Monday, 22 May 2017


YANKL LEVIN (1882-1938)
            He was born in Homel (Gomel), Byelorussia, the son of a carpenter.  Until age thirteen he studied in religious elementary school and later became a carpenter himself.  He early on joined the illegal socialist movement and was a cofounder of the “little Bund” in Homel.  Subsequently, in the years of reaction before WWI, he traveled on illegal assignment for the Bund’s central committee through the cities and towns of the Jewish Pale.  He was arrested on several occasions and spent time in Tsarist prisons, and he took an active part in the first Russian Revolution of 1905.  He served as a Bundist party functionary in Warsaw, 1913-1914.  He was active in the Bund in Ukraine during WWI and took part in 1916 in the Kharkov conference of the Bund.  During the Russian Revolution of 1917, he was among the leadership of the Bund in the western regions.  He traveled about on party assignments through Byelorussia.  At the eleventh conference of the Bund in Minsk (March 1919), he moved to the pro-Soviet majority and was coopted onto the central committee of the party.  At the conference in which the party split in 1920, in Moscow, he went with the leftist majority which formed the Kombund (Communist Bund), and thereafter joined the Russian Communist Party, in which he assumed positions of responsibility in the Gezerd (All-Union Association for the Agricultural Settlement of Jewish Workers in the USSR) movement, in the campaign for Jewish colonization in Crimea, and in proclaiming Birobidzhan as a Jewish national center.  Very active in the 1920s, he lived the first half of the decade in Minsk and did much to advance Yiddish culture in Byelorussia.  He went to Birobidzhan in 1929, served as secretary of the Birobidzhan regional committee of the Communist Party, and in its name appeared at meetings of Gezerd in Birobidzhan.  He published (using the pseudonym Yanklzon) correspondence pieces from Warsaw to the Bundist Tsayt (Times) in St. Petersburg (1912-1914), and later from time to time he wrote for Veker (Alarm), the Bundist organ in Minsk.  He served as one the editors of Veker (1917-1925), and when Shtern (Star) was founded in Minsk in 1925 as a literary-artistic journal he joined the editorial collective.  In his Communist period, he wrote much more.  He published memoirs of the first Russian Revolution in Emes (Truth) in Moscow, which appeared later in a separate publication entitled Fun yene yorn, “kleyn-bund” (From those years, the “Little Bund”) (Minsk, 1924), 40 pp., as well as articles on colonization in Crimea and in Birobidzhan, which later appeared separately as: Fragn un entfern vegn der yidisher kolonizatsye in ratnfarband (Questions and answers concerning Jewish colonization in the Soviet Union) (Moscow, 1928), 20 pp., second printing (Buenos Aires, 1928) and Vi azoy ken men ibervandern in krim un birobidzhan? (How can one immigrate to Crimea and Birobidzhan?) (Moscow, 1930), 14 pp.  Levin also contributed to: Shtern in Minsk, which he co-edited (1925-1926) with Sh. Ogurski, B. Orshanski, A. Osherovitsh, and V. Nodel; Di royte velt (The red world) in Kharkov; publication for youth and children, such as Yungvald (Young forest), Pyoner (Pioneer), and Yunge gvardye (Young guard)—in Moscow (1923, 1928); and Zay greyt (Get ready) in Kharkov (1928-1937).  He also placed writings in Birobidzhaner shtern (Birobidzhan star) (1930-1937).  In the publication Birebidzhan (Birobidzhan), “collection of materials and documents” (Moscow, 1932), pp. 20-42, he published “A yor arbet in birobidzhan” (A year’s work in Birobidzhan).  He translated from Russian into Yiddish: Dmitrii Stonov, Bolshevikes (Bolsheviks [original: Bol’sheviki]) (Moscow, 1927), 40 pp.  At the All-Ukrainian Conference of Yiddish Proletarian Writers in Kharkov, he was selected to serve in the top management of Yiddish writers in the All-Ukrainian Writers’ Union.  From 1925 he was involved with the leadership of the Jewish section of national minorities in the Ukrainian government.  In the autumn of 1937, during the liquidation of Gezerd and the repression of former leaders of the Bund, Levin was arrested on the charge of being a Japanese spy, and thereafter nothing more was heard of him.  According to information from one of the oldest of Birobidzhan residents, named Tshernobrod, Yankl Levin (together with the first secretary of the Birobidzhan Party Committee) was sent to do hard labor in a camp in Kolyma, and later (until the German attack on Russia in June 1941), he worked in a shoemaker’s workshop in Magadan.  In late July 1941, when thousands of Polish deportees were murdered, Levin was shot as a “Japanese spy.”  Another account has it that he was shot in Khabarovsk in 1938.

Sources: Biblyografishe yorbikher fun yivo (Bibliographic yearbooks from YIVO) (Warsaw, 1928), see index; A. Kirzhnits, Di yidishe prese in vaysrusland, 1917-1927 (The Yiddish press in Byelorussia, 1917-1927) (Minsk, 1929), nos. 14, 229, 337; A. Abtshuk, Etyudn un materyaln (Studies and materials) (Kharkov, 1934), pp. 250-51; Volf Bresler, Antologye fun der yidisher literatur in argentine (Anthology of Jewish literature in Argentina) (Buenos Aires, 1944), p. 931; Y. Sh. Herts, Di geshikhte fun a yugnt (The history of a youth) (New York, 1946), pp. 64-65; Herts, Di geshikhte fun bund in lodz (The history of the Bund in Lodz) (New York, 1958), pp. 233-34; N. Mayzil, Dos yidishe shafn un der yidisher shrayber in sovetn-farband (Jewish creation and the Yiddish writer in the Soviet Union) (New York, 1959), p. 108; Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index; oral information from Y. Emyot and Y. Birnboym in New York.
Khayim Leyb Fuks

[Additional information from: Chaim Beider, Leksikon fun yidishe shrayber in ratn-farband (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union), ed. Boris Sandler and Gennady Estraikh (New York: Congress for Jewish Culture, Inc., 2011), pp. 215-16.]

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