YOYSEF TUNKEL (“DER TUNKELER”) (1881-August 9, 1949)
He was born in Bobruisk, Byelorussia, the son of an itinerant teacher. In his early years, he demonstrated a talent for painting, and at age sixteen he attended the Vilna school of design; when he graduated, he moved to Odessa, but because of his poor vision he was unable to continue painting, and in its stead he turned completely to literary work. In 1901 he debuted in print with a series of folk poems in Yud (Jew), edited by Dr. Yoysef Lurye, and from that point in time he published poems, feature pieces, and humorous sketches in various Yiddish newspapers. He departed for the United States in 1906, where in 1908 he founded the illustrated weekly for humor, jokes, and satire: Der kibetser (The joker), later edited by Khayim Gutman, also known as “Der Lebediker” (The live one), and by Y. Marinov; in 1909 he founded Der groyser kundes (The great prankster), a weekly newspaper of the same sort (it later appeared under the editorship of Y. Marinov). He returned from America in 1910, and he began to work in the Warsaw Yiddish press; from 1911 he was a regular contributor to Warsaw’s Moment (Moment), in which aside from feature pieces and humorous sketches (also using the pen names Khoyshekh [Darkness] and Der Tunkeler [The dark one]), he was in charge of a weekly humorous division, “Der krumer shpigl” (The crooked mirror), which made him very popular among all strata of Yiddisher readers in Poland and Russia. During WWI he stayed for a time in the city of his birth, Bobruisk, later moving to Kiev and Odessa where he contributed work to a number of publications and made an effort on his own to publish a humorous weekly, Der ashmodai. In Warsaw he also brought out a number of comic papers in honor of holidays and for a time the humorous weekly Der sambatyen (The Sambatyon). He often also drew caricatures with his work. In the years between the two world wars, he wrote stage scenes, one-act plays, and monologues which were produced with great success on the stages of variety theaters and with individual actors. He was able to profit on his works for audiences on his own. He also published his work in Forverts (Forward) in New York and in other periodicals in various countries. Using the pseudonym Andruginus, he published features in the Warsaw Bundist Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper) on topics which because of their sharpness he could not have published in Moment.
Many of his parodies, caricatures, satires, features, and humorous sketches appeared in book form in: Der krumer shpigl (Warsaw, 1911), 56 pp., with illustration; Der griner popugay, a zamlung fun monologen, satiren, un parodyen (The green parrot, a collection of monologues, satires, and parodies) (Warsaw, 1912), 72 pp.; Fleder-mayz, a zamlung fun felyetonen, lider un parodyen (Bats, a collection of feature pieces, songs, and parodies) (Warsaw, 1912), 71 pp.; Der goldener aeroplan, oder khayim yenkel der honig kvetsher (The golden airplane, or Khayim Yenkel the honey squeezer) (Warsaw, 1914), 96 pp.; Di royte hagode (The red Haggada) (Odessa: N. Halperin, 1917), 16 pp.; Di bolshevistishe hagode (The Bolshevik Haggada) (Kiev, 1918), 16 pp.; Zumer-leb, datshe-humoresken (Summer life, humorous sketches at the dacha) (Kiev, 1918), 15 pp.; Idishisten (Yiddishists) (Kiev, 1918), 16 pp.; Der humorist (The humorist), a one-act play (Warsaw, 1920), 23 pp.; Der khosn (The bridegroom), a one-act play (Warsaw, 1920), 26 pp.; Masoes benyomen harevii, fun ukrainishn khaos (The travels of Benjamin IV, from the chaos in Ukraine) (Warsaw-New York, 1920), 91 pp.; Notl un motl, zeks shtifer mayselekh (Notl and Motl, six mischievous tales) (Warsaw, 1920), 66 pp., second edition (1928), 74 pp.; Vikhne dvorshe fort keyn amerike (Vikhne Dvorshe goes to America), part 1 (Warsaw, 1921), 91 pp.; Kopl un di genz (Kopl and the geese) (Warsaw, 1921), 14 pp., with illustrations, second edition (1928); Di papirene shlang (The paper snake) (Warsaw, 1921), 22 pp., second edition (1928); Khayim getsl der reformator mit zayne 25 reformen (Khayim Getsl the reformer with his twenty-five reforms), illustrations by B. Faygenboym (Warsaw, 1922), 74 pp.; Der regenboygen, a zamlung shriftn (The rainbow, a collection of writings) (Warsaw, 1922), 267 pp.; Katoves, a zamlung humoreskn un parodyen (Jest, a collection of humorous sketches and parodies) (Warsaw, 1923), 134 pp.; Mitn kop arop, parodyes (With one’s head down, parodies) (Warsaw, 1924), 216 pp., second edition (Vilna, 1931), 188 pp.; Oyf-tsu-kloymersht, humoreskes (Ostensibly, humorous sketches) (Warsaw, 1924; Vilna, 1931), 216 pp.; Mit di fis aroyf (With one’s feet up) (Warsaw, 1926), 212 pp.; Ikh lakh fun aykh (I’m laughing at you) (Vilna, 1930; Warsaw, 1931), 212 pp.; Dos freylekhe teater: eynakters, stsenkes, deklamatsyes (The merry theater: one-act plays, stage scenes, declamations) (Warsaw, 1931), 247 pp.; Fort a yid keyn erets-yisroel, a rayze-bashraybung (A Jew goes to the land of Israel, a travel narrative), with illustrations (Warsaw, 1932), 278 pp.; In gutn mut, a zamlung fun humoreskes, satires, groteskes, paradyes, szenkes (Amiably, a collection of humorous sketches, satires, grotesqueries, parodies, stage scenes) (Warsaw, 1936), 222 pp.; On gal (In good nature) (Warsaw, 1939), 188 pp. There were also publications with undetermined dates: A gelekhter on a zayt (All joking aside) (Warsaw: Aḥiasef, 1930s), 192 pp.; Yo khasene-hobn, nit khasene-hobn (Yes to marriage, no to marriage) (Warsaw); and a series of stories for children, his own and those adapted from world literature, which were often reprinted and performed in Jewish schools everywhere, among them: Di karliklekh un der tsilinder (The midgets and the top hat) (Warsaw, 1923), 19 pp.; Der purim-ber, a teater shtik far kinder in dray aktn (The Purim bear, a theater piece for children in three acts) (Odessa: Blimelakh, 1919), 22 pp.; Royt hitele (Red cap) (Warsaw, 1921), 27 pp.; Di papirene shlang [see above]; and Kopele mit di genz (Kopele and the geese); among others. In 1935 the Vilna Troupe staged a play of his, entitled Gots ganovim (God’s thieves). He also translated into Yiddish Sammy Gronemann’s three-act comedy: Yankev un eysev (Jacob and Esau). He traveled through the United States, 1932-1933, and in 1937 he was in Paris.
