SHIYE (JOSHUA) PERLE (1888-early November 1943)
He was born in Radom, Poland, into a family of a village hay merchant. Until age twelve, he studied in religious elementary school and later graduated from a four-level Polish high school. He was employed in a manufacturing company, later coming to work with a locksmith. In 1905 because of a romantic story, he departed for Warsaw and became an employee in a bank and a bookkeeper. He remained in Warsaw until WWII. His literary activities began under the influence of Noyekh Prylucki. Until 1907 he composed poetry in Russian—among other items, an elegy to the death of Dr. Herzl—and translated from Russian and Polish into Yiddish, and thereafter he switched entirely into Yiddish. He debuted in print with a story “Shabes” (Sabbath) in the anthology Der nayer gayst (The new spirit) in Warsaw (1908). He wrote stories, sketches, novels, literary essays and criticism, articles, and polemical works for virtually all of the literary periodicals and publications in Poland. Among other venues, he contributed work to: Yugnt-velt (Youth world), Blumen (Flowers), Unzer lebn (Our life), Ringen (Links), Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves), Varshever shriftn (Warsaw writings), Varshever almanakh (Warsaw almanac), Foroys (Onward), the anthology Naye himlen (New heavens), Dos vort (The word), Kunst un lebn (Art and life), Vokhnshrift far literatur (Weekly writing for literature), and Yugnt-veker (Youth alarm) in Warsaw. For many years he placed work in Moment (Moment), in which, among other items, he published anonymously, under three asterisks, newspaper novels serially. From 1937, when he joined the Bund, he became a regular contributor to Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper) in Warsaw, in which, aside from novellas and novels, he published articles and polemics (under the pen names: Y. Per and Yot-pe). In the first period of his writing, he belonged to the Asch-Weissenberg school in Yiddish literature, with an inclination toward sentimental romanticism, and in more recent years he has been stressed as the creator of an innovative style of storytelling. He artistically gave expression to the Jewish man and especially the Jewish woman, beyond their Jewish relationships and their living conditions. In the shadow plays of love and sentiment, he emphasized the erotic element, both among the well-to-do bourgeoisie as well as in common proletarian environs. He was also the first to give expression in Yiddish prose to the character types from big cities and especially the figures of office workers and clerks. From the immense number of Perle’s works which were not produced as books, we should note: “Hintergasn” (Back streets), the third part of his autobiographical epic—with Yidn fun a gants yor (Everyday Jews) and Di gildene pave (The golden peacock)—published in Folkstsaytung in Warsaw (1937-1938); Naye mentshn, roman (New people, a novel), published in the press and reworked into a three-act play entitled Mentshn (People) which was staged by Ida Kaminski in the Nowości Theatre in Warsaw (1936). In book form: Mirl (Mirl), a novel of a Jewish salon girl in Poland (Warsaw, 1921), 136 pp., second edition (1926), translated into Hebrew by M. Mindelman under the title Bat ḥava (Daughter of Eve) (Warsaw: Tsentral); Unter der zun (Under the sun), a novella from the big city (Warsaw, 1920), 208 pp.; In der land fun der vaysl (In the country of the Vistula [River]), poetry in prose from Polish Jewish life (Warsaw, 1921), 112 pp.; Zind (Sin), a novella (Warsaw, 1923), 201 pp.; Nayn a zeyger inderfri, noveln (Nine o’clock in the morning, novellas) (Vilna, 1930), 285 pp.—the longest story therein, “An orntlekhe froy” (An honest woman), for which he received a prize from Tog in New York in 1927, was reprinted in installment in Folksshtime (People’s voice) in Warsaw (1960)—Yidn fun a gants yor, an epic of Jewish life in Poland (Warsaw, 1935), 460 pp., second edition (1937), which was awarded a prize from the Bund and from the Yiddish Pen Club in Poland (a new edition of the book appeared with a preface by Leo Finkelshteyn in Buenos Aires in 1951); Di gildene pave, a novel in two parts (Warsaw, 1937-1939), 510 pp. From Polish he translated: Janusz Korczak’s Moyshelekh, yoselekh, yisroeliklekh (Moyshes, Yosls, and Yisroels [original: Mośki, Joski i Srule] (Warsaw, 1922), 197 pp., new edition (Buenos Aires, 1950); Wacław Sieroszewski’s play Man un vayb (Man and wife) (Warsaw, 1922); and from German, Oleg Svendsen’s Barnholmer legendes (Legends from Barnholm) (Warsaw, 1923). In September 1939, as the Nazis were approaching Warsaw, he fled to Soviet-occupied Lemberg, and until 1941 he chaired the writers’ association there. He made his way to Kiev and published portions of his work “Shosey” (Highway) about Jewish refugee life. When the Germans subsequently seized Lemberg, he returned illegally to Warsaw, and until 1942 he worked in a shop in the ghetto and was active writing. Later, with the Kirschenbaum exchange group, he was placed in a special camp within Bergen-Belsen, where he ran a literary conversation group, striving to raise their fallen courage. On October 21, 1943 he was dispatched to Birkenau, next to Auschwitz, and several days later murdered.
