ZEV-VOLF LATSKI-BERTOLDI (May 1, 1881-February 5, 1940)
He was born in Kiev, Ukraine, on the very day of a sad, well-known pogrom against the Jews. Shortly after his birth, his parents fled to Riga, where he studied with a great uncle of his, a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment from Zhager (Žagarė), and later he graduated from a senior high school in Riga and entered the local polytechnical school. Because of a political appearance he made in 1901, he was expelled from the polytechnic, and he departed to continue his studies in Berlin, where he happened to meet in the Jewish student circles there Nakhmen Sirkin, and he became one of the cofounders of Sirkin’s Zionist socialist group, Ḥerut (Freedom). Around 1902-1903, he returned to Russia, lived for a time in Dvinsk (Daugavpils), where he helped illegally to organize one of the first Zionist socialist groups that were then separately beginning to form in various places in Russia. That year (October 1903 in Kiev), he also contributed to the founding conference of the group “Vozrozhdenie” (Renaissance), at which he represented the territorialist standpoint, later becoming one of the founders and ideologues of the Zionist socialist party, and at its founding meeting in Odessa (December 1904-February 1905) he was selected onto its central committee. He was arrested for a short time with the rest of the conference participants, before leaving for Vilna where there was a literary center for the party and where he wrote for the party organ under the name Bertoldi. At the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart (1907), he successfully defended proletarian territorialism. In 1908 he visited New York on behalf of Jewish immigration. In 1909 he published in Vienna two issues of the party organ, Dos yudishe frayland (The Jewish freeland). That same year he was arrested with other participants from the illegal party conference in Riga, and later for the most part lived in St. Petersburg and was associated with the organizations for Jewish emigration. During WWI he worked for ORT (Association for the Promotion of Skilled Trades) in St. Petersburg, Kazan, Minsk, and other places. After the February-March Revolution of 1917, he was among the founders of the Jewish Folks-partey (People’s party) and, as one of its leaders, unfolded an intensive community activity in Ukraine. He served as vice-chairman of the Jewish national assembly, and when the first minister for Jewish affairs, Dr. M. Zilberfarb, tendered his resignation at the beginning of 1918, he assumed this position. He also resigned, though, when the Ukrainian government under the leadership of General Skoropadskyi turned toward a reactionary course. At the time he organized in Kiev the “Folks-farlag” (People’s publisher), which he took in 1920 to Berlin where it was known as “Klal-farlag” (Public publisher). On assignment from the Jewish world relief conference, in 1923-1924 he spent a long period of time in Chile, and in 1925 he undertook a similar voyage to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay—this time on a special commission from the “Felker-lige” (Peoples’ league) in Geneva to investigate the possibilities of immigration and colonization in the lands of South America. After returning from this trip, he visited Poland and spoke at public events and lectures (he was one of finest speakers in Yiddish) in Warsaw, Vilna, Lublin, and other cities; in late 1925 he settled in Riga.
He began his journalistic activities for the organ of the Ḥerut group in Berlin—Hamoyn (The masses) in 1901—and later he contributed to all the publications of the Zionist socialist party: Der yudishe proletaryer (The Jewish proletariat) in 1905 (among other items, he wrote a piece entitled “Di asimilatsyons-ideologye un der yudisher arbayter” [The ideology of assimilation and the Jewish worker]); Der nayer veg (The new way) (among other items, “Emigratsye un teritoryalizm” [Emigration and territorialism], issue no. 25); Dos vort (The word); Unzer veg (Our way); and Der shtrahl (The beam [of light]); among others. From 1908 he was also contributing to Fraynd (Friend) in Warsaw and to Österreichische wochenschrift (Austrian weekly) and Neue National-Zeitung: Jüdischpolitische Wochenschrift (New national newspaper: Jewish political weekly) in Vienna. In his literary activities in this first period, he was connected to the ideology and the mood of proletarian territorialism, and in his writings—such as on “matter and spirit,” “Bundism,” and “temporary and eternal”—he sought “to conceptualize Jewish nationalism between the mystical attachment to the Jewish religion and the real attachment to the Jewish land” (according to Zalmen Reyzen). He was also one of the first to awaken interest in the Jewish public sphere to problems of Jewish immigration, and he expressed this in his writings on “emigration and territorialism” and the “politics of democratic emigration,” among other such themes. He also wrote about Jewish cultural and artistic issues in: Di yudishe velt (The Jewish world) and Di vokh (The week) in Vilna; Bikher-velt (Book world) in Kiev and Warsaw; Der tog (The day) in New York; and in Idishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper) in Buenos Aires (among other things, he published here a series of articles of Jewish communities in South America). In his last years, he grew closer to the ideology of Zionism.
