PEYSEKH-LIBMAN HERSH (LIEBMANN HERSCH) (May 25, 1882-June 9, 1955)
He was born in the village of Pomushe (Pamūšis), Shavel (Šiauliai) district, Lithuania. He was the son of the Hebrew and Yiddish writer MEYER-DOVID HERSH. At age six he entered a “cheder metukan” (improved religious elementary school) in Shavel, and there he studied Hebrew, grammar, and Tanakh. Over the years 1891-1895, when his father for the first time moved to South Africa, he remained behind working for room and board with a school teacher and earning a reputation as a child prodigy. At the same time that he was reading Hebrew books, he was studying some Russian and accounting. After his father returned to Russia in 1895, he lived in Warsaw, studied Talmud further, and also prepared to attend high school. In his early youth, he was fascinated by the Ḥibat-Tsiyon (Love of Zion) movement and became active in Zionist youth circles. In 1900 he entered the sixth class of the Kalisz philological high school, from which he graduated in 1903. He was already at this time involved in politics and had taken part in the illegal meeting of the “All-Russian Union of Jewish Students” in Voronezh. In 1904 he entered Warsaw University where he studied mathematics for one year, took part in the student strike, and due to the police atmosphere at the university in late 1904, he left for Switzerland, where he entered the sociology faculty at the University of Geneva. At that time he was already close to the Jewish socialist movement, and in 1905 he organizationally joined the Bund and participated in Bundist circles of emigrants in Switzerland.
He began his literary career with a political Zionist article in Hatsfira (The timsirenes) in spring 1899, and from 1906 he was publishing publicist works in Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper) in Vilna and in legal anthologies of the Bund in Vilna—Di naye tsayt (The new times), Tsayt-fragen (Issues of the times), and the like, in which (under the pen name P. Libman) he wrote about Jewish emigration, the national question for Jews, and on social-political themes in general. In 1907 he was in Warsaw, giving lectures at the Jewish division of the “University for Everyone,” worked for the Bund, and was a member of its Warsaw committee. He also contributed, 1907-1908, to the Vilna organ of the Polish Socialist Party (or PPS [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna]): Wiedza (Knowledge). In 1908 he graduated from the faculty of social science at the University of Geneva. His doctoral dissertation, entitled Le juif errant d’aujourd’hui (The wandering Jew today), for which he was awarded by the University of Geneva the “Prize in Human Geography,” aroused great interest in European academic circles. In 1909 he was appointed as a private instructor at the University of Geneva, where he gave lectures on demography and statistics. From that point forward, more than anything else Hersh specialized in these particular fields. In his work he used the Marxist approach, and he published his achievements in the field in Swiss and French academic and vocational journals in French and German. He was a delegate in 1910 to the eighth Bundist conference in Lemberg. He spent the years 1912-1913 in St. Petersburg, where he served as co-editor of the Bundist weekly newspaper Di tsayt (The times), as well as the initiator of the general Jewish protest strike against the Beilis trial.
From 1912 he published his writings on Jewish socio-economic issues (under his own name as well as under the pseudonyms: P. Libman, H. Blumberg, Bal-Khloymes, P. L., A Feder, P. Lemanski, Akademikus, Lubomir Shavelski, and L. Sh.) in Tsukunft (Future) in New York, in Bundist and general legal and illegal socialist publications in Yiddish, Russian, and Polish, and he was a member of the editorial board of Otklili Bunda (Echo of the Bund) and Informatsionnyi listok (Informational leaflet), publications of the foreign committee of the Bund in Geneva. In 1915 he served as a delegate of the Bund to the international socialist conference in Zimmerwald. In 1927 he became a full professor at the University of Geneva. After WWI he published correspondence pieces in the Russian daily newspapers, Dni (Days) and Volya rossii (Will of Russia), principally about the negotiations at the League of Nations which had ties to socio-economic issues. He also contributed work to highly important Geneva, Lausanne, and Parisian periodicals. His work in Bulletin de l’Institut National Genevois elicited considerable clamor concerning mortality in the neutral countries during WWI. Professor Hersh penned specialized works in Yiddish for the organ of the Bund, Folkstsaytung, in Warsaw, in which in a refine, folkish Yiddish elucidated difficult socio-economic problems, as well as issues of emigration, sickness, and mortality.
