Alfred Polgar



Alfred Polgar was born Alfred Polak on October 17, 1873 in the Leopoldstadt district in Vienna. His Jewish parents, Henriette and Josef, owned a piano school, and he was the youngest of three children. Polgar attended business school and became a member of the editorial staff of the Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung. He first covered court as well as parliamentary issues until he moved to the culture section covering the literary, musical, and theatrical scene in Vienna.

Beginning in 1905, Polgar was a frequent editor of Siegfried Jacobsohn’s newspaper Die Schaubühne. Due to his brilliant style of writing he attracted many admirers – Musil, Benjamin, and Tucholsky; however, authors such as Schnitzler or Kraus were taken aback by his open criticism of their works. Polgar wrote pieces for the Jugendstil cabaret Die Fledermaus together with Egon Friedell, among them Goethe. Eine Groteske in zwei Bildern – a satire on the mindless learning of factual information -  Der Petroleumkönig oder Donauwalzer, and Soldatenleben im Frieden. His first book, entitled Der Quell des Übels appeared in 1908. He also edited and translated plays by playwrights such as Nestroy. He was a frequent visitor of Café Central where he belonged to the group Jung Wien. In 1914, he changed his name from Polak to Polgar.

During World War I Polgar worked in the war archives while still writing theater reviews. After the war, he became director of the culture section of the newly founded newspaper Der neue Tag and in the mid 1920's started writing for the renowned Berliner Tagblatt.

He married Elise Loewy in 1929 and returned to Vienna in 1933. After the annexation of Austria by the Nazis, Polgar fled Austria. He first went to Paris, and later, on foot, to the Portuguese border from where he emigrated to the US. He went to Hollywood to work for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a script writer who had given him a one-year contract. In 1943, he moved to New York and became a US citizen in 1945. In 1949, Polgar returned, at the age of 76, to Europe. Since he refused to go back to Vienna which had supported Hitler so fervently, he settled down in Zurich.

Polgar, like Peter Altenberg, loved to write about the allegedly trivial, the everyday life. Influenced by Altenberg’s short prose, the majority of his works were sketches which depicted life in coffeehouses. He was called the master of the small form and had a weakness for the understatement. He liked to write about the man on the street. With them he exemplified what the impoverishment by the war really meant and how it was supposed to be covered up as can be seen in Schwarz auf Weiss.

Polgar died at the age of 82 on April 24 in a hotel room in Zurich.

-Gabi Eichmanns-