YISROEL EMYOT (EMIOT) (January 15, 1909-March 6, 1978)
His father was Meylekh Yanovski, whose initials “em” and “yot” [in Polish] formed the assumed surname “Emyot.” The son’s official name was: Yisroel Emyot-Goldvaser. “Goldvaser” was an addition taken from his mother’s maiden name. He was born in Ostrov-Mazovyetsk (Ostrów-Mazowiecka), Poland. He was a descendant of the Yud Hakodesh. His father was a great scholar, but he became entranced by the Jewish Enlightenment. In 1919 he departed for the United States, wanting to study to become a doctor, but perforce worked as a presser and died at a young age. Yisroel was raised by his grandmother, a woman of valor and a pious woman. He studied with the great Rabbi Meyer of Plotsk (Płock) and with his grandfather, Rabbi Mortkhe-Leyb, who from dawn till late at night “devoted himself to Torah and Hassidism.” After years of study in yeshivas, he turned his attention to secular education. He read a great deal in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, and German, and when he later turned up in Russia, he mastered Russian. He began writing Hebrew poetry when he was still a young lad. He made his real entrance into literature in 1926 in Y. M. Weissenberg’s (Vaysenberg’s) Warsaw-based Inzer hofening (Our hope), using the pen name Y. Yanover. His poems were quiet prayers of a young Hassid. At the time he was wearing a beard and sidecurls, a Hassidic cap with a small visor, and a long gabardine. He received his poetic ordination from Perets Markish and I. J. Singer (Y. Y. Zinger). He published a lot in the Orthodox press—in both Yiddish and Hebrew (he wrote Hebrew himself, not translations) in: Beys-yankev-zhurnal (Beys-yankev journal) and the Aguda journal Deglanu (Our banner). Soon, a struggle ensued within him, as it had for his father, between traditional Jewishness and secular life. He began publishing in Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) and Shriften (Writings) in Warsaw and Tsukunft (Future) in New York, among other venues. Over the course of five years, he published week after week in Dos yudishe togblat (The Jewish daily newspaper) a story, among them his longer story “Di levone iber unzer hoyf” (The moon over our courtyard). Over the years 1932-1938, he published four volumes of poetry. WWII met up with Emyot in Warsaw. He fled home to Ostrów-Mazowiecka. He stayed there for one week under the German occupation. The Germans shot his mother, and Emyot fled again to the East, to the Russians. He stopped in Soviet Bialystok. Also arriving there at the time from Moscow were Perets Markish, Y. Nusinov, and other Soviet Jewish writers. Emyot then began contributing to the Soviet Yiddish press in Bialystok, and his poems became to appear in print in Moscow and other Soviet cities. After the Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia in the summer of 1941, he was evacuated to Alma Ata, capital of Kazakhstan, where he lived in dire poverty, but he did not stop writing and sent correspondence pieces from there to Moscow’s Eynikeyt (Unity) on the lives of Jewish refugees. The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow would then hand over this information to Yiddish press outlets abroad. In February 1944, he and other Yiddish writers were summoned to Moscow to protest against the German persecution of the Jews. He was captivated at the time by the Soviet plan to establish an ethnic Jewish republic in Birobidzhan, and he seized the suggestion to travel there as a correspondent of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. He arrived in Birobidzhan in July 1944, and there he remained for a considerable period of time. The local Yiddish newspaper Biro-bizhaner shtern (Birobidzhan star) had ceased publication at the time, but in early 1945 it began to appear again—the first few months, once or twice each week, later three or four times per week. In 1946 they also began to publish there a literary almanac entitled Birobidzhan. Emyot published in it poems, reportage pieces, and the like. In 1947 Der Nister came to visit Birobidzhan for a time. Yiddish flourished in those years there, and plans were hammered out for broader Yiddish cultural activities. Meanwhile 1948 arrived with the liquidation of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow and with the arrests of Soviet Yiddish writers. Emyot was arrested at the time in the “Elders of Zion” accusation of the so-called “Birobidzhan Affair,” counter-revolutionism, conspiracy, and other fantastic offenses. He spent about one year in prison in Khabarovsk and elsewhere, as people secretly handed over new and harsher points and paragraphs from the Soviet codex. In the end he was exiled to eastern Siberia to the Tayshetlag system of dozens of camps which extended for several hundred kilometers from the city of Tayshet to the Lena River. Emyot was placed in the enclosed camp 051 (completely isolated). The regime there was