YOYSEF-HILEL LEVI (JOSEPH HILLEL LEVY) (February 9, 1891-April 2, 1955)
He was born in Cracow, where he father was a scribe. He attended religious elementary school and a very early age became a craftsman. He lived in Cracow until 1914. He was active in the educational association “Yugend” (Youth), held lectures at Cracow Jewish organizations, and later roamed through Galicia giving talks on Yiddish literature. When WWI broke out in 1914, he moved to Munich and lived there until 1939. He was the founder of the Jewish cultural association named for Y. L. Perets, established a course to teach Yiddish, and held lectures there on Yiddish literature. He directed an amateur troupe and himself acted in numerous plays. He was also active in establishing and forwarding monetary support for various Jewish institutions in Poland. After serving a period of time in prison under the Nazis, he escaped from Munich, made his way to Italy, climbed from there over mountains to France, lived illegally for a time in Paris, and then stole across the border into Belgium and Holland, where he lived alone with all the refugees until he arrived (in 1939) in London, where he continued his literary activities until the end of his life. In 1907 he debuted in print with a poem entitled “Blumen” (Flowers) in Der yudisher arbayter (Jewish worker), organ of the Austrian Labor Zionists (edited by A. L. Shusheym), in Cracow-Lemberg. He later contributed poetry, stories, and essays to Labor Zionist newspapers and periodicals, such as: Der tog (The day), Der vokhenblat (The weekly newspaper), Folks-fraynd (People’s friend), Arbayter-yugend (Laboring youth), Di post (The mail), Der yudishe arbayter, Der sotsyal-demokrat (The social democrat), Der morgn (The morning), Lemberg’s Togblat (Daily newspaper), and Shtern (Star); Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw; Arbeter-tsaytung (Workers’ newspaper), the children’s magazine Grezl (Little grass), Di khazonim-velt (The cantorial world), Shuhl un khazonim-velt (World of synagogue and cantors), and Globus (Globe); Tshernovitser bleter (Czernowitz pages); Der khaver (The friend) and Tog (Day) in Vilna; Oyfgang (Arise), Der morgn, Unzer veg (Our pathway), and Naye yidishe tsaytung (New Jewish newspaper) in Munich; Layptsiger yidishe tsaytung (Leipzig Jewish newspaper), Leipziger Jüdisches Familienblatt (Leipzig Jewish family newspaper), Frankfurter Israelitisches Familienblatt (Frankfurt Jewish family newspaper), Der mizrekh-yid (The eastern Jew), and Berliner bleter (Berlin pages); Morgen-tsaytung (Morning newspaper) and Viner zhurnal (Vienna journal) in Vienna; Belgishe tsaytung (Belgian newspaper) and Prese (Press) in Antwerp; Der fraye gedank (The free idea), Fraye horizontn (Free horizons), Unzer vort (Our word), Di tsayt (The times), and Loshn un lebn (Language and life)—in London; Frayland (Free land), Arbeter-vort (Workers’ word), and Far undzere kinder (For our children)—in Paris; Di feder (The pen), In zikh (Introspective), Der amerikaner (The American), and Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor)—in New York; and many others as well. His work was included in: M. Naygreshl, ed., an anthology of Galician poets (New York); Joseph Leftwich, ed., The Golden Peacock (London, 1961). In book form: Dos alte lid (The old poem) (Cracow: Oskar Luks, 1910), 39 pp.; Yugend-velten (Youth worlds), poetry (Cracow: Yidishe kultur, 1913), 110 pp.; Frume gezangen un andere lider (Pious songs and other poems) (Vienna-Warsaw-Lemberg: Der kval, 1920), 48 pp.; Alte un naye lider (Old and new poems) (Warsaw: Kooperativ bikher, 1927), 115 pp.; Untern shverd (Under the sword), poetry (London: Y. Narodnitski, 1940), 42 pp.; Kroke (Cracow), a poem (London: Y. Narodnitski, 1941), 119 pp.; Ven di velt brent, dertseylungen (When the world was burning, stories) (London: Y. Narodnitski, 1943), 96 pp.; Mayn tate der soyfer, un andere poemes (My father the scribe, and other poems) (London: Y. Narodnitski, 1949), 162 pp. After his death, his wife Miriam published two volumes of his Gezamlte shriftn (Collected writings). The first volume (London, 1956, 374 pp.) contained three parts: stories, ballads, and poems, a short autobiography, as well as two prefaces by Meylekh Ravitsh and Y. A. Liski. The second volume (London, 1958, 350 pp.) consists of essays. As Meylekh Ravitsh noted: “Yoysef-Hilel Levi…was a fine artist of the form…. His striking series of poems Mayn tate der soyfer was his great accomplishment…. This series was the string of pearls in the jewelry chest of the Yiddish poem. It will spring forth beautifully and quietly in every Yiddish anthology in which it is included with the charm of the pious Cracow Jewish ghetto of the past.” He also wrote under the pen name Ben-Zev.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Sh. Zaromb, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (April 8, 1927); Y. Sh. Toybsh, in Loshn un lebn (London) (March 1949); Dr. M. Naygreshl, in Tsukunft (New York) (February 1950); Naygreshl, in Fun noentn over (New York) 1 (1955); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (January 15, 1955); Meylekh Ravitsh, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (June 10, 1955); Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (March 16, 1959); Y. Varshavski, in Forverts (New York) (June 3, 1956); Sh. Slutski, Avrom Reyzen-biblyografye (Avrom Reyzen’s bibliography) (New York, 1956), nos. 5088, 5216; Sh. Tenenboym, in Frayland (Mexico City) (April-June 1956; March 1959); E. Almi, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (August 24, 1956); H. Fenster, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (September 1, 1959); Y. Yerushin, bibliography, in vol. 2 of Levi’s Gezamlte shriftn (Collected works), pp. 345-50.