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Lederer, Eduard

(1859–1944), writer; important figure in the Czech Jewish movement. Eduard Lederer (Leda) began his studies in Czech, German, and history at Prague University before turning to law, the field in which he took his degree in 1884. He then practiced law in Jindřichův Hradec and, from the mid-1920s, in Prague.

From 1919 to 1925, Lederer was employed by the Ministry of Education as a councillor for religious affairs, specializing in Jewish matters. He was affiliated with the Spolek Ĉeskŷch Akademiků-Židů (Association of Czech Academic Jews) from the start of his university education in 1878; in 1904, he was named an honorary member, and from 1920 to 1939 he held the office of Protektor. At this time he was also active in the Union of Czech Jews (Svaz Čechů-židů). Lederer served as editor of Kalendář česko-židovsky from 1916 to 1918 and, for a brief time, was secretary of the daily newspaper Tribuna. He was one of the founders of Tomáš Masaryk’s Realist Party and up to World War I was a member of its executive board.

Lederer was an important figure in the second generation of the Czech Jewish movement, which felt its Czechness more profoundly than its Jewishness, rejected Zionism and Orthodox Judaism, and perceived the Jewish question in the light of sociology and religion. In the pamphlet Českožidovská otázka (The Czech Jewish Question; 1899), he explains the reasons for gradual assimilation. Another work, Český a německý antisemitismus (Czech and German Antisemitism; 1899) deals with the differences between the two and points to what he considered to be an inherent connection between antisemitism and German nationalism. Žid v dnešníspolečnosti (The Jew in Today’s Society; 1902) is an analysis of common recriminations against Jews (including the defamation of their religion) and racial theory, and an evaluation of specifically Czech circumstances.

Lederer’s two-volume Kapitoly o židovství a židovstvu (Chapters on Judaism and Jewry; 1925) presents an informative survey of the Jewish question, the Jewish religion, mysticism, Hasidism, racial and ethnic questions, assimilation, Zionism, the significance of Jews in art, and the situation of Jews in Czechoslovakia. One chapter is devoted to his approach to Jesus, whom he perceives as an outstanding man, but not as a god. In Krizi v židovstvu a v židovství (The Crisis in Jewry and Judaism; 1934), Lederer defines himself as a conscious defender of assimilation in both the Czech and world contexts, analyzes modern Jewish movements, and takes issue with the idea of a single Jewish race or nation. The culmination of his work on these topics is found in the study Pravá příčina krize (The Real Cause of the Crisis; 1932).

Lederer’s political positions and intellectual premises are also reflected in his substantial literary output, for which he employed the pseudonym Leda. He wrote numerous plays of differing quality, including the dramas Hříchy otců (The Sins of the Fathers; 1912) and Paní protekce (Miss Nepotism; 1913) as well as comedies, or rather humoresques, such as Divadelní opona (The Theater Curtain; 1900), Na ostří nože (At Daggers Drawn; 1907), and Obecní volby (Local Elections; 1908). He also wrote for children. Prevalent in his prose writing, after his first novel Na zapadlé hroudě (A Distant Patch of Land; 1904), in which he depicts Czech, German, and Czech–Jewish amity, is the genre of the diary, which enables him to expound on topical issues—particularly on Czech Jewish identity and the espousal of Masaryk’s ideal of citizenship—or the epistolary form, as in Zápisky venkovského učitele (Notes of a Rural Teacher; 1908), Zápisky starého mládence a jiné (Notes of a Bachelor and Other Works; 1921), and Zápisky hrbáčovy (Notes of a Hunchback; 1923).

Certainly the most interesting and perhaps also the most central subject in Lederer’s literary work is the Bible. The play Mojžíš (Moses; 1919), which depicts its subject in three different periods and localities, is very precisely drawn according to the biblical text, but differs from scripture. The subject of another play, Zrádce (Traitor; 1921), is the person of Judas, whom Lederer justifies in his betrayal of Christ, arguing that Jesus was responsible for his own death: he foresaw it and therefore could have prevented the betrayal. Judas did not betray Jesus out of covetousness, but out of disappointment born of unmet expectations of liberation from Rome. Lederer’s epic poetry collection Biblické glosy (Biblical Glosses; 1923) treats a major part of the Bible’s narrative—from the creation of humanity to the Prophets—with the author at many points presenting his own intellectual and philosophical ideas.

In 1942, Lederer was deported to Terezín, where he died in June 1944. A commemoration held at the concentration camp following his death was attended by 1,500 Jews from the Czech lands. It was the largest group event to take place at Terezín.

Suggested Reading

Oskar Donath, “Dr. Eduard Lederer (Leda),” in Židé a židovství v české literatuře, vol. 2, pp. 204–214 (Brno, Czech., 1930); Vladimír Forst, ed., Lederer-Lena Eduard,” in Lexikon české literatury, vol. 2, pp. 1121–1123 (Prague, 1993); Antonín Grund, “Lederer Eduard,” in Ottův slovník naučný nové doby, ed. Bohumil Němec, vol. 5, p. 352 (Prague, 1930–1943); Hana Housková, “Z galerie postav českožidovského hnutí,” Jihočeský sborník historický 63 (1994): 115–123; Alexej Mikulášek, Viera Glosíková, Antonín B. Schulz, et al., Literatura s hvězdou Davidovou, vol. 1 (Prague, 1998), pp. 224–229.



Translated from Czech by Martin Ward