like hard penal labor, though prisoners did not wear chains. In the camp he met the exiled poets Moyshe Broderzon and Hershl Kamenyetski (from Soviet Byelorussia). Years later, when he was already in America, Emyot described this entire story in his book Der birobidzhaner inyen (The Birobidzhan affair). He filed an accusation with the Higher Soviet Procurator, and some of the charges against him were withdrawn; also his period of exile was curtailed from ten to five years, and in an agreement with the settlement of the supreme council of the presidium of the USSR, on March 27, 1953 he was included in the general amnesty and freed. After being liberated, he returned to Birobidzhan. He was freed but not rehabilitated. His difficulties began again with searching for any sort of work and for any corner in which to spend the night. He was able with trouble to repatriate to Poland. They received him there with open arms, sent him to a resort, and translated his poems into Polish. There he also published a book of poems. He left Poland and reached the United States, where his wife and two children had been rescued from the Holocaust in 1940. He stayed for several months and then traveled to the state of Israel. The press and society received him warmly there. His later books include poems and prose, written in or about Israel. He then moved to Rochester, New York where he died. He contributed work to: Svive (Environs) in New York; Der shpigl (The mirror) in Buenos Aires; Keneder odler (Canadian eagle) in Montreal; and elsewhere. In November 1964 he became editor of the literature page of Der idisher zhurnal (The Jewish journal), edited by Gershon Pomerants in Toronto. Emyot’s published books include: Mit zikh aleyn (Alone with myself) (Ostrów-Mazowiecka, 1932), 24 pp.; Tropns in yam (Drops in the sea) (Warsaw: Menora, 1935), 64 pp.; Iber mekhitses (Over partitions) (Warsaw: Menora, 1936), 32 pp.; Bay der zayt, lider (At the side, poetry) (Cracow, 1936), 52 pp.; Lider (Poetry) (Moscow: Emes, 1940), 48 pp., edited by A. Kushnirov, with a foreword by Y. Dobrushin; Benkshaft (Nostalgia) (Warsaw: Yidish-bukh, 1957), 152 pp.—some of the poems included are from earlier books, some published in periodicals, and a significant number heretofore unpublished. The above volumes were all poetry collections. Subsquent books include: Der birobidzhaner inyen, khronik fun a groyliker tsayt (The Birobidzhan affair, chronicle of a gruesome time) (Rochester: Sh. Bogograd, 1960), 191 pp., with a preface by Meylekh Ravitsh, published earlier in Forverts (Forward) serially from February 7 to April 15, 1959; In nign ayngehert, lider (In melody absorbed, poetry) (Rochester: Rochester Culture Council, 1961), 112 pp.—in four parts: (1) from the poetry cycle “Sibir” (Siberia); (2) from earlier and later; (3) on the way back; and (4) Old Lublin and other poems—Fardekte shpiglen, dertseylungen un skitsn (Covered mirrors, stories and sketches) (Buenos Aires: Central Association for Polish Jews in Argentina, 1962), 208 pp., with an afterword by the author—divided into five parts: (1) “Matseyves un kvorim” (Gravestones and tombs), depictions of prewar Poland; (2) “In sibirer lagern” (In Siberian camps), types of exiles; (3) “In gute tsaytn” (In good times); (4) “Nayer shteyger” (New conditions); and (5) “Fardekte shpiglen,” poems—In mitele yorn, eseyen, dertseylungen, lider (In middle age, essays, stories, poems) (Rochester: Jewish Community Council, 1963), 316 pp., with an afterword by Emyot, with drawings by Y. Likhtenshteyn, and family images of the author, including here bibliographic notes from Emyot’s published books and a bibliography of critical works on Emyot, compiled by Y. Yeshurin. The last book was divided into six parts: (1) “Af sovetish-yidishe temes” (On Soviet Yiddish topics), concerning Der Nister, Moyshe Broderzon, E. Kazakevitsh, and others; (2) essays; (3) images and stories; (4) miniatures; (5) poetry; and (6) translations. Later works include: Eyder du leshst mikh oys, lider (Before I am extinguished, poetry) (Rochester, 1966), 64 pp.; Tsulib di tsen umshuldike, skitsn, minyaturn, lider un ophandlungen (For the sake of the ten innocent, sketches, miniatures, poems, and treatments) (Rochester: Rochester Jewish Center, 1969), 223 pp.; My Yesterdays (Short Stories), trans. Bryna Weir and the author (Rochester: Jewish Community Federation of Rochester, 1973), 104 pp.; Life in a Mirror: Short Stories and Poems (Rochester: Jewish Community Federation of Rochester, 1976), 80 pp.; The Birobidzhan Affair: A Yiddish Writer in Siberia, trans. Max Rosenfeld (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1981; Skokie: Varda Books, 2001), 205 pp.; Siberia, trans. Leah Zazuyer with Brina Menachovsky Rose (Brockport, N.Y., 1991), 65 pp.; Un Escritor judío en Siberia (A Jewish writer in Siberia) (Madrid, 2016), 277 pp. In 1960 he received the Tsvi Kessel Prize for his book Der birobidzhaner inyen.
