AVROM SUTSKEVER (ABRAHAM SUTZKEVER) (July 15, 1913-January 20, 2010)
He was born in Smorgon (Smarhon, Smargon), Byelorussia, into a family of rabbis and prominent Torah scholars. His maternal grandfather was the rabbi of Mikhailishok (now Mikaliskis, Lithuania), R. Shapse Faynberg, author of Afike maginim (Scales of shields). He was also a relative of Yitskhok Ben-Tsvi, the second president of the state of Israel. Sutzkever’s name is mentioned in the family genealogy of Ben-Tsvi’s family.
When Sutzkever was just over one year of age, WWI erupted. The battles between the German and Russian militaries took place nearby. Smorgon passed back and forth between forces, and when the Germans ultimately withdrew, they set fire to the city on all sides. The entire Sutzkever family became refugees and made their way as far as Siberia. The Kirghiz language became virtually Sutzkever’s mother tongue. Into that Siberian expanse was thrown a “prisoner,” an Austrian officer, a lieutenant from the army of Franz Josef. The officer was Jewish. He carried the little Avrom on his shoulders and chanted Hebrew verses for him. The author’s name was Feuerstein. Four decades later they met in the state of Israel, the officer then a well-known Hebrew poet, Avigdor Hameiri [1890-1970], and Avrom was himself a widely known Yiddish poet. In 1920 Sutzkever’s father died of a heart attack in Omsk: “My father’s heart gave out at age thirty / while playing / R. Leyvi-Yitskhok’s melody on his fiddle in the late afternoon.” (“Tsum draysik yor” [At age thirty]) His mother, the widow Reyne, returned with her children to Smorgon in 1920, the city left in ruins, and she took her children and departed for Vilna. She delivered Avrom to a religious elementary school, later to the Talmud-Torah “Beys Yude” (House of Judah). In the meantime, a rich brother of his mother turned up in the United States, and it became easier to cover expenses at home, while his mother brought private tutors for Avrom into the home. Sutzkever later studied in a Polish Jewish high school, also in a science source of study (1929), and he read a great deal at the Strashun Library. He was a free auditor at the university—his professor of Polish literature was the literary researcher Manfred Kridl. He began writing poetry around 1927 in Hebrew. At that time Sutzkever did not know as yet that there was such a thing as Yiddish literature; he was only reading books in Polish or Hebrew. In 1930 he joined the Vilna Jewish scout organization “Bin” (Bee)—the founder was Dr. Max Weinreich. In the scouts he met Mikhl Tshernikhov, later known as Mikhl Astur, and he acquainted Sutzkever with Russian poetry. In 1931 Sutzkever met Leyzer Volf. The three young men spent that summer in scout camps near Vilna, singing parodies and songs. Shnipishok (Šnipiškės), where Sutzkever was living, became in the early 1930s the center from which came the majority of members of “Yung-Vilne” (Young Vilna)—among them Moyshe Basin, Leyzer Volf, and Perets Markish. Sutskever was writing a great deal at this time, mostly stories in verse, full of fantasy and the grotesque. His theme and manner of writing was so different from the other writers that there emerged between him and them a kind of artistic-ideological abyss (the Young Vilna group primarily held to a politically intense proletarian poetry). In December 1932, without poetic appreciation, not even anything published as yet, the nineteen-year-old Sutzkever departed for Warsaw. He earned a bit and he went hungry a bit. He got to know poets and artists and wrote a lot, but no one would as yet publish him. In February 1933 he debuted in print with a poem, “A masknbal” (A masked ball), in the Warsaw-based Vokhnshrift far literatur (Weekly writing for literature), and a second poem, “Unter regns mayaike” (Under rain’s beacon), appeared in a May 1933 issue of Vilner tog (Vilna day). After that no one would publish him. Sutzkever returned to Vilna and into the home of his young widowed mother in Šnipiškės where he sat at night with his poems, not even sending them to editorial boards but just stuffed them all into his large valise. In 1935 he again came to Warsaw, lived with a contributor to Haynt (Today) named Y. M. Nayman, presented himself to Noyekh Prylucki and Arn Tsaytlin, became a friend of the artist Yankl Adler, and met the Polish Jewish poet Julian Tuwin. In 1935 he composed the poem “Fayer-foygl” (Firebird)—an announcement of his poem Sibir (Siberia). Over the winter of 1935-1936, he worked on the longer poem, sent poems to the New York journal Inzikh (Introspective)—the editor of the journal, A. Leyeles, wrote him an encouraging and enthusiastic letter, and Sutzkever’s poems from the time regularly appeared in his journal.
