YOYSEF YASHUNSKI (JÓZEF JASZUŃSKI) (December 29, 1881-January 18, 1943)
He was born in Grodno. He studied Jewish subjects with the prominent Hebrew teachers in the city. In 1900 he graduated from Grodno high school with honors. In 1904 he graduated from the physics and mathematics faculty of St. Petersburg University with a first-level diploma. He also spent two semesters, 1905-1906, in the senior technical school in Charlottenburg (Berlin). Under the influence of modern Hebrew literature, he became a Zionist, took an active part in party work, and was a delegate to the fifth Zionist congress. Around 1904-1905, he withdrew from the Zionist movement and became a Bund sympathizer—and over the 1920s and 1930s he remained very close to the Bund. From the founding of Der fraynd (Friend) in St. Petersburg in 1903, he contributed to the newspaper, first as a chronicler, then offering summaries from the Russian press, and later one of the chief contributors—also using such pseudonyms as Ben-Khayim. In the monthly Dos lebn (Life) in 1905, he published an article on voting rights (later published as a pamphlet in Russian, revised in 1917, and published in four printings). This appeared in Yiddish as: Vi azoy velen tsugehn di valen tsum yudishen tsuzamenfor? (How will the elections to the Jewish conference proceed?) (Petrograd, 1917), 20 pp. (using the pen name Ben-Khayim). He also wrote for Y. Vortsman’s Yudishe tsukunft (Jewish future), among other serials. When Der fraynd moved to Warsaw in 1909, Yashunski became director of the St. Petersburg division and attended to all aspects of the newspaper. Material for the newspaper became thinner when he began to devote more attention to literary work in Russian for the Russian Jewish journals Budushchnost’ (Future) in 1902, Evreiskaia zhizn’ (Jewish life), Voskhod (Arise), and Razsviet (Dawn). He also participated in compiling a Russian-language index to literature on Zionism (1903). From 1907 he turned his attention to scientific literary work and translated a great deal of such into Russian, mainly from German, such as: David Strauss, Leben Jesu (Life of Jesus); a general history of philosophy; Foss, on the essence of mathematics; Wilhelm Arens, Mathematische Unterhaltungen und Spiele (Mathematical recreations and games); Auerbach, on basic principles in contemporary natural science; Hermann Minkowski, Raum und Zeit (Space and time); Henri Poincaré, Les méthodes nouvelles de la mécanique célestes; Simon, on methodology for mathematics in middle school; Federigo Enriques, Fragen der Elementargeometrie (Problems in elementary geometry); Ernst Grimsehl, Didaktik und Methodik der Physik (Didactics and methodology of physics); and Pendorf, on methodology in commercial arithmetic. Yashunski also wrote for Russian legal journals on issues of budget and parliamentary rights, as well as penning a number of pamphlets on problems involving civil rights. From 1912 he served as secretary of the editorial board of Brockhaus and Efron’s Novyi entsiklopedicheskii slovar’ (New encyclopedic dictionary), volumes 6-31; and from 1914 he was co-editor and later editor of Brockhaus and Efron’s Malyi entsiklopedicheskii slovar’ (Small encyclopedic dictionary). During WWI he wrote in Yiddish for the collection put out by “Der tog” (The day) publishers in St. Petersburg (1916), and in Petrograder togblat (Petrograd daily newspaper) before the revolution; he also wrote for Yidisher folks-blat (Jewish people’s newspaper) in Kiev, edited by Bal-Dimyon. He was editor, 1916-1917, of the St. Petersburg division of the Moscow-based, Russian-Jewish Novyi Put’ (New path). He was the initiator of the Jewish people’s encyclopedia, for which he wrote twenty-five printer’s sheets concerned with natural science and geography (unfortunately, the plan for this was never realized—see Yashunski’s article, “Pruvn fun yidishe entsiklopedyes” [Efforts at Yiddish encyclopedias], Bikher-vekt [Book world] 2 [Warsaw], 1922).
