Z. LIBIN (1872-April 16, 1955)
Pseudonym of Yisroel-Zalmen Hurvits, he was the brother of the writer Khayim-Dov Hurvits. He was born in the town of Horky (Gorky), where his father Zusye the Torah teacher was extremely poor, and to make ends meet, he also ground up snuff and produced yeast. Libin studied in religious elementary school, at first with a teacher of very young children and later with his father, but under the influence of his older brother, Khayim-Dov, he threw himself into studying Russian. When he was fourteen years old, his brother found him a job as an assistant in a pharmacy. After his father’s death, he effectively became the sole breadwinner in the house and in addition had to send several rubles to his brother who was then studying in Vienna every month. He worked assiduously in the pharmacy, learning Russian and accounting from craftsmen, while continuing to study on his own in his free minutes. At that time he began to write stories in Russian. In his memoirs, he recounts that as he had success in telling stories in society, he also began to improvise, jotting down something on paper and describing it. And that is how he came to writing. In 1891 when he had to stand for military conscription, he left for London, where he learned the furrier’s trade, and after seven months of hunger he made his way to the United States. The first three years he spent in New York as a furrier, a hatmaker, and a newspaper delivery man. At that point he again began to write short stories in Yiddish and send them to the editorial boards of the Yiddish newspapers. He sent his first sketch in Yiddish, entitled “A zifts fun eyn arbeters brust” (A sigh from one worker’s breast), signed “Z. Libin,” to Arbayter tsaytung (Workers’ newspaper). The editor, Ab. Cahan, did not even read the manuscript properly and disapproved, but this very manuscript was nonetheless destined to become Z. Libin’s writing debut in Yiddish literature. Cahan described the dramatic moment as follows: “One time, in 1893 (?), when I was looking for something in my wastebasket among papers I’d thrown away, my attention was drawn to an odd-looking piece of handwriting…. It aroused my curiosity…. Just my luck, I went ahead and published it. He [Libin] wrote for Arbayter-tsaytung further feature pieces, and later sketches and stories. He developed very rapidly. People would read his sketches aloud and retell them in thousands of Jewish homes.” Libin’s first piece was published in Arbayter tsaytung on May 1, 1892. From that point, he published his features, sketches, and short stories drawn from workers’ lives also in the daily Abend blatt (Evening newspaper), founded in 1894, and later he moved to Forverts (Forward), founded 1897, in which he several times a week published his works over the course of more than a half century, almost until the last days of his life, when he was no longer writing, though they continued to republish his work from earlier times. He also published in Tsukunft (Future) and other Yiddish publications from those years in New York. On the content and character of his pieces from those years, Libin himself later wrote in his “Materyal far mayn byografye” (Material for my biography): “My first sketch bore the name ‘A zift fun eyn arbayters brust.’ I do not know what my last sketch will be called. Undoubtedly, it will also be a sigh from a worker’s breast. Because the life of New York’s Jewish laborers—is the life that I know best. It is the life that flows together steadily with my own life. My muse was born in a dark sweatshop, next to the Singer sewing machine can be detected her first pained outcry; she was raised in the dark tenement graves. Where will she expire, where will she die—I do not know; probably in a tenement grave…. In any event, her last sigh will be a sigh of a worker’s breast.”
Libin also played an important role as a playwright in the period of the great boom of Yiddish theater in America. On December 25, 1900, his first played debuted: Di farshpetikte khupe (The belated wedding canopy), a comedy in four acts, at the Thalia Theater. From that point he went on to write several dozen plays, which were regularly received with—some with a great deal and some with a smaller degree of—success, performed on the stages of American Yiddish theaters with the participation of the most celebrated of Yiddish stage actors. His first plays, just as was the case with his stories, excelled in their delicate tragi-comic humor and with a deep love for the suffering masses. On September 18, 1903, his play Gebrokhene hertser oder libe un flikht (Broken hearts or love and duty) was staged, with Sarah and Yankev P. Adler in the principal roles. For many years thereafter, this play was performed by the most important stage artists in the United States and later by Julius Adler in Warsaw and other Jewish communities in Europe. It was also published in Warsaw in 1908 [see below] and, in the years between the two world wars, performed by dramatic circles in all the towns of Poland and Galicia. It was also filmed with Maurice Schwartz and the screen actress Lila Lee in the main roles (1926) [Broken Hearts in English]. In 