SHMUEL (SZMIL) LEHMAN (October 22, 1886-October 24, 1941)
He was born in Warsaw, Poland. At age four he was orphaned and raised by an uncle. Until age ten he attended religious elementary school, thereafter studying at home with an itinerant teacher. After his bar mitzvah, he worked as an employee in a tulle shop, later going into business for himself—first in the manufacturing line and later in the timber business. In 1902 he began collecting and registering Yiddish sayings, proverbs, blessings, curses, nicknames of towns, folktales, folksongs, and folk plays. In 1910 he set out over the Polish provinces, visited over fifty towns, and received treasures of Jewish folklore. He was a frequent guest at the Warsaw market exchanges—at Iron Gate Square or Franciszkaner Street, in private homes—on Smocza Street or Stawki Street, in the basement apartments or at the Krochmalna Square (pletsl), at inns on Grzybowski Square or at the Polish inns along Nowiniarska. He was a regular guest at the Jewish workers’ restaurant, at the Bundist “Workers’ Corner,” and at the Labor Zionist “Workers’ Home.” There he encountered the hinterland, the newcomers, and from them he elicited material for his collections. He was active in the Bund and was especially concerned with folklore motifs which were tied to labor and struggle. He published his first folkloric work in Noyekh Prilucki’s Zamlbikher far yidishn folklor, filologye un kultur-geshikhte (Anthologies for Jewish folklore, philology, and cultural history), published by Prilucki and Lehman (vol. 1, 1912; vol. 2, 1917) in Warsaw. In both volumes were published “Jewish sayings, proverbs, and curses from countries, districts, cities, and towns,” compiled and explained by Noyekh Prilucki and Shmuel Lehman. The list comprised 1193 items (in vol. 2 Lehman included “two variants of the Purim blessing”). In 1914 he contributed to Frishmans yubileum-bukh (Frishman’s jubilee volume) with a collection of “Baladn” (Ballads). In 1921 he published with “Folklor-biblyotek” (Folklore library) in Warsaw his Arbayt un frayhayt (Work and freedom), a collection of songs which originated among the people at the time of movement for freedom in Tsarist Russia. He brought together seventy-three songs with melodies divided under nine divisions; some were accompanied by variants with additional explanations and comparisons. In 1922 he published in the war-volume of Moyshe Shalit’s collection Lebn (Life) a collection entitled “Di eyropeyishe milkhome—a zamlung fun yidishe folksvertlekh, anekdotn, rimozim, briv, gramen, lider, mayses un legendes vos zaynen geshafn gevorn in der tsayt fun krig” (The European war—an anthology of folk expressions, anecdotes, rhymes, letters, verses, songs, tales, and legends created in the time of the war). The anthology Bay undz, yidn (Among us Jews) (Warsaw, 1923, edited by M. Vanvild) includes a rich collection of Lehman’s folkloric collections, such as: “Ganovim un ganeyve: rednsartn, tsunemenishn, shprikhverter, fragn, gramen, anekdotn un mayses” (Thieves and thievery: proverbs, curses, sayings, questions, verses, anecdotes, and tales); “Di kinder velt: gramen, lidlekh, hamtsoes un shpiln” (Children’s world: verses, songs, devices, and games), counting-out rhymes and games with notations; “Treyfene skhore” (Forbidden goods), variants of a Purim play with notations. In 1928 he published (with Pinkhes Grobard publishers in Warsaw) his collection Ganovim lider (Thieves’ songs) which consist of three parts: (1) thieves’ and convicts’ songs, eighty-five in all, most of them with notations, some with variants; (2) love songs, forty-six in all, also variants and notations; (3) observations and appendixes, including comparisons with other collections and with several non-Jewish motifs. These songs, more than 150 in all (counting the variants), were compiled by Lehman between the years 1902 and 1925 and came from twenty-four cities in Poland and Russia (from Kielce to Odessa). There was published in 1933 in Warsaw a massive collection (well over 400 pages), entitled Arkhiv far yidisher shprakhvisnshaft, literaturforshung un etnologye (Archive for Yiddish linguistics, literary research, and ethnology), published by Noyekh Prilucki and Shmuel Lehman, which encompassed four collections of Lehman’s: (1) “Di untervelt in ire lider” (The underworld in its songs), eighteen items, the greatest portion noted with melodies, several with variants, and necessary explanations of their origins; (2) “Elye nove in der folks-fantazye” (Elijah the prophet in folk fantasy), twenty-five legends; (3) “Shtot un land in der folksshprakh” (City and country in the vernacular), anecdotes, curses, riddles, and memoirs; (4) “Folks-mayselekh un anekdotn mit nigunim” (Folktales and anecdotes with melodies), fifty-six different tales, in which the melody with or without words is the canvas of history. Subsequent work by him that may be found in YIVO publications: (1) volumes 2 and 3 of Yidishe filologye (Yiddish philology) (Warsaw, March-June 1924), a variant of the folk play “Khane mit pninen” (Hannah and Penina)—recorded by Lehman in 1910; (2) volume 1 of Filologishe shriftn (Philological writings), a collection “Libe-lider fun ganovim” (Love songs of thieves), in Landoy-bukh (Landau volume) (Vilna, 1926), sixteen songs with notations, that originated in Warsaw, Grodzisk, Radzymin, Nowy Dwór, Lublin, Lodz, Kutne (Kutno), and Kałuszyn; (3) volume 12 of Yivo-bleter (Pages from YIVO) (Vilna, 1937), “A mayse mit a heldishn prints” (A story with a heroic prince), a sample fragment for his research project, “A zamlung yidishe folks-mayses” (A collection of Yiddish folktales). In 1914 Lehman prepared for publication (already at the printing stage) a volume entitled Yidishe farglaykhenishn (Yiddish parables), roughly 1500 items; because of the outbreak of WWI, this work was not published. Lehman also contributed to the second round of research students (1936-1937) at YIVO, named for Dr. Cemach Shabad, a study entitled “Di yidishe folks-mayse” (The Yiddish folktale).
