Jura Soyfer
Overview
 
Jura Soyfer was an important Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

n political journalist
Journalist
A journalist collects and distributes news and other information. A journalist's work is referred to as journalism.A reporter is a type of journalist who researchs, writes, and reports on information to be presented in mass media, including print media , electronic media , and digital media A...

 and cabaret
Cabaret
Cabaret is a form, or place, of entertainment featuring comedy, song, dance, and theatre, distinguished mainly by the performance venue: a restaurant or nightclub with a stage for performances and the audience sitting at tables watching the performance, as introduced by a master of ceremonies or...

 writer
Writer
A writer is a person who produces literature, such as novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, or other literary art. Skilled writers are able to use language to portray ideas and images....

.
Jura Soyfer was the son of the industrialist Vladimir Soyfer and his wife Lyubov. The well-to-do Jewish
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 family employed French-
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 and English-speaking
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 governesses for Soyfer and his older sister Tamara.

In 1921 the family fled from the Bolshevist revolution and arrived in the town of Baden
Baden bei Wien
-Points of interest:The town offers several parks and a picturesque surrounding, of which the most frequented is the Helenental valley. Not far from Baden, the valley is crossed by a widespread aqueduct of the Vienna waterworks...

 near Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

; later they moved into Vienna itself.
Encyclopedia
Jura Soyfer was an important Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

n political journalist
Journalist
A journalist collects and distributes news and other information. A journalist's work is referred to as journalism.A reporter is a type of journalist who researchs, writes, and reports on information to be presented in mass media, including print media , electronic media , and digital media A...

 and cabaret
Cabaret
Cabaret is a form, or place, of entertainment featuring comedy, song, dance, and theatre, distinguished mainly by the performance venue: a restaurant or nightclub with a stage for performances and the audience sitting at tables watching the performance, as introduced by a master of ceremonies or...

 writer
Writer
A writer is a person who produces literature, such as novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, or other literary art. Skilled writers are able to use language to portray ideas and images....

.

Life

Jura Soyfer was the son of the industrialist Vladimir Soyfer and his wife Lyubov. The well-to-do Jewish
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 family employed French-
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 and English-speaking
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 governesses for Soyfer and his older sister Tamara.

In 1921 the family fled from the Bolshevist revolution and arrived in the town of Baden
Baden bei Wien
-Points of interest:The town offers several parks and a picturesque surrounding, of which the most frequented is the Helenental valley. Not far from Baden, the valley is crossed by a widespread aqueduct of the Vienna waterworks...

 near Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

; later they moved into Vienna itself. At the age of 15, Soyfer began studying socialist
Socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

 writings and became a staunch Marxist
Marxism
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

. In 1927 he joined the Verband der Sozialistischen Mittelschüler (the Association of Socialist Mittelschule
Education in Germany
The responsibility for the German education system lies primarily with the states while the federal government plays only a minor role. Optional Kindergarten education is provided for all children between three and six years of age, after which school attendance is compulsory, in most cases for...

pupils). His early experience with languages meant that Soyfer soon developed a feeling and love for language and wordplay. In 1929 this led to his becoming a member of the Politischen Kabarett der Sozialdemokraten (Political Cabaret of the Social Democrats) where he gained his first experience in writing for the stage.

From December 1931, Soyfer wrote two weekly political satire
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

s, one in the Arbeiter-Zeitung
Arbeiter-Zeitung (Vienna)
For the Chicago anarchist newspaper, see Arbeiter-Zeitung The Arbeiter-Zeitung was started as a Socialist newspaper on July 12, 1889 by Victor Adler. The paper was banned in 1934 after the Feb. 13 issue , but reappeared on Aug...

(Workers' Newspaper) and the other in the social-democratic
Social democracy
Social democracy is a political ideology of the center-left on the political spectrum. Social democracy is officially a form of evolutionary reformist socialism. It supports class collaboration as the course to achieve socialism...

 weekly Der Kuckuck (The Cuckoo). He also wrote two articles for the Politische Bühne (Political Stage, a socialist newspaper connected to the Red Players group of actors). These demanded that theatre
Theatre
Theatre is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music or dance...

 become more politicised, and that it should stop producing mere distraction and entertainment. In this respect Soyfer approaches Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht was a German poet, playwright, and theatre director.An influential theatre practitioner of the 20th century, Brecht made equally significant contributions to dramaturgy and theatrical production, the latter particularly through the seismic impact of the tours undertaken by the...

's "epic theatre
Epic theatre
Epic theatre was a theatrical movement arising in the early to mid-20th century from the theories and practice of a number of theatre practitioners, including Erwin Piscator, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Vsevolod Meyerhold and, most famously, Bertolt Brecht...

".

Soyfer also satirised the key authoritarian figures of the 'Austro-fascisitic' (1933/4 to 1938) period like Engelbert Dollfuß, Starhemberg and Kurt Schuschnigg
Kurt Schuschnigg
Kurt Alois Josef Johann Schuschnigg was Chancellor of the First Austrian Republic, following the assassination of his predecessor, Dr. Engelbert Dollfuss, in July 1934, until Germany’s invasion of Austria, , in March 1938...

