Sunday 31 August 2014


HENEKH AKERMAN (October 6, 1901-September 8, 1970)
     Born in the village of Malinets, Bessarabia.  His first publication was a poem in Der morgn (The morning) in Kishinev (1918).  He emigrated to the United States in 1920 and published poems in Feder (Pen), Oyfgang (Arise), Groyser kundes (Great prankster), Gerekhtikeyt (Justice), Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal), Amerikaner (American), Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor), Di tsayt (The times), and Kinder-zhurnal (Children’s magazine).  He was regular contributor to Tog morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal).  He made himself especially popular for “amazing stories from real life,” which he began publishing in Forverts (Forward) in 1932.  From 1934 he was an associate contributor at Tog (Day).  In 1953 he visited the state of Israel.  Among his books: Lider and proze (Poems and prose) (Czernowitz, 1918); Kh’bin keynmol nisht avek fun der heym (I never left home) (Tel Aviv: Peretz Publ., 1962), 328 pp.  Together with Moyshe Shtarkman and Zelig Dorfman, he edited the anthology Refleksn (Reflections) (New York, 1932).  He wrote under the pseudonyms: A. Malinitser, H. Atlas, H. Akosta, and H. Libes.

Sources: Hemshekh-antologye (Hemshekh anthology) (New York, 1945), pp. 134-42; Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1.


YOYSEF AKSENTSOV (1888-June 9, 1956)

Born in the Jewish village of Slobode, Byelorussia.  His parents were agricultural workers.  In 1907 he graduated from the agricultural school in Minsk run by YIKO (Jewish Cultural Organization).  The following year he emigrated to Argentina and lived for a time in the Jewish colonies there.  He devoted his attentions to various professions.  In 1915 he published a work in verse entitled “A kinder-shpil” (A children’s play) in Di yidishe tsaytung (The Jewish newspaper) in Buenos Aires.  Later, he wrote articles and correspondences for an array of publications in Argentina.  In 1916 he settled in Buenos Aires.  He became assistant editor of the weekly Der kolonist (The colonist), and later the technical editor of the monthly Kolonist kooperator (Colonist cooperative).  From 1922 he was a member of the editorial board of Di prese (The press).  Among his books: Pondo komunal amol un haynt (Pondo Komunal, then and now), a pamphlet (Buenos Aires, 1919).  His published translations from Spanish include: Javier de Viana, Gauchos, geveylter detseylungen un bilder (Gauchos, selected stories and images) (Buenos Aires, 1925), 190 pp.; Francisco Pi y Arsuaga, Preludyes fun kamf (Preludes to a fight) (Buenos Aires, 1928), 90 pp.; Rafael Barrett, Kurtse dertseylungen (Short stories) (Buenos Aires, 1929), 84 pp.  Among his pen names: Votsenski, M. Sloboder, M. Sekhov, A. Y. Kempenisa.


