Jospeh Roth’s Fear for the Future

The Austrian writer Joseph Roth (1894–1939) did not wait long and left Berlin shortly after Hitler’s seizure of power. By February 1933, he was already in Paris – a city to which he had felt close since the 1920s. He practically fled home. However, it became clear early on how difficult it would be to live in this world as an exiled litterateur. Visions of the future were overlaid by fears.

An Stefan Zweig

Hotel Foyot


17. März 1933

Sehr verehrter lieber Freund,

ich weiß, daß Sie verstehen, weshalb ich Ihnen so lange nicht geschrieben habe und daß Sie mir darum nicht böse sein können. Ich weiß auch garnicht, was man sagen oder schreiben soll. Es ist längst nicht mehr so, daß der Vernünftige irre wird an der Welt, wie noch vor einem Jahre, sondern daß die Welt buchstäblich irre geworden ist und daß es sinnlos ist, noch Vernunft zu bewahren.

Was das Praktische betrifft:

unter uns: mein Verlag ist in Auflösung begriffen. Verkauft mich. An wen, weiß ich nicht. Wovon man leben wird, ist mir völlig unklar. Ein Emigrantenlos möchte ich nicht erleiden müssen.

Was gedenken Sie zu tun?

Es ist keine Rede davon, daß man noch in Deutschland erscheinen kann! Begreifen Sie, daß ich ahnungsvoll immer traurig war und bin?

Sehr herzlich Ihr alter

Joseph Roth

To Stefan Zweig

Hotel Foyot


17 March 1933

Dear esteemed friend,

I know you understand why I haven’t written to you for so long, and I know you can’t hold it against me. Nor do I have any idea what to say or write now. It’s no longer the case—as it was still a year ago—of the sensible person being driven mad by the world, it’s the world that has gone mad, and there’s no point in common sense any more.

To stick to practical matters:

My publisher is being wound up (this between you and me). He is trying to sell me on. I don’t know to whom. I have no idea what I am going to live on. I really don’t want to be an émigré.
What will you do?

There is no question of being published in Germany any more. Now do you understand why I always was, and am, presciently sad?

Yours sincerely, your old
Joseph Roth

Joseph Roth is considered one of the most famous journalists of the 1920s, a precise chronicler, successful novelist and committed opponent of National Socialism. His literary and journalistic work consists of newspaper articles, glosses, travel reports, feature articles, novels and short stories.

Roth grew up in Brody in eastern Galicia, studied in Lemberg and Vienna, was a soldier in World War I and experienced the collapse of the Habsburg Empire – his home country. Nostalgia for this multi-ethnic empire haunted the rest of his life and many of his novels are dedicated to the loss of homeland and the experience of uprooting. From 1919 he worked as a journalist for various Viennese, Berlin and Prague newspapers and magazines as well as for the Frankfurter Zeitung.

As a Jew, Roth was no longer allowed to publish there after 1933. He left Germany for good and continued his commitment against the National Socialism in his Parisian exile. He was involved in aiding refugees, for example for Entre’ Aide Autrichienne, and cultivated close ties with fellow refugees, including Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), to whom the cited letter was addressed, Ernst Toller (1893-1939), Egon Erwin Kisch (1885-1948), Soma Morgenstern (1890-1976) and Irmgard Keun (1905-1982). Most of the time he lived in hotels in Paris. Café Le Tournon became Roth’s main place of residence, where he gathered his “entourage” around him. Suffering from a severe alcohol addiction, his last years were clearly impacted by the political circumstances and the experiences of refugeedom. He did not live to see the Second World War; he died on May 27, 1939, in the Hôpital Necker, a hospital for the poor in Paris. 11

In his letter to his friend Stefan Zweig from March 1933, Roth’s strong fears for the future and for his existence already become apparent, especially his concern about being able to survive economically as an exile writer in times of political crisis.


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Original: Roth, Joseph, 1970: Briefe 1911–1939. ed. by Hermann Kesten. Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1970. 255.

English Translation: Roth, Joseph, 2012: A Life in Letters. Translated and edited by Michael Hofmann. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. E-Book. 456.