Sutzkever’s first book, entitled Lider (Poems), was published in Warsaw in 1937. The Yiddish press responded to the book with numerous praiseworthy reviews which announced that a new poetic star had risen in Yiddish literature. The novelties that Sutzkever introduced into his poetry constituted a new world of images, a new poetic landscape, a new poetic language, new word formations, new rhymes—new artistic revelations. With especial diligence, he studied Old Yiddish at YIVO (Max Weinreich helped him a great deal). Sutzkever wrote an entire volume of poems in a stylized Old Yiddish, but in his wanderings during wartime, the manuscript of the poems was lost (in his book of poems Yidish gas [Jewish street], four poems from this planned volume were included). He translated into modern Yiddish about ninety percent of Elye Bokher’s Bovo-bukh (Bovo book) (in 1941 the Yiddish literary research Meyer Viner read over several dozen stanzas, and was delighted with it and wanted to have the entire poem translated so that he might publish it in a special edition). In 1941 Sutzkever ran a radio hour in Vilna. The outbreak of WWII found him in the radio studio. His mother did not want to leave Vilna—it was beyond her capacity. Sutzkever, his wife, Dovid Umru, Elkhonen Vogler, Shimshn Kahan, and other colleagues took off fleeing to the east, toward the Russian side. The road to Russia was already cut off. German airplanes from above and German tanks below did not allow them to take a step. Miraculously, Elkhonen Vogler made a short trip to Polotsk and from there managed to make his way to Russia. Sutzkever and his wife returned to Vilna, and they again lived with his mother (she was later murdered at Ponar, as was his child, born in the Vilna ghetto, murdered by the Germans). In the first days of the Nazi occupation, he hid in a chimney, later in a secret ghetto site, under a tin roof. He built a cavity there and under the hot tin, near rays of sunshine, he composed a poetic cycle: “Penemer in zumpn” (Faces in swamps). In the ghetto and later in the woods, he often hovered between life and death. On one occasion he was saved by an old Christian woman, Janowa Bartaszewicz, who hid him in her cellar (he dedicated to her his poems “Mayn reterin” [My savior] and “Tsum toyt fun mayn reterin” [To the death of my savior]). On another occasion he was saved in the courtyard of the Jewish Council, where the burial society was to be found; he secluded himself there in a coffin for the corpses and once again evaded death: “I lay in a coffin. / As if in wooden clothing, / I lay. / Let this be a small ship / Over stormy waves, / Let this be a cradle.” The heroes of Sutzkever’s works in the Vilna ghetto were prototypes of those gruesome realities; they were there in the Vilna ghetto, and there was indeed one such, a woman teacher named Mire (Mire Bernshteyn). The facts as well that are reported in the well-known poem “Di lererin mire” (The teacher Mire) were authentic, but Sutzkever’s artful use of words elevated this figure to a symbol of Jewish eternity. In a literary competition in the ghetto (February 1942), Sutzkever was awarded a prize—a golden ten-ruble piece—for his dramatic poem, “Dos keyver kind” (The child’s grave). In January 1942 when Dr. Pohl, the agent of Alfred Rosenberg, began the Aktion of assembling the Jewish cultural treasures and transporting them to Germany, Sutzkever was among the Jewish scholars and writers who had to assist in the selection of the items. Sutzkever and his comrades placed before themselves the opposite goal: to save the cultural treasures and hide them in the ghetto. The wealth of property in books in the Strashun Library, YIVO’s collection of books and manuscripts, the paintings and sculptures from the museums—all of these had to undergo selection. Over the course of one and one-half years, they managed to save a portion of the Jewish cultural treasures. They secreted the items in the walls and buried them in cellars and caves. People would smuggle these items into the ghetto in various and sundry ways, among them disguised as scrap paper which was deemed fine for heating the ovens. In these packages of “scrap paper,” Sutzkever in this way smuggled in letters written by Leo Tolstoy, Sholem-Aleykhem manuscripts, letters from Maxim Gorky, Bialik, and Romain Rolland, rare publications from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Ilya Repin’s paintings, Dr. Herzl’s diary, the record book of the Vilna Gaon, and drawings by Marc Chagall. Smuggling the cultural treasures was forbidden at great risk, and the collectors built under the building where they were working a cement hiding place, and they concealed there some 5,000 of their important books in various languages. Sutzkever was a member of the F.P.O.