     Born in Nemirov, Podolia district, Ukraine, into a family of the elite.  As a child and youth, he spent time in Hassidic surroundings, and he became an ardent Bratslav hassid, an intimate of the rebbe, R. Nachman (of Bratslav), and a friend of R. Noson of Nemirov.  As was the practice in those times, a marriage was arranged for Akselfeld when he was still quite young.  His and his bride were not a good match, and later when he became a maskil, he was divorced from her.  He learned Russian, Polish, and German, and took up a career in business.  Thanks to his talents and his fine character, he made good business connections and gained access to administrative contracts at the time of the Russo-French War [1812].  He traveled with the army through Poland and eastern Germany, and spent a considerable period of time in Bratslav (Lower Silesia).  His travels over various regions and countries and his coming into contact with all sorts of people broadened his horizons, enriched his life experiences, and deepened his knowledge of people.  He put all of this to good use decades later when writing novels and dramas of Jewish life.  Biographical details for the time period from after the war until the 1820s are not available.  We know only that in this period he married a second time to “Rekhele, the well-educated and pious daughter of Rabbi Abele Hurvits from Brod.”  We may thus presume that he lived for a certain period of time in Brod, and that he would have become acquainted there with representatives of the Jewish enlightenment in Galicia.  We may also imagine that no later than 1824 he would have settled in Odessa, where he remained for the next forty years of his life.  In Odessa, as earlier, he took up business and received the title of “Odessa merchant of the third guild.”  Later, though, he devoted himself to the examination to become a notary, private attorney (1835), and sworn court’s interpreter (straptshe, 1836).  He made a living honorably, and his “fine home” became a meeting house for the sages, especially for the maskilim, among whom he was highly esteemed.  In an earlier era, he devoted his time to writing the dozens of novels, stories, and stage plays of which, regrettably, only a small number have come down to us.
     In the 1830s, Aksenfeld began writing, and in the space of some thirty years, he had written over 300 printer’s sheets.  In 1862 he alone compiled a roster of all his writings that he “put into ordinary Yiddish (they have not yet been published).”  The list included twenty-six works, among them several novels quite long with numerous parts, such as: Mikhl der ozerkes, a yudishe zhil blaz (Mikhl the servant, a Jewish Gil Blas), six parts, 1504 pp.; Leyb fridland, oykh a yudisher zhil blaz (Leyb Fridland, also a Jewish Gil Blas), 2112 pp.; and Di shpiges (The Shpiges), four parts, 1162 pp., among others.  The designation “a Jewish Gil Blas” (a reference to the first realistic novel, by the French writer Alain-René Le Sage, who was very popular in the eighteenth century) demonstrated that Aksenfeld had set for himself a certain goal to be a writer with a realist bent.  Given the the social depths of his descriptions, Aksenfeld in truth stood closer to the realism of his great contemporary, Honoré de Balzac, than to the pattern of a Gil Blas from a century earlier.  Gifted with a nature of enormous observational energy, with a sense of humor, with a feel for language, and with a fighting temperament, he became the first social novelist and the principal bearer of realism in Yiddish literature for the pre-Mendele period, and in Mendele’s work itself one can see traces of his impact.  His influence on the wider course of the art of Yiddish narrative would without a doubt have become even stronger, if all of his writings had lived to see print.
     Unfortunately, only a few of his works have seen the bright light of day, and only initially after several decades.  The reason was that in the 1830s when Aksenfeld wrote his first works, the government of Tsar Nicholas I closed nearly all Yiddish publishing houses in Russia (statute of October 27, 1836), and the two publishers (Romm in Vilna and Shapiro in Zhitomir) that were left refused to publish his writings because of their harsh anti-Hassidic proclivity.  This was the issue earlier with his first novel, Seyfer khsidim (The book of the Hassidim), a satirical, maskilic, anti-Hassidic work of almost 1000 pages.  This novel does not appear in Aksenfeld’s “listing of all writings,” but in the request that he sent in October 1841 to the education minister at that time, Sergey Uvarov, he characterized his novel as a type of Don Quixote in which “satire, didacticism, and storytelling all come together with respect to those called ‘good Jews’ [Hassidim].”  The Vilna censor at the time, Jacob Tugendhold, wrote in his recommendation letter to the minister that Aksenfeld had in this work “elevated satire to an exquisite thoroughness.”  The publishers in Vilna, however, argued in their letter to the minister that Aksenfeld came out publicly in his book “with obscene, lewd, clownish words aimed at the customs of the Hassidim,” and thus they did not want to publish the book.  In 1842 Aksenfeld requested permission of the minister to lithograph the work.  This he was permitted, but he did not make use of it; whether because of technical difficulties or because of a dearth of monetary means is unknown.  He repeated his applications to the highest governmental authorities several times over the course of fifty years, but all to no avail.  In 1860 and 1861, he even requested of the governor of Odessa permission to open his own publishing house in Odessa, but this was also turned down.  Thus, his works remained in manuscript and were, as was the practice among Jews at the time, distributed in handwritten copies made by other maskilim.  Only two of his shorter works, the novel Dos shterntikhl (The headband) and the drama Der ershter yidisher rekrut (The first Jewish recruit), succeeded in seeing printed in Leipzig in 1861.  He was then already nearly seventy-five years of age.  In 1862 the ban (or “monopoly”) on Yiddish-language publishing in Russia was repealed, but Aksenfeld was already, apparently, weary and possibly without money to undertake on his own publication of his writings.  In the same year of 1862, he wrote a letter to Avrom Ber Gotlober with a request to find a publisher for his work (the letter, together with the “list of all writings,” was later discovered by Yisroel Tsinberg in Gotlober’s archive).  In 1864 a group of Odessa Jewish community leaders and authors, among them such important figures as Yoysef Rabinovitsh and Dr. Leo Pinsker, turned to the Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment in St. Petersburg and asked if it would publish Aksenfeld’s works, but—“because of the regulations”—its answer was: “the Society has the right to publish writings only in Hebrew or Russian, but not in zhargon [i.e., Yiddish].”  In that year of 1864, Aksenfeld and his wife departed from Odessa and moved to Paris, where one of their three successful sons (of his second wife), Avgust or Aleksander, was a well-known doctor, professor in the Sorbonne, and author of many medical works (he also translated into French several of his father’s works).  Another son, Henrik, was a painter.  In the summer of 1866, Aksenfeld passed away in Paris.
     In 1869 someone with the name Sde announced in the pages of Kol mevaser (The herald) that Moyshe Zhvif, Aba Feldman, and Gedalye Eynemer were engaged in publishing Aksenfeld’s works.  This very group in 1867 had actually published his two-act play, Man un vayb, shvester un brider (Man and wife, sisters and brothers)—and in 1870 his theatrical pieces, Di genarte velt (The cheated public) and Kabtsn-oysher shpil (Pauper-rich man play).  In 1872 Aleksander Tsederboym’s periodical, Vestnik russkikh yevreyev (Messenger of Russian Jews), published in St. Petersburg an Aksenfeld story in Russian translation under the title “Za dvumya zaitsami” ([Going] after two rabbits).  This is all that was published of Aksenfeld’s writings.  Barditshever yarid (Bardichev fair) and Matses bakin (Baking matzoh)—the latter, just as was the case with Seyfer khsidim, not listed in Aksenfeld’s “Listing”—set in type in Odessa just when the pogrom of 1871 broke out; the manuscripts of both works, typeset together, were lost.  Only his Fraymar (235 pp.) in manuscript reached Sholem-Aleykhem (see Sholem-Aleykhem’s letter to Gotlober in 1888).  In the 1920s and 1930s, when research into the Yiddish language and literature expanded and deepened, Aksenfeld’s role in the development of modern Yiddish literature, especially his impact on Mendele Moykher-Seforim, was powerfully emphasized, and interest in his writings grew.  New works of scholarship concerning Aksenfeld’s writings were published in Soviet Russia and Poland.  Der ershte yidishe rekrut, in the adaptation of Arn (Aaron) Kushnirov, was staged in the early 1930s in Yiddish theaters in Soviet Russia, Poland, and the United States.  The Institute of Yiddish Culture in the All-Ukrainian Scientific Academy published in 1931 the first volume of an incomplete edition of Aksenfeld’s under the editorship of Meir Viner (this edition was planned to be in four volumes).  In that single volume are studies by Viner and A. Yuditski, reprintings of Der ershte yidisher rekrut and Di genarte velt, and letters from Aksenfeld to Yitskhok Ber Levenzon, A. B. Gotlober, and others.  In 1938 the publisher “Emes” in Moscow, also under the editorship of M. Viner, published another volume of Aksenfeld’s writings, which included discourses by M. Viner and A. Margolis, a reprinting of Aksenfeld’s novel Dos shterntikhl and his story Nokh tsvey hozn (After two rabbits) which Lipe Reznik translated back into Yiddish from the Russian translation and had published in Farmest (Challenge) in Kiev (August 1937).  In 1971 his two shorter works, Dos shterntikhl and Der ershter yidisher rekrut, were published in Buenos Aires by the Y. Lifshits Fund (283 pp.).  The principal sources for Aksenfeld’s biography may be found in the following: A. Tsederboym, obituary in Kol mevaser 26 (1866) and the addition to it in Kol mevaser (1869); A. B. Gotlober, Zikhroynes vegn yidishe shrayber (Memoirs of Yiddish writers), published in Sholem-Aleykhem’s “Yidishe folks-biblyotek” (Jewish people’s library), vol. 1 (Kiev, 1888); Gotlober’s archival materials concerning Aksenfeld, explained and published by Yisroel Tsinberg in Perezhitoe, sbornik posviashchennyi onshchestvennoi i kulturnoi istorii evreev v Rossii (The past, a journal dedicated to the social and cultural history of the Jews in Russia) 4 (1913); state archival documents, published and investigated in Soviet Russia.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1 (with a bibliography through 1926); Nokhum Shtif, Di alte yudishe literatur (Old Yiddish literature) (Kiev, 1929), pp. 72-99; Shoel Ginzburg, in Filologishe shriftn fun yivo (Philological writings from YIVO), vol. 2 (Vilna, 1928), pp. 42-54; Shoel Ginzburg, in Yivo-bleter 2 (1931), reprinted in Historishe verk (Historical works), vol. 1 (New York, 1937); Shoel Borovoy, in Biblyologisher zamlbukh (Bibliological anthology) (Kiev, 1930), pp. 93-103; Zalmen Reyzen, in Algemayne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia) (Paris, 1937), pp. 237-40 (with a bibliography); Meir Viner, Tsu der geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur in 19tn yorhundert (Toward a history of Yiddish literature in the 19th century) (Kiev, 1940); Shoel Borovoy et al., Mendele un zayn tsayt, materyaln tsu der geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur in XIX yorhundert (Mendele and his times, materials toward a history of Yiddish literature in the 19th century) (Moscow, 1940), pp. 172-96; Dr. Yankev Shatski (Jacob Shatsky), in Yivo-bleter 23 (New York) (1944), pp. 134-37; Shmuel Niger, Dertseylers un romanistn (Storytellers and novelists), vol. 1 (New York, 1946), pp. 52-60; Shmuel Lastik (Salomon Łastik), Di yidishe literatur biz di klasiker (Yiddish literature until the classic writers) (Warsaw, 1950), pp. 160-75; Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene verk (Collected writings) (New York, 1953), pp. 92-94.
Yitskhok Kharlash