.

In August 1935, through the writer and theatre critic Hans Weigel
Hans Weigel
Julius Hans Weigel was an Austrian Jewish writer and a theater critic . He lived in Vienna, except during the period between 1938 and 1945, when he lived in exile in Switzerland. He was a lifetime companion of the Austrian actress Elfriede Ott.- Biography :During the time before the Anschluss of...

, Soyfer was introduced to Leon Askin
Leon Askin
Leon Askin was an Austrian actor best known for portraying the character "General Burkhalter" on the TV sitcom Hogan's Heroes.-Early life:...

, an actor and director at Vienna's popular "ABC Theatre", a political cabaret. This is where most of Soyfer's pieces were later performed.

In 1937, Soyfer was mistaken for Franz Marek (a leader of the Communist Party of Austria
Communist Party of Austria
The Communist Party of Austria is a communist party based in Austria. Established in 1918, it was banned between 1933 and 1945 under both the Austrofascist regime, and German control of Austria during World War II...

) and arrested. When it was discovered that Soyfer himself had also written incriminatory pieces, he was imprisoned for three months. On February 17, 1938 he was freed as part of an amnesty for political prisoner
Political prisoner
According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, a political prisoner is ‘someone who is in prison because they have opposed or criticized the government of their own country’....

s. He remained in freedom for only 26 days, however: on March 13, 1938 he was arrested as he tried to cross the Austrian border at St. Antonien Joch above Gargellen into Switzerland
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 but was betrayed and later transported to Dachau concentration camp. Here, Soyfer met the composer Herbert Zipper
Herbert Zipper
Herbert Zipper was an internationally renowned composer, conductor, and arts activist...

, and together they wrote the famous Dachaulied, the Dachau song, which cynically took up the Nazi
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 motto Arbeit macht frei
Arbeit macht frei
"'" is a German phrase, literally "work makes free," meaning "work sets you free" or "work liberates". The slogan is known for having been placed over the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust, including most infamously Auschwitz I, where it was made by prisoners...

("work liberates"), written above the entrance to such camps.

In the autumn of that year Soyfer was transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp
Buchenwald concentration camp
Buchenwald concentration camp was a German Nazi concentration camp established on the Ettersberg near Weimar, Germany, in July 1937, one of the first and the largest of the concentration camps on German soil.Camp prisoners from all over Europe and Russia—Jews, non-Jewish Poles and Slovenes,...

 where he died of typhus the day after his release was granted, 16 February 1939.

Works

Soyfer's first work, Der Weltuntergang oder Die Welt steht auf kein' Fall mehr lang ("The End of the World", or "The world is certainly not going to last much longer") was first performed in the early summer of 1936; the last performance took place only a short time later on 11 July 1936. It shows humanity before the Apocalypse, the destruction of the world by a comet - the violent repression of the revolutionary masses and the blindness of the people waiting for the end of the world. In the end, the comet does not find the heart to destroy the world, which gives the play a positive ending, but also underlines the frustrating incorrigibility and stupidity of human beings.

His second work, Der Lechner Edi schaut ins Paradies (translated into English as "Journey to Paradise") depicts an unemployed person who sets off to find those guilty for his distress in the past, with the help of a time machine. Eventually he discovers that the cause for his condition is the creation of humanity. The play ends, however, with a call to people to make decisions, including political ones. In this way, Soyfer connects pathos
Pathos
Pathos represents an appeal to the audience's emotions. Pathos is a communication technique used most often in rhetoric , and in literature, film and other narrative art....

 with the typical element of cabaret
Cabaret
Cabaret is a form, or place, of entertainment featuring comedy, song, dance, and theatre, distinguished mainly by the performance venue: a restaurant or nightclub with a stage for performances and the audience sitting at tables watching the performance, as introduced by a master of ceremonies or...

, political criticism.

Soyfer's third play is Astoria, a reaction to the problematic use of the word Vaterland which had been discussed in Austria since 1918. "Astoria" is a non-existent land which is the focus of the hopes and aspirations of the characters in the play. Their utopic dreams are constantly destroyed by reality. This point is made clearly at the end of the play by a song of praise the actors sing about the country when they are actually being sent to prison.

In 1937 Soyfer wrote Vineta. In this piece he leaves behind traditional Austrian theatre and portrays absurd actions and speech which lead irretrievably to downfall and destruction. The protest against facts which are seen as unchangeable, and the idea of "not wanting to know" are both themes of the play. Vineta is a warning against war and against illusions which are created to suppress people.

Soyfer also wrote Broadway Melodie 1942 for the "ABC Theatre". It is an adaptation of Columbus by Kurt Tucholsky
Kurt Tucholsky
Kurt Tucholsky was a German-Jewish journalist, satirist and writer. He also wrote under the pseudonyms Kaspar Hauser, Peter Panter, Theobald Tiger and Ignaz Wrobel. Born in Berlin-Moabit, he moved to Paris in 1924 and then to Sweden in 1930.Tucholsky was one of the most important journalists of...

 and Walter Hasenclever
Walter Hasenclever
Walter Hasenclever was a German Expressionist poet and playwright.-Biography:...

