DOV-BER SLUTSKI (June 26, 1877-July 13, 1955)
He was born on an estate near Horodishche (Gorodishche), Kiev district, Ukraine. When he was nine years old, his father and the entire family were expelled from the village and then began a time of great poverty for them. He attended religious elementary school in Horodishche but had no possibility to continue his studies. He later survived the 1905 pogrom in Kiev. He lived thereafter in Odessa, where Ḥ. N. Bialik befriended him and encouraged him to write. He debuted in literature with a sketch entitled “Lifne hasaar” (Before the storm) in Luaḥ aḥiasef (1903), later publishing several sketches in Hashiloaḥ (The shiloah), where from 1910 he published such stories as “Miriam” and “Bair” (In the city), among others. He contributed as well to other Hebrew-language periodicals, in particular Hazman (The times). His literary activities in Yiddish began in issue 25 of Der fraynd (The friend) in St. Petersburg (1905), in which he published (in the form of a letter to the editor, using the pen name D. Ber) his article “Yidish” (Yiddish), a call to erect public schools in the Yiddish language. At the time the article caused a stir—according to Kh. Zh. Kazdan, Sh. Gilinski, Y. Levin, M. Birnboym, and others, it helped create the Jewish School in Warsaw in 1912. Slutski later published stories, feature pieces, and articles in: Der fraynd in St. Petersburg; Folks-shtime (Voice of the people) in Vilna; and Haynt (Today) in Warsaw. As the correspondent from Haynt, he visited Kavkaz before WWI, later settling in Kiev. His cycle of works, “Mazepkevker bilder” (Images of Mazepevka), published during WWI, offered a full-fledged view of Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement. After the revolution in 1917, he worked for the daily newspaper Di naye tsayt (The new time) in Kiev and for Komfon [= Komunistishe fon] (Communist banner), as well as other Soviet newspapers and journals. He visited the Jewish colonies in southern Russia as a correspondent for Shtern (Star) and Emes (Truth). He wrote (also under the pseudonym B. Marinski) letters from Kiev to Frayhayt (Freedom) in New York and Di prese (The press) in Buenos Aires. He translated into Yiddish fictional works by European, Hebrew, and Russian writers. He accomplished a great deal in the field of Yiddish philology. In 1919 he published in the Kiev journal Shul un lebn (School and life) a Yiddish terminology for watchmaking—assembled with the help of his brother, a watchmaker. In the Minsk-based Tsaytshrift (Periodical), he published: “Der leksikon fun mener-shnayderay” (Lexicon of men’s tailoring); “Yidishe badkhonim, shoyshpiler” (Jewish wedding entertainers, actors) 1 (1926); and “Dergantsungen tsu der leksikon…” (Additions to the lexicon) 2-3 (1928). He compiled Leksikon fun politishe un fremd-verter (Lexicon of political and foreign words), edited by Y. Liberman and H. Kozakevitsh, with a foreword by Y. Liberman (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1929), 1010 pp. In this lexicon, one finds “Opnoygn fun der partey-linye” (Deviations from the Party line), and in the July 14, 1919, edition of Emes the editorial board noted the observation: “Inasmuch as it may appear that the ‘Lexicon’ is full of errors in all manner of fields, the publisher has decided not to distribute it, until it—the Lexicon—is fundamentally improved.” With the conversion of a cathedral in Kiev to an institute for Yiddish scholarly research, Slutski became a contributor to the philology section run by Nokhum Shtif. In the organ of the section, Di yidishe shprakh (The Yiddish language), 7 (1928), he published a work entitled “Vegn mendelen dem iberzetser” (On Mendele the translator). In 1931 a collection of his poetry and stories appeared in print as Af rushtovanyes (On the scaffolding) in Kharkov (247 pp.). In 1935 the second collection of the Kiev journal Afn shprakhfront (On the language front) published his piece “Der veg funem kh’ n. shtif” (The way of Comrade N. Shtif), and in its collection 3-4 appeared his essay “Tsu der geshikhte fun der terminologisher arbet inem sovetishn yidish” (On the history of the terminological work in Soviet Yiddish). In 1937 he compiled in Kiev the anthology Vos geven un vos gevorn (What was and what became), 214 pp. In 1940 he published his research “Vegn di varyantn fun sholem-aleykhems ‘funem yarid’” (On the variant editions of Sholem Aleichem’s From the Fair) in the Kiev anthology Sholem aleykhem (Sholem Aleichem). During the war against the Nazis, he