Friday 29 August 2014



He was the author of Der gayst un der kerper (The spirit and the body) (New York, 1926), 61 pp.

Thursday 28 August 2014


ZELIK AKSELROD (AXELROD) (1904-June 26, 1941)

A Soviet Jewish poet, he was born in Molodetshne (Maladziečna), Vilna region.  He received a traditional Jewish education and studied in a yeshiva.  At age sixteen (1920), he published his first poem in the Minsk newspaper, Veker (Alarm).  From that time forward, his lyrical poems continually appeared in Soviet Yiddish anthologies and periodicals.  In the years 1921-1923, he published his writings in Veker (in Minsk), and in 1935 he was a member of the editorial board of that journal.  He contributed (1925-1926) to Di royte velt (The red world), and in 1927 to Shtern (Stars) in Minsk.  He studied at the Valery Briusov Literary Institute in Moscow as well as in the pedagogical institute there. In Minsk he had worked as an educator at a children’s home, before turning to literary work. In the 1920s and 1930s, he took an active part in literary life, and together with the poet Izi Kharik, he stood in the head of a group of Yiddish writers in the writers’ association in Byelorussia. He translated numerous Byelorussian poets into Yiddish. In the fall of 1939, when the Soviet military occupied western Byelorussia, came to Bialystok and helped organize refugee Yiddish writers who had escaped from Warsaw and other Polish cities occupied at the time by the Germans. Also, in the same year, with the escort of a “minder,” the editor (a man named Model) of Oktyaber (October) in Minsk, he helped Yiddish writers become oriented to their new circumstances, and he was well received by them. He became acquainted there with the daughter of Itshe-Meir Vaysenberg, and they married. It was this very trip to Vilna that brought about his tragic death.  As described by an eyewitness (in short), the late Shmerke Katsheginski: “The guests were sitting in the hotel room with two writers from Vilna, and in came a turbulence with the editor of Vilner emes (Vilna truth), Dovid Umru.  He explained that the previous night someone called him in the Party and declared that the decision had been made to discontinue the only Yiddish newspaper in Vilna, Vilner emes.  ‘We will not allow that to happen!’ exclaimed Zelik Akselrod.  ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Model asked him.  ‘I will go to the Party and explain that Vilna is not…’  ‘You will do no such thing!’ replied Model commandingly.”  Akselrod was arrested in 1941 in Minsk on the ccusation of “Jewish nationalism.”  When it was learned of his arrest, Perets Markish and Arn Gurshteyn in Moscow tried to persuade the central authorities to set him free, but they were unsuccessful. Together with him, the writers Elye Kahan and Hirsh Beryozkin were arrested in Minsk, and they later recounted how Akselrod was killed.  When the Germans were nearing Minsk, the local authorities decided to evacuate the prison far into the countryside. Before that, though, they decided to “rid themselves of the burden”—namely, socially alien elements—of the political prisoners. In the inner courtyard of the jailhouse, there was a representative of the higher penal authorities, and each prisoner came before him and had to admit his crime. Those who were genuine criminals were left alive and even freed. Akselrod declared honestly that he was imprisoned under Article 58 (political crimes). The “politicals” were then led to a nearby forest and shot.

