KHAYIM SEMYATITSKI (CHAIM SEMIATYCKI) (1908-late September 1943)
He was born in Tiktin (Tykocin), near Bialystok, Russian Poland, into a rabbinical family. Until age nineteen he studied in religious elementary school and yeshiva, and he received ordination into the rabbinate, but he had no desire to become a rabbi. In 1929 he moved to Warsaw, continued his education, and earned his livelihood in fortuitous ways: evening watchman in a business, a Hebrew teacher, and the like. He began writing poetry in his yeshiva years, encouraged to write by Hillel Tsaytlin. His first published poem appeared in Haynt (Today) in Warsaw (summer 1929), written in a religious tone and, as Y. Rapaport noted, “deeply lyrical, Semyatitski’s poems established him among the young poets’ generation, as a poet with his own cachet.” From that point he published (also using such pen names as: Khayim Tiktiner and Khayml) poems, short stories, impressions, literary critical essays, and reviews in: Haynt, Moment (Moment), Unzer ekspres (Our express), Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves), Shriftn (Writings), Unzer frayhayt (Our freedom), Naye folkstsaytung (New people’s newspaper), Dos vort (The word), Arbeter-tsaytung (Workers’ newspaper), Vokhnshrift far literatur (Weekly writing for literature), and Foroys (Onward), among others, in Warsaw; Vilner tog (Vilna day); Dos naye leben (The new life) in Bialystok; Yidishe bilder (Jewish images) and Frimorgn (Morning) in Riga; and Di tsukunft (The future) and In zikh (Introspective) in New York. In book form: Oysgeshtrekte hent, lider (Outstretched hands, poems) (Warsaw, 1935), 64 pp.; Tropns toy, lider (Drops of dew, poems), jacket design by M. Rayf (Warsaw, 1938), 53 pp.—in 1939 he was awarded the Y. L. Perets Prize from the Yiddish Pen Club in Poland. When the Nazis invaded Warsaw, he left for Bialystok, which was then under Soviet control, and he remained more devout, decided against joining the Soviet writers’ association, and went hungry, but he published not a single line in any Soviet publication. In early 1941 he moved to Vilna and was then confined in the Vilna ghetto, where he worked in the sewer system and as an unskilled laborer in radio. After the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto, after great exertions and effort, he was placed in “Labor Camp H. K. F.” (Heeres Energy Co.). He was shot by the Nazi murderer Bruno Kittel at Ponar in September 1943. A larger number of his poems were published (from 1946) in: Yidishe shriftn (Yiddish writings) in Lodz; Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal), Di tsukunft (The future), and Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture) in New York; Binem Heler’s edited volume, Dos lid iz geblibn (The poem remained) (Warsaw, 1951), anthology of murdered poets; Moyshe Prager’s Antologye fun religyeze lider un dertseylungen (Anthology of religious poems and stories) (New York, 1955); and the anthology Kdoyshim, lider fun farpeynikte (Martyrs, poems by those who suffered) (New York, 1947), for which Henekh Kon wrote music. In Tint un feder (Ink and Pen) (Toronto) (January 1949), important letters by Semyatitski to Gershon Pomerants were published. His work also appeared in Joseph Leftwich’s anthology in English, The Golden Peacock (New York, 1961). In Sefer tiktin (Volume for Tykocin) (Tel Aviv, 1959), his poem “Ale” (Everything) appears. “He kept to a great simplicity,” wrote Shmuel Niger, “and it was mainly that his lyricism is authentically religious, such that his religiosity was authentically lyrical…. His ‘Letter to God’ is profound and prevails upon his simplicity and follows the style of Levi-Yitskhok of Berdichev.” “Semyatitski’s poetry,” noted Y. Rapaport, “is related to the poetry of two titans of contemporary world poetry: Tagore and Rilke…. His poetry is a natural fruit of his poetic soul, and it is an expression of one of the spiritual strains of contemporary Judaism, of contemporary Yiddish literature.”
Sources: B. Shnaper, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (June 14, 1935; Shnaper, in Foroys (Warsaw) (August 19, 1938); N. Mayzil, in Haynt (Warsaw) (July 26, 1935); Mayzil, in Di tsukunft (New York) (July 1936); Khayim Leyb Fuks, in Nayer folkblat (Lodz) (August 5, 1936); G. Pomerants, in Der shpigl (Buenos Aires) (December 16, 1936); Pomerants, in Di tsukunft (February 1939); D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Literarishe bleter (September 16, 1938); Charney, in Di tsukunft (January 1943); Peysekh Kaplan, in Unzer lebn (Bialystok) (November 4, 1938); Sh. Tenenboym, in Idishe kuryer (Chicago) (August 14, 1940); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (July 30, 1943); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 1 (Montreal, 1945); “Yizker” (Remembrance), Yidishe shriftn (Lodz) 1 (1946); Moyshe Grosman, in Yidishe shriftn (1947); Grosman, Heymishe geshtaltn: reportazhn, portretn, dertseylungen, minyaturn (Familiar images: reportage, portraits, stories, miniatures) (Tel Aviv, 1953), pp. 160-78; Grosman, in Hatsofe (Tel Aviv) (Iyar 5 [= May 7], 1954); Grosman, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (February 11, 1955); Avrom Sutzkever, Fun vilne geto (From the Vilna ghetto) (Moscow, 1946), p. 151; Sh. Katsherginski, Khurbn vilne (The Holocaust in Vilna) (New York, 1947), p. 202; Dr. Hillel Zaydman, in Morgn-zhurnal (November 16, 1947); Y. Rapaport, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (May 28, 1948); Rapaport, Zoymen in vint (Seeds in the wind) (Buenos Aires, 1961), pp. 230, 233; Y. Horn, in Unzer dor (Buenos Aires) (1949); B. Mark, Umgekumene shrayber fun di getos un lagern (Murdered writers from the ghettos and camps) (Warsaw, 1954); Mark, in Ikuf-almanakh (IKUF [Jewish Cultural Association] almanac) (New York, 1961), p. 64; M. Prager, Antologye fun religyeze lider un dertseylungen (Anthology of religious poems and stories) (New York, 1955); A. Leyeles, in Tog (New York) (January 22, 1955); P. Shvarts, “Yidishe prese in varshe” (Yiddish press in Warsaw), Fun noentn over (New York) 2 (1956), p. 379; M. Flakser, in Fun noentn over (New York) 3 (1957), p. 379; Sh. Slutski, Avrom reyzen-biblyografye (Avrom Reyzen’s bibliography) (New York, 1956), no. 4825; Shmuel Niger, Bleter geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur (Pages of history from Yiddish literature) (New York, 1959), pp. 368-69; Herts Bergner, in Heymish (Tel Aviv) 50-52 (1960); M. Vaykhert, Varshe (Warsaw) (Tel Aviv, 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.
Khayim Leyb Fuks