Ephraim Kishon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ephraim Kishon
Ephraim Kishon, drawing by Chaim Topol.JPG
Ferenc Hoffmann

(1924-08-23)August 23, 1924
Budapest, Hungary
DiedJanuary 29, 2005(2005-01-29) (aged 80)
Appenzell, Switzerland
Spouse(s)Eva Klamer (1946–58) (divorced)
Sara Kishon (1959–2002)
Lisa Witasek (2003–05)
ChildrenRafael Kishon (born 1957)
Amir Kishon (born 1964)
Renana Kishon (born 1968)

Ephraim Kishon (Hebrew: אפרים קישון: August 23, 1924 – January 29, 2005) was a Hungarian-born Israeli author, dramatist, screenwriter, and Oscar-nominated film director. He was one of the most widely read contemporary satirists in Israel, and was also particularly popular in German-speaking countries.[1][2][3]


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 knew neither 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 he played chess with the guards.[4] 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 Nazi German Occupied Poland, and hid the remainder of the war disguised as "Stanko Andras", a Slovak laborer.

Kishon being awarded the Kinor David, 1964

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 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, Kishon being a river near Haifa, the Israeli city on Mount Carmel.

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).

In 1981, Kishon established a second home in the rural Swiss canton of Appenzell after feeling unappreciated in Israel, but remained a staunch Zionist.

Kishon talking with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, 1992

Kishon died on January 29, 2005 at his home in Switzerland at the age of 80 following a cardiac arrest. His body was flown to Israel and he was buried at the Trumpeldor Cemetery in Tel Aviv.

Being a popular Israeli writer, he still felt he was getting negative treatment from the Israeli media due to the fact he was rather right wing in his political views.[5]

Literary career[edit]

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 nurse while 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 the Hebrew language 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 "The Blaumilch Canal". That same year he published his first book in Israel "Ha-ole Ha-Yored le-Chayenu"- "The Pestering Immigrant", (a pun on the Hebrew word for "Immigrant") which was written in Hungarian and translated into Hebrew by Avigdor Hameiri. 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" ("One Young Goat" in Aramaic, taken from the Passover Seder liturgy) 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 at the Aachen carnival in West Germany, 1978

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).

Ephraim Kishon at a simultaneous game of chess by Vladimir Kramnik, Dortmund 2001, left at the back of Kishon the President of the German Chess Federation (Alfred Schlya [de]).

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.”[6] Until his death in 1979, Friedrich Torberg translated his work into German. Thereafter Kishon did the German translations himself.


PikiWiki Israel 50017 ephraim kishon.jpg

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,[7] 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.[8]

Published works[edit]


"A package arrived!" [he], a board game made to poke fun at the extreme, Kafkaian bureaucracy one can encounter in Israel.
  • Ha-ole Ha-Yored le-Chayenu (1951)
  • Thousand of Gadia and Gadia (1954)
  • Ein Kamonim (1955)
  • Do not worry (1957)
  • Skeches (1959)
  • It all depends (1958)
  • Be-Echad Ha-Emeshim (1961)
  • He and She (1963)
  • Somersaults (1964)
  • Bone in the throat (1966)
  • So sorry we won! (1967) (with illustrations by Dosh)
  • Gomzim Gomzim (1969)
  • For (1970)
  • Oh, winners (1970)
  • Department of Ephraim Kishon (1972)
  • Wole in the screen (1973)
  • Partachia my love (1974)
  • My Family Right or Wrong (1977)
  • Smile drought (1978)
  • Family Book (1980–current)
  • Jonathan voyage (1981) children books
  • The cup is ours (1981) children books
  • Uncles on the wires (1981) children books
  • Unfinished adventure (1981) children books
  • Gum with stripes (1981) children books
  • Seven Comedies (1981)
  • Satire book I (1981)
  • Arbinkea (1991)
  • Satire book II (1991)
  • Satire book III (1992)
  • 58 Skeches (1995)
  • Ants war (1995) children books
  • Hercules and the seven midgets (1995) children books
  • The Taming of the Shrew dog (1995) children books
  • Hairy, hell (1998)
  • state protocol (1999)
  • The Redhead with the Key (2002) children books
  • Book of Travels (2003)
  • Partachia (2004)
  • Picasso's Sweet Revenge (2004)
PikiWiki Israel 50218 ephraim kishon .jpg


  • His reputation precedes him (1953)
  • Black on White (1957)
  • Ha-Ketubbah (1959)
  • No word to Morgenstein (1960)
  • Take the plug out (1968)
  • Oh, oh, Juliet (1972)
  • Salah Shabati the musical (1988)
  • Open for renovation (2004) not yet seen
  • The Policeman (2009)

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:


  • In 1953, Kishon won the Nordau Prize for Literature;
  • In 1958, he won the Sokolov Prize for Journalism;
  • In 1964, he won the Kinor David Prize;
  • In 1998, he was the co-recipient (jointly with Nurit Guvrin and Aryeh Sivan) of the Bialik Prize for literature;[12]
  • In 2002, he was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement & special contribution to society and the State of Israel.[13][14] Upon receiving the prize, he remarked: "I've won the Israel Prize, even though I'm pro-Israel. It's almost like a state pardon. They usually give it to one of those liberals who love the Palestinians and hate the settlers."

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).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ephraim Kishon, 80, Holocaust Survivor Who Became Satirist Archived 2019-08-06 at the Wayback Machine *The New York Times*, 30 January 2005
  2. ^ Obituaries: Ephraim Kishon Archived 2020-09-03 at the Wayback Machine *The Guardian*, 1 February 2005
  3. ^ The life of Ephraim Kishon (1924-2005) Archived 2020-11-06 at the Wayback Machine, ephraimkishon.de
  4. ^ "Remembering the Greatest Jewish Writer You May Not Have Even Heard Of". Tablet Magazine. 2018-01-29. Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  5. ^ "חלון כתבה". Jpress.org.il. Retrieved 2013-04-17.
  6. ^ "Ephraim Kishon 1924 - 2005". Ephraim Kishon: Official website. 2018. Retrieved 25 August 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ "Kishon Chesster". Xs4all.nl. Retrieved 2013-04-17.
  8. ^ Ephraim Kishon (Chessbase.com news) Archived 2005-09-10 at the Wayback Machine— biography and involvement with chess computers
  9. ^ "The 37th Academy Awards (1965) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-11-05.
  10. ^ "The Policeman". IMDb. Archived from the original on 2021-01-11. Retrieved 2018-06-29.
  11. ^ "The 44th Academy Awards (1972) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-11-27.
  12. ^ "List of Bialik Prize recipients 1933–2004 (in Hebrew), Tel Aviv Municipality website" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-12-17.
  13. ^ "Israel Prize Official Site (in Hebrew) – Recipient's C.V." Archived from the original on 2009-10-19.
  14. ^ "Israel Prize Official Site (in Hebrew) – Judges' Rationale for Grant to Recipient". Archived from the original on 2009-10-19.

External links[edit]