GERSHON MALAKEVITSH (MALAKIEWICZ) (1871-October 24, 1941)
He was born into a terribly poor family. From childhood on, he worked in Vilna as a street porter, and until his thirtieth year he was effectively illiterate. Around 1900 he was enlisted in labor circles of the Socialist Revolutionaries and taught himself to read and write. He was arrested on several occasions. In 1905 he was deported to Siberia, and in exile he continued to read and study. After the Revolution of 1917, he returned to Vilna and, disregarding his newly acquired knowledge, remained a porter. Small, emaciated, and exhausted, with a pair of distinctive glasses on his half-blind eyes, he gave away his exceedingly hard-won, miniscule earnings to the poor and the suffering. For many years he was active in the Vilna trade union movement, but his principal interest lay in the circle of “ethical socialists”—the so-called “Vilna group” and Fraye shriftn (Free writings). Over the course of the period 1929-1939, the group published under Malakevitsh’s editorship the following single-issue periodicals: Af undzer veg (On our path) (1929); Mit undzer veg (With our path) (1930); Undzere vegn (Our paths) and Undzer veg (1930); Dos fraye vort (The free word) and Der nayer veg (The new path) (1931); Undzer veg (1932); and a series of issues of Baginen (Dawn) (1934-1939). In Dos fraye vort (Vilna, September 1931), he published “Ofener briv tsu roman rolan” (Open letter to Romain Rolland). In 1939 on the eve of turning seventy years of age, he joined an agricultural colony of the Freeland activists and worked in gardening until the Nazi occupation. With the assistance of the well-known Lithuanian socialist revolutionary Anna Shimaite, he was ransomed (on September 1, 1941) from a Nazi jail, but during a Nazi action he was taken to his death in Ponar.
Sources: Anna Shimaite, in Afn shvel (New York) (November 1945); Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 8 (1951); Dorem-afrike (Johannesburg) (February 1954); D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Tog (New York) (August 30, 1947); A. Ayzen, in Afn shvel (September-October 1947); H. Abramovitsh, Farshvundene geshtaltn (Disappearing images) (Buenos Aires, 1958).