. Soyfer kept the original satire of the clergy
Clergy
Clergy is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within a given religion. A clergyman, churchman or cleric is a member of the clergy, especially one who is a priest, preacher, pastor, or other religious professional....

 and court society, but his political criticism of society is far more radical. The way the play sees events from the point of view of the lower classes makes it a classic piece of Volkstheater Wien (Austrian popular theatre); it becomes clear that, in the imagination of the playwright, the lower classes of society are actually superior to the upper classes (or at least should be).

During his imprisonment from 1937 - 1938, Soyfer began writing another play which was to be about Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

. Nothing has survived of these drafts.

The first verse of the Dachaulied, the Dachau song:

Stacheldraht, mit Tod geladen,
ist um unsre Welt gespannt.

Drauf ein Himmel ohne Gnaden
sendet Frost und Sonnenbrand.
Fern von uns sind alle Freuden,
fern die Heimat, fern die Fraun,
wenn wir stumm zur Arbeit schreiten,
Tausende im Morgengraun.
Doch wir haben die Losung von Dachau gelernt
und wurden stahlhart dabei:
Sei ein Mann, Kamerad,
bleib ein Mensch, Kamerad,
mach ganze Arbeit, pack an, Kamerad,
denn Arbeit, Arbeit macht frei!
Barbed wire, loaded with death

is drawn around our world.
Above a sky without mercy
sends frost and sunburn.
Far from us are all joys,
far away our home, far away our wives,
when we march to work in silence
thousands of us at the break of day.
But we have learned the motto of Dachau
and it made us as hard as steel:
Be a man, mate,
stay a man, mate,
do a good job, get to it, mate,
for work, work makes you free!


The Original Complete Text from Translators Dachau München

1. Stacheldraht, mit Tod geladen,
ist um unsre Welt gespannt.
Drauf ein Himmel ohne Gnaden
sendet Frost und Sonnenbrand.
Fern von uns sind alle Freuden,
fern die Heimat, fern die Fraun,
wenn wir stumm zur Arbeit schreiten,
Tausende im Morgengraun.

Refrain
Doch wir haben die Losung von Dachau gelernt
und wurden stahlhart dabei:
Sei ein Mann, Kamerad,
bleib ein Mensch, Kamerad,
mach ganze Arbeit, pack an, Kamerad,
denn Arbeit, Arbeit macht frei!

2. Vor der Mündung der Gewehre
leben wir bei Tag und Nacht.
Leben wird uns hier zur Lehre,
schwerer, als wir's je gedacht.
Keiner mehr zählt Tag' und Wochen,
mancher schon die Jahre nicht,
und gar viele sind zerbrochen
und verloren ihr Gesicht.
Und wir haben die Losung . . . .

3. Schlepp den Stein und zieh den Wagen,
keine Last sei dir zu schwer.
Der du warst in fernen Tagen,
bist du heut schon längst nicht mehr.
Stich den Spaten in die Erde,
grab dein Mitleid tief hinein,
und im eignen Schweiße werde
selber du zu Stahl und Stein.
Und wir haben die Losung . . . .

4. Einst wird die Sirene künden:
Auf, zum letzten Zählappell!
Draußen dann, wo wir uns finden,
bist du, Kamerad, zur Stell'.
Hell wird uns die Freiheit lachen,
vorwärts geht's mit frischem Mut,
und die Arbeit, die wir machen,
diese Arbeit, die wird gut!
Denn wir haben die Losung . .

Resonance

Jura Soyfer's intent was not to present any complete solutions or conclusions: he believed that the problems he presented could only be solved in real life, in actual protest. His plays destroy illusions and call upon us to change society in its present form. He himself saw his own plays as a means for propaganda with a direct connection to the times in which he lived.

Soyfer's plays were published as a collection for the first time in 1974 thanks to the work of members of the organisation of exiled Austrians in England, "Young Austria". This took his works out of their original context and gave them a larger application: they were presented, for example, as timeless criticisms of the society of the communist GDR
German Democratic Republic
The German Democratic Republic , informally called East Germany by West Germany and other countries, was a socialist state established in 1949 in the Soviet zone of occupied Germany, including East Berlin of the Allied-occupied capital city...

.

External links


Further reading

  • "Jura Soyfer and His Time (Studies in Austrian Literature, Culture, and Thought)" by Donald G. Daviau, 1995 ISBN 1-57241-005-1
  • "The legacy of Jura Soyfer, 1912-1939: Poems, prose and plays of an Austrian antifascist" (Engendra theaterbooks) ISBN 0-919830-07-2
  • "It's Up to Us!: Collected Works of Jura Soyfer (Studies in Austrian Literature, Culture, & Thought)", 1996 ISBN 0-929497-55-4
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