—Fareynikte partizaner organizatsye (United partisan organization) of the Vilna ghetto—and collected weapons as well. In the summer of 1943, he sent to the partisan headquarters in the woods his poem “Kol Nidre” (All oaths [chanted on Yom Kippur eve]). Jurgis (real name: Ziman, a Lithuanian Jew, a leader in the Lithuanian [partisan movement] forwarded his poem to Perets Markish in Moscow. In July 1943 the Moscow Writers’ Union convened a special evening dedicated to this poem (Sutzkever’s name was not revealed). On September 12, 1943, on the eve of the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto, Sutzkever with a group of partisans broke out of the ghetto, arrived at the Narocz woods, and joined the Jewish partisan camp “Nekome” (Revenge). He wrote numerous poems there, in the woods, about his forest comrades and about the destruction of Vilna. On March 12, 1944 the Soviet air force sent a special plane to a partisan base to transport Sutzkever and his wife to Moscow. Receptions and meetings were organized for them. He appeared on the radio and recounted for the world the German atrocities that he had seen in the Vilna ghetto. Ilya Ehrenburg wrote a long article about him then for Pravda (Truth) in Moscow: “The Triumph of a Man,” published on April 22, 1944. He compared Sutzkever’s poem “Kol nidre” to the Greek tragedies. Sutzkever also wrote a book about his experiences in the ghetto, and the publishing house “Emes” (Truth) published it in 1946 under the title Fun vilner geto (From the Vilna ghetto), edited by M. Altshuler, who also cut and abridged the book. In Moscow Sutzkever met the famous Russian poet Boris Pasternak and read for him his poems from the ghetto and forest (Pasternak understood Yiddish). Pasternak later translated Sutzkever’s poem “Mayn mame” (My mother) into Russian as “Tri rozi” (Three roses). On February 27, 1946 Sutzkever testified at the Nuremburg Trials for high-level German war criminals: Goehring, Hess, and van Papen, among others. He left the Soviet Union that same year. He returned to Poland and met there with the Polish poet Julian Tuwim, and came near Perets’s tomb. In 1946 he traveled to France and Holland. Over the years 1945-1947, he wrote (in Moscow, Lodz, and Paris) his poem “Geheymshtot” (Hometown). “Geheymshtot,” wrote Shmuel Niger,
is not only the longest and the most ambitious in structure and form of all of Sutzkever’s works to date, but it also excels in that more than in any other poem, Sutzkever accomplishes in it the artistic level of ‘an emotion suggested quietly’; without the tranquility of this emotion of his, without the artist’s self-restraint, he would be unable to succeed in his principal objective of this poetic creation—the goal of transforming pain into light—because he concentrates here on the infinite pain of the Vilna ghetto and of all other ghettos, and if the artist with the magic and strength of his artwork ought not restrain and arrest his cry of violence, his lament, and his howl, not only will pain not give way to light, but the pain itself will not emerge…. Clay from graves will be enough for the figure of the liberator who arrives after the liberation—that tells the younger artist of the sewers about himself. As we read “Geheymshtot,” we say the same about Avrom Sutzkever—about this wonderful man who, lying in a coffin as a corpse, wrote poetry of life—and poetry of belief. He also, we would say, in view of Tamares Yulik “created from the grave’s damp clay…his own wondrous reality in a corner—a figure of Moses to shine before the generations.” For the generations and for our own generation. He has become for our forlorn and resigned generation the messenger, the announcer of good tidings…. Right from the ghetto, from the hiding places, from the graves, from the subterranean sewers, he has come, the messenger blessed by God and by men.
In 1947 Sutzkever and Chaim Grade represented Yiddish literature at the International Pen Congress in Zurich. In late 1946 he had participated in the first postwar Zionist congress in Basel, where he met Golda Meir (still at the time bearing the surname Myerson); she sent him and his wife and their daughter false passes, and the Sutzkevers in September 1947 illegally left aboard the Patria for the land of Israel.