and other Kiev writers were evacuated to Kazakhstan, where his wife died and he was left with a daughter from her first marriage. In 1946 he settled in Birobidzhan, where he became the director of the Jewish division in the central museum of the region. At the same time he was working on the last chapters of a historical novel from the era of Bar Kokhba, entitled Far erd, far frayhayt (For land, for freedom). The manuscript of this historical novel was fortuitously preserved, and the journal Sovetish heymland (Soviet homeland) published it in the last months of its existence (August-September 1991). On the occasion of his seventieth birthday in 1947, praiseworthy articles appeared in the Birobidzhan press, as well as in Moscow’s Eynikeyt (Unity), but in late 1948 when the liquidation of Yiddish culture in Soviet Russia arrived, he was arrested in Birobidzhan—together with other Yiddish writers in the area. According to Yisroel Emyot (Israel Emiot), Slutski was sentenced to ten years in prison—he was placed in the Aleksandrovke, an infamously mournful Siberian prison, sixty kilometers from Irkutsk. Slutski’s step-daughter in 1956 told Emyot that he died in prison in 1955. Slutski’s translations include: Mordecai Zeev Feuerberg, Baynakht (At night [original: Baerev]), from Hebrew (Kiev, 1918), 23 pp. (there was an earlier, shortened version—Minsk, 1905); Jonathan Swift, Guliver in liliputn-land (Gulliver in the land of Liliput), free adaptation from Gulliver’s Travels (Kiev, 1919), 86 pp.; Alphonse Daudet, Dos vayse tsigele (The little white goat [original: La Chèvre de M. Seguin (?)]), from French (Kiev, 1919); Mayselekh far kleyne kinder (Stories for small children), by Turgenev and others, edited by Nokhum Shtif (Kiev, 1919), 45 pp.; Ivan Turgenev, Bezhener lonke (Bezhin meadow [original: Bezhin lug]) (Kiev and St. Petersburg: Jewish People’s Press, 1920), 23 pp.; Anton Chekhov, Der antlofener (The runaway [original: Beglets]) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1920), 18 pp.; new edition of Turgenev, Mumu un andere dertseylungen (Mumu and other stories) (Berlin, 1922), 123 pp.; Yosef-Ḥaim Brener, Arum a pintele, roman (Around the point, a novel [original: Misaviv lenekuda]), from Hebrew (Berlin, 1923), 203 pp.; P. M. Kerzhnetsev, Leninizm, araynfir tsum shtudirn leninizm (Leninism, an introduction to the study of Leninism) (Kiev, 1926), 296 pp.; G. Grinat, Mit der volge (With the Volga) (Kiev, 1930), 102 pp.; Nik Karintsev, N. m. przhevalski, lebn un rayzes (N. M. Przheval’skii, life and travels [original: N. M. Przheval’skii, zhizn’ i puteshestvii︠a︡]) (Moscow: Emes, 1938), 170 pp.; V. M. Garshin, Fir teg (Four days [original: Chetyre dnia]) (Kiev, 1938), 27 pp.; L. N. Tolstoy, Ana karenina, roman in akht teyln (Anna Karenina, a novel in eight parts) (Kiev, 1939); and other works by Vladimir Korolenko, Chekhov, Konstantin Staniukovich, Nikolai Gogol, and others.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; N. Lurye, in Shul un lebn (Kiev) 1 (1918), pp. 63-64, 4-5 (1919?), p. 92; Kh. Sh. Kazdan, in Bikher-velt (Kiev) 2-3 (1919), pp. 53, 67-69, 74, 75; Kazdan, Fun kheyder un shkoles biz tsisho (From religious and secular primary schools to Tsisho) (Mexico City, 1956), see index; Shmuel Niger, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (April 29, 1927); H. Gurni (Herman Gold), in Unzer bukh (New York) (July-August 1927); A. Gurshteyn, in Visnshaftlekher yorbikher (Moscow) 1 (1929); M. Altshuler, in Emes (Moscow) (July 14, 1929); Elye Spivak, in Afn shprakhfront (Kiev) 3-4 (1935); D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Di tsukunft (New York) (October 1935); “Yidishe shraybers in kazakhstan” (Yiddish writers in Kazakhstan), Eynikeyt (Moscow) (April 15, 1943); “Sheferishe plener fun di shraybers” (Creative planners among the writers), Eynikeyt (May 17, 1947); Sh. Shneyfal, in Eynikeyt (June 26, 1947); H. Vaynraykh, Blut af der zun (Blood on the sun) (New York, 1950), p. 196; Y. Emyot, in Forverts (new York) (February 28, 1959); Emyot, Der birobidzhaner inyen (khronik fun a groyliker tsayt) (The Birobidzhan affair, chronicle of an appalling time) (New York, 1960), pp. 68-71; Elya (Elias) Shulman, in Der veker (New York) (August 1, 1961); Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index; Al. Pomerants, Di sovetishe haruge malkhes (The [Jewish writers] murdered by the Soviet government) (Buenos Aires, 1962), pp. 44, 47; Evreiskaia entsiklopediya, vol. 14.
[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), pp. 265-66.]