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Heller, Isidor

(1816–1879), journalist, prose writer, and poet. Born in Mladá Boleslav (Ger., Jungbunzlau), Bohemia, Isidor Heller attended both a yeshiva and a secondary school; he hoped to become a rabbi. In 1832 he left for Prague, where he attended the New Town Gymnasium and, briefly, Prague University. In 1837 he went to Nancy, France, where he tried unsuccessfully to join the French Foreign Legion and to support the liberal party in the Spanish civil war (1833–1840). He hoped that he could obtain French citizenship in reward for the five-year military service.

Returning in 1838, Heller resumed his studies at Prague University and was active in Young Bohemia, an association of German-language poets and prose writers of Bohemian origin who were influenced by Lord Byron, Nikolaus Lenau, and the Young German Movement. The earliest literary platform for the association was the Prague fiction journal Ost und West (East and West), which published Heller’s first works in January 1838. Living in Vienna in the early 1840s, Heller moved to Pest in 1846 and was editor of the fiction journal Der Ungar (The Hungarian). He went to Leipzig in 1847, and then spent the revolutionary year 1848 in Pest, where, from March to May, he edited the political journal Die Morgenröthe (Rosy Dawn). However, because he had criticized the Hungarians’ policy of intolerance toward other nationalities during the Hungarian uprising, Heller was forced to leave the country.

While living in Berlin, where he had moved in June 1849, Heller wrote his “Sendschreiben eines Oesterreichers an die deutsche Nation” (A Letter from an Austrian to the German Nation; 1852), which criticized Prussia as an obstacle to German unity; as a result, he had to leave the country immediately. He gained the sympathy of the Austrian minister, Karl Ludwig von Bruck, who employed Heller as his secretary on a journey to Constantinople (1852–1855). After returning to Vienna, Heller published the political journal Der Fortschritt (Progress; 1859–1861). In 1864, he helped to found Neues Fremdenblatt (New Foreigners’ Review), and in 1872–1873 edited the Österreichische Bürgerzeitung: Wochenschrift für alle Fragen und Interessen (Austrian Burghers’ Journal: A Weekly Magazine for All Questions and Topics).

Studies in a non-Jewish environment and close contact with Christian culture led Heller, as well as such other representatives of Young Bohemia as Moritz Hartmann and Siegfried Kapper, to turn away from the world of Jewish tradition. During his stay in Hungary, Heller converted to Protestantism. As a journalist and prose writer, he explored a broad range of themes; among his most noted works is the novel Die Alliierten der Reaction (The Allies of the Reaction; 1852) and numerous novellas and sketches, such as “Der erste April” (April Fools’ Day), “Der Schauspieler” (The Actor; 1838), and “Der Gang durch Prag” (A Stroll through Prague; 1839), which was published in Ost und West. Heller died in Arco, Tyrol.

Suggested Reading

Hillel J. Kieval, Languages of Community: The Jewish Experience in the Czech Lands (Berkeley, 2000), pp. 65–94; Constant von Wurzbach, “Heller, Isidor,” Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Österreich, vol. 8, pp. 272–274 (Vienna, 1862).



Translated from Czech by Stephen Hattersley