The Jewish settlement in the land of Israel put on a magnificent reception for the poet. He was drafted in 1948-1949 into the Israeli army, serving in the capacity of a military correspondent. He served for a certain amount of time under the commander of Yitsḥak Sadeh and together they marched through the Negev. This period is portrayed poetically in his cycle “Lider fun negev” (Poems from the Negev) in his longer work Gaystike erd (Spiritual land). In 1949 Sutzkever began editing the quarterly literary-social journal Di goldene keyt (The golden chain) published by the Histadrut Haovdim (Federation of Labor). It was wartime; Histadrut had no special funds and the journal was in Yiddish, but Sutzkever’s personal and poetic reputation stood by it. The journal attracted the best energies of Yiddish writers throughout the world. He also effected a unification of young Yiddish writers in the state of Israel in a literary association called “Yung-yisroel” (Young Israel), and for a number of years he chaired the Yiddish literary union in the state of Israel. In 1950 he made a trip through Europe and Africa. He visited sixteen countries in Africa and received poetic stimulation for a major cycle of poems entitled “Helafndn bay nakht” (Elephants at night). In 1952 he poem Sibir was published in Jerusalem in a Hebrew translation by Sh. Shalom from a manuscript and with drawings by Marc Chagall. In 1953 the poem appeared in print in Yiddish (also in Jerusalem), with the same drawings—and later in English as well. Sutzkever had written the poem in 1936 and rewrote it over the subsequent years. Over the period 1953-1954, he composed a cycle of “Poezye in proze” (Poetry in prose)—he referred to it as “short descriptions”—entitled Griner akvaryum (Green aquarium). The theme was the years of the Holocaust spent in the ghetto and forest. “This entire series” of poems, wrote A. M. Fuks, “is a forest scroll without anything comparable in our literature.” “What sort of tone should Sutzkever’s poem not set,” asked Shloyme Bikl: “the tone of legend and outpouring of emotion, of thoughtful lyricism and odes, or the thorough tone of folkloric familiarity—always spread over Sutzkever’s verses a classical measurement and a kind of monumental beauty…. Such a magical wealth of color and sound and such masterfully restrained verse and such a mastery of emotion in a poetic image!” (“Helfandn bay nakht” and Griner akvaryum were published as parts of Sutzkever’s book, Ode tsu der toyb [Ode to the dove], published in 1955). In 1953 he traveled to Argentina at the invitation of the H. D. Nomberg Writers’ and Journalists’ Union. He had just turned forty years of age at the time. In his honor the Union published an anthology entitled Fun dray veltn (Of three worlds), with contributions from a great number of writers, poets, and culture figures. In 1956 he experienced (as a civilian) the military unification march through the Sinai—his second march with the Israel military. The poems written during this march later appeared in a volume of poetry, In midber sinai (In the Sinai desert). In subsequent years he worked on his books Oazis (Oasis) and Gaystike erd and from time to time published literary essays as well. In 1963 his poems were included in a world anthology of poetry published once every two years by Unesco. In 1963 Sutzkever turned fifty—his birthday was celebrated in Jewish communities around the world. There was a solemn evening at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem with the participation of writers and prominent personalities, including Zalman Shazar, the president of the state of Israel. The celebration committee published Sutzkever’s poetic works in two volumes and a third with essays and poems about and for the honoree. The Yiddish newspapers and magazines set aside numerous places and special issues for the Sutzkever jubilee. In November 1963 paid a visit to the United States (funded by Histadrut). He gave speeches and readings of his works in dozens of cities in America, Canada, and Mexico, and everywhere to tremendous success. He was the initiator and contributor to the collection A shpigl af a shteyn, antologye, poezye un proze fun tsvelf farshnitene yidishe shraybers in ratn-farband (A mirror on a star, anthology, poetry and prose from twelve murdered Jewish writers in the Soviet Union) (Tel Aviv, 1964), a group of poems and prose writings of twelve well-known Soviet Yiddish poets and prose writers (Moyshe Kulbak, Izi Kharik, D. Hofshteyn, Perets Markish, Leyb Kvitko, Itsik Fefer, Dovid Bergelson, Der Nister, and others) murdered by the Stalinist regime.
