BORIS LEVINSON-BENSKI (ca. 1880-late 1923)
He was born in Lepel (Lepiel), Vitebsk district, Byelorussia, into a poor family. He attended religious elementary school and yeshivas. Over the years 1895-1899, he studied at the Vilna Yiddish teachers’ institute and after graduation was (1900-1901) the administrator of a Talmud Torah in Great Tokmak, southern Russia. He then moved abroad to study medicine at the Universities of Berlin and Berne. While still in the teachers’ institute, he joined the Bund. In 1896 he belonged to the leadership of the Vilna “Zhargonisher komitet” (Zhargon [= Yiddish] committee), later becoming active in the foreign organization of the party and traveling around as a speaker at student colonies in Switzerland and other countries. In later 1905 the central committee of the Bund summoned him from abroad to Vilna to work with the newly established, legal organ of the party Der veker (The alarm) and later Di folkstsaytung (The people’s newspaper). During Passover in 1907, he played a major role at the illegal conference of Jewish teachers in Vilna, which ended with the arrest of all the participants. That same year of 1907, as the official editor-publisher of Di hofnung (The hope)—published in place of the discontinued Di folkstsaytung—he was again arrested and sent to Lukishker Prison, where he prepared for his examinations to become a doctor, which he passed (1908) and thus acquired the right to practice medicine. Over the years 1909-1914, he practiced as a doctor in the towns of Zhetel (Zdzięcioł) and Loyev (Loyew) in Byelorussia. He served as a military doctor during WWI on the southwestern front. After the March Revolution of 1917, he wrote (from the front) articles in the revived Bundist Arbayter-shtime (Voice of labor) in Petrograd, Der veker in Minsk, and Folkstsaytung in Kiev. He was a Bundist candidate from Volhynia to the all-Russian founding conference and to the provisional national conference for Ukraine. After the Bolshevik uprising, he lived in Odessa and was a Bundist representative to the Odessa Jewish community council. He took part in the second conference of the Bund in Moscow (April 1920). With the split at the conference, he left for the social democratic minority, at a special conference he reported on the nationality question, and following his theses, the conference passed a resolution supporting public and legal rights and cultural autonomy for the Jewish population. After the conference, he returned to Odessa where he turned his attention to his medical practice. In 1921 the Cheka [Soviet secret police] invaded a conference of Bundists and social democrats (Mensheviks) at the Karl Marx Club in Odessa, and together with the remaining conferees, they also arrested Levinson, dragged him through various camps, and finally in 1923 deposited him in Aktyubinsk [Kazakhstan] where he died a short time later. He began his journalistic work in the illegal publications of the foreign committee of the Bund in Geneva in 1903, with articles some of which were later included in his pamphlets: Di konstitutsye un unzer program (The constitution and our program), part 1 “Di politishe ordnung” (The political order) (Geneva, 1904), 90 pp., part 2 “Unzere foderungen” (Our demands) (Geneva, 1904), 32 pp.; Vos iz a konstituirende ferzamlung? (What is a constitutional assembly?) (Geneva, 1904), 40 pp.; and Vegn tsienizm (On Zionism) (Geneva, 1905), 32 pp., second printing (1905)—all signed B. B-ki and “published by the foreign committee of the General Jewish Workers’ Bund of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia.” He was editorial secretary and actual co-editor (with Vladimir Kosovski and Pavel Anman-Rozental) of the first legal Bundist daily newspaper Der veker (December 1905-January 1906) in Vilna, which was soon replaced by Di folkstsaytung (February 1906-September 1907) in Vilna. He was in charge of its division “Fun oysland” (From abroad), wrote the notices on the international labor movement, and edited the party chronicle and correspondence pieces. His principal interest lay in the nationality issue and its ramifications in various parts of the Bundist program. He was an adherent of ethnic trade unions of workers, wrote articles on national-cultural autonomy, Jewish education, and the Yiddish language, and about the Jewish community, among other topics, in Bundist dailies as well as in the Bundist anthologies: “Di idishe folks-shul” (The Jewish public school), in Di naye tsayt (The new times), vol. 1 (Vilna, 1908), pp. 27-40; “Vegn natsyonaler ertsiung” (On ethnic education), Tsayt-fragen (Timely issues) (Vilna) 2 (1910), pp. 55-60; “Vegn emigratsyons-fragen” (On issues of emigration), Tsayt-fragen 5 (1911), pp. 91-94. Over the years 1917-1920, he contributed to the Bundist press in Petrograd, Minsk, and Kiev, as well as in the Bundist Shul-fragen (School issues) (Petrograd) 1-3 (1917) an essay entitled “Vegn bildung biklal, idisher folks-shprakh un idisher bildung bifrat” (On education generally, the Yiddish vernacular, and Jewish education in particular); this also appeared separately as a pamphlet (Petrograd, 1917), 16 pp. He also used such pen names as: B. B-ski, B. –ki, and Ben-ski, among others.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; A. Rakhmilevitsh, in Di naye tsayt (Vilna) 2 (1908), p. 56; Ester, in Tsayt-fragn (Vilna) 5 (1910), pp. 85-91; Gr. Aronson, Tsu der shpaltung fun “bund” (On the split in the Bund) (Vitebsk, 1920); Bikher-velt (Warsaw) 5 (1928); Z. Ratner and Y. Kvitni, Dos yidishe bukh in f.s.s.r. in di yorn 1917-1921 (The Yiddish book in the USSR for the years 1917-1921) (Kiev, 1930); Avrom Reyzen, Epizodn fyun mayn lebn (Episodes from my life), vol. 3 (Vilna, 1935), p. 170; A. Slutski, in Virtshaft un revolutsye (Moscow) (January 1936); P. Kurski, Gezamlte shriftn (Collected works) (New York, 1952), pp. 157, 355; Anna Rozental, Historishe shriftn fun yivo (Historical writings from YIVO) (Vilna-Paris, 1939), p. 433; Y. Sh. Herts, Doyres bundistn (Generations of Bundists), vol. 2 (New York, 1956), pp. 273-77, with a bibliography; D. Naymark, in Forverts (New York) (October 14, 1956); Kh. Sh. Kazdan, Fun kheyder un shkoles biz tsisho (From religious and secular primary schools to Tsisho) (Mexico City, 1956), p. 329; Abram der Tate, Bleter fun mayn yugnt (Pages from my youth) (New York, 1959), pp. 260-63; Di geshikhte fun bund (The history of the Bund), vol. 1 (New York, 1960), p. 90.
Khayim Leyb Fuks