SHMUEL PERSOV (1890-1950)
He was born in Potshep (Pochep), Chernigov (Chernihiv) district, Ukraine. Until age thirteen he studied in yeshiva. He was active in the Bund (1905-1906). Around 1907 he came to the United States and worked in a sweatshop. He began writing in America and debuted in print in 1909 with a story in the weekly Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor) in New York. In 1910 he returned to Russia and worked at a government post in Ukraine. He came to the realization over the next decade that his true calling was literature, and in the first issue of the journal Kultur un bildung (Culture and education) in 1918, he placed his story “Der shvayger” (The quiet person) which carried the subtitle “A folks-mayse” (A folktale). Aside from articles on economic problems in the Russian press, he published folktales, sketches, and stories in: Der yidisher komunist (The Jewish Communist), Di komunistishe velt (The Communist world), Emes (Truth), and Kharkover tsaytung (Kharkov newspaper), among others; and together with Moyshe Taytsh and Khayim Gildin, he organized a group of proletarian writers in Moscow in 1922. He participated at that time in the literary evening begun by the journal Shtrom (Current). With the liquidation of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, he was arrested and later shot. His published books include: Sherblekh (Shards), stories (Moscow, 1922), 17 pp.; Kornbroyt, dertseylungen (Rye bread, stories) (Moscow, 1928), 143 pp.; Kontraktatsye, roman (Counteraction, a novel) (Moscow: Shul un bukh, 1931), 267 pp.; Tog un nakht, dertseylungen (Day and night, stories) (Moscow, Emes, 1933), 209 pp.; Mentshn fun metro (People of the [Moscow] subway), portraits (Moscow: Emes, 1935), 82 pp.; Viva stalin! dertseylung (Long live, Stalin!, a story) (Moscow: Emes, 1938), 18 pp.; Alfolkisher yontev (Holiday for all peoples) (Moscow: Emes, 1938), 11 pp.; Oytsres, dertseylungen (Treasures, stories) (Moscow: Emes, 1939), 126 pp.; Yakov moshkovski (Yakov Moshkovski) (Moscow: Emes, 1940), 55 pp.; Yakov smushukevitsh, der doplter held fun ratnfarband (Yakov Smushkevitsh, the twofold hero of the Soviet Union) (Moscow: Emes, 1941), 99 pp.; Dayn nomen iz folk, fartseykhenungen vegn yidn partizaner (Your name is the people, notes concerning Jewish partisans) (Moscow: Emes, 1944), 122 pp.; Moyshe khokhlov, der held fun sovetnfarband (Moyshe Khokhlov, hero of the Soviet Union) (Moscow: Emes, 1946), 30 pp.; and Izbrannoe (Selected [writings]) (Moscow, 1957), 400 pp. His work was also represented in the anthology, A shpigl af a shteyn, antologye, poezye un proze fun tsvelf farshnitene yidishe shraybers in ratn-farband (A mirror on a star, anthology, poetry and prose from twelve murdered Jewish writers in the Soviet Union), including a biography (Tel Aviv, 1964); and he translated: Der letste teg (The last days) (Kharkov, 1932), 176 pp.; and Sedovs marsh (Sedov’s march) (Kharkov, 1932), 93 pp., about Georgy Sedov’s expedition to Frantz Josef Land in 1929 [original: Boris Gromov, Pochod “Sedova”: Ekspeditsiya “Sedova” na zemlyu Frantsa-Iosifa v 1929 godu]. After the poor reception of his 1931 novel Kontraktsye, he sensed the artistic failure of the work and switched over to documentary prose writing, his true métier. In 1935 Maxim Gorky was launching a project on the history of the factory, and Persov undertook to write for this projected series a volume on a metallurgy factory in the Urals. This work unfortunately never saw the light of day, as mass arrested of “enemies of the people” began, and many of the people involved in his documentary work were purged. His book Yakov moshkovski was dedicated to the heroic aviator and later was qualified as a “nationalistic deviation,” because Moshkovski was a Jew. In 1941 his book Yakov smushukevitsh, der doplter held fun ratnfarband appeared in print, and that same year the “hero” of the book was executed as an “enemy of the people.” Persov was arrested on January 18, 1949. He was tried twice: the first time on February 10, 1950 for spying and anti-Soviet, nationalistic activities and sentenced to twenty-five years in an “improvement colony”; the second time on November 22, 1950, he was sentenced to death.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; A. Dameshek, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (June 22, 1928); Y. Bronshteyn, in Di royte velt (Kharkov) (October 1928); Bronshteyn, in Atake, almanakh fun roytarmeyishn landshuts-literatur (Attack, almanac of the Red Army’s national defense literature) (Moscow-Kharkov-Minsk, 1931); A. Abtshuk, Etyudn un materialn tsu der geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur bavegung in FSRR (Studies and material for the history of the Yiddish literature movement in the Soviet Union) (Kharkov, 1934); V. Vitkin, in Shtern (Minsk) (February 1935); B. Glazman, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (October 4, 1940); N. Mayzil, Dos yidishe shafn un der yidisher arbeter in sovetn-farband (Jewish creation and the Jewish worker in the Soviet Union) (New York, 1959); Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index; A. Pomerants, Di sovetishe haruge malkhes (The [Jewish writers] murdered by the Soviet government) (Buenos Aires, 1962), pp. 176-81; Stefan Podoinitsin, in Sovetish heymland (Moscow) 6 (1964); D. Krivitski, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (March 1966); A shpigl af a shteyn, antologye, poezye un proze fun tsvelf farshnitene yidishe shraybers in ratn-farband (A mirror on a star, anthology, poetry and prose from twelve murdered Jewish writers in the Soviet Union), including a biography (Tel Aviv, 1964), pp. 744-45.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 434; 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. 284-86.]