LEO FINKELSHTEYN (April 1895-July 29, 1950)
He was born in Radom. He studied in the local school and after 1905 in Kelts (Kielce), where his family moved. In 1917 he entered Cracow University, where over the course of three years he attended lectures on philosophy and Polish studies. Finkelshteyn joined the Folks-partey (People’s party), where he soon found recognition as a writer, a speaker, and a political leader. In 1923 he settled in Warsaw and there began to develop his writing activities which, over the years 1926-1939, reached the highest level of creativity. He gave lectures at the “Kultur-lige” (Culture league) and “Folks-bildung-lige” (People’s education league) on Polish literature. He was one of the heads of the Jewish community and directed important work on behalf of Jewish schools. After the split in the Folks-partey, he moved to the democratic folkist group led by Ts. Shabad. He later left the folkists and in 1935 joined the Bund. As a delegate for the Jewish Literary Association in Warsaw in 1932, he contributed to the Spinoza congress in The Hague. He presented a talk there in Yiddish. His literary activities began in 1916 with two plays in Polish—whose titles would be translated “Broken Wing” and “Conscience”—which were staged in Kielce with Polish actors. He debuted in Yiddish in 1919 in Moment (Moment) in Warsaw with an article on the literary historian Wilhelm Feldman. Over the years 1923-1925, he contributed work to folkist weekly newspaper Dos folk (The people), in which, among other items, he published: “Simbol un alegorye in der yudisher literatur” (Symbol and allegory in Yiddish literature), a cycle of articles on the philosophy of folkism, Perets, Bergelson, and other topics. In the Polish Jewish daily Nasz Przegląd (Our overview), he published articles on a variety of literary themes, and he contributed as well to Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw, in which he placed articles on European, Polish, and Yiddish literature. Of his longer writings from this period, one need mention: “Tsvishn di shures fun leyviks goylem” (Amid the lines of Leivick’s golem), Literarishe bleter (1925), and it also appeared in book form (Warsaw: B. Kletskin) that year; and “Af di vegn fun yidishn realism” (On the paths of Yiddish realism), Varshever shriftn (Warsaw writings) (1927); among others. He was a contributor to Bikher-velt (Book world), Fraye gedank (Free thought), and Vokhnshrift (Weekly writings), and he was a member of the editor board of Foroys (Onward) in Warsaw.
Finkelshteyn spent the years of WWII in Soviet Russia under highly difficult conditions, which proved harmful to his weak constitution. In 1946 he returned to liberated Poland, remained there for a short time, and that same year emigrated to the United States. He wrote primarily about the destruction of Polish Jewry. Over the course of his short stay in postwar Poland, he published his writings in: Dos naye lebn (The new life), Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper), and Yidishe shriftn (Yiddish writings) of which he was also editor. In New York, he placed work in: Tsukunft (Future), Veker (Alarm), Kultur un dertsiung (Culture and education), Unzer tsayt (Our times), and Tog (Day), among others. In addition, he also contributed to a series of newspapers in Canada, Mexico, and South America. He died in New York. His books include: Tsvishn di shures fun leyviks goylem (Warsaw, 1925), 37 pp.; Di spinoza-fayerungen in hag (The Spinoza celebrations in The Hague) (Warsaw, 1932); A pruv fun a sintez tsvishn hegeln, marksn un spinozan (An attempt at a synthesis of Hegel, Marx, and Spinoza) (Warsaw: Hezik, 1932); Grunt-shtrikhn fun der yudishe filosofye (Basic features of Jewish philosophy) (Warsaw: Literarishe bleter, 1937), 155 pp.; Megiles poyln, toyre, khsides un shtayger-kultur in yidishn poyln (The annals of Poland: Torah, Hassidism, and ordinary culture in Jewish Poland) (Buenos Aires, 1947), 346 pp.; Pidyen-hashem (Redemption of the Lord) (Toronto, 1948), 98 pp.; Dortn un do, vegn dem dertseyler un dramatiker f. bimko (There and here, on the storyteller and dramatist F. Bimko) (Toronto: Pomerantz, 1950), 191 pp.; Loshn yidish un yidisher kiem, eseyen (The Yiddish language and Jewish existence, essays) (Mexico City, 1954), 407 pp. The last of these books was published after Finkelshteyn’s death by his widow, Mire Finkelshteyn, and it includes a portion of his literary heritage which he left behind. On Finkelshteyn’s connection to the topic of the destruction of Poland, Y. Kharlash writes: “Finkelshteyn saw the commandment of his writer’s credo in restoring the Polish style, and he left it as an image—it might even be a sketchy and rapidly descriptive image, for Jews everywhere around the world, not in Poland, because Polish Judaism had been transformed into a historical concept.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 3; Y. Y. Zinger, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (February 4, 1927); M. Levin, in Literarishe bleter (September 8, 1933); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 3 (Montreal, 1958); Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (June 3, 1947); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (New York) (July 1938); Niger, Bleter geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur (Pages of history from Yiddish literature) (New York: Shmuel Niger Book Committee, World Jewish Culture Congress, 1959); Dr. Y. Kantor, in Literarishe bleter (August 26, 1938); M. Mozes, in Der poylisher yid (Warsaw) (1944); Dr. Y. Meytlis, in Kiem (Paris) (September-October 1948); Meytlis, in Loshn un lebn (London) (September 1950); Y. Y. Sigal, in Keneder odler (November 15, 1948; August 7, 1950); Sh. Leshtsinski, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (November 11, 1949); Moyshe Mandelman, in Veker (New York) (September 1950); Y. Rotenberg, in Foroys (Mexico City) (September 1, 1950); A. Glants-Leyeles, in Tog (New York) (August 3, 1950; July 10, 1954); Yankev Glants, in Der veg (Mexico City) (August 12, 1950); D. Naymark, in Veker (September 15, 1950); G. Pomerants, in Tint un feder (Toronto) (September 1950); Pomerants, in Yidisher zhurnal (Toronto) (July 31, 1961); Dr. Y. Shatski, in Tsukunft (September-October 1950); N. M. in Yidishe kultur (New York) (October 1950); Kh. Sh. Kazdan, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (October 1950); Y. Rapaport, in Veker (September 1, 1951); Rapaport, in Loshn un lebn (October-November 1951); B. Y. Byalostotski, in Yorbukh (New York) (1948/1949); Y. Lev, in Dorem-afrike (Johannesburg) (July 1951); Y. Kharlash, introduction to Finkelshteyn, Loshn yidish un yidisher kiem, eseyen (The Yiddish language and Jewish existence, essays) (Mexico City, 1954); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Tsukunft (February 1955); A. A. Robak, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (December 1956); A. Tsaytlin, in Tog-morgnpzhurnal (New York) (August 20, 1965); Yefim Yeshurin, 100 yor moderne yidishe literatur, biblyografisher tsushteyer (100 years of modern Yiddish literature, bibliographical contribution) (New York, 1966).
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 443.]