His books include: Erd-gayst, geklibene shriftn (Spirit of the land, selected writings) (Kiev, 1918), second edition (Riga, 1932), 299 pp.; Federalizm un di melukhe-ideye (Federalism and the idea of the state) (Kiev, 1918), 22 pp.; Di aynvanderung in di yidishe yishuvim in dorem-amerike (Immigration and the Jewish settlements in South America) (Berlin, 1926), 48 pp.; Di yidishe lage in mizrekh-eyrope un der oyfboy fun erets-yisroel (The Jewish condition in Eastern Europe and the construction of the land of Israel) (Riga, 1937), 70 pp. He translated: Nathan Nata Hannover, Gzeyres takh (Slaughter of Jews in 1647-1648) (Vilna, 1938), 159 pp. In 1935 after the semi-fascist coup of Kārlis Ulmanis in Latvia, he left Riga and settled in Israel. He contributed work to: Davar (Word), Hapoel hatsair (Young laborer), Haolam (The world), Moznaim (Scales), and Bama (Platform), in which he published journalistic articles and treatments of literature, theater, and painting. In 1938 he made a trip to Europe and remained longer in Paris, Warsaw, and Riga. He died in Tel Aviv. In the cultural house in Tel Aviv named for those murdered during the Nazi years, there is singled out a special research room named for the “writer, fighter, and cultural leader, Zev-Volf Latski-Bertoldi.” “Although the literary bequest left by Latski-Bertoldi was not great in quantity,” noted M. Regalski, “everything that he did bequeath was a polished pearl that shone with magnificence, depth, and innovative consideration, ideas of unperceived value.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Y. Zhagorski, “Biblyografishe reshime fun latski-bertoldis artiklen in fraynd” (Bibliographical listing of Latski-Bertoldi’s articles in Fraynd), Yivo-bleter (Vilna) 4.1 (1932), pp. 86-89; M. Gerts, 25 yor yidishe prese in letland (25 years of the Yiddish press in Latvia) (Riga, 1933), pp. 55, 57; M. Kitai, Unzere shrayber un kinstler (Our writers and artists) (Warsaw: Jewish Universal Library, 1938), pp. 54-58; Zeev yaakov latski bertoldi (Zev Yaakov Latski-Bertoldi), a collection on the occasion of the first anniversary of his death, with articles by B. Katsenelson, Z. Rubashov, Y. Leshtshinski, Y. Kruk, and A. Levinson, and in part 2 articles by Latski-Bertoldi; D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), A yortsendlik aza, 1914-1924, memuarn (Such a decade, 1914-1924, memoirs) (New York, 1943), p. 15; Charney, A Litvak in poyln (A Lithuanian in Poland) (New York, 1955), pp. 11, 58; M. Rozovski, Geklibene shriftn (Selected writings) (Buenos Aires, 1943), pp. 191-94; M. Regalski, Tsvishn tsvey velt-milkhomes (Between two world wars) (Buenos Aires, 1946), pp. 299-301; Kh. Sh. Kazdan, Fun kheyder un shkoles biz tsisho (From religious and secular primary schools to Tsisho) (Mexico City, 1956), see index; Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 3 (Montreal, 1958), pp. 216-18; Y. Tshernikhov, in Vilner tog (Vilna) (February 26, 1931); Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (February 19, 1933); Shimen Dubnov and R. Rubinshteyn, in Unzer vort (Riga) (February 9, 1940); M. Mayer, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (March 1, 1940).