Stefan Zweig was an Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer. He was the son of Moritz Zweig (1845–1926), a wealthy Jewish textile manufacturer, and Ida Brettauer (1854–1938), from a Jewish banking family. Joseph Brettauer did business for twenty years in Ancona, Italy, where his second daughter Ida was born and grew up, too. Zweig studied philosophy at the university of Vienna and in 1904 earned a doctoral degree with a thesis on "The Philosophy of Hippolyte Taine". Religion did not play a central role in his education. "My mother and father were Jewish only through accident of birth", Zweig said later in an interview. Yet he did not renounce his Jewish faith and wrote repeatedly on Jewish themes. Although his essays were published in the Neue Freie Presse, whose literary editor was the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, Zweig was not attracted to Herzl's Jewish nationalism.
In the First World War Zweig served in the Archives of the Ministry of War, and soon acquired a pacifist stand like his friend Romain Rolland, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 1915. Zweig remained pacifist all his life and advocated the unification of Europe. Like Rolland, he wrote many biographies. His Erasmus of Rotterdam he called a "concealed self-portrayal" in The World of Yesterday.Zweig fled Austria in 1934, following Hitler's rise to power in Germany. He then lived in England (in London and from 1939 in Bath) before moving to the United States in 1940. In 1941 he went to Brazil, where in 1942 he and his second wife Charlotte Elisabeth Altmann committed suicide together in Petrópolis. He had been despairing at the future of Europe and its culture. "I think it better to conclude in good time and in erect bearing a life in which intellectual labour meant the purest joy and personal freedom the highest good on Earth", he wrote.
Stefan Zweig was a prominent writer in the 1920s and 1930s. Though he is still well-known in many European countries, his work has become less familiar in the anglophone world. Since the 1990s there has been an effort on the part of several publishers (notably Pushkin Press and New York Review of Books) to get Zweig back into print in English.
Zweig is best known for his novellas (notably The Royal Game, Amok, Letter from an Unknown Woman – filmed in 1948 by Max Ophuls), novels (Beware of Pity, Confusion of Feelings, and the posthumously published The Post Office Girl) and biographies (notably Erasmus of Rotterdam, Conqueror of the Seas: The Story of Magellan, and Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles). At one time his works were published in English under the pseudonym 'Stephen Branch' (a translation of his real name) when anti-German sentiment was running high. His biography of Queen Marie-Antoinette was later adapted for a Hollywood movie, starring the actress Norma Shearer in the title role.
Zweig enjoyed a close association with Richard Strauss, and provided the libretto for Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman). Strauss famously defied the Nazi regime by refusing to sanction the removal of Zweig's name from the program for the work's première on June 24, 1935 in Dresden. As a result, Goebbels refused to attend as planned, and the opera was banned after three performances. Zweig later collaborated with Joseph Gregor, to provide Strauss with the libretto for one other opera, Daphne, in 1937. At least one other work by Zweig received a musical setting: the pianist and composer Henry Jolles, who like Zweig had fled to Brazil to escape the Nazis, composed a song, "Último poema de Stefan Zweig", based on "Letztes Gedicht", which Zweig wrote on the occasion of his 60th birthday in November 1941.
There are important Zweig collections at the British Library and at the State University of New York at Fredonia. The British Library's Zweig Music Collection was donated to the library by his heirs in May 1986. It specialises in autograph music manuscripts, including works by Bach, Haydn, Wagner, and Mahler. It has been described as "one of the world's greatest collections of autograph manuscripts".One particularly precious item is Mozart's "Verzeichnüß aller meiner Werke" – that is, the composer's own handwritten thematic catalogue of his works.