LEYB MALAKH (LEIB MALACH) (November 27, 1894-June 18, 1936)
The pen name of Leyb Zaltsman, he was born in Zwolin, Radom district, Poland. When he was ten years of age, his mother passed away. His father married again and Leyb was raised by his grandfather on his mother’s side, the rabbinical judge Khayim Tenenboym. He studied in religious elementary school until age nine, thereafter with his grandfather, and for a time in synagogue study hall. Between ages ten and thirteen, he was an assistant to a teacher of young children in a religious primary school, initially in Zwolin and later in Radom. At age sixteen he arrived in Warsaw, where for a time he was a mirror polisher, worked in a bakery, and was a house painter and wallpaper hanger. During WWI he debuted in print in the daily Varshever togblat (Warsaw daily newspaper) (October 15, 1915) with a ballad entitled “Dray” (Three). This was a great source of encouragement, and from that point he wrote a great deal under the pseudonym Malakh, the name of his mother’s first husband. He published poetry, ballads, and legends in: Varshever tageblat (Warsaw daily news), Haynt (Today), and Moment (Moment)—in Warsaw; Lodzer folksblat (Lodz people’s newspaper) and Lodzer tageblat (Lodz daily newspaper); and Lubliner togblat (Lublin daily newspaper); among others. At that time (one of war and hunger), he grew closer to the Labor Zionists and ate in their kitchen in Praga (a suburb of Warsaw). In 1919 he published the “Shvue” (Oath) for the Labor Zionist youth movement, which began with the stanza:
Blondzhe mer nit in der finster, Stray no more in the darkness,
Vander mer nit in der nakht, Wander no more at night,
Fray un mutik, foroys, bruder, Free and bold, onward, brother,
Likht un visn iz dayn makht! Light and knowledge are your strength!
This oath for youth was also translated into Hebrew, which has since that time been sung by the young people of the Zionist socialist movement, and made him very popular and beloved not only in Warsaw but also throughout Polish-Jewish communities, where he was often challenged to present speeches and public readings of his works. He also contributed to the collection Yugnt (Youth) in Warsaw, Naye himlen (New skies) in Lodz, and the children magazine Grininke beymelekh (Little green trees) in Vilna. In 1921 he left for Radom and there served as editor of Radomer vokhnblat (Radom weekly newspaper). In 1922 he immigrated to Argentina, settling in Buenos Aires. He placed work in the daily newspaper Di prese (The press) and developed a wide range of literary and community cultural activity. Together with Shmuel Glazerman, in 1923 he edited the weekly illustrated journal Far groys un kleyn (For big and small), contributed to the biweekly Der emigrant (The immigrant) in Buenos Aires (1923), and placed work in the anthology Yizker almanakh (Remembrance almanac), a publication of the Polish-Jewish association in Buenos Aires (1923 and 1925). Until 1926 he traveled through the countries of South America, lived for one and one-half years in Brazil, gave speeches, and helped to organize groups, libraries, and cultural endeavors. His poems, correspondence pieces, and reportage were published in: Fraye yugnt (Free youth), Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves), and Arbeter tsaytung (Labor newspaper)—in Warsaw; Di idishe tsaytung (The Jewish newspaper), Avezhanderer shtime (Vox de Avellaneda [Voice of Avellaneda]), and Der shpigl (The mirror)—in Buenos Aires; Zeglen (Sails), Der tog (The day), Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal), Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor), Forverts (Forward), Amerikaner (American), Di feder (The pen), and Der oyfkum (The rise), among others, in New York; Der khaver (The friend) in Vilna; Parizer haynt (Paris today) and Arbeter-vort (Workers’ word) in Paris; Keneder odler (Canadian eagle) in Montreal; Der idisher zhurnal (The Jewish journal) in Toronto; Di tsayt (The times) in London; Oyfgang (Arise) in Sighet-Marmației; Di idishe velt (The Jewish world) in Philadelphia; Nayvelt (New world), Davar (Word), and Derekh hapoel (The path of labor)—Tel Aviv; Kinder zhurnal (Children’s magazine) in New York; and many other publications throughout the world. In 1929 Malakh returned to Poland, traveled through the Jewish communities of England, France, and Belgium, and spent time in Portugal, Italy, and Spain. In 1932 he was in the United States. He was in Israel, 1934-1935, and there he was affiliated with the left Labor Zionists. In 1936 he arrived in Paris, where he fell ill and died at the Rothschild Hospital. He was buried in a provisional grave in the Parisian cemetery Bagneux, and in 1937 he was transferred to a permanent grave at the same cemetery.