In the late summer of 1939, he left Poland on a tour through Western Europe and was stuck in Belgium. In Brussels he wrote for the weekly newspaper Undzer yishev (Our community), organ of the Council of Jewish Organizations in Belgium. In May 1940 when the Germans invaded Belgium, he and other Belgian Jews escaped into France. Because he was crippled in one leg, running was exceedingly difficult for him, and the Vichy police arrested him. For a time he remained in police custody in a village in southern France. Later, while in Toulouse, he and the Parisian journalist and novelist V. Vevyorke were seized in a police raid on illegal foreigners and sent to a camp, from which he successfully escaped. In the spring of 1941 he arrived in the United States and became a regular contributor to Forverts in New York, though he wrote little. His health worsened, and the fate of Eastern European Jewry under Nazi domination thoroughly broke him. He nonetheless did write and publish Goles, kesovim fun a flikhtling (Diaspora, writings of a refugee) (New York: Shrayber farlag, 1943), 95 pp., in which he describes his wanderings through Belgium and France during the war to escape from the Germans: “Thus, all alone I have described with my talent and artist zest everything that I with my own hands have borne on my own poor shoulders. Why? So that, God willing, we should live to see a better and happier time; and I feel a sense of sadness and calamity. I hope to find an opening with this book, to read and enjoy it, as always” (from the preface). He also published Der groyser genits oder a nudner tog in nyu-york, a humoristishe dertseylung (The big yawn or a worrisome day in New York, a humorous story) (New York, 1948), 63 pp. He also contributed to the journal Svive (Environs), edited by Kadye Molodovski, and to the anthology Lite (Lithuania), part 1 (New York, 1951, cols. 1279-90), in which he published an autobiographical work entitled: “Dos kapitl vilne in mayn lebn” (The Vilna chapter of my life). In his last few years, he was very ill and nearly blind. He died in a medical facility in the Bronx, New York.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; Z. Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2; D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Tsukunft (New York) (October 1935; January 1943); Tsharni, A yortsendlik aza, 1914-1924, memuarn (Such a decade, 1914-1924, memoirs) (New York, 1943); Ershter altveltlekher yidisher kultur-kongres (First World Jewish Culture Congress), report (Paris-New York-Warsaw, 1937), pp. 86-87; Dr. R. Feldshuh, Yidisher gezelshaftlekher leksikon (Jewish communal handbook) (Warsaw, 1939), pp. 802, 803; Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (May 1942); H. Abramovitsh, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (August 27, 1943); D. Ignatov, in Tsukunft (December 1944); Ignatov, Opgerisene bleter, eseyen, farblibene ksovim un fragmentn (Torn off sheets, essays, extant writings, and fragments) (Buenos Aires: Yidbukh, 1957), p. 70; Meylekh Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (November 3, 1944; August 29, 1949); Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 1 (Montreal, 1945); Elkhonen Tsaytlin, In a literarisher shtub (In a literary home) (Buenos Aires, 1946), pp. 132, 134; Z. Segalovitsh, Tlomatske 13, fun farbrentn nekhtn (13 Tłomackie St., of scorched yesterdays) (Buenos Aires, 1946), p. 179; Segalovitsh, Gebrente trit (Suffering step) (Buenos Aires, 1947); E. Almi, Momentn fun a lebn (Moments in a life) (Buenos Aires, 1948); Y. Berliner, in Der veg (Mexico City) (October 1, 1949); Y. Y. Sigal, in Keneder odler (August 15, 1949); A. B. in Unzer tsayt (New York) (August-September 1949); A. Dorf, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (November 6, 1953); H. Rogof, Der gayst fun forverts (The spirit of the Forverts) (New York, 1954), pp. 255ff; Y. Rolnik, Zikhroynes (Memoirs) (New York, 1954), p. 163; A. Kaganovitski, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (November 6, 1955); B. Kutsher, Geven amol varshe (As Warsaw once was) (Paris, 1955); Dr. A. Mukdoni, In varshe un in lodzh (In Warsaw and in Lodz), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires, 1955); B. Shefner, Novolipye 7, zikhroynes un eseyen (Nowolipie 7, memoirs and essays) (Buenos Aires, 1955); Kh. Pet, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (December 1958); Sh. Tenenboym, in Di shtime (Mexico City) (November 12, 1960); obituary notices in the American Jewish press; Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 10.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 279.]