1905 Libin wrote the play Di vilde (The wild one), which was turned into a film in Soviet Russia with Esther Rokhl Kaminski and Yankev Libert in the main roles. In 1906 he wrote the plays Di fremde (The stranger) and Der troymer oder di tserisene hertser (The dreamer or the torn-up heart)—and more and more of them, until 1931 when he wrote his last play, Un gekont zayn gliklekh (And knew his happiness). (A full listing of his plays may be found in Zalmen Zilbertsvayg’s Leksikon fun yidishn teater [Handbook of the Yiddish theater]. It was characteristic that in 1918 Maurice Schwartz opened his Irving Place Theater with Libin’s Der man un zayn shotn (Man and his shadow), and that was the beginning of the Yiddish Art Theater in America. Libin often labelled his plays as comedies, realistic dramas, comedy-dramas, life stories, tragi-comedies, and the like. For the most part, his plays circulated in manuscript and in rewritten notebooks among various and sundry troupes, and the actors and directors designated in the programs and billboard how they wanted them marked. Several of his original manuscripts made their way from the archives of Nokhum Lipovski and Sholem Perlmuter to YIVO and may now be found in the theater-museum at YIVO in New York. The following manuscripts can be found in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.: Mener un froyen (Men and women), a drama in four acts; Di makht fun leydnshaft (The power of passion), a drama in four acts; Di tsvey mames (The two mothers), a family drama in four acts; and Zayn ershte kale (His first wife), a drama in four acts. In book form from his theatrical work, the only one published was: Gebrokhene hertser, a drama in four acts (Warsaw: Di yudishe bine, 1908), second edition (1912), 70 pp. His other published plays—and those which were never performed on stage—include: Peysekh in nyu-york (Passover in New York), a scenario in one act, in Forverts (New York) (April 11-12, 1903); Gekhapt oder narishe eyferzukht (Hasty or foolish jealousy), a tragic family scenario in one act, in Forverts (April 29, 1905); Di bezdetnikes (The childless men), in Forverts (November 10, 1906), later included in his Geklibene shriftn (Selected writings), vol. 1 (New York, 1912); Der ganef (The thief), in Forverts (April 1, 1908); Der vortsman (The man of his word), in Forverts (April 8, 1908); Der redaktor (The editor), in Forverts (May 9, 1908); Der beker-strayk (The bakers’ strike), “a scene in one act,” in Forverts (June 16, 1909); Di libes-brif (The love letter), “a dramatic situation,” in Forverts (October 22-24, 1910); Di kolegn (The colleagues), “a comic-tragic sketch,” in Tsukunft (New York), later included in Geklibene shriftn, vol. 1, and later in two English translation: Colleagues, by Zalmon Libin, trans. Gustav Blum, in East and West (New York) 8 (1915), and Colleagues, a Tragi-Comedy, by Z. Libin, trans. Bessie F. White, in Nine One-Act Plays from the Yiddish (Boston: John W. Luce and Company, 1932); Der motorman (The motorman), initially published in Tsukunft and later included in Geklibene shriftn, vol. 1; Zalts in di vaser (Salt in the water), “a drama in one act,” in Gezamlte verk (Collected works), vol. 4 (New York, 1916); Di fuftsik-yorike bafrayung (The fifty-year liberation), “a scene in one act,” in Gezamlte verk; Trayheyt fun a froy (A woman’s loyalty), in Gezamlte verk (published earlier in Forverts); An advertayzment, vos hot geholfn (An advertisement that helped), one-act play, in Forverts (December 15, 1918); Di meydl, velkhe keyner bamerkt nit (The girl whom no one noticed), “a drama in four scenes, with an epilogue,” in Tsukunft 6-9 (1922); Vi azoy dos hot pasirt (How that happened), one-act play, in Forverts (January 26, 1924); Di tsavoe (The will), in Forverts (June 22, 1924); Zayn vaybs tseyner (His wife’s teeth), “humorous scene,” in Forverts (May 13, 1926); Di meydl, velkhe shraybt nit (The girl who did not write), in Forverts (May 20, 1926); A zekhtn-yorike meydele (A six-year-old girl), in Forverts (July 3, 1926); A sheyne tog (A beautiful day), “a drama in one act,” in Forverts (May 25, 1929); A farbrente shtik fargangenheyt (A burning bit of the past), one-act play, in Forverts (June 13, 1929). Published in book form from Libin’s stories: Geklibene skitsen (Selected sketches) (New York: Forward Association, 1902), 237 pp.; Geklibene skitsen (New York: M. Evalenko, 1907), 297 pp.; Geklibene skitsen (New York: Di internatsyonale biblyotek, 1910), 291 pp.; Geklibene shriftn (100 stories) (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1910), 489 pp.; Geklibene shriftn, vol. 2 (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1912); Gezamlte verk, vol. 1 (New York: Forverts, 1915), 249 pp., vol. 2 (1915), 272 pp., vol. 3 (1916), 268 pp., vol. 4 (1916), 266 pp.; Dertsehlungen, skitsen un felyetonen (Stories, sketches, and features) (New York: Der veker, 1934), 320 pp. Of his plays, Gots shtrof (God’s punishment) appeared in: Di ertsehlung fun der berihmter drama gots shtrof fun z. libin (The story of the well-known play Gots shtrof, by Z. Libin) (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1910), 11 pp.