Among Malakh’s works there was a special place devoted to dramatic creations: Opfal (Dregs), a naturalistic play about the Warsaw underworld; and Iberggus, drame in fir aktn (Regeneration, a drama in four acts), in which is depicted the abysmal life of brothels in Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires theater directors refused to stage this last play—so as not to run afoul of circles of Argentinian pimps. This provoked a dispute in Argentinian Jewish life and in the local press, with reverberations abroad. The play was staged with great success in Argentina, in New York (where it was titled Gasn-froyen [Streetwalkers] and Der geler shotn [The yellow shadow]), and in Poland (where it was dubbed Hertser tsu farkoyfn [Hearts for sale]). In addition, he wrote Dos gorn-shtibl, a dramatishe poeme in 3 aktn (The storied Hassidic house of prayer, a dramatic poem in three acts), published in the journal Far groys un kleyn and was performed in Buenos Aires; Malakh later restructured this play under the title Di moyd fun ludmir (The maiden of Ludmir) and prepared for it to be staged in Maurice Schwartz’s Yiddish Art Theater in New York and via Dr. Mikhl Vyakhert in Warsaw. Louis Berg translated this play into English and published fragments of it in a journal in Seattle, Washington. Malakh published other theatrical works in the Yiddish periodical press: Shtendik-keynmol (Always-never), in Fray arbeter-shtime in New York (1928); Vayn un blut (Wine and blood), in the jubilee issue of Di prese in Buenos Aires and in Fraye arbeter-shtime; the comedy Der kritiker mitn sharfn oyg (The critic with the sharp eye) in Di prese (1929); the drama about workers’ lives, Foystn (Fists) in Fraye arbeter-shtime (1932); and the scene “Delegat doktor ferfl” (Delegate Dr. Ferfl) in Di prese (1932). He was also the author of the play Leybele tentser (Leybele the dancer), performed by Rudolf Zaslavski in Paris in 1927. During Malakh’s sojourn in America, he served as assistant director at the Philadelphia Yiddish Theater. He wrote numerous articles on performance in theater and film. There remain in his literary bequest a musical entitled Esterke di yidishe kenigin fun poyln (Esther the Jewish queen from Poland). His books include: In poylen, poeme (In poland, Poem) (Warsaw, 1919), 147 pp.; Di toyte khupe, balade (The dead wedding canopy, ballad) (Warsaw, 1921), 61 pp.; Opfal, drame in ferzn (Dregs, a drama in verse) (Warsaw, 1922), 185 pp.; Amol, amol, epik (Once, once, epic poetry) (Warsaw, 1922), 173 pp.; Rotshild (Rothschild), a story (Warsaw, 1928; Vilna, 1938), 17 pp.; Iberggus, drame in fir aktn, “published as a gift to the author from a group of friends at the Youth Culture Center in Bahia Blanca,” with an introduction by Yankev Botoshanski (Buenos Aires, 1926), 75 pp.; Don domingos kreytsveg, roman (Don Domingo’s crossroads, a novel) (Vilna, 1930), 586 pp., a later edition (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1969), 432 pp.; Alters yugnt-yorn (An old man’s youth) (Warsaw, 1935), 127 pp.; Der varshtat, a pyese far kinder in tsvey aktn (The workshop, a play for children in two acts) (Chicago, 1934), 15 pp.; Haazini tevel, drame be-3 maarakhot uve-14 temunot (Listen to the world!), translation of Malakh’s Misisipi (Mississippi) into Hebrew by Ben-Yeḥezkel (Tel Aviv, 1934), 63 pp., staged in Warsaw in early 1935 and hundreds of times thereafter at various theaters in Poland, Israel, and the Americas. It was translated into French by M. Rousseau, into Esperanto (Misisipi, teatrajo en tri aktoj, 1939) by Yitskhok Jurysta, and into Hebrew by Ben-Yeḥezkel (Yisrael Rubin). Posthumously, the following works by him appeared in print: Palestine-reportazhn (Reportage from Palestine) (Warsaw, 1936), 268 pp.; Fun shpanye biz holond, mayrev-eyropeyishe reportazhn (From Spain to Holland, Western European reportage), published by the Leyb Malakh Committee in Paris (Warsaw, 1937), 272 pp.; and Fun poyln biz terkay, reportazhn (From Poland to Turkey, reportage) (Paris: A. B. Tserato, 1939), 192 pp., with illustrations. He also published works for children: A kholem fun a meydele (A