With the creation of YIVO, Hersh was a frequent contributor to its scholarly publications and a member of its economics-statistics section. Among the important writings Hersh wrote for YIVO publications were: “Di yidishe bafelkerung fun der frantseyzisher tsofn-afrike (alzhir, tunis un moroko)” (The Jewish population of French North Africa—Algiers, Tunis, Morocco), Yivo-bleter (Pages from YIVO) 2.3 (1931), pp. 234-40; “Shprakhlekhe asimilirtkeyt bay di yidishe studentn fun di varshever hoykhshuln” (Linguistic assimilation of Jewish students in Warsaw senior high schools), Yivo-bleter 4-5, pp. 441-44; “Ekonomishe evolutsye un demografishe evolutsye” (Economic evolution and demographic evolution), Yivo-bleter 8 (1935), pp. 107-37; “Vegn di problemes fun der natirlekhe bafelkerungs-bavegung bay yidn” (On the problems of the natural population migration among Jews), Ekonomishe shriftn (Economic writings) 1 (1928), pp. 249-53 (Vilna); “Geburtikeyt un shtarbikeyt bay der yidisher bafelkerung in varshe” (Birth rate and mortality within the Jewish population in Warsaw), Yivo-bleter 4-3, pp. 193-208; “Shtrikhn tsu der demografye fun der yidisher un nit-yidisher bafelkerung fun der poylisher republik” (Features of the demography of the Jewish and Gentile population in the Polish Republic), Ekonomishe shriftn 2 (1932), pp. 174-200; “Tsu der yidisher farbrekherishkeyt in poyln” (On rates of Jewish criminality in Poland), Yivo-bleter 9 and 10 (1936); “Di demografishe problem bay yidn nokh der tsveyter velt-milkhome” (The demographic problem for Jews after WWII), Yivo-bleter 26 (1945); “Yidishe un nit-yidishe farbrekherishkeyt in poyln in 1932-1937” (Jewish and Gentile rates of criminality in Poland, 1932-1937), Yivo-bleter 20 (1942), pp. 181-98; “A pekl verter un oysdrukn fun pilvishek” (A group of words and expressions from Pilvishok), Yidishe shprakh (Yiddish language) 4 (1944), pp. 51-54; “Tsu der demografye fun der yidisher bafelkerung in kovner lite erev der tsveyter velt-milkhome” (Concerning the demography of the Jewish population of Kovno, Lithuania, on the eve of WWII), Yivo-bleter 34 (1950), pp. 274-76; and others as well. With the creation of the Algemeyne yidishe entsiklopedye (General Jewish encyclopedia), Hersh was one of its most prominent contributors. He wrote shorter and longer entries for the “Alef-beys” volume and the following important pieces for the volume “Yidn” (Jews): “Yidishe demografye” (Jewish demography), vol. “Yidn A” (Paris, 1939), cols. 331-86; “Yidish emigratsye far di letste hundert yor” (Jewish emigration over the last century), “Yidn A,” cols. 441-82; “Di yidn in der shvayts” (Jews in Switzerland), vol. “Yidn D” (New York, 1950), cols. 695-704. In English publications of the Algemeyne entsiklopedye, he published: “Jewish Migrations During the Last Hundred Years,” in The Jewish People Past and Present, vol. 1 (New York, 1946), pp. 407-30; “Jewish Population Trends in Europe,” “The Jewish Population in Palestine,” in The Jewish People Past and Present, vol. 2 (New York, 1948), pp. 1-25 and 40-50.
