AVROM-MOYSHE FUKS (October 17, 1890-May 29, 1974)
He was born in Yezyerno (Ozerna), near Zlotshev (Złoczów), eastern Galicia. His father Khayim did business through the villages, and in the summers he oversaw orchard keepers. Until age twelve he studied in religious elementary school, and he also went through the four classes of the Baron Hirsch public school. He later became an autodidact. At age fifteen or sixteen, he came to Lemberg and later left for Tarnopol, performing various forms of physical labor. He was active (1909-1910) in the youth association of the Jewish socialist labor party (Galician Bund). He was a delegate to his party’s second and third congresses in Lemberg. He was also active in pioneer circles of the Labor Zionists in Lemberg. He began writing in 1911 and debuted in print with a story, “Bilder funem shtetl” (Images from the town), in Sanok’s weekly newspaper Folks-fraynd (Friend of the people). That same year, he published stories in: Togblat (Daily newspaper) in Lemberg; Gershom Bader and Moyshe Frostig’s Literarishe kalendars (Literary calendars); and Avrom Reyzen’s weekly Dos naye land (The new country); among others. He belonged to the Lemberg writers’ group, “Yung-galitsye” (Young Galicia), which included: Shmuel-Yankev Imber, Uri-Tsvi Grinberg, Dovid Kenigsberg, and Meylekh Ravitsh, among others. In 1912 he made his way to the United States. He performed physical labor in New York. At that time, he published stories in Forverts (Forward) and Dos idishe folk (The Jewish people), but he was unable to get used to living in America, and in early 1914 he returned to Europe. During WWI he lived in Vienna, where for one year’s time he was in labor service to the military’s war fortifications. He was a correspondent (1918-1919) for the Weiner Morgenzeitung (Vienna morning newspaper), and he traveled through Hungary and the Carpathian Mountains to eastern Galicia, which was in a state of war (between Poles and Ukrainians) and being ruled by Petliura’s military bandits who set off pogroms against the Jewish population in the cities and towns. From his correspondence pieces at the time in Weiner Morgenzeitung, a great deal was made known to the world’s Jewish press of the persecutions and pogroms against Jews in those areas. In addition to his regular work over the years 1918-1922 for Weiner Morgenzeitung, later Weiner Morgenpost (Vienna morning mail), he published articles, features, correspondence pieces, stories, and reviews in: Moyshe Zilberg’s literary monthly Kritik (Critic) in Vienna; Varshever shriftn (Warsaw writings), Varshever almanakh (Warsaw almanac), Yidishe velt (Jewish world), Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper), Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves), and Globus (Globe) in Warsaw; Tsukunft (Future), Forverts (Forward), Shriftn (Writings), Indzl (Island), Oyfkum (Arise), Fraye arbiter-shtime (Free voice of labor), and Unzer veg (Our path) in New York; Epokhe (Epoch) in Montreal; Sambatyon (Sambation) in Riga; In shpan (In line) in Berlin; and Di epokhe (The epoch) in Paris. From 1921 to 1945, he served as a regular contributor to Forverts in New York, for which he wrote under the pen name Maskuf. In early 1938 when the German army occupied Austria, he spent several weeks in a Vienna jail. At the time of his arrest, Gestapo agents seized from him and destroyed numerous stories and other literary works in manuscript. After being set free from the Vienna jail, he left with his family for Switzerland and then to Paris. From Paris he sent in articles to Forverts concerned with the persecutions and murders of Jews in Vienna. From France he made his way to England. At the start of WWII in 1939, he was interned for three months there as an Austrian on the Isle of Man. He was a resident thereafter for ten years in London. He returned to Paris in 1950 and that year made aliya to Israel, settling in Tel Aviv. In 1951 he was secretary and until 1953 a member of the managing committee of the Yiddish writers’ association in Tel Aviv. He also contributed to: Di tsayt (The times), Loshn un lebn (Language and life), Eyrope (Europe), and Metsuda (Citadel) in London; Kiem (Existence), Dos vort (The word), Di tsienistishe shtime (The Zionist voice), and Parizer haynt (Paris today) in Paris; and Nay velt (New world), Letste nayes (Latest news), Unzer vort (Our word), Davar (Word), Gazit (Hewn stone), Lebns-fragn (Life issues), and Di goldene keyt (The golden chain) in Tel Aviv. In book form: Eynzame, noveln (Lonesome, stories) (Lemberg: Sh. Levin, 1912), 68 pp.; Afn bergl, dertseylung (In the hills, a story) (Warsaw: Perets biblyotek, 1924), 64 pp.; Unter der brik, un andere dertseylungen (Under the bridge and other stories) (Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1924), 249 pp.; Tehom paur (A deep chasm), translated into Hebrew by Shelomo Shinhor (Tel Aviv: M. Nyuman, 1954), 300 pp.; Bagoyim, sipurim (Among Gentiles, stories), translated into Hebrew and with a preface by Moshe Braslavski (En Harod: Kibuts hameuḥad, 1946), 306 pp.; Di nakht un der tog (The night and the day) (New York: Der kval, 1961), 287 pp.—which received the Hofer Prize in Buenos Aires, 1962; Dertseylungen (Stories) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1976), 295 pp. He was also awarded the Bimko Prize from the Jewish Culture Congress for his story “Di nakht” (The night), published in Di goldene keyt, and an award from in 1965 from “Fridland Literature Fund” for three other published stories. He was also translated (partially) into Polish, German, and English. His works have been included in Hebrew-language school readers, collections, and anthologies. He published essays on Sholem Asch, Avrom Reyzen, Y. Y. Zinger, Mani Leib, Zishe Landau, Ruvn Ayzland, and others. In addition, he contributed work to A. Shamri, Ṿortslen, antologye fun yidish-shafn in yisroel, poezye un proze (Roots, anthology of Yiddish writing in Israel, poetry and prose) (Tel Aviv, 1966). He died in Tel Aviv.