His books include (poetry): Lider (Warsaw: Yiddish Pen Club Library, 1937), 98 pp., with the poet’s image painted by Yankl Adler; Valdiks (In the forest) (Vilna: Yiddish Literary Association and Pen Club, 1940), 140 pp.; Di festung, lider un poemes geshribn in vilner geto un in vald 1941-1944 (The fortress, poetry written in the Vilna ghetto and woods over the years 1941-1944), with a preface by Nakhmen Mayzil (New York: IKUF, 1945), 112 pp.; Lider fun geto (Poems of the ghetto) (New York: IKUF, 1946), 31 pp.; Yidishe gas (Jewish street) (New York: Matones, 1948), 203 pp.; Geheymshtot, poeme (Hometown, a poem) (Tel Aviv, 1948), 160 pp.; In fayer-vogn (In a chariot of fire) (Tel Aviv: Goldene keyt, 1952), 184 pp.; Sibir, poeme (Siberian, a poem) (Jerusalem, 1954), with drawings by Marc Chagall, folio format, several pages unnumbered; Fun dray veltn, anthology on Sutzkever’s fortieth birthday (Buenos Aires, 1953), 181 pp., with articles and poems about and for him by Y. Botoshanski, Sholem Asch, Yankev Tsur, A. Leyeles, Y. Gak, Y. Yanasovitsh, H. Leivick, A. Mukdoni, Meylekh Ravitsh, Shmuel Niger, Sh. Suskovitsh, Y. Fikhman, Shmerke Katsherginski, Marc Chagall, Yankev Glatshteyn, A. Eselin, Y. Papyernikov, Zalman Shazar, and A. Shimre, and with Sutzkever’s poetry—in three parts; Ekzekutsye (Execution), with music by Leon Vayner (Buenos Aires: Argentinian division of the World Jewish Culture Congress, 1953); Ode tsu der toyb (Tel Aviv: Goldene keyt, 1955), 129 pp.; In midber sinai (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1957), 98 pp.; Oazis (Tel Aviv: Goldene keyt, 1960), 88 pp., with drawings by Pinkhes Sher; Gaystike erd, with original woodcuts by Artur Kolnik (New York: Der kval, 1961), 134 pp.; Poetishe verk (Poetic writings), vol. 1, poems from the years 1934-1947 (Tel Aviv: Celebratory committee, 1963), 611 pp., including his poem “Sibir”—divided into the sections: “Blonder gaginen” (Fair dawn), “Valdiks”—the epilogue to Valdiks—four poems in Old Yiddish, “Dos keyver-kind,” “Kol-nidre,” “Epitafn” (Epitaphs), “Geheymshtot,” and “Yidishe gas”; Poetishe verk, vol. 2, poetry from the years 1947-1962 (Tel Aviv: Celebratory committee, 1963), 528 pp.—divided into the sections: “In fayer-vogn,” “Ode tsu der toyb,” “Helfandn bay nakht,” “Grine akvaryum,” “In midber Sinai,” “Oazis,” and “Gaystike erd”; Firkantike oysyes un mofsim (Quadrangular letters and miracles) (Tel Aviv: Goldene keyt, 1968), 139 pp.; Lider fun yam hamoves, fun vilner geto, vald un vander (Poems from the sea of death, from the Vilna ghetto, the woods, and on the move) (Tel Aviv: Bergen-Belzen, 1968), 480 pp.; Tsaytike penemer, poemes un lider, 1968-1970 (Mature faces, poetry, 1968-1970) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1970), 158 pp.; Di fidlroyz (The fiddle rose), poems 1970-1972 (Tel Aviv: Goldene keyt, 1974), 109 pp.; Griner akvaryum, dertseylungen (Green aquarium, stories) (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1975), 30 + 170 + 33 pp.; Lider fun togbukh (Poems from diary) (Tel Aviv: Goldene keyt, 1977), 77 pp.; Di ershte nakht in geto (The first night in the ghetto) (Tel Aviv: Goldene keyt, 1979), 31 pp.; Dortn vu es nekhtikn di shtern (There where the stars spend the night), stories (Tel Aviv: Yisroel-bukh, 1979), 149 pp.; Fun alte un yunge ksav-yadn (From old and young manuscripts), poetry (Tel Aviv: Yisroel-bukh, 1982), 245 pp.; Yikhes fun lid, yikhuso shel shir (Pedigree of a poem), presented to Sutzkever on his seventieth birthday (Tel Aviv: Jubilee committee, 1983), 304 pp.; Tsviling bruder, lider from togbukh, 1974-1985 (Twin brother, poems from a diary, 1974-1985) (Tel Aviv: Goldene keyt, 1986), 220 pp., comprised of poems from his Lider fun togbukh and his Fun alte un yunge ksav-yadn. Prose works include: Fun vilner geto (Moscow: Der emes, 1946) 225 pp., second edition entitled Vilner geto (Vilna ghetto), with a preface by N. Faynshteyn (Paris: Association of [former] Vilna residents in France, 1946), 230 pp., third edition (Buenos Aires: IKUF, 1947), 238 pp.; Vilner geto, kapitlekh (Vilna ghetto, chapters) (Buenos Aires: Coordinating Commission of secular Jewish schools in Argentina), 40 pp. Translations of Sutzkever’s work into Hebrew: Ḥarut ale luaḣ, shirim (Inscribed on a blackboard, poetry), with a preface by Yaakov Fikhman, trans. A. Shlonski, Lea Goldberg, N. Alterman, Ezra Zusman, R. Eliaz, Pesaḥ Ginzburg, and Avigdor Hameiri (Sifriyat poalim, 1949), 54 pp.; Sibir, with drawing by Marc Chagall, trans. Sh. Shalom (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1952); Ir hasetarim (The hidden city), trans. Y. Gole (Tel Aviv: Am oved, 1963), 158 pp.; Berekhev esh (In a chariot of fire), with a preface by Dov Sadan entitled “Ben ḥefets vekoraḥ” (Between desire and need), translations from virtually all of his poetic periods, main translator H. Binyamin, other translators: Natan Alterman, Binyamin Tenne, Avraham Shlonski, Elisha Rodin, Aba Kovner, Shimshon Meltser, Lea Goldberg, Moshe Basok, Pesaḥ Ginzburg, Avigdor Hameiri, Y. Gole, Shlomo Tanny, Asher Barash, Ezra Zusman, Avraham Regelson, Elḥanan Indelman, and Zalman Shazar (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1964), 232 pp. plus 16 pp. for preface; Shirim ufoemot (Poetry), trans. A. D. Shapir (Tel Aviv: Am oved, 1975), 130 pp.; Akvaryum yarok, sipurim (Green aquarium, stories), trans. K. A. Bertini (Tel Aviv, 1979), 188 pp.; Halayla harishon bageto (The first night in the ghetto), trans. K. A. Bertini (Tel Aviv: Am oved, 1981), 33 pp.; Sibir, poema (Siberia, a poem), trans. H. Binyamin (Tel Aviv, 1983), 46 pp.; Kanfe shaḥam, shirim min hayoman ṿeshirim aḥerim (Wings of granite, poetry from a diary and poems), trans. Yaakov Orland et al.; (Tel Aviv, 1983), 156 pp. Prose translations into Hebrew would include Geto vilna (Vilna ghetto), trans. Natan Livneh (Tel Aviv: Sekhvi, 1946/1947), 212 pp. Sutzkever’s writings have also been translated into other languages, primarily English. French: Ghetto de Vilna, trans. Ch. Brenasin (Paris: Édition Coopedo, 1950), 267 pp. German: Kol-Nidre, trans. Leon Bernstein (Basel: Verlag Jüdische Rundschau, 1961), 32 pp. English: Siberia, trans. Jacob Sonntag, drawings and essay about the poet by Marc Chagall (London: Unesco, International Pen Club, Abelard-Shuman, 1961), 46 pp. Prizes awarded Sutzkever’s books: (1) first prize of the literary association of the Vilna ghetto in 1942 for his dramatic poem, “Dos keyver kind”; (2) from the European division of the World Jewish Culture Congress in Paris in 1950 for his books Geheym-shtot and Yidishe gas; (3) from the French newspaper in Paris, Le Petit Parisien (The little Parisian) in 1950 for Vilner geto in the French translation (chairman of the jury Georges de Hamel): (4) Zvi Kessel Prize in Mexico City in 1952 for his book In fayer-vogn; (5) from the Jewish Culture Congress in Paris in 1956 for the book In midber sinai. He died in Tel Aviv.
“He is the only one,” wrote Yankev Glatshteyn, “who returned from the valley of lamentations with poems. Others wrote exclamations, others lamented aloud, but Sutzkever has a mission, an accursed mission to play on his enchanted flute the songs of the greatest destruction of our time…. His music is the chatter of Vilna at twilight. He heard the music, wavering in eternal memory. No one has the capacity to resist being hypnotized by his poems and falling under their spell…. After our destruction, poems have to remain linked to lamentations, and Sutzkever was chosen for this holy mission and for this sacred experiment…. Sutzkever’s glowing songs conclude with that hope that from the dark graves is born a new life, but until he arrives at this wish, the tortured Mozart plays his magic flute and sings extraordinary songs of wonder.” “The people’s eternal path,” noted Shmuel Niger, “remains omnipresent in Sutzkever’s poem ever since the start of WWII. And if Yiddish poetry should wish for Jews to produce no more, aside from A. Sutzkever’s works, it would not allow them to forget the eternity of their path. Since 1939 Sutzkever’s poetic fate has been one with the fate of the people’s immortality. It is truly a wonder that he, one of the most modern of Yiddish poets, one who plows the soil of the Yiddish word deeper than others, stocked with fresh, full, and rich seed—it’s a wonder that he should live to write such hymns for his people once and forever, as the one who expresses in song from chapter fourteen and other chapters in the series Epitafn.”