Among his books, in Yiddish: Di yidishe emigratsye (Jewish emigration) (Vilna, 1914), 240 pp.; Di aliya un yeride (Immigration to Israel and emigration from Israel) (Warsaw, n.d., written in 1927), 46 pp.; Farbrekherishkeyt fun yidn un nit-yidn in poyln (Rates of criminality among Jews and Gentiles in Poland) (Vilna: YIVO, 1937), 265 pp. (Yiddish) and 18 pp. (French); Mayn yidishkeyt (My Jewishness), mimeograph (Geneva, 1944), 47 pp.; Af der grenets fun tsaytn (On the border of the times) (Buenos Aires, 1952), 301 pp. In French: Essai sur les variations periodiques et leur mensuration (Essay on periodic variations and their measurement) (Rome, 1935), 184 pp.; “Bolchévisme” juif et “antisemitisme” polonaise (Jewish “Bolshevism” and Polish “anti-Semitism”) (Geneva, 1918), 16 pp. (The last pamphlet was an answer to an anti-Semitic professor in Lausanne concerning the then widespread view that identified Jews with Bolshevism.); L’inégalité devant la mort d’après les statistiques de la ville de Paris. Effets de la situation sociale sur la mortalité (Inequality before death according to statistics of the city of Paris, effects of the social circumstances concerning mortality) (Paris, 1920), 49 pp.; Des principaux effets demographiques des guerres modernes (Principal demographic effects of world wars) (Rome, 1931), 19 pp.; D’une formule générale de la baisse de la mortalité dans les divers pays d’Europe occidentale (A general formula for the drop in mortality in diverse countries of Western Europe) (Paris, 1937), 40 pp.; Le Juif délinquant; étude comparative sur la criminalité de la population juive et non-juive de la République polonaise (The delinquent Jew, a comparative study of criminality among the Jewish and Gentile populations in the Polish Republic) (Paris, 1938), 108 pp. In English: “Delinquency among Jews,” an offprint published in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 27.4 (November-December 1936), pp. 515-38 (Chicago). In Polish: O przestępczości wśród Żydów w Polsce (Crime among Jews in Poland) (Warsaw, 1938), 119 pp. Among other publications: Mon judaïsme, le Judaïsme vu par un positiviste juif (My Judaism, Judaism as seen by a Jewish positivist) (Geneva, 1941), 44 pp.; Quo Vadis Geneva? Données et réflexiones sur le problème de la population en Suisse et plus particuliérement a Genève (Quo Vadis Geneva? Facts and reflections on the problem of the Swiss population and most particularly that of Geneva) (Geneva, 1941), 62 pp.; La méthode des potentiels-vie appliquée à l’étude du mouvement naturel de la population (Method of the life-potentials applied to the study of natural population migration) (La Hay, 1942), 32 pp.; De la démographie actuelle à la démographie potentielle (From actual to potential demography) (Geneva, 1944), 129 pp.; Le problème démographique juif après la seconde guerre mondiale (The Jewish demographic problem after WWII) (Geneva, 1947), 30 pp. He also penned a preface to a work by Georges Gliksman, L’aspect economique de la question juive en Pologne (The economic aspect of the Jewish question in Poland) (Paris, 1929).
During WWII Professor Hersh did a great deal to help Jews in lands under German occupation. He was the official representative of the Jewish Workers’ Committee in New York and made use of his prominence with the Swiss authorities to ease Swiss neutrality and border regulations and to offer asylum rights to those who succeeded in getting across the Swiss border. He also did cultural and relief work among the internees in Swiss refugee camps. He was the founder and for many years served as head of the Jewish Cultural Association and the Jewish Library in Geneva. During WWII he assisted in transplanting World ORT (Association for the Promotion of Skilled Trades) and OZE (Obschestvo zdravookhraneniia evreev—Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jewish Population) central from Paris to Geneva; he founded the great Jewish Library in Geneva, which grew to be one of the major Jewish libraries in Europe. In 1945 to honor the thirty years of Hersh’s professorial activities, the University of Geneva dedicated the academic publication, Mélanges d’études economiques et sociales (Collection of economic and social studies), 330 pp., including an appreciation of his personality and a biographical introduction by the dean of the University of Geneva, Claudius Terrier. In 1947 Hersh made a research trip to Israel and gave a speech in Hebrew, on the radio in Jerusalem, entitled “Hayishuv vehagola” (The settlement and the Diaspora). He returned from Israel with much affection for the settlement. “I sensed in the Jewish settlement the great spiritual strengths of our people,” he wrote, “and I truly have gained a great affection for it.” In 1948 he came to New York as a delegate to the World Jewish Culture Congress. At the same time he took part as a delegate to a YIVO conference in New York, at which he gave the keynote speech. Shortly after WWII, when the Bund was being reorganized, Hersh was one of the most active leaders; he took part in the first world conference of the Bund in Brussels, Belgium, in 1947, and he was a member of the “World Coordinating Committee” of the Bund and its representative to the Socialist International. In 1952 he made a trip to South America (Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil) on assignment from the Bund, and at the same time gave lectures at universities there. In 1955 he made a trip to South Africa to see his family there. In 1954 he became chairman of the international conference for demography and statistics, called by the international statistics commission of the United Nations in Rome. He had since 1949 been the president of the “World Union for the Scientific Study of Population Movement”; he was also a member of the World Society for Statistics and Demography, the World Statistics Institute, and the National Institute in Geneva. Aside from his multiple academic activities on an international scale, Hersh wrote a great deal in Yiddish in his last years. He published his works in: Tsukunft and Unzer tsayt (Our time) in New York; Unzer shtime (Our voice) in Paris; and Lebns-fragn (Issues of the times) in Tel Aviv; among others. He also wrote poetry and translated for himself alone seven of his favorite poems from world literature. In 1955 he was awarded the Shaban Prize from the World Jewish Culture Congress for an essay on the links between Israel and the Diaspora.
