SHOYEL-YITSKHOK STUPNITSKI (1876-July 1942)
He was born in Belsk, Grodno region, Russian Poland. Until age thirteen he studied in religious primary school, later in the Lomzhe and Eyshishok (Eišiškės) yeshivas, as well as in the synagogue study hall on his own. He excelled in his diligence for learning. He was also a great Torah scholar who devoted his attention to Jewish Enlightenment literature, and secular subject matter and foreign languages, including Hebrew, Russian, and German. Under the influence of his friend, the Hebrew writer Ḥ. D. Klatskin, in 1895 he took off—without a passport or any money—for Prague to enter the rabbinical seminary, with the support of the group “Ets hadaat” (the Tree of knowledge), he became a candidate for the rabbinate, and in his free time he studied in the rich community library secular works in the field of Jewish studies. In late 1897 he departed for Heidelberg, Germany, spent a semester in the university there, and became acquainted with the subsequently famous Jewish writers who were studying there at the time—Elyashev (Bal-Makhshoves), Klausner, Tshernikhovski, and others. In 1898 he left for Berne and studied philosophy, history, and Oriental languages there, but under the influence of his socialist and radical environs he neglected Oriental languages and concentrated on social and ethnic issues. He was a cofounder and secretary of the Academic Zionist Association. In 1901 he moved to Warsaw and became active in circles of Polish socialists, led groups, wrote proclamations, and contributed to the Yiddish press of the PPS (Polish Socialist Party [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna]), and he contributed to Spektor’s Di yudishe folkstsaytung (The people’s newspaper). In 1903 he moved again to Geneva, Switzerland, where he served as secretary of the Office of the Jewish Senior High School (under the directorship of Chaim Weitzman). In 1904, at the Seventh Zionist Congress in Basel, he joined the territorialists, settled in Minsk (Byelorussia), and became active as a propagandist and theorist of the Minsk direction in Labor Zionism, while also contributing to the illegal publications of the party. When the Labor Zionists merged with Zionist socialist groups, Stupnitski left the party organization, moved back to Warsaw, for a time served as secretary of the Emigration Office of ITA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency), and later moved entirely into journalistic work for newspapers. In 1908 when Haynt (Today) was established in Warsaw, he became a regular contributor to the newspaper, wrote a great deal for it, but he felt held back by the atmosphere of the Zionist editorial board majority and often held differing views from those of the editorial board. In 1916 at the time of the city council elections in Warsaw, he left the newspaper and became an active leader in the Jewish Folks-partey (People’s party) and represented the party in the city council and the Jewish community administration, among other institutions. He also gave political speeches in public throughout the Jewish towns in Poland. Over the years 1918-1926, in lived in Lublin, where he worked as editor of the folkist weekly newspaper Dos folk (The people), then for Lubliner togblat (Lublin daily newspaper), and then lived for several months in Riga (where he was editor of the daily Frimorgn [Morning]), from whence he returned to Warsaw, and there he lived until WWII. When the Nazis were approaching Warsaw, he left on a special train that the Polish government placed at the disposition of Polish and Yiddish journalists, but in Lublin he left the group and returned to Warsaw on foot. He was confined in the Warsaw Ghetto, where he was active in underground Jewish school and cultural work, and despite hunger he worked consistently on a series of scholarly projects, a portion of which were discovered in the ghetto ruins among the materials of Dr. E. Ringelblum’s “Oyneg-Shabes” archive.
