Tuesday, 6 August 2019


OSHER SHVARTSMAN (SCHWARZMAN) (October 7, 1890-August 1919)[1]
            He was a poet, born in the village of Vilnia, Kiev district, Ukraine, not far from Zhitomir.  In 1893 his family moved to the nearby town of Korostishev (Korostyshiv).  His father, Meyer, was connected to the Hassidic court of the Twersky dynasty.  Osher was raised in the Hassidic environment, and in that town he began attending religious primary school for four years.  Over the years 1896-1905, the family lived in the village of Novinke, near Kiev, where his father was employed in the nearby forest bureau.  A few Jewish families lived here with their children, and together they jointly imported schoolteachers and tutors.  At age fourteen, he himself became a teacher of Russian for the Novinke children.  From late 1905 he lived in Kiev and from 1908 in Berdichev, where he gave Hebrew lessons and taught in a Russian evening school.  In 1909 he settled permanently in Kiev, in contact with circles of Yiddishist youth with whom he became acquainted: Nokhum Oyslender, Borekh Glazman, Arn Kushnirov, D. Volknshteyn, and his cousin Dovid Hofshteyn.  From 1911 he was drafted into the army and served in the cavalry in the Polish city of Kalish (Kalisz), near the Russo-German border.  He was mobilized in the summer of 1914 in WWI and rose to the rank of non-commissioned officer, fought on various fronts, and was wounded in 1915 (after which he recuperated in a Moscow hospital).  After being demobilized in 1917, he returned to Kiev where he worked as a proofreader for the Bundist daily Folks-tsaytung (People’s newspaper).  Shvartsman belonged to no political party, but because of the pogroms against Jews in the Ukrainian and White armies, he joined the Red Army in 1919, and in the fighting with a Polish military group, he fell near Sarne (Sarny), Rovno district.  The revolutionary events of 1917 and his brother Dovid, a leader among the social democrats, exerted a large influence on him and his work.  He was interred in a communal vault in Rafalyevke (Rafalivka), outside Sarny.
            He began writing poetry in 1907 in Ukrainian, later switching to Yiddish.  According to Shvartsman’s first biographers, Nokhum Oyslender and B. Spivak, he felt a deep dissatisfaction with his Russian writings—and he began virtually instinctively to write in Yiddish.  His first poem in Yiddish, “Di kretshme” (The shop), was written in early 1909 but only published in 1918 in Kiev’s Folks-tsaytung.  His first published poem, “Un s’volt dem sod bay nakht di erd” (And would at night the earth be secret), appeared in Di yudishe velt (The Jewish world) (Vilna) 2 (1913), edited by Dovid Bergelson, whom Shvartsman befriended in Kiev.  Elsewhere, he published poetry in: Naye tsayt (New times) in Kiev, the anthology Eygns (One’s own) (Kiev) 1 (1918/1919), and the collection Oyfgang (Arise) (Kiev, 1919).  A number of his poems were published after his death in Eygns II (1920).  In all, Shvartsman wrote sixty-one poems, which are included in the full collection of his work, Lider un briv (Poems and letters) (Kiev, 1935).  In the first edition, Ale lider (Collected poetry) (Kiev, 1923), only fifty-nine poems appeared—two poems erroneously (by Dovid Hofshteyn).
            Shvartsman belonged to the group of Yiddish writers in Kiev, who were impressive with the new and modern tone in their Yiddish poetry.  They wrote with subtlety, refinement, lyrically, and at the same time they composed epic poems impressive for their originality, picturesqueness, and sensitivity.  There is a gentle sorrow in his poems, although there is as well in them an echo of war and revolution.  Although Shvartsman published no books in his lifetime, Soviet Yiddish literary critics and researchers have created a kind of cult surrounding him.  Soviet Yiddish literature was in need of a father figure, and so the critics declared Shvartsman to be a revolutionary poet.  He only wrote two poems, however, which can be marked as revolutionary: “In oyfshtand” (In resistance) and “Shvartse muter-nakht” (Deep at night).  One can perhaps add to these: “Mayn bruders lipn” (My brother’s lips) of 1918.
