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Kanfer, Mojżesz

(1880–1942), publicist, literary and theater critic, and translator. Born in Buczacz, Galicia, Mojżesz Kanfer received both a religious and a secular education. He studied law in Lwów, earning a doctorate in 1908. After serving in the Austrian army during World War I, Kanfer wrote for the Polish-language Zionist daily press as well as for Polish Jewish and Yiddish literary and scholarly journals. He moved to Kraków in 1923, working for the literary section of Nowy Dziennik (1923–1939). He was also an active member of the Jewish Theater Society and was involved in establishing a permanent Yiddish scene in the city.

Fondness for Yiddish led Kanfer to work for TSYSHO (Central Yiddish School Organization) and the Safrus publishing house, which in 1933 published his translation of Sholem Asch’s Di muter (The Mother) in its Polish-language series of Jewish classics. Active in Polish cultural circles, Kanfer worked for the Polish Radio, and for many years co-chaired the Union of Polish Journalists of Western Galicia. During the Holocaust, he worked as a clerk for the Judenrat in Lwów. He was murdered in Bełżec in 1942.

Kanfer liked to call himself the “Galician doctor,” alluding to his membership in the Jewish intelligentsia in multicultural Galicia, and the ease with which he wrote in Polish, Yiddish, and German. Dedication to Yiddish and Zionism with a socialist bent (Po‘ale Tsiyon) shaped his worldview. As a publicist he advocated building a modern, secular Jewish culture, compatible with the European heritage, yet preserving Jewish identity, and he considered the Yiddish theater to be one of its institutions. Kanfer’s views of art were shaped under the influence of turn-of-the-century aesthetics combined with his keen interest in literary innovation (e.g., Kafka).

Suggested Reading

Eugenia Prokop-Janiec, “Mojżesz Kanfer a teatr jidysz,” in Teatr żydowski w Krakowie, ed. Jan Michalik and Eugenia Prokop-Janiec, pp. 125–150 (Kraków, 1995).



Translated from Polish by Christina Manetti; revised by Magda Opalski