Portions of his writings in the Warsaw Ghetto, the novel Undzer orem broyt (Our poor bread), the chronicle of the destruction of Warsaw, and a feature piece about shop life were discovered in the unearthed materials from the Ringelblum archive. The latter two were published in Bleter fun geshikhte (Pages from history) in Warsaw 3 (1951) and in the collection Tsvishn lebn un toyt (Between life and death) (Warsaw, 1955).
As Shloyme Bikl wrote, “Perle does not veil his people. Perle’s manner of storytelling is rather an overt naturalistic, a naked one. Perle’s naturalism is modest. Modest not by virtue of his intentions, but by virtue of his objectlessness. The spiritual and physical baring of the characters in Perle’s Yidn fun gants a yor acts like the pious nakedness of Adam, like children on a warm summer’s day. This nakedness not only does not hinder but it wins one’s heart with its lyricism and its charm…. However, one thing that Perle’s language possesses is its genuine extraordinariness. It is abundantly playful and full of authentic dialogue. Such dialogue…is truly a great artistic achievement.”
“One of the Yiddish writers,” noted Y. Y. Trunk, “who began to arouse interest in the Jewish person outside of his relationships and living conditions was Joshua Perle…. Perle novellas were the shadow plays of love and sentiment in circles of middle-class Jewish youth in Poland…. Even in the plays of love and eros, Perle remains in the domain of popular Jewish sentimentality…. Perle’s greatest success is his book Yidn fun a gants yor…. It is the epic of the shtetl, the epic of a disappearing generation that remained entirely in the darkness of the past, the ranks of the last Mohicans remaining in the mild, fair illumination of the present.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2, with a bibliography; Y. Y. Zinger, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (February 4, 1927); Perets Markish, in Shtern (Minsk) (1927); M. Natish, in Literarishe bleter (June 8, 1930); Meylekh Ravitsh, in Vokhnshrift far literatur (Warsaw) (January 7, 1932); Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 1 (Montreal, 1945), pp. 168-70; Rokhl Oyerbakh, in Literarishe bleter 6 (December 13, 1935); Oyerbakh, in Eynikeyt (New York) (June 1946); Oyerbakh, in Kidesh hashem (Sanctification of the name) (New York, 1946), p. 109; A. L. Tats, in Zibn teg (Vilna) (January 10, 1936); Y. Bashevis, in Literarishe bleter (May 29, 1936); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (New York) (July 1936); Leo Finkelshteyn, in Zamlbikher (New York) 7 (1948), pp. 370-81; Finkelshteyn, Loshn yidish un yidisher kiem (The Yiddish language and Jewish survival) (Mexico City, 1954), pp. 277-90; E. Almi, in Poylisher yid, yearbook (1944); Almi, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (December 19, 1952; October 15, 1960); Yonas Turkov, Azoy iz es geven (That’s how it was) (Buenos Aires, 1948), see index; Ester Boyman, in Dos naye lebn (Warsaw) (February 16, 1948); Y. Y. Trunk, ed., Di yidishe proze in poyln tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes (Yiddish prose in Poland between the two world wars) (New York, 1949), pp. 77-86; Shloyme Bikl, in Tsukunft (February 1952); B. Mark, Umgekumene shrayber fun di getos un lagern (Murdered writers from the ghettos and camps) (Warsaw, 1954), pp. 58-63, 109, 139ff; Sh. Slutski, Avrom reyzen-biblyografye (Avrom Reyzen’s bibliography) (New York, 1956), no. 4846; B. Shefner, Novolipye 7, zikhroynes un eseyen (Nowolipie 7, memoirs and essays) (Buenos Aires, 1955), p. 77; Y. Sh. Herts, Doyres bundistn (Generations of Bundists), vol. 2 (New York, 1956), pp. 256-57; P. Shvarts, in Fun noentn over (New York) 2 (1956), p. 428; Yankev Pat, in Tsukunft (July-August 1957); Dr. E. Ringelblum, in Folksshtime (Warsaw) (April 10, 1959); Avrom Zak, In onheyb fun a friling, kapitlekh zikhroynes (At the start of spring, chapters of memoirs) (Buenos Aires: Farband fun poylishe yidn, 1962), see index; 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