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Franzos, Karl Emil

(1847/48–1904), writer, novelist, journalist, and publisher. Karl Emil Franzos was born in Czortków in Podolia (now Chortkiv, Ukr.), the son of a Galician mother and a physician father who was of Sephardic origin. After his father’s death in 1858, the family moved to Bucovina, where Franzos attended secondary school. He then studied law in Vienna and Graz, and during his university years belonged to a German nationalist student organization. From 1874 to 1876 he traveled to the eastern borderlands of the Habsburg monarchy and to Russia and Romania; these travels yielded material for the ethnographic vignettes that Franzos published first in the press and later as a book in a collection of “cultural pictures” titled Aus Halb-Asien (From Half-Asia; 1876). He next issued his first collection of stories, Die Juden von Barnow (The Jews of Barnow; 1877), depicting shtetl life. In 1877 he married Ottilie Benedikt in Vienna.

The enormous popularity of Aus Halb-Asien—the exoticism of which Franzos intended to be both educational and entertaining—enabled him to limit his journalistic work and concentrate on literary pursuits. In 1884, he became the editor of the Neue illustrierte Zeitung, while continuing to write prolifically. He published a second volume in his Aus Halb-Asien cycle, Vom Don zur Donau (From the Don to the Donau; 1878), as well as Moschko von Parma (Moshko of the Parma Regiment; 1880), the story of a Jewish soldier from a small Galician town; Ein Kampf ums Recht (A Struggle for Justice, 1882), a novel set among the East Carpathian mountaineers; and other works.

From 1887 on, Franzos lived in Berlin, where until his death he published the literary journal Deutsche Dichtung (German poetry), which included contributions from highly regarded authors. Beginning in 1891, he was active on a German committee to aid Jews in Russia. In 1895, he established his own publishing house, Concordia. His literary output in Berlin included a third volume of the Aus Halb-Asien series, Aus der grossen Ebene (From the Great Plain; 1888), as well as stories dealing with Galician Jewish life; these included “Judith Trachtenberg” (1891) and “Leib Weihnachtskuchen und sein Kind” (Leib Weihnachtskuchen [“Christmas Cake”] and His Child; 1896). The best of his novels, Der Pojaz (The Clown; completed in 1893), remained unpublished in German during his lifetime and was published a year after his death.

Franzos’s observations and memories of Galicia and Bucovina inspired most of his writing; accordingly, he owed his best work to the world of East European Jews. A son of the Enlightenment as well as a German liberal nationalist, he railed against the backwardness, superstitions, and poor hygiene of his subjects; at the same time, he sympathized with them, pointing to the roots of their backwardness and highlighting the positive traits of their society, such as its emphasis on familial love. An opponent of Zionism, he saw the resolution of the “Jewish question” in cultural assimilation into the West European nations, so that only religion would distinguish Jews from their neighbors. His best works are those in which he allows his didacticism to give way to his artistic vision as an epic writer, as in his tales of Moshko of the Parma regiment, of the noble tavernkeeper Leib Weinachtskuchen, and, in Der Pojaz, of a young Jewish boy dreaming of a career in the theater.

Suggested Reading

Hermann Böhm, ed. and comp., Karl Emil Franzos, 1848–1904: Der Dichter Galiziens. Zum 150. Geburtstag (Vienna, 1998); Jong-Dae Lim, “Das Leben und Werk des Schriftstellers Karl Emil Franzos” (Ph.D. diss., University of Vienna, 1981); Margarita Pazi, “Der Gefühlspluralismus im Werk Karl Emil Franzos,” in Galizien: Eine literarische Heimat, ed. Stefan H. Kaszyński, pp. 77–113 (Poznań, Pol., 1987); Miriam Roshwald (Miriam Mindla Wyszynski), “The Shtetl in the Works of Karl Emil Franzos, Sholom Aleichem and Shmuel Yosef Agnon” (Ph.D. diss, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1972); Carl Steiner, Karl Emil Franzos, 1848–1904: Emancipator and Assimilationist (New York, 1990).



Translated from Polish by Anna Grojec