As Zalmen Reyzen has noted: “In modern Yiddish fiction, Fuks occupies one of the first rungs as one of its greatest talents. A fierce realist in the modernist direction, he reflects in his stories the lives of people in the complete nakedness of their souls and deeds. He likes to locate his people in the lowest strata of the underworld. He describes in full detail and with great intensity of his merciless naturalism the unhappy and fallen, the blind, the crazy, street walkers, murderers, and suicides—the quiet, dark desolation of spiritual poverty. He discloses for us the most concealed images of the human struggle of great frailty and bewilderment in life. The people in his stories are always permeated with a love for nature and with a humble faith in the power of the divine. Human suffering, poverty, and inferiority, embittered doubt and fatalistic manifestations give the writer all manner of new material for his creations, in which the tendency toward social ideas is all the more apparent. This tendency in Fuks’s work was developed in the postwar years by the social crisis in Jewish life and the Holocaust.”
“Fuks gives us in his stories,” wrote Shmuel Niger, “all the details of the environs in which his protagonists…live and suffer. However, not through the social circumstances does he depict the bitter fate of his people, the reason for their hardship being somewhere far deeper. He passes over the hell of their conditions with a quiet pain, and poisonous snakes hiss beneath his pen. Is he content with the dark pits that he opens before us? Not at all! He does, though, not wish to shock us with the harsh exigencies in a golden cup of wine, but in a poor earthenware vessel. He offers us a taste of the world’s crudeness. He adds that we feel the burden that equalizes the people and awakens their hidden strengths. This is the great burden of people who sense the pain of the world and thirst for salvation.”
“With his intensive, pithy, Mendele-style realism, Fuks has introduced into Yiddish literature,” noted Moyshe Gros-Tsimerman, “the healthy humor and the distinctive way of life of Galician Jewish laborers, of externally somewhat boorish rabbis with their inward observance, poverty, and juicy Yiddish. Both the healthy vulgarity of their behavior in idyllic shtetl life of the time prior to WWI and the tragedy of their brokenness. In wartime the stories receive from Fuks an artistic and spiritual improvement of enormous literary value.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 3; Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (New York) (May 1924); Niger, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (May 29, 1955); P. Markish, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (August 8, 1924); Markish, in Shtern (Minsk) (March 1927); Ruvn Ayzland, in Inzl (New York) (April 1925; November 1925); Zishe Landau, in Inzl (January 1926); Y. Y. Zinger, in Literarishe bleter (March 11, 1927); L. Finkelshteyn, in Varshever shriftn (Warsaw) (1926-1927); Khayim Krul, Arum zikh (Around itself) (Vilna, 1930); Y. Y. Sigal, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (October 18, 1943; November 24, 1947; August 28, 1950); Khayim Leyb Fuks, in Arbeter vort (Paris) (June 30, 1950); Dov Sadan, in Zemanim (Jerusalem) (July 16, 1954); Sadan, Avne miftan, masot al sofre yidish (Milestones, essays on Yiddish writers), vol. 1 (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1961); B. Ts. Tsanger, in Omer (Buenos Aires) (November 19, 1954); G. Mayzil, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 20 (1954); M. Naygreshl, in Fun noentn over (New York) 1 (1955); A. Mukdoni, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (April 22, 1956); R. Oyerbakh, in Unzer veg (New York) (May 1958); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 3 (Montreal, 1958); Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (August 18, 1958); Ravitsh, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (April 21, 1961); G. Shafman, in Heymish (Tel Aviv) (November 1958); M. Vaykhert, Varshe (Warsaw) (Tel Aviv, 1961), see index; Y. Varshavski [Bashevis], in Forverts (New York) (July 9, 1961); Y. Pat, in Tsukunft (August 1961); Shloyme Bikl, in Tsukunft (September 1961); Bikl, Shrayber fun mayn dor (Writers of my generation), vol. 2 (Tel Aviv, 1965); Yankev Glatshteyn, Mit mayne fartog-bikher (With my daybreak books) (Tel Aviv, 1963); M. Gros-Tsimerman, Intimer videranand (Intimate contrasts) (Tel Aviv, 1964); Moshe Ḥalamish, Mikan umikarov, antologya shel sipure yidish beerets yisrael (From near and from far away, anthology of stories in Yiddish in Israel) (Merḥavya, 1966), with a biography.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 438.]