect the siesta ". All that will change at the time of looking back: "In 41, in '' The world of yesterday '', his vision is completely different, see the tragic and dramatic fact, nothing exotic or picturesque. Those young people of before are the weak and defenseless victims of Francoism. It emphasizes how the Church helped Franco, talks about the priests who help to recruit the military, asks questions about the technical-economic aspects of the war, who pays for the weapons, etc. "
An intellectual is cornered by fascism, exiled and shortly underground, after his suicide in Brazil. "I shuddered," Where had I seen him before? First in Italy and then in Germany! "Says Zweig. In one place like another, these immaculate uniforms, the brand new automobiles and the machine guns suddenly appeared, and once again I asked myself: Who provides and pays for these new uniforms? Who organizes these poor anemic young people? fight against the established power, against the elected parliament, against the legitimate representatives of their own people? In Vigo, says in 41, "I had a feeling of what awaited us, of what threatened Europe, Europe seemed to me condemned to death by its own madness, Europe, our holy country, cradle and parthenon of our Western civilization".
It was his last step in Spain. Before there had been two visits: one in 31, to the Balearic Islands, not very remarkable, and another, long and profitable, in 1905, where the then young writer forges a first impression of the country. "On that visit, he goes to Spain and presents it to the German public as an exotic, unknown country, still in certain aspects untouched by civilization, a very romantic stereotype," explains Larcati. Zweig arrived in Spain through France and the first thing that caught his attention was Montserrat, "who transforms it by writing about him in a mythical, magical place, like in the times of Parsifal".
But the most interesting is the dichotomy that immediately establishes between North and South. "The north, Castilla, is presented in a negative way, something dark and fanatical, it speaks negatively of Toledo, a gray city, that of the monks, the coffins ... On the other hand, Seville represents the will to live, the joy, the city of the Barber, the guitars, the castanets. He writes that in Seville knives are not bought like in Toledo but guitars ".
But despite the romantic image, heritage of the nineteenth century travelers in Spain, Zweig always took into account this country within its idea of Europe. "For him it is one of the great European national cultures, with a huge cultural heritage, such as Italy, France, England, Russia ...". A country that on its last visit, the brief stopover in 1936, was on its way to demolition, as it would later happen in the whole Europe that Zweig cried and from which he went into exile on the road to self-imposed death.