Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Saphir, Moritz Gottlieb

(1795–1858), humorist, poet, feature writer, and literary and theater critic. The son of a Jewish businessman from one of the most prominent Jewish families in Hungary, Moritz (Moses) Saphir received a traditional Jewish education and subsequently attended yeshivas in Pressburg (Bratislava) and Prague. In Prague he taught himself secular sciences, foreign languages, and world literature; he later studied the classics in Pest. Never having learned proper Hungarian, he consciously decided to adopt German culture at a time when Jews began to assimilate into Hungarian society. Saphir thus realized one of the alternative models of self-definition available to Hungarian Jewish intellectuals.

In 1819, Saphir began his career as a newspaper editor and humorist in Budapest at the German-language newspaper Pannonia, ein vaterländisches Erholungsblatt für Freunde des Schönen, Guten und Wahren. His commitment to German newspapers deepened over the years he spent in Vienna and Berlin. Beginning in 1822, he wrote for several journals, though mainly for the Theaterzeitung in Vienna, which was edited by Adolf Bäuerle. Saphir was forced to leave Vienna because of his caustic drama reviews and scandalous satirical attacks.

In 1825, he moved to Berlin, where he stayed for four years. His greatest achievement there was to establish two of the first daily publications: the Berliner Schnellpost für Literatur, Theater und Geselligkeit and the Berliner Courier, which soon became the city’s most popular newspapers. In addition, he was chief editor of the Berliner Theateralmanach auf das Jahr 1828 (Berlin Theater Almanac for the Year 1828) as well as cofounder of the Berlin writers’ association Der Tunnel.

Moving to Munich in 1829, Saphir founded the journals Der Basar (1830–1833) and Der deutsche Horizont (1831–1833); he also published the Bayerischer Volksfreund. He was subsequently arrested for lèse majesté and forced to flee to Paris. In 1832, he converted to Protestantism, was baptized, and returned to Munich, working as an adviser at the Court Theater. After 1834, Saphir moved again to Vienna, where he founded the satirical journal Der Humorist, which he edited until his death. During that time he often lectured in Germany.

As a writer, Saphir was a controversial figure, feared and despised for his malice and bellicosity. Among his hundreds of works, his dramatic debut deserves special mention: it was a comedy—which circulated in manuscript—entitled Der falsche Kaschtan, which he wrote in 1820 in Yiddish (his mother tongue), though by that time he was as fluent in German as a native speaker. The short play mainly owed its success to its keen satirical caricature of current affairs and contemporary events within the Jewish community of Óbuda (now a section of Budapest). The satire is one of the few surviving reminders of Óbuda’s nineteenth-century Jewish literature, language, and culture.

Suggested Reading

Péter Varga, “Varianten jüdischer Selbstwahrnehmung in Ungarn,” in Jüdische Selbstwahrnehmung: La prise de conscience de l’identité juive, ed. Hans Otto Horch and Charlotte Wardi, pp. 83–99 (Tübingen, 1997); Péter Varga, “Heinrich Heine und seine jüdischen Freunde,” in Heine, 1797–1856, ed. Endre Kiss and Tamás Lichtmann, pp. 65–79 (Debrecen, Hungary, 2002).



Translated from German by Sonja Mekel