To Friends in Foreign Land

Stefan Zweig

Illustration by Florinda Pamungkas

Farewell, you dear ones, you companions of many fraternal hours in France, Belgium and England, we need to take leave now, for a long time. No words, no letters, no regards that I could send to you in your now hostile cities would find their way into your hands. And if they did, they would not reach your hearts. All of a sudden, we are separated from each other through violence—we, who have long been joined in friendship and common affinity. Yet I lament it not. Because for the first time, we would no longer understand each other, even if we exchanged speech and retort but in writing. We are not who we were before the war and the fate of our homeland stands between our feelings. You are far from me these days, and foreign, and no language—not ours, not yours—could make it so that we are close and trusting again. Farewell, you dear ones, farewell companions!

Am I ungrateful then, if in these hours my sentiments renounce you? No, do not believe it, I have not forgotten anything, none of the evenings when we looked into each other’s eyes over the hospitable table or walked arm in arm through dreaming alleys—which now perhaps resound with gunfire and come tumbling down in raging fires. I know that I found home in your house and a brother’s love in your heart. How great were those evenings, when we would teach each other the names of our poets, or open a book and read each other verses. How great it was to elucidate and explain together the works of our homelands. Oh, how we felt back then that foreign ways can bring, through love and trust, an infinite fecundity of mind and a heightened feeling of life’s richness! That German was my language and French was yours was only a creative charm of our community. Through constant comparison we became proud to feel our own values and to admire foreign ones. We mocked those newspapers and books that agitated and worked to divide nations wherever we found them: our commonality—so I thought, so you believed you felt—was stronger than all division, and what unites us—so we thought back then—is stronger than even the countries of our birth and the fetters of language. Through this trust our hours became beautiful and the notion of homeland was detached from the borders of empires: our fraternity was strong across languages and pure beyond all reproach.

That is over now, dear ones—over as long as brothers of my language and of yours stand in arms and as long as those commonalities count, whose force only danger reveals to us. I have not forgotten what you were to me and still deeply are, but these days I am no longer the one who once sat with you. My essence is as if turned around and what is German in me floods all my sensibility. At the moment, I remain capable of being just to you, but I do not find the will anymore to be just. Today the standards are transformed, and every human being only truly exists through communality with the nation. Now my own cause is no more, I do not know of any friendship, I must not know of any, except the friendship of the entire nation. My love and my hatred belong to me no longer. And I exist truly and fully only when I renounce you individuals. The humblest Low German peasant, who barely understands a word of my language, and certainly not a word of my heart, is closer to me in these hours than you are, dear ones, to whom I so often opened up my innermost sentiment—always embraced by understanding, always comprehended with trust. The least speck of German soil in Eastern Prussia is more important to me than your cities, whose beauty and multifaceted charm plucked a chord in every fibre of my being. I have to forget what I received from you, to better feel what all other Germans feel. I must renounce not you and my love for you, but rather myself, and must stymie every single thought that does not shoot up in the great German crop.

Thus, do not expect me to speak out in favour of you today. That I say: the people of Belgium are no assassins and do not mutilate the wounded—those who do so are part of those lower classes which form the cloudy dregs of every mass and, when stirred up by events, cloud the image of an entire nation. Do not expect me to say that France is peaceful and only inveigled, and that not every Englishman is perfidious and Pharisaic, for I will not do anything to throw myself with words against that tide of anger that Germany hurls today at those who beset her. I know it would be just to say this loudly, and I also know how noble it is to be just, even in passion. But today there is no space in time for beauty, and only the beauty of action and action’s other virtues count: courage, determination, confidence. Those who have not yet joined the fighting must at least not knock down others’ arms, must not raise the admonition of humanity against those whose rage and courage in the face of death follow another law, verily not an inferior one to that proper to the beholder. In the moment that he pulls the trigger the soldier must not think that his enemy did not want the war, that he has a wife and children anxiously awaiting his return. And likewise a nation must not hesitate to hate another with all its inner will to live, as long as that one threatens its existential purpose. And this hatred against you, while I do not feel it myself, I do not want to temper, because it generates victories and heroic strength. Now is not the time for individual statements, for personal justices. Do not, therefore, expect me to be your advocate, much as I feel obliged to you! Honour my silence as I honour yours, as I would myself remain silent if you were to exhort your nation against Germany. What we personally owe to each other is not to be tallied up now. Now it is all or nothing, and nations do not pay with words but with weapons: let us now leave aside our little justice of words and let us sacrifice our personal friendship to the higher community, whose fate is coming into shape.

But do not therefore think that this silence comes easily to me! I have to clench my teeth, when I read that the bombs are falling on Lüttich—perhaps the same house where we sat so often—and that Löwen is partially destroyed seems to me like a loss in my life. I read that German planes dropped a bomb on the Rue Vivienne in Paris: that is where I lived, and I think of the friendly innkeeper at the corner, with whom I had a cordial chat every day, and his little daughter who always asked me for foreign stamps, and I suffer from the thought, from the picture that my imagination conjures up: how those poor people, pale as death, rush back from shattered windowpanes. But how slight again is this, my suffering, compared to that of the thousands of young men who, bold and full of zest for life just days ago, now lie in the hospital barracks, mutilated, with their limbs torn apart. Wretched would I appear to myself, were I to put into words—into screams—what aggrieves only myself right now. And truly, friends, you do not feel differently, do you? You understand me even in my remoteness, in my painful foreignness to you? You know—oh, you do know, for together we admired them—how much I love the Rubens in the church at Mecheln and every stone of Paris, every street and every house. But I must not call out: do not touch art’s eternals, for what Germany does today is for all eternity, too. Germany crafts herself today a hero’s lay in iron stanzas and its battles are not inferior to all the deeds of individuals. A nation, too, and its unity, is an artwork, pregnant with infinite powers, and no painting, no music can elevate our hearts like the sight of this country in the hour of its greatest beauty. But here, friends, I feel, is the borderline, here we do not understand each other anymore. This is something that can be experienced with blood alone and not with the senses. But maybe you experience it similarly over there—only a here and a there is now between us all, over and across which we cannot move. Being too close to ever hate each other and yet, in this hour, too far to understand each other as fully as we used to, let us not exchange speech and retort. Silence shall protect our friendship!

Farewell thus, you dear ones, you companions of many fraternal hours in France, Belgium, and England, we need to take leave now for long days! Our friendships are in vain as long as our nations are in arms, but it shall become twice as precious after this great struggle. The world will then be full of much petty bitterness, low rancor, and abject viciousness instead of this sacred rage. Then let us be good Samaritans and heal the wounds that our brothers inflicted. Let us try, as best we can, to make our human friendships exemplary for a friendship of nations.

Then word and speech can become strong again—in times of deeds it behoves us to keep silent. For the sake of those duties, which we will then have to fulfil, do not forsake me—as I shall remain faithful to you, more so than I can show. Farewell, you dear ones, farewell my companions in foreign land, farewell, farewell!

translated from the German by David Kretz