            “However, he was not a singer of revolution,” noted Shmuel Niger, “but its echo, its refined echo.  He was a deep feeling Yiddish poet, as one can sense in his poetry cycle on the Sabbath.”
            “Thanks to the talented poets—Dovid Hodshteyn, Leyb Kvitko, and Osher Shvartsman—Yiddish literature received a powerful push forward,” wrote Bal-Makhshoves.  “Osher Shvartsman is a major poet thanks to his profound, ethical world view, which does not dwell upon the purely external suffering of a people or a class of people, but his ethical sensibility reaches to the highest level and with its majestically constructed verse touches the deepest of men’s souls.”
            One could already see from his first book of poems that he “greeted the entire world,” commented Yekhezkl Dobrushin, “like a new born, joyfully awakening, a rising sun.  Of course, such a world conception was new, fresh, and healthy for those times of petit bourgeois, intellectual decadence and despair.  From his first steps forward, Osher Shvartsman proved to be an intellectual of the people, a man of the people, who brought a fullness of character, a belief in the beauty completeness of mankind.”
            His works include: Fun goldene vaytn (From golden distances) (Kiev: State Publ., 1921), 31 pp.; Ale lider, ed. Nokhum Oyslender and B. Spivak (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1923), 125 pp.; Lider un briv, ed. Mikhl Levitan and Maks Erik (Kiev: Ukrainian Academy of Science, 1935), 220 pp., with a bibliography by Sh. Bryanski; Ale lider, comp. Dovid Hofshteyn (Kiev, 1938), 143 pp.; Ale lider (Moscow: Emes, 1944), 96 pp.; Ale lider un briv (Collected poems and letters) (Moscow: Emes, 1961), 155 pp.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Dovid Hofshteyn, in Oyfgang (Kiev) (1919), pp. 129-31; Bal-Makhshoves, Dos dorem-yidntum un di yidishe literatur in XIX yorhundert (Southern Judaism and Yiddish literature in the 19th century) (Berlin, 1922), pp. 54-57; Shakhne Epshteyn, Osher shvartsman, monografye (Osher Shvartsman, a monograph) (Kharkov: Ukrainian State Publ., 1929), 105 pp.; Meyer Viner, in Sovetish (Moscow) 6 (1938); Osher shvartsman, tsum 20-tn yortog fun zayn heldishn umḳum (Osher Shvartsman, on the twentieth anniversary of his heroic demise) (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publ., 1939), 29 pp.; Hersh Remenik, in Shtern (Minsk) 10 (1939), pp. 69-85; Remenik, Ocherki i portrety, stat’i o evreiskikh pisateliakh (Essays and portraits, essays on Yiddish writers) (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1975); Moyshe Khashtshevatski, Osher shvartsman, zayn lebn un shafn (Osher Shvartsman, his life and work) (Kiev, 1939), 114 pp.; Arn Kushnirov, ed., Osher shvartsman, zamlung gevidmet dem tsvantsik yortog fun zayn heldishn toyt (Osher Shvartsman, a collection dedicated to the twentieth anniversary of his heroic death) (Moscow: Emes, 1940), 138 pp.; B. Slutski, in Sovetishe literatur (Kiev) (August 1940); Borekh Glazman, in Fraye arbeter shtime (New York) (March 2, 1945; March 9, 1945); Shmuel Niger, Yidishe shrayber in sovet-rusland (Yiddish writers in Soviet Russia) (New York, 1958), pp. 16-30; Hershl Polyanker, in Morgn frayhayt (New York) (December 15, 1964); D. Sheydberg, in Sovetish heymland (Moscow) 1 (1968); Elye (Elias) Shulman, Di sovetish-yidishe literatur (Soviet Yiddish literature) (New York, 1971); Itsik Kipnis, in Idishe kultur (New York) (December 1971), pp. 35-38;
Elye (Elias) Shulman

[Additional information from: 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. 381-82.]

[1] These dates follow: Osher Shvartsman, Ale lider (Collected poetry) (Kiev, 1923), p. 9.  In Shvartsman’s book, Lider un briv (Poems and letters), ed. Mikhl Levitan and Maks Erik (Kiev, 1935), p. 33, we find a birthdate of October 18, 1889.  One may assume that the editors of the former volume, Nokhum Oyslender and B. Spivak, both friends of Shvartsman in their youth, have the correct date.

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