“I can’t give up either humanity or freedom,” Joseph Roth announced in a 1935 letter to fellow Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig. Freedom was the right to fit all his possessions into two suitcases and to live in hotels; to move in a single year from Austria to Germany to France to Russia; to have no address and no bank account. He was married, to a woman committed to a mental asylum, and he had a long-term mistress. But he avoided “cooking smells and ‘family life'”. “I shit on furniture. I hate houses.” He nevertheless felt a duty to support these women, along with their parents and children. Roth was often penniless but he still shared what money he had with eight others. On a wider scale, freedom was the license to spurn friends or nations lacking in humanity. Roth was living in Germany in 1933, but the day that Hitler became chancellor he left and never returned. “What divides me from everyone, without a single exception, who is active in Germany,” he told the more accommodating Zweig, “is precisely what divides a human from an animal”.
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