Ephraim Kishon, 2003
August 23, 1924
|Died||January 29, 2005
|Spouse(s)||Eva Klamer (1946–58) (divorced)
Sara Kishon (1959–2002)
Lisa Witasek (2003–05)
|Children||Rafael Kishon (born 1957)
Amir Kishon (born 1964)
Renana Kishon (born 1968)
Ephraim Kishon (help·info) (Hebrew: אפרים קישון, August 23, 1924 – January 29, 2005) was an Israeli author, dramatist, screenwriter, and Oscar-nominated film director. He was one of the most widely-read contemporary satirists in the world.
Ephraim Kishon was born on August 23, 1924 by the name of Ferenc Hoffmann into a middle-class Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary. In his youth he did not know Hebrew nor Yiddish. His father worked as a bank manager and his mother was a former secretary. Kishon also had a sister who was a writer.
His writing talent became evident in his youth. In 1940 he won his first prize for writing a novel for high school students. Due to the racial laws applied in Hungary during World War II, he was not allowed to continue his studies at the university and therefore he began to study jewelry making in 1942.
During World War II the Nazis imprisoned him in several concentration camps. At one camp his chess talent helped him survive, as the camp commandant was looking for an opponent. In another camp, the Germans lined up the inmates and shot every tenth person, but passed him by. He later wrote in his book The Scapegoat, "They made a mistake—they left one satirist alive". He eventually managed to escape the concentration camps while being transported to the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland, and hid the remainder of the war disguised as "Stanko Andras", a Slovakian laborer.
After the war when he returned to Budapest he discovered that his parents and sister had survived, but many other family members had been murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. In 1945, he changed his surname from Hoffmann to Kishont to disguise his Jewish origins, and returned to Hungary, where he continued to study art and writing. In 1948 he completed his studies in metal sculpturing and art history and began publishing humorous articles under the name Franz Kishunt.
In 1949 he immigrated to the newly founded state of Israel, together with his first wife Eva (Chawa) Klamer, to escape the Communist regime. When arriving in Israel an immigration officer officially Hebraicized his name to "Ephraim Kishon". According to Kishon, the Jewish Agency clerk asked him for his name and when he answered "Ferenc" the clerk said: There is no such thing, and wrote "Ephraim", and afterwards he went ahead and Hebraicized his family name as well.
His first marriage to Eva (Chawa) Klamer in 1946 ended in divorce. In 1959, he married Sara (née Lipovitz), who died in 2002. In 2003, he married the Austrian writer Lisa Witasek. Kishon had three children: Raphael (b. 1957), Amir (b. 1963), and Renana (b. 1968).
Kishon initially lived in the "Sha'ar Ha'Aliyah" transit camp near Haifa, and soon afterwards moved to Kibbutz Kfar Hahoresh, in which he worked as a male nurse while he learning the Hebrew language during his free time with the help of his neighbor Joseph Bilitzer. During this period he wrote several humorous lists for the Hungarian newspaper "Új Kelet". Afterwards Kishon moved to a housing project. He studied Hebrew at the Ulpan "Etzion" in Jerusalem, and soon became proficient in the language. Nevertheless, his heavy Hungarian accent accompanied him throughout his life.
Mastering Hebrew with remarkable speed, in 1951 Kishon began writing a satirical column in the easy-Hebrew daily, Omer, after only two years in the country. later on Kishon began writing for the newspaper "Davar" (which was very influential at the time) in which he published a satire called "Blaumilch Canal". That same year he published his first book in Israel "Ha-ole ve Ha-Yored le-Chayenu" which was written in Hungarian and translated into Hebrew by Avigdor Meiri. The book was mostly about the life experiences of new immigrants in Israel during the 1950s.
In 1952 Kishon began writing a regular satirical column called "Had Gadya" in the daily Hebrew tabloid "Ma'ariv". Kishon kept writing the column for about 30 years, while in the first two decades he published a new column almost every day. Within a few years after launching his writing career in Israel Kishon became one of the most prominent humorists and satirists in the country.
Kishon's extraordinary linguistic inventiveness and flair for creating characters was carried over into his work for the theater. Collections of his humorous writings have appeared in Hebrew and in translation. Among the English translations are Look Back Mrs. Lot (1960), Noah's Ark, Tourist Class (1962), The Seasick Whale (1965), and two books on the Six-Day War and its aftermath, So Sorry We Won (1967), and Woe to the Victors (1969). Two collections of his plays have also appeared in Hebrew: Shemo Holekh Lefanav (1953) and Ma´arkhonim (1959).
Kishon's books have been translated into 37 languages and sold particularly well in Germany. Kishon rejected the idea of universal guilt for the Holocaust. He said: “It gives me great satisfaction to see the grandchildren of my executioners queuing up to buy my books.” Until his death in 1979, Friedrich Torberg translated his work into German. Thereafter Kishon did the German translations himself.
Kishon was a lifelong chess enthusiast, and took an early interest in chess-playing computers. In 1990, German chess computer manufacturer Hegener & Glaser together with Fidelity produced the Kishon Chesster, a chess computer distinguished by the spoken comments it would make during a game. Kishon wrote the comments to be humorous, but were also carefully chosen to be relevant to chess and the position in the game.
Kishon's sketches and plays have been performed, in translation, on stages and television networks worldwide.
Kishon expanded into cinema in the early 1960s. He wrote, directed and produced five feature films (all of them comedic /satirical movies). Three movies were nominated for major international awards (The Golden Globe award), two were nominated for the Oscar:
Kishon was nominated twice for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and three times for a Golden Globe Award. He won two Golden Globe Best Foreign Language Film Awards, for Sallah Shabati (1964), and The Policeman (1971).
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