Tuesday, 2 May 2017


MOYSHE LIFSHITS (LIVSHITS) (May 18, 1894-1940)
            He was born in Sde Lavan (Bila Tserkva, Belaya Tserkov), Kiev district, Ukraine.  His father was an elementary school teacher, and he studied with him in school.  He went on to study in high school.  At age ten he wrote in Russian his poem on the death of Dr. Hertsl.  Over the years 1910-1912, he lived in Warsaw, where for a time he was secretary for Y. L. Perets.  He later lived in Galicia, debuting in print in Lemberg’s Dos interesante blat (The interesting newspaper) in 1914, and from that time on he contributed poetry and critical essays to: Sh. Y. Imber’s Nayland (New land) in 1918; Zilburg’s Kritik (Critique); the collection Sambatyon (Sambatyon) in Riga (1922); Shtrom (Current) in Moscow (1922); Inzl (Island) in New York (1925); and Tog (Day) in Vilna (1926); among others.  Among his books: Der vald keyser (The forest emperor) (Kiev, 1918), a children’s play, staged many times by school children in Russia and Ukraine; A ber tantst (A bear dances) (Riga: Arbeter heym, 1922), 52 pp., frontispiece and drawings by Mikhail Yo.  Together with Leyb Kvitko and Der Nister, he brought out the anthology Geyendik (Going) (Berlin, 1921).  He also composed the drama Sdom (Sodom), the poem Samuil-krokodil (Samuel crocodile), and the curtain-raiser Tsvelf azeyger (Twelve o’clock).  From Hebrew he translated Gershon Shofman’s Liebe un andere noveln (Love and other tales) (Vienna: Maks Hikel, 1919), 79 pp.  In his later years he lived in Berlin and Vienna.  In the afterword to his poetry collection A ber tantst, he recounts that he “began under the influence of the young Russian-Jewish poet, later switching to the impact of the modern German and later still the influence of Russian imagists and futurists”; that he “never was sufficiently original or subjective to say the first word anywhere, though always a less successful translator of poetry from other literatures into Yiddish”; that “it was good in this way to become acquainted with moods and forms of foreign literatures.”  However, notwithstanding such juggling and self-disparagement, Lifshits created a characteristic phenomenon in our modern poetry.  A reflection of the chaos in the storm and stress period transpired after the war and revolution.  The sarcastic, often feuilletonistic and journalistic, sometimes even vulgar and prosaic tone of his poetry was merely the grimace of a clown, so as to express the connection to “Sodom”—to the modern, profligate world.  In WWI he wanted to fight against a Russia that was hostile to Jews, but as someone of Russian extraction, he was interned in Vienna for four years.  After being freed, he wrote poetry and ballads.  With the outbreak of the events of October in Russia, Sovietization commenced.  Changing his name from Lifshits to Livshits, he became a connecting agent of the Soviet foreign agency.  He married a Viennese woman, published in a variety of periodicals, and later composed a series of comedies, among them: Hershele ostropolyer (Hershele from Ostropol), staged by the Vilna Troupe in the early 1930s.  He translated from Russian and his translations were genuine works of poetic transposition.  He lived in a number of cities in Europe, before he settled in the land of Israel where he died.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 3 (Montreal, 1958), pp. 225, 227.
Yankev Kahan

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