“He writes as he speaks,” noted Shmuel Niger, “as we speak. To embellish language is alien to him, just as alien as embellishing life. If you encounter a beautiful word in his work, a strong word, it is only because his emotions are often strong, beautiful. He writes as he feels and as his characters feel…. He has warm socialist sympathies, and he does not hide them. One can see that he is a socialist…. But this is a socialism of living people, not programmatic socialism…. Not all [of his stories] are so rich in artistic and social content…. Some are sparse, perhaps a bit too sparse, even in [Dertsehlungen,] skitsen un felyetonen, but all are simple, sincere, and without pretension. In all of them there flows the warmth of Z. Libin’s full and sympathetic pen.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2, with a listing of his plays according to B. Gorin; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934), with a full list of Libin’s plays and with a detailed bibliography; Y. Entin, in Forverts (New York) (March 1, 1901; March 5, 1944; March 12, 1944; March 13, 1944); Entin, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (May 30, 1902); Entin, in Di frayhayt (New York) (September 20, 1917; September 29, 1917); Entin, in Di tsayt (New York) (April 15, 1922); Entin, in Tsukunft (New York) (December 1922; July 1923; November 1927); Entin, in Tog (New York) (June 18, 1932); B. Gorin, in Tsukunft (May 1911); Gorin, Geshikhte fun yidishn teater (History of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1918, 1923), pp. 208-10; Ab. Cahan, in Forverts (November 29, 1905; January 23, 1907; September 24, 1907; November 27, 1907; January 12, 1910; October 6, 1910; January 12, 1911; October 31, 1911; March 7, 1912; September 26, 1916; October 24, 1916; December 25, 1917; October 10, 1922; April 11, 1923; February 27, 1925; February 12, 1926; September 18, 1928); Cahan, Bleter fun mayn lebn (Pages from my life), vol. 4 (New York, 1928), pp. 468-69; Y. Gordin, Ale shriftn (Collected writings), vol. 3 (New York, 1910), pp. 167-70; B. Vladek, in Tsukunft (May 1915; February 1917); Vladek, in Forverts (March 14, 1919; September 17, 1919; October 10, 1922; November 2, 1923; March 18, 1927; April 23, 1932; December 23, 1934); Bal-Makhshoves, Kritik (Criticism) (Kiev, 1920); Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene shriftn, vol. 3 (Warsaw, 1929), pp. 122-26; B. Rivkin, in Di tsayt (November 25, 1921); Rivkin, in Zamlbikher (Anthologies), vol. 2 (New York, 1936); Rivkin, Grunt-tendentsn fun der yidisher literatur in amerike (Basic tendencies in Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1948); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Arkhiv far der geshikhte fun yidishn teater un drame fun yivo (Archive for the history of Yiddish theater and drama of YIVO), edited by Yankev Shatski (Vilna, 1930), p. 278; Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (January 16, 1935); Mukdoni, in Yorbukh fun amopteyl fun yivo (Annual from the American branch of YIVO), vol. 1 (New York, 1938), pp. 257-72; Mukdoni, in Tsukunft (August 1937); Mukdoni, In varshe un in lodzh (In Warsaw and in Lodz), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires, 1955), pp. 141, 209, 224, 225; Tsvien, in Forverts (December 17, 1932; December 21, 1932); N. B. Linder, in Tog (January 1, 1932); Shmuel Niger, in Tog (January 6, 1935; April 23, 1955); Niger, in Tsukunft (February 1935; May 1942); Niger, Dertseylers un romanistn (Storytellers and novelists) (New York, 1946), pp. 204-16; Moyshe Shtarkman, in Tsukunft (May-June 1942); Elye Shulman, Geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur in amerike (History of Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1943), pp. 53, 133-36; L. Kobrin, Mayne fuftsik yor in amerike (My fifty years in America) (Buenos Aires, 1955), pp. 395, 396; N. B. M. (Minkov), in Tsukunft (May-June 1955); M. Osherovitsh, in Forverts (April 16, 1955); Der Lebediker, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (May 15, 1955); Tsili adler dertsayelt (Celia Adler explains), vol. 2 (New York, 1959), see index; Y. Kharlash, in Gerekhtikeyt (special jubilee issue) (New York) (September 1960), p. 22; N. Mayzil, Tsurikblikn un perspektivn (Retrospectives and perspectives) (Tel Aviv, 1962), see index; H. Rogoff, in East and West (New York) (October 1915); N. B. Minkoff, in The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 7, p. 37; A. A. Roback, The Story of Yiddish Literature (New York, 1940), pp. 195-96; S. Noble, in Jewish Book Annual 5709; B. I. Bialostotzky, in Jewish Book Annual 5713.