AVROM SAFRO (1888-1965)
A Soviet writer and journalist, he was born in Alt-Bikhov (Bychaw), Mohilev district, Byelorussia. His grandfather was a Torah scribe, and his father, Yisroel-Ayzik, was a teacher of Tanakh and Talmud, but he was also a bit of a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment and ran a modern Talmud Torah. His mother ran a haberdashery shop in the marketplace. At age four he began studying Hebrew with his father, at age five Torah with Rashi’s commentary with a teacher, and at age eight the Talmud. From early on he studied foreign languages and was an assiduous self-learner, mastering Hebrew, Russian, German, and English. In 1903 he attempted (with his grandfather in Zhukhovtsy) to learned the family profession and become a scribe. Under the influence of the Labor Zionist (later, Bundist), Moyshe Notkin, in 1904 he turned to leather tanning, but after several years he left due to poor health. He went on to work as a teacher in his father’s Talmud Torah and later as an employee in an insurance business. Around 1903 he began writing poetry in Hebrew. He debuted in print (using the pen name “Martsius”) with a correspondence piece from Alt-Bikhov in Der nayer veg (The new path) in Vilna (1903). Using the same pseudonym, he went on to publish articles, translations, poems, and stories in a variety of venues. He also used the pen names: Asa, Ban-krot, and A Gabentshter. He also published an article in the name of his deceased friend Khayim Starobinyets in Der shtern (The star) in Minsk-Vitebsk in 1920. In 1913 he settled in Vilna and worked for Vilner togblat (Vilna daily newspaper), edited by Dan Kaplanovitsh, as a translator, proofreader, and editorial board secretary. After the Revolution, he lived in Vitebsk and worked in the culture and education division of the local Jewish section and as secretary to the editorial board of the weekly newspaper Der frayer arbeter (The free worker), edited by Sh. Agurski, from 1918. In 1919 he assumed the same post for the newspaper Der shtern. That same year he published “Briv fun vitebsk” (Letters from Vitebsk) and stories in Komunistishe velt (Communist world) in Moscow. He published poems and stories in: Khvalyes (Waves) in Vitebsk (1920); Kultur un bildung (Culture and education) in Moscow; Der royter shtern (The red star) in Vitebsk (1921); the bulletin Kamf mitn kheyder (Struggle against the religious elementary school) (twelve issues appeared in print in Vitebsk); and the anthology Tsum ondeynken fun y. l. perets (To the memory of Y. L. Perets) (Vitebsk, 1921); among others. In 1922 he became a member of the government’s department of nationalities in Vitebsk and published a weekly bulletin, Yedies (News). With help from the department of nationalities, he established in Vitebsk the first Yiddish-language court in the Soviet Union and served as its secretary. He described the work of this court in an article, “Der ershter folks-gerikht af yidish” (The first people’s court in Yiddish), in Arbeter-kalendar af 1924tn yor (Labor calendar for the year 1924), published in Moscow in 1923. That same year he moved to Moscow and served as editorial secretary for the newspaper Der emes (The truth). He was also active as a translator. Two of his translations were published in 1931: S. Tretiakov, Den shi khuas matone (Deng Xihua’s gift [original: Den Shi Khua]) (Moscow: Central Publ.), 56 pp.; and P. Smidovitsh, Di arbeter-masn in di 90er yorn, zikhroynes fun an altn bolshevik (The laboring masses in the 1890s, memoirs of an old Bolshevik) (Moscow: Der emes), 63 pp. His name disappeared in the early 1930s and then reappeared in 1957—his memoirs appeared in the Warsaw newspaper Folks-shtime (Voice of the people).
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index.
[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), p. 259.]