Sources: Yankev Glatshetyn, In tokh genumen,eseyen (In essence, essays) (New York, 1947), pp. 57-65; Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (new York, 1956), pp. 360-65; Glatshteyn, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (October 7, 1960; December 6, 1963); Sh. D. Zinger, in Unzer veg (New York) (May 1958); Zinger, in Dikhter un prozaiker (Poet and prose writer) (New York, 1959), pp. 129-37; Y. Y. Sigal, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (November 29, 1948); Shmerke Katsherginski, Tsvishn hamer un serp (Between hammer and sickle) (Paris, 1949); Shmerke katsherginski-ondenk-bukh (Memory volume for Shmerke Katsherginski) (Buenos Aires, 1955), pp. 295-315; A. Shimre, Undzers (Ours) (Tel Aviv, 1954/1955), pp. 101-3; Avrom Reyzen, in Di feder (New York, 1949); D. Tidhar, in Entsiklopedyah leḥalutse hayishuv uvonav (Encyclopedia of the pioneers and builders of the yishuv), vol. 4 (Tel Aviv, 1950), pp. 2023-24; Dov Sadan, Kearat tsimukim (A bowl of raisins) (Tel Aviv, 1951/1952), see index; Sadan, in Haarets (Tel Aviv) (September 18, 1963); Sadan, in Moznaim (Tel Aviv) (October-Novembe 1963), pp. 491-95; Shmuel Niger, in Der tog (New York) (September 19, 1952; October 5, 1952); Niger, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (April 17, 1955); Y. Yanasovitsh, in Di naye tsayt (Buenos Aires) 230 (1952); Yanasovitsh, in Der veg (Mexico City) (January 28, 1962); Avrom sutskever, zayn lid un zayn proze (Abtaham Sutzkever, his poetry and his prose) (Tel Aviv: Yisroel-bukh, 1981), 135 pp.; Y. Bronshteyn, Geheymshtot fun a. sutskever (“Hometown” by A. Sutzkever) (Mexico City: N. Zaydenberg, 1952), 59 pp.; Bronshteyn, Yo, un nisht neyn (Yes, and not no) (Los Angeles, 1953), pp. 17-29, 96-141; Bronshteyn, In eynem un bazunder (Together and special) (Tel Aviv, 1960), pp. 117-25; Sh. Meltser, in Al naharot (Jerusalem) (1954/1955), p. 436; B. Y. Byalostotski, Kholem un vor, eseyen (Dream and reality, essays) (New York, 1956), pp. 133ff, 158ff; Sh. Rozenfeld, in Forverts (New York) (August 18, 1956); M. Yafe, in Folk un tsien (Jerusalem) (February 15, 1957), pp. 40-41; M. Gros-Tsimerman, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 28 (1957); Y. Horn, in Idishe tsaytung (Buenos Aires) (November 3, 1957); Gros-Tsimerman, Intimer videranand (Intimate contrasts) (Tel Aviv, 1964), pp. 58-65; Y. Rapaport, Oysgerisene bleter (Torn up pages) (Melbourne, 1957); Rapaport, in Dos yidishe vort (Winnipeg) (April 17, 1964); Rapaport, Mehus fun dikhtung (Essence of poetry) (Tel Aviv, 1963/1964); Y. Varshavski (Bashevis), in Forverts (February 9, 1958; June 21, 1959; March 5, 1961; November 25, 1962; January 19, 1964); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 3 (Montreal, 1958), pp. 283-92; Ravitsh, in Idisher kemfer (May 22, 1959); Kh. Liberman, in Forverts (December 31, 1958); Yankev Pat, in Di tsukunft (New York) (November 1958; November 1963); Pat, Shmuesn mit shrayber in yisroel (Conversations with writers in Israel) (New York, 1960); A. Leyeles, Velt un vort, literarishe un andere eseyen (World and word, literary and other essays) (New York, 1958); Leyeles, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (November 27, 1960; June 25, 1961; January 14, 1962; October 6, 1963; December 4, 1963); Y. Gilboa, in Hadoar (New York) (Adar 14 [=March 6], 1958); H. Leivick, in Keneder odler (April 6, 1959); Shloyme Bikl, Shrayber fun mayn dor (Writers of my generation) (New York, 1958); Bikl, in Di tsukunft (November 1960; April 1962); Bikl, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (July 7, 1962; January 4, 1963); Bikl, Di brokhe fun sheynkeyt, eseyen vegn avrom sutskever (The blessing of beauty, essays in Abraham Sutzkever) (Tel Aviv, 1969), 60 pp.; Y. Dorin (M. Tsanin), in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (July 17, 1959); Froym Oyerbakh, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (May 2, 