Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

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

Kapper, Siegfried

(1821–1879), Czech and German poet, writer, and translator. Siegfried (Salomon) Kapper studied philosophy at Prague University (1837–1839) and medicine in Vienna (1841–1846), earning his doctorate in medicine in 1847. He then worked briefly in Croatia, took an active part in the revolution in Vienna in 1848, and served as an elected representative in the Austrian parliament. When shots were fired into the assembly in March 1848, he provided medical care to the wounded. Kapper was also a division leader of the academic legion, whose musical anthem used the text of one of his poems. His collection of poems titled Befreite Lieder (Liberated Songs; 1848) was infused with revolutionary sentiment.

After the revolution, Kapper traveled widely in the southern Slavic lands, as well as in Germany and Poland, before opening a general practice in Dobříš. In 1854 he married poet and journalist Moritz Hartmann’s sister Anna. In 1860, Kapper began practicing medicine in Mladá Boleslav, where he took an active part in local Czech social life; he was elected to the town council four years later. In Prague, where he settled in 1867, he joined the Czech civic associations Měšt’anská Beseda and Umělecká Beseda, playing a leading role on a number of committees and giving talks on literature, above all on the writings of southern Slavs. In 1874 he withdrew from the Jewish religious community organization, but less than two years later became a member of a similar one in Gorizia (Ger., Görz). In the mid-1870s he developed tuberculosis and died in 1879 while undergoing treatment in Pisa.

Kapper was skilled in synthesizing the Czech, German, and Jewish elements of his culture. While studying in Prague, he sought out friends of a literary bent among the Young Czechs and strove for Jewish emancipation and integration into the country’s patriotic life. He published translations and paraphrases of Czech and Moravian folk songs in the journal Ost und West (published collectively as Slawische Melodien [Slavic Melodies] in 1844), and printed his first poem in Czech in 1845. A year later, he was the first Jewish author to publish a collection of poems in that language: České listy (Czech Leaves), is divided into three sections, of which the most important—“Synům kmene mého v Čechách” (To the Sons of My Tribe in Bohemia)—is dedicated to Jewish emancipation, freedom, and equality.

Following an unsympathetic review by Karel Havlíček Borovský, Kapper ceased temporarily to write literary pieces in Czech. However, from the mid-1860s it was this language that again dominated his output. In addition to giving talks in Czech, he translated what he regarded as his most important works into that language. He also was absorbed with contemporary Czech literary society and was the first to translate the works of Karel Hynek Mácha into German, producing among other critical studies the text Karel Hynek Mácha und die neuböhmische Literatur (Karel Hynek Mácha and Modern Bohemian Literature; 1842).

While studying in Vienna, Kapper had met the philologist Vuk Stefanovic Karadžić, who kindled his interest in southern Slavic and, above all, Serbian and Montenegrin folklore. Kapper’s paraphrases and translations were extremely well received, not least of all in the Balkans. His love of travel also inspired a number of works, among them Südslawische Wanderungen im Sommmer (Southern Slavic Travels in Summer; 1850), Christen und Türken (Christians and Turks; 1854), Die böhmischer Bäder (Bohemian Spas; 1857), and Das Böhmerland (Bohemia; 1865).

Kapper drew upon Jewish subject matter above all in his partly autobiographical Herzel und seine Freunde (Herzel and His Friends; 1853)—which concerned his youth and work in the Mlada Čechie (Young Bohemia) student movement—and Falk (1853). Stories from the Prague ghetto, which he first published in periodicals in the 1840s, appeared in book form in 1896 under the title Prager Ghettosagen (Tales from the Prague Ghetto).

Kapper’s legacy received unqualified endorsement from the Czech Jewish movement, particularly from its foremost organization Spolek Českých Akademiků-Židů (Association of Czech Academic Jews). After his death, its members sponsored a commemorative plaque, which was unveiled at the house of his birth in 1880. The deep esteem in which the society held his memory and the devotion with which it subscribed to his values was demonstrated in 1920 when the organization changed its name to the Kapper Academic Society. Although unsuccessful in a venture to publish his collected works, the organization was able to publish Výbor ze spisů Siegfrieda Kappera (A Selection from the Writings of Siegfried Kapper; 1921).

Suggested Reading

Oskar Donath, Siegfried Kappers Leben und Wirken (Berlin, 1909); Oskar Donath, “Siegfried Kapper,” in Židé a židovství v české literatuře 19. století, vol. 1, pp. 13–15 (Brno, Czech., 1930); Vladimír Forst, ed., “Kapper Siegfried,” in Lexikon české literatury, vol. 2, pp. 653–656 (Prague, 1993); Jan Krejčí, Příspěvek k poznání básnické činnosti Siegfrieda Kappera (Prague, 1911); Jan Krejčí, Siegfried Kapper (Prague, 1919); Helena Krejčová, “Siegfried Kapper: Symbol českožidovského hnutí,” in Židovská ročenka 5751, pp. 86–89 (Prague, 1990); Alexej Mikulášek, Viera Glosíková, and Antonín B. Schulz, Literatura s hvězdou Davidovou, vol. 1, pp. 185–187 (Prague, 1998).



Translated from Czech by Martin Ward