In April 1955 Hersh traveled to Montreal to the world conference of the Bund, and he was also the guest lecturer on demography at the University of Montreal. He was also invited to a meeting of the United Nations Commission on Population. On the eve of the conference, he became ill and was taken to a hospital. He read his speech for the opening of the conference onto a recording machine. On April 23, 1955 he returned to Geneva, entered a hospital there, and then died after an operation. After his death they had engraved on his gravestone in Hebrew: “Here rests Peysekh-Libman, son of Meyer-Dovid Hersh, who did not find his way in life”; and in French: “Ici repose le Juif errant Liebman Hersch” (Here lies the wandering Jew, [Peysekh] Libman Hersh).
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; A. Revutski, in Forverts (New York) (December 1928); Ab. Cahan, in Forverts (October 4, 1931); Tsvien, in Forverts (December 26, 1932); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (December 2, 1932); Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (February 2, 1932; November 19, 1955); Sh. Rozhanski, Dos yidishe gedrukte vort un teater in argentine (The published Yiddish word and theater in Argentina), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires, 1941), p. 84; L. Shusheys, in Di naye tsayt (Buenos Aires) (July 31, 1952); Z. Diamant, in Forverts (December 21, 1952); Diamant, in Yivo-bleter (New York) (1954); Diamant, in Fun noentn over (New York) 4 (1959); G. Aronson, in Der veker (New York) (August 15, 1953); B. Mark, in Folksshtime (Warsaw) (April 15, 1954); R. Abramovitsh, in Forverts (June 15, 1955; Abramovitsh, in Tsukunft (September 1955); M. Mandelman, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (June 30, 1955); Mandelman, in Di shtime (Mexico City) (July 9, 1955); Y. Kharlash, in Unzer tsayt (New York) (June 1955); Kharlash, in Doyres bundistn (Generations of Bundists), vol. 2 (New York, 1956), pp. 32-40; B. Shefner, in Undzer gedank (Melbourne) (July 1955); A. Glants, in Tog-morgn zhurnal (New York) (September 11, 1955); M. Shtrigler, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (September 2, 1955); Dr. E. Sherer, in Unzer tsayt (October and November 1955); Jeanne Hersch (his daughter), in Unzer tsayt (November 1955); Jeanne Hersch, in Foroys (Mexico City) (July 1, 1956); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (January 4, 1956); A. Golomb, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (March 1956); A. Almi, in Fraye arbeter shtime (New York) (April 6, 1956); P. Shvarts, in Fun noentn over 2 (1956); D. Eynhorn, in Forverts (May 26, 1957); Yedies fun yivo (New York) 57 (June 1957); obituaries in the Yiddish, Hebrew, French, and English press in various periodicals; Yivo-biblyografye (YIVO bibliography), part 1, 1925-1941 (New York, 1943), part 2, 1942-1950 (New York, 1950); Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 5 (New York, 1941); Who’s Who in World Jewry (New York, 1955); Mélanges d’études economiques et sociales (Geneva, 1945), including a biographical introduction.