1960; November 11, 1963); Oyerbakh, in Svive (Tel Aviv) (February 1962); Sh. Izban, in Keneder odler (August 1, 1960); “Briv fun d. pinski tsu a. sutskever” (Letter from D. Pinski to A. Sutzkever), Di goldene keyt 38 (1960), pp. 214-17; A. Lis, Heym un doyer, vegn shrayber un verk (Home and duration, on writers and work) (Tel Aviv: Y. L. Perets Library, 1960), pp. 100-10; Y. Emyot, In mitele yorn (In middle age) (New York, 1963), pp. 103-7; Y. Ḥ. Biletzky, Masot bishvil sifrut yidish (Essays on Yiddish literature) (Tel Aviv, 1960); Y. Ḥ. Biletzky, Hashir vehameshorer, a. sutskever, masa (Song and poet: A. Sutzkever, essay) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1962), 112 pp.; A. Golomb, in Der veg (February 25, 1961; April 15, 1961; November 16, 1963); M. Astur, in Der veker (New York) (July 1, 1961); Y. Hofer, in Letste nayes (July 30, 1961); A. Haglili, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (September 15, 1961); M. Daytsh, in Zayn (New York) (October 1961); Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index; H. Kruk, Togbukh fun vilner geto (Diary from the Vilna ghetto) (New York: YIVO, 1961), see index; Y. Gar, and F. Fridman, Biblyografye fun yidishe bikher vegn khurbn un gvure (Bibliography of Yiddish books concerning the Holocaust and heroism) (New York, 1962), see index; N. Mayzil, Tsurikblikn un perspektivn (Retrospectives and perspectives) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1962), see index; R. Katsenelson-Shazar, in Davar (Tel Aviv) (Ḥeshvan 1 [= September 22], 1960); Moyshe Shtarkman, in Der veker (January 1, 1963); Y. Zerubavl, in Der tog (October 16, 1963); Zerubavl, in Unzer veg (October 1963); M. Kheyfets-Tuzman, in Kheshbn (Los Angeles) (October 1963); M. Feyges (Krishtol), in Forverts (November 3, 1963); A. Lev, in Lebns-fragn (Tel Aviv) (November-December 1963), pp. 14-15; Y. Midrash, in Keneder odler (December 11, 1963); L. Rokhman, in Forverts (December 1, 1963); Moshe Basok, Mivḥar shirat yidish (Selections of Yiddish poetry) (Tel Aviv, 1963), pp. 353-61; Yoyvl-bukh tsum fuftsikstn geboyn-tog fun a. sutskever (Jubilee volume on the fiftieth birthday of A. Sutzkever), ed. Zalman Shazar, Dov Sadan, and M. Gros-Tsimerman (Tel Aviv: Jubilee Committee, 1963), 168 pp., with essays, notices, and the like from Z. Shazar, Marc Chagall, H. Leivick, A. Leyeles, M. Astur, Chaim Grade, A. Vogler, Itzik Manger, Arn Shtaynberg, Shloyme Bikl, M. Gros-Tsimerman, Max Weinreich, Sh. Shalom, Y. Hofer, Arn Tsaytlin, Rokhl Korn, A. Shimre, Yankev Glatshteyn, A. Regelson, Froym Oyerbakh, Y. Shpigl, Y. Fridman, A. M. Fuks, Y Gole, Meylekh Ravitsh, Y. Emyot, Y. Rabinovitsh, Y. Zerubavl, and Dov Sadan; Sh. Margoshes, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (January 26, 1964), in the English column; Ruth Wisse, “Green Aquarium: A Critical Study of Fifteen Yiddish Prose Poems by Abraham Sutzkever,” an essay for an M. A. degree in philosophy, Columbia University (New York); Y. Kornhendler, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (October 6, 1964); contents in Di goldene heyt 50 (1964); Kh. Shurer, in Forverts (January 22, 1965); Yudel Mark, Avrom sutskevers poetisher veg (Abraham Sutzkever’s poetic path) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1974), 176 pp.; A. Novershtern, Avrom tsutskever biblyografye (Abraham Sutzkever bibliography) (Tel Aviv: Yisroel-bukh, 1976), 307 pp.; Y. Shpigl, Avrom sutskevers lider fun togbukh, esey (Abraham Sutzkever’s poems from a diary, an essay) (Tel Aviv, 1979), 31 pp.; Avraham sutskever, ezraḥ shel tel-aviv-yafo (Abraham Sutzkever, citizen of Tel Aviv-Jaffa) (Tel Aviv, 1983); Dovid Volpe, Mit avrom sutskever iber zayn lidervelt (With Abraham Sutzkever through the world of his poems) (Johannesburg, 1985), 146 pp.; J. Leftwich, Abraham Sutzkever: Partisan Poet (New York, 1971), 188 pp.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), cols. 401-2, 547-48.]