MEYLEKH KHMELNITSKI (MELECH CHMELNIZKI) (May 5, 1885-March 28, 1946)
He was born in Konstantinovka, Kiev district, Ukraine, into a family of well-to-do village Jews—estate lessees. In 1891 because of Tsarist decrees, the father and his family had to abandon his estate, rented mills for a time in the town of Zhivete, and from there the family in 1897 moved to eastern Galicia where they once again maintained an estate. Meylekh had his first schooling with itinerant teachers and private tutors in Zhivete, and later he studied in a high school in Lemberg; upon graduation, he studied medicine at the University of Vienna. He received his doctoral degree in 1912. Until 1919 he practiced medicine at a Vienna hospital and privately, later switching his medical practice for writing activities. Until 1938 he lived in Vienna, and in 1939 he moved to the United States and settled in New York. He began his writing activities with poems in Polish after his high school years. He debuted in print (under the name Akhme) in Stanisław Przybyszewski’s periodical Życie (Life) in Cracow in 1902. He later would contribute poetry to the Polish weekly for Jews Wschód (East) in Lemberg (1903-1906) and the monthly Morija, miesięcznik literacko-społeczny poświęcony żydowskiej myśli religijnej (Moriya, monthly literary society devoted to Jewish religious thought) in Cracow (1908), in which, among other items, he published his Polish translations of Kh. N. Bialik, Avrom Reyzen, Yehoash, A. Liessin, and Dovid Eynhorn (later included in Shmuel Hirshhorn’s Antologia poezji żydowskiej (Anthology of Yiddish poems) (Warsaw: Lewin-Epstein, 1921). That same year he switched to Yiddish and from 1904 published poetry and articles on literary themes in Yiddish and Polish Jewish publications in Galicia and Vienna. From 1904 to 1914, he was a regular contributor to and for a time literary editor of Lemberger togblat (Lemberg daily newspaper). At the same time he placed work in: Gershom Bader’s and Moyshe Frostik’s Yudishe folkskalendarn (Jewish people’s calendars) in Lemberg-Cracow; Der yudisher arbayter (The Jewish worker) in Lemberg; A. Reyzen’s Kunst un leben (Art and life) in Cracow (1919-1920); and Yudishe morgenpost (Jewish morning mail) in Vienna; among others. He was one of the founders of the Vienna Jewish writers’ circle, which assembled around the journal Kritik (Critic) in Vienna (1920-1921). From 1919 until his death, he regularly published articles on medical issues in: Forverts (Forward) in New York; Idishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper) in Buenos Aires); Vilner tog (Vilna day); Nayer folksblat (New people’s newspaper) and Lodzher tageblat (Lodz daily newspaper) in Lodz; Dos kind (The child) and Ilustrirte zhurnal (Illustrated journal) in Warsaw; and all of his articles were regularly reprinted in the Yiddish press throughout the world. He also wrote poetry and did translations that appeared in: Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves), Vokhnshrift far literatur (Weekly writing for literature), and Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper)—in Warsaw; and in such publications of the Lodz young poets’ group: S’feld (The field), Vegn (Pathways), Shveln (Thresholds), and Os (Letter) (1919-1928); as well as Tsukunft (Future), Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture), and Yivo bleter (Pages from YIVO)—in New York (among other items he published here: Y. L. Perets’s popular medical pamphlet, “Ver es vil nisht, shtarbt nisht fun kholere” [Those who don’t want it won’t die of cholera]). In book form: Af a shtiler stezhke (On a quiet trail), poetry (Vienna, 1921), 71 pp.; Der karlik, poeme (The dwarf, a poem) (Vienna, 1936), 19 pp.; Ru un umru (Calm and disquiet), poetry and translations of poems by Adam Mickiewicz, Friedrich Nietzsche, Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer, Antoni Lange, and Ernst Waldinger) (New York: Dovid Ignatov Fund, 1948), 126 pp. Khmelnitski was among the precursors and co-creators of modern Yiddish literature in Galicia. “Khmelnitski’s moods as well as his language,” noted Dr. M. Naygreshl, “are tender, well woven into the original fullness of the poem. It [his language] is quiet and reticent. Khmelnitski…never strove so intently that the word would outstrip the essence of the poem.” “Khmelnitski the doctor was extraordinarily popular,” wrote Meylekh Ravitsh, while “Khmelnitski the poet [was] great in his quietness and in his exclusively poetical quality. The courteousness itself, the seriousness alone, with infinite reverence he was concerned with both of his lines of work…. Through medicine he loved the body and through poetry—the soul of man.” He died in New York. His last article, “Der thermometer, mit velkhe men mest fiber bay kranke” (The thermometer with which one measures the fever of a sick person), was published in Forverts (March 31, 1946), three days after his passing. Dr. Khmelnitski left behind in manuscript a series of poems for youth in Polish, articles on literature, and a translation of Goethe’s Reineke Fuchs.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2 (with a bibliography); B. Byalostotski, in Di tsayt (New York) (May 1, 1921); Z. Feygin, in the anthology Vispe (Islet) (Kovno, 1923), pp. 45-47; Moyshe Gros, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (June 8, 1930); G. Kuper (Y. Y. Zinger), in Forverts (New York) (February 8, 1931); A. Shvarts, in Tshernovitser bleter (Czernowitz) (October 17, 1936); Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (November 3, 1940); D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Tsukunft (New York) (January 1934); Y. Yeshurin, in Tsukunft (May-June 1943); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (August 7, 1944; April 5, 1946); Dr. M. Naygreshl, in Tsukunft (October 1944; February 1950); Naygreshl, in Fun noentn over (New York) 1 (1955); M. Osherovitsh, in Finf un zibetsik yor yidishe prese in amerike (Seventy-five years of the Yiddish press in America) (New York, 1945), pp. 59, 61; A. B. Tserata, in Arbeter tsaytung (Paris) (January 28, 1945); Z. Vaynper, in Di feder (New York) (1945); obituary notices in Forverts, Tog, and Morgn-zhurnal (all New York) (March 29, 1946) and in Kultur un dertsiung (New York (May 1946); Der Lebediker, in Morgn-zhurnal (April 5, 1946); N. Y. Stentsl, in Loshn un lebn (London) (May 1946); Meylekh Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (May 13, 1946); Ravitsh, in Yorbukh (New York) (1946); Ravitsh, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (January 20, 1950); R. Matis, in Dos vort (Munich) (November 24, 1948); D. Eynhorn, in Forverts (December 5, 1948); Y. Mestl, in Yidishe kultur (New York) (February 1949); Avrom Reyzen, in Di feder (1949), p. 245; Dr. Y. Tenenboym, Galitsye mayn alte heym (Galicia, my old home) (Buenos Aires, 1952), p. 171; Y. Bronshteyn, in Naye yidishe tsaytung (Munich) (February 5, 1954); N. B. Minkov, in Tsukunft (December 1954); N. Mayzil, Amerike in yidishn vort (America in Yiddish) (New York, 1955), see index; Leo Kenig, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 26 (1956); Y. Shmulevitsh, in Forverts (May 19, 1957); Joseph Leftwich, Anthology of Yiddish Poetry (Cambridge, Mass., 1939), pp. 255-56; A. A. Roback, The Story of Yiddish Literature (New York, 1940), p. 373; Salo Baron, Bibliography of Jewish Social Studies (New York, 1941), p. 75. (This bibliographical list is partially according to Y. Yeshurin in New York.)
Khayim Leyb Fuks