dream of a little girls), a poem (Warsaw, 1921), 16 pp.; Der zhabe-kenig, a maysele in tsevey aktn (The frog kind, a story in two acts) (Warsaw, 1922), 21 pp.; Der vilder pints (The wild prince) (Warsaw, 1922), 40 pp.; Lidelekh un mayselekh (Little poems and stories) (Warsaw, 1922), 19 pp.; and A mayse mit dray brider (A story with three brothers); among others. His plays, Iberggus, drame in fir aktn—performed on stage as Gasn-froyen, Der geler shotn, and Hertser tsu farkoyfn—and Esterke di yidishe kenigin fun poyln, were staged in Romania, Lithuania, New York, and London. Numerous articles and treatments of Malakh’s writings have been published in the Yiddish and Hebrew press, among them: Bleter (Pages), “to the memory of L. Malakh” (Tel Aviv) (August 1936), 72 pp., with essays by Daniel Leybl, L. Shimoni, Yisrael Rubin, Y. Ts. Sharger, Arn Bekerman, Kh. Turner, and Avrom Lev, with “materials for a bibliography of Leyb Malakh,” compiled by Mortkhe Kosover; and the book Leyb malakh (Leyb Malakh), published by the “Leyb Malakh book committee” (Los Angeles, California, 1949), 351 pp., in which is included some of Malakh’s own work beginning with his “Shvue” for youth and with the divisions: “Yiddish critics on Leyb Malakh,” with articles by Meylekh Ravitsh, Arn Bekerman, Shmuel Niger, Nosn Buksboym, Elkhonen Tsaytlin, Y. Rapoport, N. Mayzil, and Dr. A. Mukdoni; and “Several bibliographic notes.” “Wonderful was Malakh’s stature,” wrote Daniel Leybl, “not only as a writer, but also as a man, as a community fighter…. He set out fully on his writerly path unprepared…and he attained it.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2, with a bibliography; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934), with a bibliography; Sh. Zaromb, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (March 6, 1931); Y. Botoshanski, in Tsukunft (New York) (August 1931); Botoshanski, in Argentine (Argentina), a compilation put out by Di prese (Buenos Aires, 1938); Botoshanski, in Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia), “Yidn 5” (New York, 1957); Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (June 18, 1961); Meylekh Ravitsh, in Vokhnshrift far literatur (Warsaw) (February 26, 1932); Ravitsh, in Leyb malakh bukh (Volume for Leyb Malakh) (Los Angeles, 1949); Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 1 (Montreal, 1945); Elkhonen Tsaytlin, in Literarishe bleter 29 (1932); Tsaytlin, in Leyb malakh bukh; Sh. L. Shnayderman, in Literarishe bleter (February 10, 1933); M. Unger, in Literarishe bleter (July 7, 1933); V. Latski-Bertoldi, in Oyfgang (Sighet-Marmației) (October 1933); Khayim Leyb Fuks, in Nayer folkblat (Lodz) (June 29, 1936); Fuks, in Fun noentn over (New York) 3 (1957); Sh. A. Sopher, in Tshernovitser bleter (Czernowitz) (June 24, 1936); A. Bekerman, in Tshernovitser bleter (August 6, 1936); Bekerman, in Bleter (Tel Aviv) (August 1936); M. Kitay, in Literarishe bleter (June 26, 1936); Kitay, Unzere shrayber un kinstler (Our writers and artists) (Warsaw: Jewish Universal Library, 1938), pp. 130-34; B. Shlevin, in Literarishe bleter (July 3, 1936); G. Pomerants, in Tsukunft (September 1937); Pomerants, in Der idisher zhurnal (Toronto) (May 1, 1964); B. Shnaper, in Folkstsaytung (Warsaw) (Octoer 29, 1937); M. Valdman, in Arbeter-tsaytung (Paris) 23 (1939) and 6 (1947); Valdman, in Arbeter-vort (Paris) 21 (1950); Sh. Rozhanski, Dos yidishe gedrukte vort in argentina (The published Yiddish word in Argentina), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires, 1941), pp. 47, 101, 111; B. Kutsher, Geven amol varshe (As Warsaw once was) (Paris, 1955), pp. 61, 62, 63, 246; N. Mayzil, Amerike in yidishn vort (America in Yiddish) (New York, 1955), pp. 669-72; Y. Tiberg, in Undzer veg (New York) (July 1956); Sh. Hokhberg, in Undzer veg (July 1957); M. Vaykhert, Varshe (Warsaw) (Tel Aviv, 1961), see index; S. Kahan, Literarishe un zhurnalistishe fartsaykhenungen (Literary and journalistic notes) (Mexico City, 1961), p. 381; Joseph Leftwich, The Golden Peacock (London, 1961), p. 407.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), cols. 376-77.]