YANKEV SHATSKI (JACOB SHATZKY) (August 16, 1893-June 13, 1956)
He was a historian and researcher in the field of Yiddish literature, theater, and folklore, born in Warsaw into a well-to-do family. He received a traditional Jewish education and for two years studied in a business school. With the assistance of the banker Bernard Lauer, in 1913 he was sent to Cracow, where he passed the baccalaureate examinations. He went on to study philosophy and history at the Universities of Lemberg, Vienna, and Warsaw—and he received his doctoral degree at the last of these with a dissertation on the Jewish question in the Kingdom of Poland in the era of Paskiewicz, 1831-1861. He served as an officer in the Polish legion under Piłsudski during WWI. In 1919 he was a speaker on Jewish affairs in the Polish foreign ministry, later a history teacher in the Warsaw Polish-Jewish high school of Finkel and Yehudiya. In late 1922 he emigrated to New York. There he worked as a lecturer at the Jewish teachers’ seminary and the teachers’ course of study at the Workmen’s Circle. Together with Judah-Leib Cahan, in 1925 he established the American division of YIVO, known as the “Amopteyl” (“American division”), in New York, and until his death he was one of its most important representatives. From 1929 he was the librarian for the New York Psychiatric Institute.
His literary activities began in Polish. He wrote for Krytyka Izraelita (Jewish criticism) in 1913, in the Russian-language Evreiskaia starina (The Jewish past) in 1914-1915, and later in Warsaw’s Polish-Jewish Nasz Kurjer (Our courier) I 1921-1922, with over 200 articles on Jewish history, philosophy, and literature. He debuted in print in Yiddish with reviews in Bikher-velt (Book world) and a longer work, Di kantonistn in der baloykhtung fun di poylishe memuaristn (The Cantonists in the light of Polish memoirists) (Warsaw, 1922). He published numerous historical and literary-critical articles in the American Yiddish press: Forverts (Forward), Tog (Day), Tog-morgn-zhurnal (Day-morning journal), Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor), Dos idishe folk (The Jewish people), Tsukunft (Future), Fortshrit (Progress), Veker (Alarm), Fraynd (Friend), Dos naye leben (The new life), Unzer bukh (Our book), Unzer shul (Our school), Shul un lerer (School and teacher), Teater un kunst (Theater and art), Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter), and elsewhere. Among his longer writings: on Joachim Lelewel and the Jews and on the history of the Jewish school movement in Poland—in Nasz Kurjer; “Mitskevitsh un di iden” ([Adam] Mickiewicz and the Jews), “Di iden in ukrainishen folklore” (Jews in Ukrainian folklore), and “Di idishe memuarn-literatur fun mitelalter biz der letster revolutsye un pogromen-khvalye” (The Jewish memoir literature from the Middle Ages to the recent revolution and wave of pogroms)—in Tsukunft (1923-1926); “Der krizis in ekspresyonizm” (The crisis in expressionism)—in Nay-idish (New Yiddish) XI-XII; “Di poylishe poezye fun der gegenvart” (Polish poetry in contemporary times)—in In zikh (Introspective) V-IX (1923); “Der goyrl fun der yidisher drame” (The fate of Yiddish drama) and “Bal-makhshoves der kritiker” (Bal-Makhshoves the critic)—in Tealit (Theater-literature) I-V; a series of critical surveys of materials on the history of the Jewish labor movement—in Veker (1923-1925); reviews of Yiddish philological and folkloric writings—in Dos naye leben; a series of articles entitled “Di naye idishe historishe drama” (The new Yiddish historical drama)—in Fraye arbeter shtime (1927); and “Tolstoy un di iden” (Tolstoy and the Jews)—in Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal) (1928); among others. A number of his longer writings were published in Yivo-bleter (Pages from YIVO), in the historical, economic, demographic, and philological publications from YIVO, as well as in Shatski’s edited or co-edited books: Goldfaden-bukh (Volume for [Avrom] Goldfaden) (New York, 1926), 104 pp.; Pinkes (Records) for Amopteyl (New York, 1928-1929); Arkhiv far der geshikhte fun yidishn teater un drame (Archive for the history of Yiddish theater and drama) (Vilna-New York, 1930), 531 pp., only one volume appeared; Zamlbukh (Anthology) on the history of the Yiddish press in America (New York, 1934), 64 pp.; Shul-almanakh (School almanac) (Philadelphia, 1935), 416 pp.; Zamlbukh lekoved dem tsveyhundert un fuftsikstn yoyvl fun der yidisher prese 1686-1936 (Jubilee volume in commemoration of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Yiddish press, 1686-1936) (New York: YIVO, 1937), 334 pp.; Yorbukh (Annual) for Amopteyl (New York, 1938-1939), 2 vols.; Hundert yor goldfadn (Centenary for [Avrom] Goldfadn) (New York, 1940), 188 pp.; Pinkes mlave (Records of Mława) (New York, 1950), 483 pp. He included lengthy historical-critical introductions to: Gzeyres takh (Evil decrees of 1648) (Vilna: YIVO, 1938) by Natan Note Hannover and Simkhes hanefesh (Delight of the soul) (New York, 1956) by Elkhonen Kirkhhan. His interpretations of Jewish history before and during the Khmelnytsky massacres of 1648-1649 aroused poignant debates. He also co-edited the first volume of Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur (Biographical dictionary of modern Yiddish literature).