His work as a writer began with a series of articles entitled: “Mikhtavim meerets boyhem” (From the land of Bohemia), in Hamelits (The advocate) in Odessa (1886). He later published articles in Hamagid (The preacher), Haor (The light), and other Hebrew-language periodicals. In 1903 he switched entirely into Yiddish, in which he debuted with a piece entitled “Di kuzarim” (The Khazars) in the weekly Di yudishe folksblat (The people’s newspaper) in Warsaw (1903), edited by M. Spektor and Kh. D. Hurvits; and he went on to become well-known with a series of articles, “Vos iz natsyonalizm?” (What is nationalism?), published in Di yudishe tsukunft (The Jewish future) in London (1904), edited by Dr. Y. Vortsman. He was a member of the editorial board of Di yudishe virklekhkeyt (Jewish reality) in Vilna (1906-1907), Der nayer veg (The new way) and Dos vort (The word) in Vilna, Unzer veg (Our way) in Warsaw, the illegal Der shtrahl (The beam [of light]) and others in Vilna and Warsaw. In Haynt and other newspapers, he published series of articles which later appeared in book form: “Melukhe un natsye” (State and nation), later published as Dos rekht fun der natsyonaler minderheyt (The rights of the national minority) (Warsaw, 1918), 32 pp.; Asimilatsye in der yidisher geshikhte (Assimilation in Jewish history) (1918), 32 pp.; Kooperativn, profesyonele fareynen (Cooperatives, trade unions); and others. He was a sporadic contributor to Varshever tageblat (Warsaw daily newspaper), edited by L. Kahan and H. D. Nomberg, and to Dos folk, organ of the Folks-partey in Warsaw. From 1918 until the beginning of 1926 (with interruptions), he edited the daily Lubliner togblat, and there he began publishing in installments his work “Firer un troymer” (Leaders and dreamers)—memoirs of the student and émigré colonies in Switzerland and Germany. The end of this series, as well as another entitled “Tsaytn, mentshn un geshtaltn” (Times, people, and images), were published over the months of March-July 1926 in Frimorgn in Riga. (This series encompassed depictions of yeshiva and student life in Lomzhe, Eyshishok, Radin, Prague, Heidelberg, and elsewhere.) He also published here monographs on Herzl, Zangwill, Aḥad-Haam, Y. N. Simḥoni, Zhabotinsky, Freud, and others. (All of these were published in the same time period in: Lubliner togblat, Nayer folksblat [New people’s newspaper], Idishe tsaytung [Jewish newspaper] in Buenos Aires, and elsewhere.) From time to time he contributed to: Naye folkstsaytung (New people’s newspaper), Dos vort, and Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw; Dos vort in Vilna; and in the provincial Yiddish press in Poland. From August 1926 until September 1939, he was an internal contributor to Moment (Moment) in Warsaw. His articles entitled “Visnshaftlekher oder utopisher sotsyalizm” (Scientific or utopian socialism), as well as a series on the Jewish colonization in Birobidzhan, were sharply attacked by the Yevsektsye (Jewish section)—Kh. Dunets, Af tsvey frontn (On two fronts) (Minsk, 1932), pp. 6, 11—in the Soviet Union. His books include: Barukh shpinoza, zayn filozofye (Baruch Spinoza, his philosophy) (Warsaw, 1916), 161 pp., published in many editions, the last as Barukh shpinoza, zayn filozofye, bibel-kritik, shtatslehre un zayn bedaytung in der antviklung fun menshlikhen denken (Baruch Spinoza, his philosophy, Bible criticism, teachings about the state, and his significance in the development of human thought) (Warsaw, 1936)—“One of the few original works,” noted Zalmen Reyzen, “in Yiddish on this topic”; “The first monograph on Spinoza,” wrote Y. Bashevis, “which in its time influenced thousands of Jewish young people who had begun to lose their way and were searching”—Afn veg tsum folk (On the road to the people) (Warsaw, 1920), 152 pp. (a collection of articles on nation and nationalist movements in Europe, as well as on the philosophy of Hermann Cohen, Aḥad-Haam, and others.) Other works include: Yidishe rase un kultur, ideyen un parteyen af der yidisher gas (Jewish race and culture, ideas and parties on the Jewish street); Di geshikhte fun der yidisher filozofye (The history of Jewish philosophy), parts of which