His works would include the following: with Hersh Kamenetski, compiled Ordentregerishe vaysrusland, literarishe zamlbukh (Byelorussia, carrier of honors, literary anthology) (Minsk, 1939), 245 pp.  Among his books: Tsapl (Tremble) (Minsk, 1922), 29 pp.; Lider (poems) (Minsk, 1932), 46 pp.; Un vider lider (And more poems) (Minsk, 1935), 116 pp.; Oyg af oyg (Tête-à-tête), poems (Minsk, 1937), poems written between 1924 and 1934, 238 pp.; Lider (Poems) (Minsk: Melukhe farlag, 1938), 46 pp.; Roytarmeyishe lider (Red Army poems) Minsk: Melukhe farlag, 1939); Lider zamlung (Poetry collection) (New York: IKUF, 1961), 77 pp.; Lider (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1980), 204 pp.  His work can also be found in: Ruf (Call), Atake (Attack) for which he served on the editorial board, Almanakh fun yidishe sovetishe shrayber (Annual of Soviet Jewish writers), Di bafrayte brider (Liberated brothers), Deklamater fun der sovetisher yidisher literatur (Reciter of Soviet Yiddish literature), Far der bine (For the stage), Froyen (Women), Kep (Heads), Komyug (Jewish Communist youth), Lider vegn der royter armey (Poems about the Red Army), and Sovetishe vaysrusland (Soviet Byelorussia).  Akselrod also translated into Yiddish works by the Byelorussian poet, Janka Kupala: Lider (Poems) (Moscow, 1936), 76 pp.

Sources: Sh. Katsherginski, Tsvishn hamer un serp (Between hammer and sickle) (Paris, 1949); Moyshe Grosman, In farkhishuftn land fun legendarn Dzhugashvili, mayne zibn yor lebn in ratnfarband, 1939-1946 (In the enchanted land of the legendary Dzhugashvili [= Stalin], my seven years living in the Soviet Union, 1939-1946), vol. 2 (Paris, 1949); Y Bronshteyn, “Z. Akselrods dikhterishe veg” (Z. Akselrod’s poetic journey), Afn visnshaflekhn front (On the scientific front), no. 3-4 (Minsk) (1933); “Der stiln-kamf” (The style struggle), Prolit (Kharkov), no. 3-4 (1930); Sheferishe problemes fun der yidisher sovetisher poezye (Creative problems with Soviet Yiddish poetry) (Minsk, 1936), also in Atake (Moscow-Kharkov-Minsk) (1931), p. 331; B. Orshanski, “Di yidishe poezye in vaysrusland nokh der revolutsye” (Yiddish poetry in Byelorussia after the revolution), Tsaytshrift, vol. 5 (Minsk, 1931); Y. Dobrushin, “Zelik Akselrods veg” (Zelik Akselrod’s path), Shtern (Minsk), 10-11 (1932), and in Sovetishe literatur (Moscow, 1935); G. Yabrov, in Sovetishe literatur (Kiev) (June 1940); A. Damesek, in Shtern (Minsk) (September 1935); H. Vaynroykh, Blut af der zun (Blood on the sun) (New York, 1950); V. Vitkin, in Shtern (Minsk) 7-8 (1932); Shmuel Niger, “Di shtile meride in der sovetish-yidisher literatur” (The quiet rebellion in Soviet Yiddish literature), Literarishe bleter (October 14, 1927); B. Glazman, “An ovnt in moskver klub ‘komunist’,” (An evening the Moscow club, “Communist”), Yidisher kemfer (New York) (October 4, 1940).

Zaynvl Diamant

[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. 27-28.]


     Dates of his birth and death are unknown.  During the German occupation, he lived as a refugee from Warsaw in the Kovno ghetto.  He wrote songs there, the majority of them parodies.  His works can be found in: Sh. Katsherginski, Lider fun di getos and lagern (Songs from the ghettos and camps)—his song is titled “In slobodker yeshive” (In the Slobodka yeshiva)—and in Yoysef Gar, Umkum fun der yidisher kovne (The destruction of Jewish Kovno)—his poems, “Yidishe brigades” (Jewish brigades), “Baym geto-toyerl” (At the ghetto’s gate), and “Yayles” (Wailing).  He suffocated in a hideout when the Nazis set fire to the Kovno ghetto.

Sources: Sh. Katsherginski, Lider fun di getos and lagern (Songs from the ghettos and camps) (New York, 1948); Yoysef Gar, Umkum fun der yidisher kovne (The destruction of Jewish Kovno) (Munich, 1948).


BENYAMIN AKSLER (March 15, 1887-June 26, 1955)
Born in Tshashnik, near Vitebsk, Byelorussia.  He studied in religious elementary school, and thereafter in a secular Vitebsk secondary school until level six.  In 1903 he emigrated to the United States.  He began in 1908 to publish articles and correspondences in Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor) on social and political topics and concerning issues of workingmen’s lives.  For a time he published articles, feature pieces, and translations in Forverts (Forward), and in Arbayter fraynd (Friend of labor) in London.  In 1907 he edited thirteen issues of an anarchist newspaper, Broyt un frayhayt (Bread and freedom), in Philadelphia.  Over the course of many years, he served as secretary of the Jewish Anarchist Federation in America.  He was a member of the managing committee of Fraye arbeter shtime.  He used the pseudonym: “Nihilist.”

Sources: Yoysef Kahan, Di yidish-anarkhistishe bavegung in amerike (The Jewish anarchist movement in America) (Philadelphia, 1945), pp. 430, 453, 454; obituary in Fraye arbeter shtime.


