AZRIEL-NOSN (EDWARD-NATAN) FRENK (November 23, 1862-February 1, 1924)
He was born in Vodzhislav (Wodzisławia), Kielce district, Poland, into an affluent family. He received a Hassidic religious education, leaving his hometown when quite young and settling in Warsaw in 1886. There he joined a circle of followers of the Jewish Enlightenment. He acquired secular learning as an autodidact. In 1888 he was part of a Jewish group of the Polish revolutionary party “Proletariat” and with the union of Jewish commercial employees. Outwardly, this group was known as the “Society for Knowledge and Art of the Jewish People.” In this period, Frenk translated Polish revolutionary literature. Soon he was approaching organized Jewish society, and he began his writing career in the Haasif (The harvest) anthologies, under the editorship of Nokhum Sokolov, and in other journals. In the six volumes of Haeshkol, the general encyclopedia in Hebrew, edited by Yitsḥak Goldman, he published articles on Polish and Polish Jewish history. Frenk felt a certain connection with the editor, as he too was active in aid to the Poles in their struggle for independence, writing appeals in Hebrew on behalf of their uprising. At the same time, Frenk wrote feuilletons for Hatsfira (The siren), but the editor Ḥ. Z. Slonimski was too conservative for him. He thus found an excellent place for his fighting nature in Hamelits (The advocate). A. Tsederboym usually published three times each week Frenk’s sharp correspondence pieces and journalistic articles (using the pen names Paneaḥ and Natan). Over the years 1904-1905, he contributed work to Hazman (The times), and later he became a regular contributor to Haboker (This morning), edited by Dovid Frishman (David Frischman), hiding behind the pseudonym ״ki or F-k. When Hatsfira was revived in 1911, Frenk became a member of the editorial board and was considered among its principal writers. When WWI broke out, he and Froym Zinger edited the newspaper, filling out its columns virtually alone with editorials, feature pieces, journalism, and chronicles. Warsaw found itself on one occasion under German occupation, and the financial condition of Hatsfira was such that Frenk took on his own shoulders the heavy yoke of the newspaper until 1916. When later under the severe Russian censor and then the German one, he suffered a nervous collapse which left its vestiges with him till the end of his life. In 1917 Hatsfira was again revived as a weekly, but Frenk was not even invited be a member of the editorial board. When in 1918 Yitsḥak Grinboym returned from St. Petersburg to Warsaw and was appointed editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Frenk actually was editing it. In 1929 Hatsfira again became a daily newspaper, and Frenk, unable to realize his ambition to serve as chief editor of a daily newspaper, was satisfied publishing articles, and because he was terribly bitter, he signed his name “Nidaḥ” (repudiated, banished) and “Gole” (exile). Vexed by his conduct, the editorial board forbid him from using these pseudonyms. Frenk then relinquished his journalistic activities in the Hebrew-language press and turned his attention to writing history of Jewish life in Poland. Over the course of his journalistic activities, Frenk also contributed to Yiddish newspapers and journals. In Yiddish he debuted in print with a sketch entitled “Moneshekh” (One or the other) and an article against Ben-Avigdor’s Sifrei agora (One-penny books) which he published in Perets’s Yidishe biblyotek (Yiddish library) 2. He later wrote stories, feature pieces, journalism, literary criticism, and historical essays: for Perets’s Literatur un lebn (Literature and life) and Yontef bletlekh (Holiday sheets); “Der yidisher firsht, don yoysef nosi” (The Jewish duke, Don Yosef the Prince) in Spektor’s Hoyz-fraynd (House friend) 3, and “Makhmed un di yidn” (Mohammed and the Jews) in 5; Yid (Jew); Di velt (The world); Tsayt (Times) in Vilna; Yatskan’s Tageblat (Daily newspaper) and Haynt (Today); Krinski’s Roman-tsaytung (Fiction newspaper); Di naye velt (The new world) in 1909; M. Y. Freyd’s Der shtrahl (The beam [of light]); and the weekly newspaper Dos yidishe folk (The Jewish people) in 1917. In the last years prior to his death, he published in Haynt right up to the day of his passing installments of his series “Epizodn fun der geshikhte fun yidn in varshe” (Episodes from the history of Jews in Warsaw). The bitterness and pain that Frenk felt for those with whom he had been associated in the Hebrew press in Poland, he expressed in an article which also appeared on the day of his death in Haynt under the title “Vegn dem kiem fun a hebreisher tsaytung in varshe” (On the existence of a Hebrew newspaper in Warsaw). Over the course of forty years of his literary work, Frenk also excelled as a translator. His Yiddish translation of Bolesław Prus’s Pare (Pharoah [original: Faraon]) appeared in several editions and was later published under the title Kroyn fun mitsraim, historisher roman (Crown of Egypt, a historical novel) (Warsaw: A. Gitlin, 1918), 3 vols. His translation of Mirtala (Mirtala) (Warsaw: B. Shimin, 1911; Warsaw: Tsentral, 1912), 194 pp., a novel by Eliza Orzeszkowa, was extremely successful. Frenk adapted this same work for young people in Hebrew (Warsaw, 1924). Into Yiddish he also translated the novel by Hall Caine, Dos kapore hindl (The scapegoat), concerning Jewish life in Morocco, in Yidishe familye (Jewish family) (1902). His translated two works by Henryk Sienkiewicz, Beesh uveḥerev (Fire and sword [original: Ogniem i mieczem]) (Warsaw: Shtibl, 1920-1921), in three volumes, and Hamabul (The flood [original: Potop]) which was never published—two parts of it remained in manuscript at the time of his death. His published translations later appeared in numerous editions in Israel with linguistic improvements which had to be made in connection with developments of the Hebrew language. Frenk also translated into Hebrew Grace Aguilar’s Ganon vehatsel (Ganon and the rescuer) (Warsaw, 1893), 23 pp. and Robert Zandek’s one-act play Yehudonim (Yids) (Cracow, 1907). Remaining in manuscript were several Yiddish dramas, among which was also the historical drama entitled Temerl (Little Tamar), built on the legends and facts in the life of Shmuel Zbitkover and his family (the first act of the play was published in Haynt 94-98 ). In journalism, he also contributed to the liberal Polish newspapers of his day and infused his work with the patriotism of the Polish Jew. Frenk’s historical writings have enduring value, although they do not always withstand the test of modern scholarship. Important also was his work as a historian, because the archives that Frenk drew on, documents for his writings, are now, after WWII and the Nazi liquidation of every trace of Jewish culture in Poland, no longer in existence. He began his work as a historian with the historical novel. His book Meḥaye haḥasidim bepolin, sipur (From the lives of Hassidim in Poland, a story) (Warsaw, 1895), 92 pp., depicts in living and colorful imagery life in the Hassidic realm, in which he grew up. Prominent from a fictional standpoint was Frenk’s Yitsḥak meir beyalduto (Yitsḥak Meir in his childhood) (Warsaw: Tushiya, 1904), 141 pp., in which the Polish Hassidim found their true painter, which reflected the daily lives of Polish Hassidim, their children’s education, their customs, weddings, and the like. Although Frenk himself withdrew from Hassidic environs, he made use of Hassidic themes his entire life (his Hassidic stories in Yiddish have still not yet been collected). Frenk collected all manner of legends and stories and adapted them for young people under the title Agadot haḥasidim (Tales of the Hassidim) (Warsaw: Barkay, 1923); he also adapted legends from the Zohar and published them under the title Agadot hazohar (Tales of the Zohar) (Warsaw: Aḥiasef, 1923), 2 volumes. He reworked a portion of this material for youth as Mivḥar agadot haḥasidim (Selection of tales of the Hassidim). He himself did not live to see these works in print. The volume appeared in print initially in Warsaw in 1924 and subsequently in Tel Aviv in numerous editions, the most recent in 1954. From works of historical fiction, Frenk moved to genuine historical research, specializing in the history of Jews in Poland in the era of the Duchy of Warsaw (1806-1813) and Congress Poland (1815-1830). His historiographical work was based on documents from Jewish community archives, and around these he weaved a network of tales and legends. He began with the work “Letoldot haḥazaka” (On the history of the right of possession) in Hashiloaḥ (The shiloah) 2, in which he documented the development of “Ḥazaka” (right of possession) on the basis of a series of precepts whose full versions he cited from the records of Apte (Opatów). The finest of his historical writings Vnutrenniaia zhizn’ evreev v Pol’she i na Litve 17 and 18 vekov (The inner life of Jews in Poland and Lithuania in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), which was published in Istoriia Evreiskogo Naroda (History of the Jewish people), vol. 11 (St. Petersburg: Mir, 1914). In his book Haironim vehayehudim bepolin (The burghers and the Jews in Poland) (Warsaw, 1921), Frenk described the continual struggle between the Jews and the townsmen (mieszczanie) in various Polish cities and particularly in Warsaw concerning residential and commercial rights until 1795. His work Meshumodim in poyln in 19tn yohrhundert (Apostates in Poland in the nineteenth century), 2 volumes (Warsaw: Y. Freyd, 1923-1924) initially appeared in a lengthy series of installments in Haynt. Of the works that Frenk composed on the basis of archival documentation, we need to mention Di familye davidzon (The Davidsohn family), with Y. Ḥ. Zagorodski (Warsaw: Freyd, 1924), 105 pp. In the Warsaw archives, Frenk discovered statistical lists of Jews and their employments for the year 1843, and he used these findings in a work he published in Bleter far yidisher demografye, statistik un ekonomye (Jewish demography, statistics, and economics). Of his other works in Yiddish, he published in book form: Der alfonsn pogrom in varsha (The Alfonsn Pogrom in Warsaw) (Warsaw, 1908), 22 pp.—concerning the bloody revenge Jewish workers exacted on the pimps and underworld types; Di geshikhte fun yidn in poyln (The history of Jews in Poland) (Warsaw: Yehudiya, 1910). In historiographical work, he was strongly influenced by his own journalistic work in the ease of writing and formulating. Irrespective of the considerable number of faults, Frenk’s historical research was of great importance and contributed to the expansion of historical knowledge concerning the Jewish past in Poland.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 3; Sh. Rozenfeld, in Tsukunft (New York) (April 1924), pp. 231-33; Rozenfeld, Geklibene shriftn (Selected writings) (New York, 1947), pp. 229-38; Z. Sigal, Gehstaltn (Images) (New York, 1928), pp. 134-44; Y. Nisnboym, Ale ḥeldi (Pages of my world) (Warsaw, 1929), pp 304-5; Professor M. Balaban, Yidn in poyln (Jews in Poland) (Vilna, 1930), pp. 314-19; Yankev Shatski, Geshikhte fun yidn in varshe (History of Jews in Warsaw), vol. 3 (New York, 1953), pp. 80, 243, 287, 310, 398; Entsiklopediya shel galuyot (Encyclopedia of the Diaspora), vol. 1 (Warsaw, 1953), pp. 467-95; Pinkes varshe (Records of Warsaw), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires, 1955), pp. 13, 814; Yosef Likhtnboym, Hasipur haivri (The Hebrew story) (Tel Aviv, 1955), p. 523; Shmuel Kalman Mirsky, Ishim udemuyot beḥokhmat yisroel beeropa hamizraḥit (People and images of Jewish wisdom in Eastern Europe) (New York, 1959), pp. 199-224; Getzel Kressel, Leksikon hasifrut haivrit (Handbook of Hebrew literature) (Merḥavya, 1967), p. 582.
Y. M. Biderman