HARRY (HERTS) LANG (December 10, 1888-June 22, 1970)
He was born in Shkud (Skuodas), Vilna district, Lithuania. He studied in religious elementary school, was a student of Tanakh with the Hebrew writer Yisroel Shaf, and later attended the Musar yeshiva in Slutsk, where he received the moniker “Der Shkuder Matmid” (The diligent yeshiva student from Shkud). In 1904 he immigrated to the United States. He initially worked in a sweatshop in New York. Under the influence of the newspaper Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor) and the journal Zherminal (Germinal), he joined the anarchists and became a leader in the trade union movement. In 1908 he began publishing in Fraye arebeter-shtime descriptions from the lives of the unions which in this period were undergoing the stage of a highly dramatic upsurge. That year he also began to publish in Tsayt-gayst (Spirit of the times) sketches on the material and spiritual condition of the young immigrants from Russia. When Morris Hillquit began in 1912 the fight against the extremists of the I.W.W. (International Workers of the World), Lang joined the Socialist Party and became secretary of the union of house painters, a great number of whose members consisted of Jewish intellectuals of a more recent immigration. In 1913 he was lured to work for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and was the executive secretary of the union in the period of major historical strikes (1914-1916). Over the course of these years, he published enlightening articles on genuine problems of the trade in specialized publications of the Jewish Bakers’ and Tailors’ Unions and of the United Jewish Trade Unions. He also contributed to Tsukunft (Future) and, in later years, to Der idisher kemfer (The Jewish fighter), Gerekhtikeyt (Justice), and Der veker (The alarm), among others—all in New York. In 1917 he became a regular contributor to Forverts (Forward) in New York, and in it he initially wrote mainly about issues in the Jewish labor movement in America. Lang was the first editor of the weekly Der veker, organ of the Jewish Socialist Federation, and he later remained a member of the editorial board. Over the course of time he became a member of the editorial board of Forverts, and for it, in addition to journalistic articles, he wrote two serialized novels: Di eybike kale fun safolk strit (The eternal wife of Suffolk Street) and Der kamf far a mame (The fight for a mother). Both novels were subsequently adapted for the stage and with great success performed in Yiddish theaters in New York. In the 1920s and early 1930s, he made three long voyages through Europe and other parts of the world. From his travel narratives, which he later published in installments in Forverts, the following excelled: his 1928 study of the tragic fate of Jewish cultural autonomy in Eastern Europe (also translated for German Jewish periodicals); a series of articles of the first Spanish revolution; a series on the development of the settlement in the land of Israel under the leadership of Histadrut and the Hagana (translated into German and French in 1933); and finally his revelations about the Soviet Union where he traveled (1933-1934) through cities and towns, as well as to villages and collective farms. This series of articles was translated and published in eleven languages. Lang also published in Forverts a larger number of stories about the Spanish Inquisition (1933), based on archival materials that came to light after the revolution, stories of the medieval Jewish ghettoes in Europe, and the dramatic conflict between Jews and Gentiles in the epoch of liberation struggles in America. In addition to Der veker, he also edited: Unzer mishpokhe (Our family), a collection (New York, 1923), 30 pp.; Geverkshaftn, yubileum-zhurnal (Trade unions, jubilee journal), with M. Feinstone, published for the fortieth and fiftieth anniversary respectively of the United Jewish Trade Unions (New York, 1928), 160 pp., (New York, 1938), 424 pp. Over the years 1941-1949, Lang was editor of the literary supplement to the Sunday issue of Forverts and (1947) of the jubilee issue on the fiftieth anniversary of the newspaper. He co-edited: Elye tenenholts yoyvl-bukh, lekoved fuftsik yor fun zayn tsutrog tsum idishn teater (Elye Tenenholts jubilee book, in honor of fifty years of his contribution to the Yiddish theater) (Los Angeles, 1955), 223 pp. In book form he published: Af amerikaner vegn, mayselekh-ertseylungen-bagegenishn (On American pathways, tales, stories, adventures) (New York, 1925), 293 pp.; Fir doyres (Four generations) (New York: Khanin Foundation, 1974), 407 pp. Over the course of his lengthy writing career, Lang worried in a variety of ways about the spread of the serious Yiddish book. During the years of WWI, he was one of the founders of the Kropotkin Literary Society which introduced to Yiddish literature the social classics of world literature and published them in Yiddish, among them the works of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Ferdinand Lassalle, Moses Hess, Heinrich Heine, and others. From 1950 he was living in Los Angeles, where he took an active role in the local Jewish community and cultural life. He studied the rise of the Jewish community in America and published on this topic a treatment in Forverts entitled “Fun atlantik biz pasifik” (From the Atlantic to the Pacific). He died in Los Angeles.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); A. Litvak, in Forverts (New York) (April 4, 1931); P. Yuditsh, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (June 19, 1931); H. Rogof, in Forverts (November 3, 1931); N. B. Linder, in Tog (New York) (November 6, 1931; December 6, 1932); Y. A. Abramovitsh, in Morgn-frayhayt (December 9, 1932); V. Edlin, in Tog (December 23, 1932); Dr. K. Fornberg, in Tog (June 5, 1934); Akhtsik yor h. lang (H. Lang at eighty) (Los Angeles: Workmen’s Circle, 1968), pp. 57, 89.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 319.]