MOYSHE-YOSL SMOLARZH (1907-late February 1942)
He was born in Chmielnik, Kielce district, Poland, into a poor family. At age seven he became an orphan on both sides, and he was brought to his grandfather in Lodz. He studied in religious elementary school and in a Polish public school. Early on he became a stitcher of pants and a second-hand clothing dealer to barely eke out a living. He acquired a lung ailment and from time to time was confined in the municipal lung sanatorium in Chojne, a suburb of Lodz. In 1925 when Y. M. Vaysenberg paid a visit to Lodz, Smolarzh read to him from his writings, which made a huge impression on Vaysenberg for their language and mood. From that point in time, Smolarzh began to devote himself seriously to writing. At first he wrote poetry, later short novellas and stories. In 1931, using the pan name “Betsalel,” he submitted his poem “Stam azoy” (Just so) to a literary competition run by Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw, and thereafter published poetry in: Tsvishn moyern (Between walls) in Lodz (1932); Afn shteynernem bruk (On cobblestone pavement) in Lodz (1935); Literarishe bleter; and Nayer folksblat (New people’s newspaper) in Lodz. His first story, “Baym ofenem keyver” (At an open grave), published in Vokhnshrift far literatur (Weekly writing for literature) in Warsaw, caused quite a stir among Jewish prose writers and emboldened him to write and publish further work. He went on to contribute to: Lodzher veker (Lodz alarm); Os (Letter) in Lodz-Warsaw; Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper), Vokhnshrift far literatur, Foroys (Onward), Arbeter-tsaytung (Workers’ newspaper), and Unzer ekspres (Our express)—in Warsaw; Kvaln (Springs) in Lodz (1939); Di tsayt (The times) in London; Der veg (The path) in Mexico City; and Di prese (The press) in Buenos Aires; among others. After the publication of his book Heym un fremd (Home and foreign), comprised of eleven stories (Lodz: Os, 1937), 95 pp., Smolarzh moved to Warsaw, where he barely supported himself from his published writings. His last stories—“Der iberbrukh” (The crisis) in Arbeter-tsaytung and “An elend yungel” (A wretched youth) in Unzer ekpres—were published just prior to the outbreak of war (summer 1939). When the Nazis invaded Warsaw, he made several attempts to pass over to the Soviet side, but he was always forced to return. Unable to remain in Warsaw, he settled in Otwock where he lived until February 1941. Later, with the poet M. Troyanov, he traveled to Bendin (Będzin), lived for a time in the city’s ghetto, and during the Aktion of February 1942, the Nazis dragged him, a severely ill man, from his home, and sent him to Treblinka where he was murdered. The Nazis wanted his wife, who worked as a nurse in the ghetto hospital, to remain behind, but she voluntarily traveled with the death transport and was murdered with her husband. A number of Smolarzh’s novellas were included in Y. Y. Trunk’s and Arn Tsaytlin’s Antologye fun der yidisher proze in poyln tsvishn di tsvey velt-milkhomes (Anthology of Yiddish prose in Poland between the two world wars) (New York, 1946) and in Pinkes khmyelnik (Records of Chmielnik) (Tel Aviv, 1960), pp. 369-86.
“Without a doubt,” wrote B. Shnaper, “this book belongs to the books that are part of our mental life with their life and death…. A robust and in many genres a new prose talent had entered Yiddish literature.” “His book,” noted A. Leyeles, “is a self-confident, fine greeting from the young literary offspring of Yiddish prose in Poland.” “A distinctive writer, true to his environment and thin as a violin that vibrates in our minds,” commented Khayim Leyb Fuks. Y. Goldkorn put it as follows: “A complex character who has within himself, a God-man, distilled and received an elegant nuance…. In Smolarzh’s eleven stories the ‘main hero’ is death…. This is the circle in which Smolarzh’s characters move. The shadows of his stone-lonely childhood emerge and grow dark through his subsequent work both in poetry and in prose.”
Sources: Y. Pat, “Fir poetn tsuzamen” (Four poets together), Vokhnshrift far literatur (Warsaw) (January 7, 1932); B. Shnaper, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (April 16, 1937); Shnaper, in Foroys (Warsaw) (March 4, 1938); Khayim Leyb Fuks, in Nayer folksblat (Lodz) (May 12, 1937); Fuks, in Fun noentn over (New York) 3 (1957), see index; A. Leyeles, in Der veg (Mexico City) (May 14, 1938); Arbeter-tsaytung (Warsaw) (March 3, 1939); “Yizker” (Remembrance), Yidish shriftn (Yiddish writings) (Lodz, 1946); Moyshe Grosman, in Arbeter-tsaytung (Lodz) 13 (1949); Grosman, In farkhishuftn land fun legendarn Dzhugashvili, mayne zibn yor lebn in ratnfarband, 1939-1946 (In the enchanted land of the legendary Dzhugashvili [Stalin], my seven years living in the Soviet Union, 1939-1946), vol. 1 (Paris, 1949), p. 24; Y. Y. Trunk, Di yidish proze in poyln (Yiddish prose in Poland) (Buenos Aires, 1949), p. 154; B. Mark, Umgekumene shrayber fun di getos un lagern (Murdered writers from the ghettos and camps) (Warsaw, 1954), pp. 49ff; Sh. Slutski, Avrom Reyzen biblyografye (Avrom Reyzen bibliography) (New York, 1956), no. 4928; M. Flakser, in Fun noentn over 3 (1957), p. 379; M. Gelbart, in Pinkes khmyelnik (Records of Chmielnik) (Tel Aviv, 1960), pp. 367-68; Perl Vaysenberg, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (October 1, 1961); Y. Goldkorn, Lodzher portretn (Lodz portraits) (Tel Aviv, 1963), pp. 63-83.
Khayim Leyb Fuks