NAKHMEN (NACHMAN) AKS (March 15, 1897-January 1984)
     Born in Mlave (Mława), Poland.  He attended elementary school.  In 1924 he emigrated to Mexico.  In 1927 he published his first feature article in Meksikaner yidish lebn (Mexican Jewish life) under the pen name of Nachmuni.  He contributed to Di tsayt (The times) and Foroys (Onward) in Mexico City.  He also contributed to Mlaver pinkes (Records of Mlave) (New York).  From 1944 he was a member of the editorial board of the journal Foroys in Mexico City.  It was there that he died.



The Moscow Jewish State Theater staged after WWII with great success his play, A freylekhs (A cheerful tune).  His writings include: Antireligyeze mayses un vertlekh (Anti-religious stories and sayings) (Moscow, 1939), 42 pp.


MARIA OKUN (GOLDBERG) (1873-March 22, 1954)
Born in Lodz, into a merchant, semi-assimilated family.  While still a child, she moved to St. Petersburg.  Firmly Russified, she graduated from the Lesgaft Course [in physical education] and became a Russian teacher.  Early on she joined the social democratic movement and later the Bund.  Around 1902-1903, Maria Abramovna was sent by the Hevra Mefitsei Haskala (Society for the promotion of enlightenment) to take up a teaching position in Bobruisk, and there she married the Bundist leader and writer, the engineer Yisroel (Israel) Okun.  From 1920 she directed the preschool education of the Central Educational Committee of the Bund in Vilna.  In 1914 her collection, Baveglekhe shpiln far kinder (Mobile games for children), 105 pp., was published by B. Kletskin in Vilna, and reissued in a second edition in 1919 in St. Petersburg.  She also published articles concerning her area of expertise—as well as on general pedagogical topics—in the publications of the Central Educational Committee (Vilna) and Tsisho (Central Jewish School Organization) in Warsaw.  In the late 1920s, she emigrated to Canada and from there, following the death of her husband [in 1941], to the United States.  She was an extraordinary figure with a sense of morality as strong as iron.  Alone and blind, she died in an institution not far from New York.

Sources: Y. Kharlash, Lerer-yisker-bukh (Memorial book for teachers) (New York, 1954), pp. 438-40, reprinted from Undzer tsayt (New York) (April-May 1954); Y. Pat, Kultur un dertsiung (Culture and education) (New York) (December 1954).

Wednesday 27 August 2014


YISROEL (ISRAEL) OKUN (January 10, 1877-October 22, 1941)
Born in Bobruisk (Babruysk), Minsk district, Byelorussia, into a family of wealthy timber merchants.  He received a secular education.  As an early age he joined the socialist movement.  He was active in the local Bundist organization in Bobruisk.  In the autumn of 1906, he left for Germany to study.  In August 1907 he was appointed to the foreign committee of the Bund as a member of the delegation to the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart, where he appeared with the name Dag (shortened from his journalist-party pseudonym of Daginski).  He completed his studies, received his diploma in engineering, and then returned to Russia where he settled in in St. Petersburg.  There he linked up on one side with the Bund and on the other with legal, Russian-Jewish cultural institutions.  After the 1917 Revolution, he remained active in the Bund—as earlier in St. Petersburg where he was a city councilman and a member of the first democratic committee in the Jewish community.  By the end of 1917 he was back in Bobruisk where he was elected vice-mayor of the city.  In 1918 he moved with his family to Vilna where he built the Jewish producers’ cooperatives, served as director of the ORT polytechnic, and wrote for local publications of the Bund—Dos fraye vort (The free word), Undzer tsayt (Our times), Undzer gedank (Our thoughts)—for the journal Undzer hilf (Our help) of Yekopo (Yevreyskiy komitet pomoshchi zhertvam voyny—“Jewish Relief Committee for War Victims”), as well as for the publications of the Vilna central education committee.  In 1923 he emigrated to Argentina where he edited the Bundist biweekly Argentiner veker (Argentine alarm) (Buenos Aires, late 1924).  Because of a severe illness, he left Argentina and returned to Vilna from which he would again emigrate.  In 1930 he left for Toronto (Canada), and he worked initially as a teacher in Workmen’s Circle schools and later the representative of the Forverts in New York.  He was a member of the editorial board of the monthly Dos sotsyalistishe vort (The socialist word).  He died in Montreal where he had come on assignment for the Workmen’s Circle.  He was buried in Toronto.  His major works include: Produtsir-kooperativn oder produtsir-verkshtubn (Production cooperatives or production work sites), pamphlet (Vilna, 1920), 31 pp.; Materyaln vegn produtsir-kooperatsye (Materials concerning production cooperation) (Vilna, 1920), 40 pp.; a notice from the production cooperatives in Pinkes fun yekopo (Records of Yekopo) (Vilna, 1931); and a translation of Professor Leo Graetz’s book, Die Elektrizität und ihre Anwendungen (Electricity and its usages [Stuttgart, 1906]), as Elektre un ir praktishe oysnutsung (Vilna, 1920), 270 pp.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzin, Leksikon, vol. 1; Pinkes fun yekopo (Vilna, 1931), pp. 719-20; Dos sotsyalistishe vort (Toronto) (November 1941); Undzer tsayt (New York) (November 1941).



In 1927 in New York and New Jersey, his book Lider (Poems), both lyrical and social, was published by the Minsker Branch 451 of the Workmen’s Circle, 100 pp.


