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Nossig, Alfred

(1864–1943), writer, sculptor, musician, and public activist. Alfred Nossig came from a wealthy family in Lemberg (Lwów), where his father served as secretary of the Jewish community and was an activist for Jewish rights in Galicia. Exposed to German culture by his father, Nossig was in favor of Polish-Jewish assimilation and gravitated toward Polish romanticism, which inspired him in the early 1880s to formulate ideas about liberating Jewish culture from the constraints of tradition. He expressed these ideas in the periodical Ojczyzna (The Fatherland) and in an organization that he himself founded, called Przymierze Braci (Union of Brothers).

As a student at Lemberg University, Nossig was a pioneer in the field of Jewish demography; in 1884, he won a prize from the university senate for his essay “O ludności” (On Population). At the same time, he wrote theater reviews for Polish and Jewish newspapers. In 1888, he published his first collection of poems, Poezje, which won a competition in Warsaw.

Following his studies in Lemberg, Nossig pursued a doctorate in Zurich, concentrating on Spinoza. He also began to sculpt. His first carvings of famous Jewish heroic figures such as King David and Judah Maccabee reflected his attitude toward heroic Jewish tradition. As a young man in Lwów, Nossig was strongly influenced by the myth of heroic Poland and Polish romanticism. Thus, his choice of heroic figures as themes in his sculptures indicates that at that time Nossig had not abandoned his romantic and heroic muse. Instead of promoting Polish themes, however, he began to develop Jewish heroism and romantic myth. His interest in art ultimately took him to the Academy of Art in Vienna in 1892, to Paris in 1894, and to Berlin in 1900, where he lived until 1933.

By the late 1880s, Nossig had gravitated toward Zionism. In “Próba rozwiązania kwestii żydowskiej” (Attempts to Solve the Jewish Question), published in the journal Przegląd Społeczny in 1887, he argued that there was no future in the Diaspora and that Jews must establish an independent state in Palestine. In 1897, he participated in the First Zionist Congress, in Basel, and founded the Zionist-oriented Society for Jewish Statistics in 1904. In 1908, Nossig resigned from the Zionist Congress and established the Organization for Jewish Settlement, Allgemeine Jüdische Kolonisations-Organisation (General Organization of Jewish Colonization; AJKO), whose goal was to promote the migration of Jews from Europe. During World War I, he lobbied the German government for support.

In 1920, the Polish government invited Nossig to mediate between Jewish leaders and the new Polish government. He was unable, however, to establish trust between the sides. In 1933, he left Berlin for Poland and again became involved in advocating the migration of Jews from Eastern Europe. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, Nossig was appointed director of the Department of Culture and Art in the Warsaw Judenrat. In 1943, the Jewish underground branded him a German collaborator because of reports he had written on Jewish life in the ghetto; the group then assassinated him.

Suggested Reading

Shemu’el Almog, “Alfred Nossig Reappraisal,” Studies in Zionism 7 (Spring 1983): 1–29; Isaiah Friedman, “The Austro-Hungarian Government and Zionism, 1897–1918,” Jewish Social Studies 27.3–4 (July–October 1965): 147–167, 236–249; Ezra Mendelsohn, “From Assimilation to Zionism in Lvov: The Case of Alfred Nossig,” Slavonic and East European Review 49 (1971): 521–534; Ezra Mendelsohn, “Vilhelm Feldman ve-Alfred Nosig: Hitbolelut ve-tsiyonut bi-Levov,” Gal-Ed 2 (1975): 89–112.



Translated from Hebrew by Alan Herman