“After we absorb the melody of his speech,” wrote Yankev Glatshteyn, “we come away with the impression that Emyot has the potential to be a greater poet, as he demonstrates in his first book of poems [In nign ayngehert (In melody absorbed)] published by him in America. There are enough poems in the book that strengthen the impression that the poet has not given us his best and deepest poems, that he is depending on the melody too much…. But the first series of poems ‘Sibir’ shines with such promise…and strongly conforms to the poet’s own beginning standard of the first poems in the book. In these first poems the poet succeeds in creating a musical distinction between speech, which is engraved in memory and is on a level with the poet’s own biographical suffering.”
Sources: A full bibliography (compiled by Y. Yeshurin) may be found in Emyot’s book Fardekte shpiglen. Y. Volf, “Der peysazhn-dikhter” (The landscape poet), in his Kritishe minyaturn (Critical miniatures) (Cracow, 1940); Y. Nusinov, in Eynikeyt (Moscow) (August 5, 1942); N. Mayzil, Doyres un tkufes in der yidisher literatur, bletlekh tsu der geshikhte un tsu der kharakteristik fun der yidisher literatur (Generations and eras in Yiddish literature, on the history and the character of Yiddish literature) (New York, 1942), p. 74; B. M., in Eynikeyt (May 18, 1944); Eynikeyt (October 24, 1946); A. Vogler, in Folks-shtime (Lodz) (March 15, 1947); Y. Shteynberg, in Eynikeyt (September 18, 1948); B. Buder, in almanac Birobidzhan (Birobidzhan) (1948); A. Kvaterko, in Folks-shtime (Warsaw) (June 11, 1957); D. Sfard, in Yidishe shriftn (Warsaw) (December 1957); Sh. Atid, in Al hamishmar (Tel Aviv) (September 2, 1958); Y. Varshavski [Bashevis], in Forverts (New York) (August 7, 1960; November 26, 1961); Yankev Glatshteyn, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (September 19, 1960; July 21, 1961; November 8, 1963); Glatshteyn, Mit mayne fartog-bikher (With my daybreak books) (Tel Aviv, 1963), pp. 523-35; A. Leyeles, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (October 2, 1960; August 6, 1961); Sh. Margoshes, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (October 15, 1960), English column; B. Ts. Goldberg, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (January 8, 1961; June 5, 1961; September 15, 1962); Y. Rapaport, in Di tsukunft (New York) (November 1961; February 1963); Avrom Shulman, in Der veker (New York) (August 1, 1961); B. Mark, in Ikuf-almanakh (New York) (1961); Abe Gordin, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 1961), pp. 204-8; M. Shenderay, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (July 30, 1962); Y. Perlov, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (November 1, 1962); Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 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; Yefim Yeshurin, Yisroel emyot-biblyografye (Bibliography of Yisroel Emyot) (Rochester, 1963), offprint from Emyot’s book In mitele yorn (In middle age); Saul Liptzin, in In Jewish Bookland (New York) (January 1962).
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 416; 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. 271-72.]