Sunday, 12 June 2016


MEYER VINER (MEIR WIENER) (December 31, 1893-September 1941)
            He was born in Cracow, western Galicia.  His father Feliks (Felix), a wealthy merchant, belonged to the circle of enlightened Jews, following Germany, in the atmosphere of aggressive Polonization under the Austrian authorities.  Under the influence of the rising Zionist movement in the early twentieth century, he studied Jewish subjects privately.  From his first writings (in German), it was apparent that he was talented in Hebrew literature, especially in the Jewish philosophical literature of the Middle Ages.  Having completed middle school in 1910, Viner moved with his parents to Vienna where he expanded his Jewish learning further.  During WWI he was studying philosophy in Switzerland.  One of his first works, “Von jüdischer Prophetie und Mystik” (On Jewish prophecy and mysticism), a fragment of a larger work on intuition and concepts, was published in the January-February 1918 issue of the monthly Der Jüde (The Jew) in Berlin (edited by Martin Buber).  The pathos and thoughtful style of this work, as with all of his writings in this first period, was as far as can be from the Soviet Marxist terminology which was to dominate his later criticism and historical studies of Yiddish literature.  In the first years after WWI, Viner contributed to a series of serious German periodicals.  At that time he was publishing (in German) essays on philosophical and historical topics, as well as mystical poetry.  In 1922 together with one of the best known Jewish scholar, Chaim Brody from Prague, he published an anthology in Hebrew entitled Mivḥar hashira haivrit (A selection of Hebrew poetry).  In 1923 he moved to Berlin where he made his first contact with the itinerant Russian-Jewish intellectuals and for a time contributed to Klal Publishers.  He moved on to the Soviet Union in 1926, and there he embraced Soviet citizenship.  In 1927 he was serving as editor of Di royte velt (The red world) in Kharkov.  A short time later he was nominated to be a scholarly contributor to the division of Yiddish literature in the All-Ukrainian Academy in Kiev.  Over the years 1928-1931, he directed the office of Yiddish language and literature in the Jewish section of the Pedagogical Institute in Kiev, where he was also a lecturer in Western European literature.  At the same time he contributed greatly to all the major Soviet Jewish journals and periodical publications.  Among other things, he published at this time: longer treatises on H. Leivick (in Di royte velt, 1927), Perets Markish, and Leyb Kvitko; as well as studies of the Yiddish classics and of Yiddish folklore.  From 1933 he was living in Moscow where he was primarily working on his volume on Yiddish literature in the nineteenth century.
           His books include: Ele faleks untergang (Ele Falek’s downfall), a novel (Kharkov, 1929), 177 pp.; editor of Y. aksenfelds verk (Israel Aksenfeld’s work) (Kiev, 1931); Problemes fun folkloristik, zamlung (Problems of folklore, collection), vol. 1 (Kharkov, 1932), 191 pp., vol. 2 (Moscow, 1936), 191 pp.; Problemes fun kritik (Problems of criticism), co-authored with A. Gurshteyn (Moscow, 1933), 269 pp.; Kolev ashkenazi (Kolev Ashkenazi), a novel (Moscow, 1934), 167 pp., second edition (Moscow, 1938), republished in installments in Folks-shtime (Voice of the people) in Warsaw (1958); Etyudn vegn mendelen in di zekhtsiker un zibetsiker yorn (Studies of Mendele in the 1860s and 1870s), with M. Zaretski (Moscow, 1936), 272 pp.; Di genarte velt, komedye fun an umbakante avtor inem tsveytn yortsendik funem nayntstn yorhundert (The cheated world, a comedy by an unknown author in the second decade of the nineteenth century) (Moscow, 1940), 127 pp.; Tsu der geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur in 19th yorhundert (On the history of Yiddish literature in the nineteenth century) (Kiev, 1940), 454 pp., second edition in two volumes (New York, 1945), 361 pp. and 378 pp.; Vegn sholem aleykhems humor (On Sholem Aleichem’s humor) (Moscow, 1941), 87 pp.  The almanac Sovetish (Soviet) 2 (Moscow, 1935) included an unfinished novel by Viner, entitled Baym mitllendishn yam (At the Mediterranean Sea).
            In June 1941 just after the attack by Hitler’s Germany on Soviet Russia, Viner voluntarily joined the mobilization and left with the army for the front.  In September of that year he fell in the ongoing battle for the city of Vyazma.

Sources: A. Gurshteyn, “A naye vendung in der mendele-forshung” (A new turn in Mendele research), Visnshaftlekhe yorbikher (Scholarly yearbooks) (Moscow, 1929); Kh. Sh. Kazdan, in Vokhnshrift far literatur (Warsaw) (June 10, 1932); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (New York) (November 1934; August 1944); A. Margulis, Sovetish (Moscow) 4 (1937); Zalmen Reyzen, in Yoyvl-bukh keneder odler (Jubilee volume for Keneder odler) (Montreal, 1938); Y. Shatski, “Di genarte velt” (The disappointed world), Yivo-bleter (New York) (21 (May-June 1943); N. M., in Yidishe kultur (New York) (March 1946); M. Naygreshl, in Yidishe kultur (December 1946); N. Y. Gotlib, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (March 31, 1953); N. Mayzil, Dos yidishe shafn un der yidisher shrayber in sovetnfarband (Jewish creation and the Yiddish writer in the Soviet Union) (New York, 1959), see index.
Borekh Tshubinski

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