In 1920 he left Russia and settled in Vilna where he worked for ORT (Association for the Promotion of Skilled Trades). In 1924 he became director of the Jewish senior high school in Vilna, but after a couple of years of weak performance, he was compelled to leave this position. He wrote articles and notices, primarily on modern Russian memoir literature and mathematics and natural science books for: Vilner tog (Vilna day), Bikher-velt, and Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw. In 1922 he began to run in the Warsaw Bundist daily Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper)—later, Naye folkstsaytung (New people’s newspaper)—his chats about natural science and technology, which both excelled in their exactitude and in their popularity, and afforded the author considerable recognition with readers among the Jewish masses in Poland. He wrote similar articles for Arbeter-luekh (Workers’ calendar) in Warsaw in the early 1920s. These chats continued for over fifteen years and reached some 700 in all. In the early 1920s he also translated from German: Harry Schmidt, Dos velt-bild loyt der teorye fun relativkayt, albert aynshtayns gedanken, folkstimlekh oysgetaytsht (The world view according to the theory of relativity, Albert Einstein’s thinking, popularly explained [original: Das Weltbild der Relativitätstheorie, allgemeinverständliche Einführung in die Einsteinsche Lehre von Raum und Zeit]) (Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1923), 136 pp. This publisher also published his original work: Natur un mentsh, alte, naye un nayeste dergreykhungen in naturvisnshaft un tekhnik (Nature and man: old, new, and newest achievements in natural science and technology) (Warsaw, 1927), 285 pp.; and Groyse mentshn, groyse mayses (Great men, great stories) (Warsaw, 1930), 181 pp. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, there appeared in Warsaw under his editorship a series of translations of books (eighteen in all) which were published by Kultur-lige (Culture league) for a natural science library entitled “Natur un kultur” (Nature and culture). He also contributed to the bibliographical section of YIVO. He provided information on Yiddish and Russian Jewish publications for the Russian-language Knizhnaia letopis’ (Book annals) in St. Petersburg. He later used this for a major work entitled “Di yidishe peryodishe prese zint 1917 biz 1919 in rusland” (The Jewish periodical press, 1917-1919, in Russia), Bikher-velt 1-4 (1922); he also published there articles on technical graphic issues in the art of Yiddish printing, such as: “Tsu der reform fun alef-beys” (On the reform of the alphabet) and “Sher-bletlekh in bikher” (Title pages in books). In 1928 he settled in Warsaw, where together with Dr. Zilberfarb he directed ORT and at the same time wrote for the Bundist monthly Unzer tsayt (Our time) and for Ort-yedies (News from ORT). He was a member of the Warsaw Jewish community council. He contributed work to Yivo-bleter (Pages from YIVO), in which among other items he published (all in Vilna): “Tsu der diskusye vegn der algemeyner entsiklopedye af yidish” (On the discussion concerning the general encyclopedia in Yiddish) 2.4-5 (1931), pp. 289-307; “Farnem un kharakter fun der yidisher entsiklopedye” (Scope and character of the Yiddish encyclopedia) 3.2 (1932), pp. 121-39; “Vegn der biblyografye fun tsienizm” (On the bibliography of Zionism) 14.1-2 (1939). He was also a member of the YIVO administration. In the Warsaw Ghetto he was mobilized onto the Judenrat (Jewish council) in the area of vocational training and post office, and thanks to him there was organized in the ghetto several dozen courses and cooperative workshops where thousands of Jews worked and thus acquired “respectability” from the Nazi authorities. In early 1943 he was deported to Treblinka where he was murdered together with his wife and son. A second son, Grisha Yashunski, managed to escape to Vilna.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1 (Warsaw, 1914; Vilna, 1928); A. Golomb, in Bikher-velt (Warsaw) (September 1928); biography in Pinkes-yekopo (Records of Yekopo [Yevreyskiy komitet pomoshchi zhertvam voyny (Jewish Relief Committee for War Victims)]) (Vilna, 1931), see index; Yivo-bleter (New York) 26 (1945); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (April 10, 1935); Vl. Grosman, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (August 20, 1942); D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Tsukunft (New York) (January 1943); list of those killed, in Unzer tsayt (New York) (October 1944); M. Mozes, in Der poylisher yid (The Polish Jew), annual (New York, 1944); Yidishe shriftn (Lodz) (1946); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 2 (Montreal, 1947); Y. Turkov, Azoy iz es geven (That’s how it was) (Buenos Aires, 1948), pp. 47, 56, 68; H. Abramovitsh, in Lerer-yizker-bukh (Remembrance volume for teachers) (New York, 1954), pp. 191-93; Abramovitsh, Farshvundene geshtaltn (Disappeared figures) (Buenos Aires, 1958), pp. 80-88; B. Shefner, Novolipye 7, zikhroynes un eseyen (Nowolipie 7, memoirs and essays) (Buenos Aires, 1955), p. 775; R. Ben-Shem, Poyln brent (Poland is burning) (Buenos Aires, 1960), p. 307; M. Vaykhert, Varshe (Warsaw) (Tel Aviv, 1961), see index.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 298.]