Zweig stayed in the country until 1940 and took British citizenship, writing a novel as well as books about French literature and English, Scottish, Portuguese and Jewish history. His work for PEN continued. He understood himself, in other words, as part of an international, intergenerational, multi-ethnic collective. The long history of European co-operation, he argued, should be taught in schools, as well as that series of wars, who won them and why, about which our children are, to this day, generally better informed.
Zweig’s ‘London connections’ included meeting Bernard Shaw, being chosen to read the oration at Sigmund Freud’s funeral, becoming a close friend of his English publisher and also supporting a refugee centre in East London, then crowded with Jewish migrants less fortunate than himself. At a time when the status of refugees has become an acute concern, that this one didn’t know very many people here ought surely not to count against him.
To anyone who grew up in the 1980s, school or university exchanges around Europe seemed to prove that co-operation and tolerance had won in the end. Britain’s withdrawal from the Erasmus exchange programme and the apparently deliberate running down of cultural ties to our immediate neighbours is a matter of concern across the political spectrum.
Zweig spoke up for ‘a panhuman ideal’ knowing full well that it lacked the ‘elementary attraction which a mettlesome encounter with a foe who lives across a frontier, speaks another language, holds another creed, invariably exercises.’ He understood only too well the relative weakness of European identity as a popular force.
Yet he chose 11 Portland Place, at a critical moment in his life and in the history of our continent, as the place to complete his defence of Erasmus and his ‘panhuman ideal’. The undersigned believe that this deserves to be better known and that a blue plaque on or near that address would now be appropriate,
Dame Antonia Byatt, novelist Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator of Germanic Collections, British Library Sam Coombes, Senior Lecturer in French, Edinburgh Dame Margaret Drabble, novelist Jane Draycott, poet, Tutor at Oxford and Lancaster Lord Alfred Dubs, Labour Life peer Sasha Dugdale, poet and translator Adam Freudenheim, managing director, Pushkin Press Rüdiger Görner, Director of the Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations Lucy Goodison, Editor at Just Press Daniel Gorman, Director, English PEN Grey Gowrie, poet, formerly Conservative minister Sir David Hare, playwright Michael Hofmann, poet and translator Mimi Khalvati, poet and translator Satish Kumar, Emeritus Editor, Resurgence & Ecologist Magazine Karen Leeder, Professor of modern German literature, Oxford Charlie Louth, Fellow in German, Queen’s College, Oxford Arthur MacGregor, formerly Curator at the Ashmolean Mark Mazower, Professor of History, Columbia Horatio Morpurgo, writer Sir Michael & Lady Clare Morpurgo, writer & philanthropist Steven O’Brien, poet, Editor of The London Magazine Stephen Romer, poet, translator, Brasenose College, Oxford Michael Schmidt, literary historian, Editor of PN Review Sir Anthony Seldon, writer and educationalist Jonathan Simons, Editor of Analog Sea Timothy Snyder, Professor of History, Yale Will Stone, poet and translator Robert Vilain, Professor of German, Bristol
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