appeared in the Yiddish press and some did not appear in book form. In the Polish Jewish Warsaw Ghetto newspaper Gazeta Żydowska (Jewish gazette), over the course of just about two years, he published articles on different topics in Jewish history. Their essence: Don’t despair! Even when we shall be murdered, we shall not die spiritually and morally. He also published under such pen names as: H. Edin, H. Kantor, Sh. Germeyze, Nik, Riger, Ben-Ami, and Y. Mirlzon. There are two versions concerning his death: (1) he took poison when being led from the collection point in Warsaw to the train which was to take him to Treblinka; (2) he was poisoned in Otvosk (Otwock), escaping from the Nazis. From his scholarly writings in the Warsaw Ghetto, all that was discovered was his answer to the questionnaire, “Dos lebn fun yidishe visnshaftler in geto” (The life of the Jewish scholar in the ghetto), which was published in Bleter far geshikhte (Pages for history) in Warsaw 1.2 (1948), pp. 111-23. As Sh. Mendelson wrote: “An innovative figure. Combined in him was learning and Enlightenment, philosophical ideas with a political temperament, boldness of thought with bourgeois ease, idealist zeal with skepticism…. He philosophically substantiated…a quiet, somewhat conservative, approach to Jewish problems. He accentuated the religious values, but resisted Orthodoxy. He strove for political freedom, but fought bitterly against every radical idea. He passionately loved Yiddish and did not accept Yiddishism.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Biblyografishe yorbikher fun yivo (Bibliographic yearbooks from YIVO) (Warsaw, 1928), see index; Y. Krivitski, in Afn visnshaftlekhn front (Minsk) 1-2 (1939), pp. 42-74; Kh. Dunets, Af tsvey frontn (On two fronts) (Minsk, 1932), pp. 6, 11; M. Gerts, 25 yor yidishe prese in letland (25 years of the Yiddish press in Latvia) (Riga, 1933), p. 56; Y. Bornshteyn, in Tog (New York) (December 16, 1934); Sh. Lubetkin, Publitsisten (Publicists) (Warsaw, 1937); Pinkhes Shvarts, Azoy iz geven der onheyb (That was how it began) (New York, 1943); D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Di tsukunft (New York) (January 1943); Sh. Pyetrushka, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (May 27, 1943); Vl. Grosman, in Keneder odler (June 13, 1943); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 2 (Montreal, 1945); Rokhl Oyerbakh, in Eynikeyt (New York) (June 1946); Oyerbakh, in Kidesh hashem (Sanctification of the name), an anthology compiled by Shmuel Niger (New York: Tsiko, 1946); L. Rokhman, in Kidesh hashem; Z. Segalovitsh, Tlomatske 13, fun farbrentn nekhtn (13 Tłomackie St., of scorched yesterdays) (Buenos Aires, 1946), see index; A. Ayzenbakh, in Bleter far geshikhte (Warsaw) 1.2 (1948), p. 107; Shloyme mendelson, zayn lebn un shafn (Shloyme Mendelson, his life and work) (New York, 1949), pp. 385-87; Ber Y. Rozen, Tlomatske 13 (13 Tłomackie St.) (Buenos Aires, 1950), see index; Rozen, Portretn (Portraits) (Buenos Aires, 1956), see index; Dr. A. Mukdoni, Oysland, mayne bagegenishn (Abroad, my encounters) (Buenos Aires, 1951), pp. 252-54; M. Shemen, Lublin (Lublin) (Toronto, 1951), p. 202; Dos bukh fun lublin (The book of Lublin) (Paris, 1952), p. 333; Entsiklopediya shel galiyut (Encyclopedia of the diaspora), entry for Lublin (Jerusalem), p. 640; B. Mark, Umgekumene shrayber fun di getos un lagern (Murdered writers from the ghettos and camps) (Warsaw, 1954), pp. 54-67; Pinkes varshe (Records of Warsaw) (Buenos Aires, 1955), p. 796; B. Kutsher, Geven amol varshe (As Warsaw once was) (Paris, 1955), see index; M. Mozes, “Yidishe prese in varshe” (The Yiddish press in Warsaw), in Fun noentn over (New York) 2 (1956), pp. 284-85, 290, 293, 299; Y. Pat, in Di tsukunft (July-August 1957); Dr. E. Ringelblum, Bleter far geshikhte (Pages for history) (Warsaw, 1959); Ringelblum, Ksovim fun geto (Writings from the ghetto) (Warsaw, 1961); Kalmen Marmor, Mayn lebns-geshikhte (My life story) (New York, 1959), vol. 1, pp. 378-79; vol. 2, pp. 639, 641, 644; Y. Rapoport, Zoymen in vint (Seeds in the wind) (Melbourne, 1961), pp. 352-53; Y. Bashevis, in Forverts (New York) (March 13, 1961).
Khayim Leyb Fuks