KHAVE (CHAWA) EFROSI (b. September 6, 1870)
Although she wrote no Yiddish on her own, her works concerning Jewish history were translated into Yiddish and took an honored place in Jewish pedagogical literature.  Born in Kishinev, Bessarabia, she graduated from a Russian high school and later studied history in Frankfurt.  Over the years 1913-1915, she wrote in Russian a textbook for Jewish history (in two parts); in 1918 both parts were translated into Yiddish and published by B. A. Kletskin Farlag first in Kiev and later in Vilna as a textbook for Jewish schools: Di geshikhte fun yidishn folk, lernbukh (The history of the Jewish people, textbook), “Teyl 1, di biblishe tkufe” (Part 1, the biblical epoch), 180 pp.; “Teyl 2, di tsayt fun beys sheyni” (Part 2, the era of the Second Temple), 207 pp.  In their time, her textbooks were significant accomplishments for Jewish schools.  Part 1 offered a social and economic analysis of the biblical epoch; Part 2 was generally the first specimen of a history textbook for the era it deals with in the Yiddish language.  She later wrote a third part for the textbook—“Mitlalter, di yidn in golus” (Middle ages, the Jews in dispersion), 189 pp.  All three parts were republished in 1926 by the “Star Hebrew Book Co.” in New York.  In 1931 this same publishing house issued the third part under the title Yidishe geshikhte far shul un hoyz (Jewish history for school and home).  In 1938 her volume Di geshikhte fun yidn in mizrekh-eyrope (The history of the Jews in Eastern Europe) appeared in Warsaw under the editorship of N. Mirer.  She also published articles in periodicals—among them, Di naye shul (The new school) in Vilna in 1922: “Di forshungs-metodn fun der biblisher geshikhte” (Research methods for biblical history).  In the late 1920s and early 1930s, she was living in Riga, Latvia, where she would from time to time teach history in secular Jewish schools.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzin, Leksikon, vol. 1 (1926), pp. 155-56; G. Pats, in Di naye shul (Vilna) (1921).


YISROEL (ISRAEL) EFROS (June 15, 1891-January 4, 1981)
     Born in Ostrog (Ostróg), Poland, to a father who was a Maskil and an early Zionist.  He was a student at the Mirer yeshiva.  At age thirteen he emigrated with his parents to the United States, where he attended Solomon Schechter’s Rabbinical Seminary.  He graduated from New York University and other American institutions of higher learning.  He was a Hebrew poet and researcher.  He was a professor of Hebrew language and literature at Hunter College in New York, and a former dean of the Department of Semitic Studies at the University of Buffalo.  He published in Hashiloach (The shiloah), Gilyonot (Sheets), and Hadoar (The mail), among other serials.  Together with Dr. Even-Shmuel Koyfman, he compiled an English-Hebrew dictionary.  As a lyricist, he occupies an honored place in Hebrew poetry in the United States.  He wrote in Yiddish for Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal), Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor), and others.  In 1946 he and H. Leivick visited the German camps of survivors.  He published his impressions in Morgn-zhurnal and later brought them out as a book with the title Heymloze yidn, a bazukh in lagern in daytshland (Homeless Jews, a visit to the camps in Germany) (Buenos Aires, 1947), 240 pp.  For his books, Zahav (Gold) (New York, 1942) and Goral u-fitom (Fate and suddenly) (Jerusalem, 1954), he received the Louis Lamed Prize.  He was living in Israel from 1955 and died in Tel Aviv.  A memorial volume was published in his honor: Yisrael efrat, meshorer vehoge (Yisroel Efros, poet and thinker) (Tel Aviv, 1981), 278 pp.

Sources: Menachem Ribalov, Ahisefer (Hebrew literature) (New York, 1943); Kh. Toren, Sifrutenu ha-yafah (Our beautiful literature) (Jerusalem, 1953), vol. 3, pp. 197-225; Y. Tverski, in Tsukunft (New York) (November 1945); Who Is Who in American Jewry (New York, 1955); M. Waxman, A History of Jewish Literature (New York, 1938), vol. 4.


YEDIDYE (IEDIDIO) EFRON (July 11, 1878-February 18, 1951)
     Born in Admur (Indura), a small town near Grodno.  He studied in the Grodno yeshiva.  He was quite proficient in secular subjects as well, and in Haskala literature.  He emigrated to Argentina in 1895.  He settled with his family on YIKO (Jewish Cultural Organization) land and worked the fields.  He later entered the Alberdi School and graduated as a teacher in 1910.  He then became an inspector for YIKO schools, one of the chief builders and leaders of the Jewish educational system in Argentina.  He published articles about the census of the Argentine Jewish community, which he conducted (under YIKO auspices), in Yidishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper) in Buenos Aires.  In the anthologies Grodner opklangen (Grodno echoes), 1948-1951, to which he was editorial contributor, he published “Grodner groyse rabonim” (The great rabbis of Grodno) which he described as a “fragment from a larger work,” and several chapters concerning “Jews from Amdur” from a book “which will soon appear in print.”[1]  He served also as a correspondent for Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily news) in New York.  Over the course of the years, he occupied the following leadership positions: director of central educational board and of the cultural division of YIKO—and of the Institute of Jewish Studies, president of the highest Zionist Agency, vice-president of the association of congregations, an important leader of the HIAS-YIKO Emigration Association, and a leader of the Institute of Jewish Folk Music.

Sources: Anonymous, “Yidishe yugnt in argentine vert shtark natsyonal” (Jewish youth in Argentina are become very nationalist), Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (October 5, 1932); Dr. Y. Kaplan, in Grodner opklangen 5-6 (Buenos Aires) (1951); Anonymous, “R’ yedidye efron z״l” (R. Yedidye Efron, may his memory be for a blessing), in ibid.; “Yedidye efron” (Yedidye Efron), Yidishe tsaytung (Buenos Aires) (February 20, 1951); L. Zhi., in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (February 20, 1951); Dr. L. Zhitnitski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (February 23, 1951).

[1] Translator’s note.  This book—Amdur, mayn geboyrn shtetl (Amdur, my natal shtetl)—was published in Buenos Aires in 1973), 252, 33 pp.