His own writings include: Spinoza un zayn svive (Spinoza and his environs) (New York, 1927), 334 pp.—one of the first original books in Yiddish in the field of philosophy; Yidishe bildungs-politik in poyln fun 1806 biz 1866 (Jewish educational politics in Poland from 1806 to 1866) (New York: YIVO, 1943), 272 pp.; In shotn fun over (In the shadow of the past) (Buenos Aires: Central Association of Polish Jews in Argentina, 1947), 228 pp.; Elye bokher, 400 yor nokh zayn toyt, 1549-1949 (Elye Bokher, 400 years after his death, 1549-1949) (Buenos Aires, 1949), 64 pp.; Kultur-geshikhte fun der haskole in lite, fun di eltste tsayt biz khibes-tsien (A cultural history of the Jewish Enlightenment in Lithuania, from earliest times to Love of Zion) (Buenos Aires: Central Association of Polish Jews in Argentina, 1950), 215 pp.; Yidishe yishuvim in lateyn-amerike (Jewish communities in Latin America) (Buenos Aires: American Jewish Committee, 1952), 205 pp. Shatski’s crowning achievement was his Geshikhte fun yidn in varshe (History of the Jews in Warsaw) (New York: YIVO, 1947-1953), 348 pp., 305 pp., 460 pp.—the most fundamental work on the history of this Jewish center in Poland; in manuscript there remains material for almost a full fourth volume, in New York’s YIVO archives. Shorter writings by Shatski: A nay bukh iber der geshikhte fun der yidisher dertsiung (A new volume on the history of Jewish education) (New York, 1927), 14 pp.; Di takones far di sokolover idn in XVIII yorhundert (Precepts for Sokolov Jews in the eighteenth century) (Berlin, 1928), 8 pp.; Moris rozenfeld in likht fun zayne briv (Morris Rozenfeld in light of his letters) (New York: Astoria Press, 1936), 32 pp.; Yude-leyb kahan (1881-1937, materyaln far a byografye (Judah Leib Cahan, 1881-1937, materials for a biography) (New York: Amopteyl, 1938), 37 pp. He also published a volume in English on psychiatry: Psychiatric Dictionary with Encyclopedic Treatment of Modern Terms (London, 1940), 559, with Leland E. Hinsie. He died in New York.
“Shatski never limited himself,” noted Philip Friedman, “solely to the field of Eastern European historiography. He was a man with many-sided interests…. He published a large number of studies of Yiddish theater, the Yiddish press, literary history and literary criticism, bibliography and library systems, Jews in music and medicine, works in the realm of folklore, Yiddish linguistics, psychology, psychiatry, and philosophy.”
“Yankev Shatski,” wrote Shloyme Bikl, “was one of the very most wide-ranging authors in our world…. With ease the historian Shatski…jumped over the frontiers of historical writing and became a resident in the nearby foreign land of literary criticism, folklore, and theater research…. Popular creations, the folksong, the Purim play, and folk theater became for him not simply important research goals in and of themselves, but also an aid for understanding and historiographically to place the distinct social and cultural development of Jews in Poland.”
Second from right (in uniform)
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 4 (New York, 1963), with a large bibliography of Shatski’s works on theater; Yitskhok Ribkind, in Shikago (Chicago) 39 (1935); Yankev shatski biblyografye (Yankev Shatski bibliography), comp. Mortkhe Kosover and Menashe Unger (New York: YIVO, 1939), 81 pp.; Mark Vishnitser, in Tsukunft (New York) (September 1948); Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (May 1, 1944; October 24, 1948); Philip Friedman, in Tsukunft (August 1951; July 1956); Yankev shatski tsum ondenk (To the memory of Yankev Shatski) (New York, 1957); Shatski-bukh (Volume for Shatski), ed. Yekhezkl Lifshits (Buenos Aires, 1958), with a Shatski bibliography by A. R. Malachi; Leybush Lehrer, Mentsh un ideye (Man and thought) (New York: Matones, 1960); Y. Ḥ. Biltski, Masot (Essays), vol. 1 (Tel Aviv, 1960), pp. 321-27; Meylekh Ravitsh, in Tsukunft 7 (1961); Shaye Trunk, Geshtaltn un gesheenishn, historishe eseyen (Figures and events, historical essays) (Buenos Aires: Association of Polish Jewry, 1962); Trunk, in Gilad (Tel Aviv) (1976), pp. 258-61; Yankev Glatshteyn, Mit mayne fartog-bikher (With my daybreak books) (Tel Aviv, 1963), pp. 372-75.