In 1932, on the thirtieth anniversary of his folklore collecting work, a committee was formed in Warsaw to mark the occasion with a celebratory event. At a series of meetings and folklore evenings, the multifaceted quality of Lehman’s accomplishments in the realm of researching anonymous folk creations among Jews was emphasized. In 1936 the collection Shmuel lehman, zamlbukh (Shmuel Lehman, anthology), 99 pp., was published in Warsaw with assistance from the Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists in Warsaw. In this collection were published two of Lehman’s works: (1) “Gepakt a yold in kapelyush” (Wrap a sucker in a hat); (2) “Gevolt khapn a frayer” (Like to grab a free one); and fourteen articles with appreciations for Lehman’s activities, as well as a series of greetings from a great many institutions. A committee was then established, consisting of: Y. Giterman, M. Vanvild, Sh. Mendelson, Y. M. Nayman, Noyekh Prilucki, Dr. E. Ringelblum, and Dr. Y. Shapir. Its goal was to make possible the publication of Lehman’s collections, but then the harsh years before the war ensued, and the outbreak of WWII destroyed the project. During the Nazi occupation, Lehman was confined in the ghetto, but he did not cease folklore collecting work. In the notes left by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, discovered in the hidden ghetto archive, Ringelblum recounts Lehman’s activities in the ghetto:
Lehman was very active, as was his wont. Day and night he amassed materials of wartime folklore, jokes, aphorisms, and the like. Lehman would regularly compare his vast quantity of material from the other world war with the folklore materials from the present one. Lehman lived in dire need and want. The YSA [Jewish Social Self-help] reached out to him from the first moment. He and his son received work in the YSA at the same time. Lehman would also receive food packets. When the institution, though, became impoverished, Lehman’s condition grew worse from one day to the next. The short, slender Lehman was simply starving…. The idealist who was unmatched now, in the midst of the war, for many years became undernourished and extremely ill. YIKOR (Jewish Cultural Organization) and YSA have assisted him, but his very organism was far too weakened. For those of us who work with YIKOR, it was an important task to decode Lehman’s materials, because he had written in his own shorthand. We engaged a young amateur folklorist who, working with the sickly Lehman, was transcribing the materials and putting them in order. The work had already proceeded well. At the same time, YIKOR was arranging a big celebration for Lehman’s fifty-fifth birthday. In the great hall of the Jewish Institute at 5 Tłomackie Street, where before the war Yiddish was forbidden, a group of approximately 500 friends and admirers assembled to show their respect for the idealist. Y. Giterman offered an introductory word; Hersh Broyde reported on details about Lehman’s works. He also mentioned an entire array of folklore materials.... Menakhem Linder gave a speech. The writer of these lines underlined the cultural historical significance of Lehman’s work…. After the speeches, artists recited folksongs and stories from Lehman’s collections. Lehman was not destined to rise from his sick bed. He died but two months before the extermination Aktion of the Warsaw Ghetto. His wife and only son were murdered. The materials were not successfully saved—they were destroyed.
In his diary from the Warsaw Ghetto, Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum wrote, inter alia, in October 1941: “On October 23 Shmuel Lehman died. He was working until the last moment. He collected a great deal of wartime folklore. At his funeral, representatives of Jewish Warsaw came together. Oddly, his funeral coincided with the funeral of one of his heroes, Berl Khazir, who had recounted for him many stories.… He was laid to rest on Literature Avenue, near Y. M. Vaysenberg.”
Lehman, fourth from right (with gray hair)
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Shmuel lehman, zamlbukh (Shmuel Lehman, anthology) (Warsaw, 1936), 99 pp.; Z. Kalmanovitsh, in Yivo-bleter (Vilna) 11.5 (1937), pp. 384-87; Unzer tsayt (New York) (October 1941), obituary; Y. Shatski, in Yivo-bleter (New York) 18 (1941), pp. 80-81; D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Tsukunft (New York) (January 1943); M. Mozes, Der poylisher yid (The Polish Jew), yearbook (New York, 1944); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 2 (Montreal, 1947); R. Rapoport, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (July 23, 1948; July 30, 1948); Rapoport, in Oysgerisene bleter (Torn up pages) (Melbourne, 1957); Y. Hart, 42 yor, semeteri department, arbeter-ring, ink., 1907-1949 (42-year cemetery department, Workmen’s Circle, Inc., 1907-1949) (New York, 1949); Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, Notitsn fun varshever geto (Notices from the Warsaw Ghetto) (Warsaw, 1952); Ringelblum, “Vi azoy zaynen umgekumen di yidishe shrayber” (That’s how the Yiddish writers were murdered), Bleter far geshikhte (Warsaw) 42 (1950), pp. 33-35; Ringelblum, Ksovin fun geto (Writings from the ghetto) (Warsaw, 1961), p. 307; Shaye Trunk, in Lebnsfragn (Tel Aviv) 10 (1952); Trunk, in Pinkes sokhatshov (Records of Sochaczew) (Israel, 1962); Trunk, Geshtaltn un gesheenishn (Images and events) (Buenos Aires, 1962), pp. 51-55; B. Mark, Umgekumene shrayber fun di getos un lagern (Murdered writers from the ghettos and camps) (Warsaw, 1954); Doyres bundistn (Generations of Bundists), ed. Y. Sh. Herts, vol. 2 (New York, 1956), pp. 252-53;