Tuesday 26 August 2014


M. AFRANEL (b. 1890)
The literary name of Moyshe Froymson, he was born in Libave (Liepāja), Latvia.  He studied until age thirteen, first in religious elementary school, later in a secular school.  In 1906 he emigrated to the United States.  For a short time, he lived in San Francisco and in Los Angeles, and for a stretch he wandered about.  He was a coalminer, a farmhand, a fuel man on a locomotive, and a sailor.  In 1916 he settled in New York.  He published his first poems the following year in the weekly Di naye velt (The new world) in New York.  He later published poems in Di feder (The pen), in the anthology Inzikh (Introspection), and in Antologye (Anthology) edited by Zishe Landoy.  He also translated Heinrich Heine’s poem “Witzli Putzli.”  “He brought to modern Yiddish poetry, in the United States, an original poetic idiom and image,” wrote N. B. Minkov.  His poetry was deep and original, just as his image was original.”  He was living for a period of time in a sanatorium.

Sources: M. Olgin, in Di naye velt (New York) (July 6, 1917); N. B. Minkov, in Undzer tsayt (New York) (March-April 1955); Nachman Mayzel, Amerike in yidishn vort, antologye (America in the Yiddish word, anthology) (New York, 1955); A. Leyeles, in Inzikh 54 (New York) (April 1940).


HERTSL APSHAN (1886-May 10, 1944)
Born in the village of Remit (Remete), near Sighet, Hungary, to a father who worked as an itinerant religious teacher.  He studied in religious schools through high school in Hungary.  He taught himself some German and Hungarian, later working as a bookkeeper.  During WWI, he served in the Hungarian army.  He returned and settled in Sighet after the war, doing business and working until the end of his life as an insurance agent.  He began writing in 1931 for the Orthodox press in Hungary and Transylvania.  He wrote about the Spinker rebbe’s court in Yidishe tsaytung (Jews newspaper), edited by A. Vays, of Sighet, as well as in Vilner tog (Vilna day), edited by Zalmen Reyzen.  Among his books: Volf shoykhet der shtudent (Wolf Shokhet, the student), a novel (Sighet, 1936); Beys yisroel, vizhnitser rebens hoyf (House of Israel, the court of the Vizhnitser rebbe) (self-published: Sighet, 1939), 254 pp.  In the latter work, he described in a living popular language of the Jews of Sighet the habits and customs of the Vizhnitser rebbe’s court.  Through the images, full of artistic observations and humor, one can see the entire way of life of the Jewish corner that was rarely described in Yiddish literature.  The critic Dr. Sh. Bikl correctly dubbed Apshan the “Sholem-Aleykhem of Hungary.”  The good-natured smile of a genuine humorist shines forth in his novels.  In May 1944, together with all 14,000 Jews of Sighet, he was sent to Auschwitz where on May 10, 1944 he died a martyr.

Sources: Y. Y. Grinvald, Toyzent yor yidish lebn in ungarn (One thousand years of Jewish life in Hungary) (New York, 1945), p. 248; Dr. Sh. Bikl, in Der tog (New York) (January 6, 1946 and April 24, 1955); P. Berman, in Forverts (New York) (January 16, 1955).

Monday 25 August 2014


LEYB OPESKIN (January 1, 1908-July 11, 1944)
Born in Vilna, he was a graduate of the Vilna Jewish teachers seminary.  He was convicted by the Polish government for revolutionary activities.  In the Vilna ghetto he was a school leader and lecturer.  He translated songs for choirs.  He was the author of such songs as: “Trep, trep, trep” (Step, step, step), “Mir zenen in maline” (We’re in a ghetto), “Farvos?” (Why?), “Bagin” (Dawn), and “Afn toyt fun lerer gershteyn” (On the death of teacher Gerstein), among others.  In 1939 he published several pieces in a Soviet Jewish periodical and was one of the founders of the Partizanke ([female] Partisan).  According to the Lerer-zikher-bukh, di umgekumene lerer in tsisho shuln in poyln (Remembrance volume for teachers, the murdered teachers in the Tsisho schools in Poland) (New York, 1954), he assembled his songs in a volume under the title Bagin (Dawn) (place of publication, date, pages all not given).  When Vilna was liberated, the partisans found on his corpse a bloodied notebook with his songs.

Sources: M. Dvorzhetski (Mark Dvorzetsky), Yerusholayim delite in kamf un umkum (The Jerusalem of Lithuania in struggle and death) (Paris, 1948); A. Ayzn, Dos gaystike ponem fun geto (The spiritual face of the ghetto) (Mexico, 1950); Sh. Katsherginski (Szmerke Kaczerginski), Lider fun getos and lagern (Songs from the ghettos and camps) (New York, 1948).

Sunday 24 August 2014


Author of approximately seventy notebooks in Yiddish (which were found on blank pages and the margins of a prayer book) concerning life in the Lodz ghetto, published in the journals Sinai, vol. 14, ה-ו, pp. קס״ט-ק״ע, and Yerushelaim (Jerusalem) (1950), pp. רמ״א-רע״ח—journals of an ordinary Jew.  In the saddest moments of his life, he showed no interest whatsoever in publishing his impressions of specific events in the Lodz ghetto.  The notebooks were not written in any chronological order, but took up certain days between February 1940 and October 1944.  They were published by Mordechai Zer-Kavod.

Source: N. Blumental, in Dapim lekheker ha-shoah vehamered, vol. 1 (Hakibutz hameuchad) (February 1952), pp. 149-52.


MOYSHE APELBOYM (April 15, 1887-January 2, 1931)
Born in Amshinov (Mszczonów), Poland.  He studied in religious elementary school and in design school in Kalish.  He studied painting in Vienna, Amsterdam, Paris, and London, graduating from a trade school in Liverpool.  From 1920, he was living in Warsaw where he arranged numerous exhibitions of his paintings.  He decorated the auditorium of the Jewish Literary Association at 13 Tłomackie Street.  He wrote articles on art in: Tsayt (Times) in London, Moment (Moment) and Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw.  After his death an anthology concerning his work and activities was published: Moyshe apelboym, zayn lebn un shafn (Moyshe apelboym, his life and works), compiled by Chaim Goldberg (Warsaw, 1931), with articles by Chaim Goldberg, Dr. Otto Shneyd, and H. Veber.


