LEYZER VILENKIN (1894-1985)
He was born in Horodok, Byelorussia. From 1912 he was working in a Kharkov chemical factory “Lev,” and from there he moved to Petrograd in 1917, where he was hired to work for community institutions while studying in the evenings. With philological inclinations since his youth, over the course of a decade and a half he studied pedagogy, literature, and linguistics at various senior high schools. Over the years 1921-1925, he studied at the pedagogical faculty of Leningrad University, while at the same time (1923-1925) working as a teacher at a children’s preschool and later (1915-1927) at a public school. He was a research student, 1926-1929, at the Leningrad Institute of the Literatures and Languages of the East and West; he was an instructor, 1929-1931, at the Byelorussian Institute for Jewish Culture in Minsk; he was a scholarly contributor, 1932-1933, at the Moscow Institute for language research; he worked, 1932-1935, for the Moscow Institute for Criticism and Bibliography; and, 1935-1937, he was librarian at the Lenin Library in Moscow. With his great love for the Yiddish language, Vilenkin held as his greatest interest to compile an academic Yiddish dictionary and a Yiddish language atlas. He amassed an immense file of linguistic sources for Yiddish and published articles in Kharkover shtern (Kharkov star) and Proletarishe fon (Proletarian banner) (May 1934) on Yiddish terminology. In 1929 he published a pamphlet for a project entitled Der yidisher akademisher verterbukh un der yidisher shprakhatalas (The academic Yiddish dictionary and Yiddish language atlas), put out by the Yiddish sector (language section) of the Byelorussian Academy of Sciences (Minsk, 1929), 36 pp., and in 1931 he published the first part of his planned life’s work, Yidisher shprakhatlas fun sovetnfarband (The Yiddish language atlas of the Soviet Union), prepared on the basis of his dialectological materials assembled by the language commission of the Yiddish sector of the Byelorussian Academy of Sciences under the direction of Mortkhe Veynger: Fonetik (Phonetics) (Minsk, 1931). For two full years (1929-1930), as he wrote in his introduction, Vilenkin himself prepared the 10,000 cards from 1,200 correspondents from 700 cities and towns that had been sent to Veynger, and he arranged them on seventy-five dialect maps which were explained in Vilenkin’s introduction. Even today his language atlas of the U.S.S.R. remains a unique item in the Yiddish linguistic research literature. Prepared materials for subsequent volumes of the language atlas, as well as the materials for an academic dictionary, disappeared during WWII. He was arrested in 1948 and spent six years in a Soviet camp. After one unsuccessful effort to immigrate to Israel, he succeeded in doing so in 1970, and there he spent the remaining years of his life. He published Gerangl (Struggle) in Jerusalem from 1973, 399 pp.
Source: Dr. M. Vaynraykh (Max Weinreich), in Yivo-bleter (Vilna) 4.2 (1932), pp. 168-79.
Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 246.