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Vohryzek, Viktor

(1864–1918), physician, writer on ethics and sociology, journalist, translator, and a leading figure in the Czech Jewish Movement. After completing gymnasium, Viktor Vohryzek studied at the faculty of medicine at Prague University, where he was awarded his degree in 1887. In the course of his studies, he was active in Spolek Českých Akademiků Židů (Association of Czech Academic Jews). Following his studies, he moved to Vodňany, where he set up his own medical practice with a specialty in psychology.

In 1894, Vohryzek moved permanently to Pardubice, where he worked as a physician for railroad workers. He did much to help the poor, earning him the sobriquet “the philanthropic doctor.” In Pardubice, he took part in public and cultural life and established the Pokrokový Kroužek (Progressive Circle, later called the Progressive Club). In 1904, he founded the periodical Rozvoj (Progress), which he published, financed, and edited. In 1907 Českožidovské listy (Czech Jewish Leaves), which was published in Prague, merged with Rozvoj (under the latter name) to become the most important Czech Jewish periodical. In the same year, Vohryzek founded Svaz Českých Pokrokových-Židů (Union of Czech Progressive Jews) in opposition to the older generation that was centered in Politická Jednota Česko Židovská (Czech Jewish Political Association), and joined Tomáš Masaryk’s Realist Party. During World War I, he was interned for his anti-Austrian views.

Vohryzek was, with Eduard Lederer and Bohdan Klineberger, a leading ideologist and philosopher of the Czech Jewish assimilation movement. He regarded assimilation as, first and foremost, a religious and ethical matter, just as he also regarded the inclination toward Czech identity in the same way. He viewed membership in the Czech nation as a given. Thus for him, Jewish assimilation meant only accommodation in the linguistic and cultural sense of the term, not a complete fusing.

Vohryzek’s views about the place of Jews in the Czech lands were largely derived from his approach to religion, which was profoundly philosophical. Vohryzek admired Moses and the prophets, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah. Among philosophers he held Spinoza and his system of ethics in the highest regard, comparing him to Tolstoy, the philosopher of Christianity. Vohryzek rejected Orthodoxy as well as indifference, conversion, and other forms of abstention from the Jewish community, and worked for the retention of the Jewish faith, which he labeled Mosaism. He strove for reform of Jewish ritual, which he felt had little to do with faith, and advised Jews to think again about the true message of their ancestors. He understood the essence of Jewishness to consist in an objectively given, realistic, and ethically rooted worldview, one that produces an indestructible faith. His ideal was a synthesis of religion and philosophy that would fashion all nations into one intellectual whole.

Vohryzek published articles, essays, feuilletons, notes, daily reports (the latter primarily from the perspective of a psychologist), and literary tales (in the style of psychological realism) in a host of Czech and Jewish periodicals. He also published works on the economy (focusing on reasons for the decline of industry and trade), comedies and short stories set in a rural Jewish milieu (Věno [Dowry] and Červenékorály [Red Corals]; both 1908), poems, and aphorisms. He popularized philosophy and psychology, and wrote about health regulations and the meaning of sports for the individual and society.

An active translator both into and from the Czech language, Vohryzek published translations in Rozvoj from German (Heinrich Heine; Franz Grillparzer), Yiddish (Morris Rosenfeld; proverbs), and English (Shelley). He also translated Karel Havlíček Borovský’s Křest svatého Vladimíra (The Conversion of St. Vladimir; 1905) into German.

Of Vohryzek’s original writings, Epištoly k českým židům (Letters to Czech Jews; 1901) and Gedanken über den Mosaismus (Thoughts on Mosaism; 1914) were composed before World War I. His K židovské otázce, vybrané úvahy a články (On the Jewish Question: Selected Reflections and Articles; 1925) and Kniha životní moudrosti (A Book of Life’s Wisdom), an unfinished work of philosophy, were published by the Kapper Academic Society in an imprint called the Vohryzek Library. A major study on which he worked throughout his life, “Psychologie průměrného člověka” (The Psychology of the Average Person), remains in manuscript.

Suggested Reading

Oskar Donath, “Viktor Vohryzek,” in Židé a židovství v české literatuře 19. století, vol. 2, pp. 197–202 (Brno, Czech., 1930); Richard Federer, “Vzpomínka na MUDr. Viktora Vohryzka,” Věstník židovských náboženských obci v Československu 20 (1958): 5; Otakar Guth, “Viktor Vohryzek,” Kalendář českožidovský 34 (1914); Otakar Guth, “O dru. Vikt. Vohryzkovi: Život a dílo,” Kalendář českožidovský 41 (1921): 3–6; Alois Hajn, “Im memoriam: Dr. Viktor Vohryzek,” Kalendář českožidovský 42 (1922); Helena Krejčová, “State Your Views on Assimilation and Anti-Semitism,” Review of the Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jews 6 (1993–1994): 15–26; Helena Krejčová, “Výbory spolku českých akademiků židů a akademického spolku Kapper,” Paginae historiae 7 (1999): 46–84.



Translated from Czech by Martin Ward