Kapper, Siegfried or Vítězslav

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KAPPER, SIEGFRIED or VÍTĚZSLAV (1821–1879), Czech poet and the first Jew to publish in Czech. Born and educated in Prague, Kapper graduated in medicine from the University of Vienna and spent some time as a physician, but he devoted his life mainly to writing. Like Moritz *Hartmann, the German revolutionary who became his brother-in-law, he belonged to the "Young Bohemia" circle and took an interest in Slavic culture. From 1839 Kapper was a contributor to Ost und West, and the following year he began translating Czech poems into German. In 1841 he moved to Vienna, where he met Václav Bolemír Nebeský, who urged him to devote himself to Czech and Slavic affairs. Accordingly, in 1843, Kapper began a press campaign, and a year later published his lavische Melodien, some of which were later set to music. In his České listy ("Czech Epistles," 1846), Kapper criticized the Austrian regime's treatment of the Czechs and called for the restoration of their national and civic rights. In the same book he expressed his hopes for the cultural assimilation of Czech Jewry. Both the form and the ideology of the poems were completely rejected by the eminent nationalist critic, Karel Havliček-Borovský, and as a result Kapper temporarily abandoned writing in Czech. It was at this period that he published three of the earliest "ghetto" stories in the German language (1845–49). During the 1848 Revolution Kapper was medical officer of the academic legion. The revolution inspired a volume of political poems, Befreite Lieder (1848–49). He then became a parliamentary reporter, but returned to medical practice in 1867.

Kapper's works include Suedslavische Wanderungen (1851; A Visit to Belgrade, 1854); the epic poem Fuerst Lazar (1851), which was his major literary achievement; Christen und Tuerken (1854); Boehmische Baeder (1857); and several volumes of Czech and German translations of Serbian, Montenegrin, and Bulgarian folk songs, in which field he became an acknowledged authority. Though estranged from traditional Jewish life, Kapper developed ideas of a Czech-Jewish symbiosis which greatly impressed the younger generation of Czech Jewry, and the first Czech-Jewish students' organization was named in his honor.


Schatzky, in: Freedom and Reason; Studies… M.R. Cohen (1951), 423–7; Jews of Czechoslovakia, 1 (1968), index; G. Kisch, In Search of Freedom (1949); J. Krejčí, Siegfried Kapper (Cz., 1919); O. Donath, Židé a židovství v české literatuře 19. a 20. století, 2 (1930), index; idem, in: jggjČ, 6 (1934), 323–442; P. Eisner, in: Věstník židovské obce náboženské v Praze, 11 (1949), 266; J. Vyskočil, in: Judaica Bohemiae, 3 (1967), 37–39 (Ger.); A. Hofman, Die Prager Zeitschrift "Ost und West" (1957), index. add. bibliography: Lexikon české literatury, 2/ii (1985); A. Mikulášek et al., Literatura s hvězdou Davidovou, vol. 1 (1998).

[Avigdor Dagan]