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Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
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Life and Poetry of Jura Soyfer

Jura SoyferJura Soyfer was the son of the industrialist Vladimir Soyfer and his wife Lyuboc. The well-to-do Jewish family employed French- and English-speaking governesses for Soyfer and his older sister Tamara.

In 1921 the family fled from the Bolshevist revolution and arrived in the town of Baden near Vienna; later they moved into Vienna itself. At the age of 15, Soyfer began studying socialist writings and became a staunch Marxist. In 1927 he joined the Verband der Sozialistischen Mittelschüler (the Association of Socialist Mittelschule 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 satires, one in the Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers' Newspaper) and the other in the social-democratic 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 become more politicized, and that it should stop producing mere distraction and entertainment. In this respect Soyfer approaches Bertolt Brecht's "epic theatre".

In August 1935, through the writer and theatre critic Hans Weigel, Soyfer was introduced to Leon Askin, 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 (Kommunistische Partei Österreichs, KPÖ) 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 prisoners. He remained in freedom for only 26 days, however: on March 13, 1938 he was arrested as he tried to cross the border to Switzerland, and later was transported to Dachau concentration camp. Here, Soyfer met the composer Herbert Zipper, and together they wrote the famous Dachau Lied, (the Dachau song), which cynically took up the Nazi motto Arbeit macht frei ("work liberates"), written above the entrance to such camps.

In the autumn of that year Soyfer was transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp where he died of typhus the day after his release was granted, 16 February 1939. (Biography Source: Wikopedia)

Jura Soyfer Website (German, translation available.)

Jura Soyfer's Documentary Panels:

This set, assembled by the Osterreichesche Gesellscaft fur Kulturpolitik, Vienna, Austria is the story of Jura Soyfer as told through his literature against the backdrop of his life. This 50-panel exhibition, including his poetry, is available for loan. Please contact CHGS at chgs@umn.edu.