     Born in Ostrovtse (Ostrowiec), Radom district, Poland.  She later became a teacher.  In 1937 she moved to Brazil.  Her first journalistic works were published in the afternoon newspapers Radyo (Radio) and Hayntike nayes (Today’s news), both in Warsaw, in 1933.  In Brazil she published sketches and stories of family life in Yidishe folks-tsaytung (Jewish people’s newspaper) in Rio de Janeiro, and she contributed to Yidishe prese (Jewish press) in Rio and Der nayer moment (The recent moment) in São  Paolo.  She also wrote a number of articles on pedagogical topics.  From 1976 she was living in Israel.  Her books would include: Naye un alte heym, dertseylungen un bilder (New and old home, stories and images) (Rio de Janeiro, 1955), 125 pp.; Fun harts tsu harts, metode far kinder-dertsiung (From heart to heart, a method of children’s education) (Rio de Janeiro, 1957), 161 pp.; Af di khvalyes fun goyrl, dertseylungen un lider (On the waves of fate, stories and poems) (Peta Tikva, 1985), 127 pp.


Warsaw journalist and editorial contributor to Moment (moment), he was in the Warsaw ghetto where he perished.

Sources: Y. Turkov, Azoy iz es geven (That’s how it was) (Buenos Aires, 1948), see index; B. Mark, Umgekumene shrayber fun di getos un lagern (Murdered writers from the ghettos and camps) (Warsaw, 1954), p. 50; Dos naye lebn (Lodz), no. 1 (1945).


SHIMSHON (SAMSON) APTER (May 15, 1907-May 21, 1986)
Born in Opatov (Opatow), Kelč region, Poland.  He studied in religious school through high school, and thereafter at a teachers’ course of study in Warsaw.  In 1928 he published a poem in Y. M. Vaysenberg’s Inzer hofenung (Our hope) and a story in Yugnt-frayhayt (Youth freedom).  He emigrated to Canada in 1930.  He published stories and essays in Yidisher zhurnal (Yiddish journal) (Toronto), Proletarisher gedank (Proletarian thoughts), and in the collection Bay undz (With us), among others.  In 1936 he settled in New York.  Among his books: Tsvishn shtet, dertseylungen (Between cities, stories) (Toronto, 1936), 131 pp.; Der bunt un andere dertseylungen (The uprising and other stories) (New York, 1942), 93 pp.; In der roymishe geto, historisher roman fun yidishn lebn in 16tn yorhundert (In the Roman ghetto, a historical novel of Jewish life in the sixteenth century) (New York, 1946), 375 pp., in Hebrew translation [Be-geto roma] (Tel Aviv, 1948), 247 pp.  In 1943 he received the literary prize from IKUF (Jewish Cultural Association) for his work, Der bunt.  In 1956 his novel In a nayer velt (In a new world) (New York, 425 pp.) appeared, concerning the first Jews in America.  Other books include: Di praysingers, roman (The Praysingers, a novel) (New York: Tsiko, 1964), 368 pp. which has also been published in English translation by Joseph Singer as The Preisingers: A Novel (South Brunswick, 1980); Ven di kunstmakher veln kumen un andere dertseylungen (When the magicians arrive and other stories) (New York: Tsiko, 1973), 312 pp.; Di maranen-mishpokhe da silva, historisher roman dun di anusim in brazil un portugal on onheyb 8tn y”h (The Marrano family Da Silva, historical novel of Marranos in Brazil and Portugal at the beginning of the eighth century) (Tel Aviv: Peretz Publ., 1982), 430 pp.  He died in New York.

Sources: Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (November 18, 1936, August 10, 1947); P. Amster, in Undzer shtime (Paris) (March 14, 1948); M. Kats, in Morgn-frayhayt (January 10 and 19, 1947).


He was the author of a book entitled Di erlekhe libe (The virtuous love) (Vilna, 1881).

Source: Noyekh Prylucki, Mame-loshn (Mother tongue) (Warsaw, 1921), vol. 1, p. 117.


YANKEV APTEYKER (JACOB APTEKER) (b. December 14, 1889)
     Born in Shpole (Spola), Kiev district.  He studied in religious elementary school and secular secondary school, as well as in the Jewish teachers seminary.  In 1916 he emigrated to the United States.  He published in Tog (Day) and Amerikaner (American), and later in the journal Zayn (To be).  Among his books: Di vays-bloye fon (The blue-and-white flag), a collection of poems and short stories (New York, 1953); Di eltste dray tanakh-iberzetsungen, analizn in der septuaginta, peshita un vulgate, parallel tsu unzer mesoyre un tsu di tanakhishe gefinsn funem yam-hamelekh (The oldest three translations of the Hebrew Bible, analysis of the Septuagint, Peshita, and Vulgate, parallel with our tradition and to biblical discoveries from the Dead Sea) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1962), 265 pp., with a preface by Dov Sadan.

Friday 22 August 2014


Born in Riga, Latvia.  He studied in religious elementary school, and secular secondary school and commercial school.  His first poems appeared in 1918 in local Russian newspapers.  In 1923 he emigrated to the United States.  He published poems in New York Russian-language publications.  In 1933 he began writing in Yiddish.  His poetry appeared in: Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal), Tog (Day), Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor), Oyfkum (Arise), Tsukunft (Future), Undzer veg (Our way), Gerekhtikeyt (Justice), and Kinder zhurnal (Children’s journal), all in New York; Shikage (Chicago); Di shtime (The voice) in Mexico; Undzer shtime (Our voice) in Paris; Loshn un lebn (Language and life) in London; Der shpigl (The mirror) and Argetiner beymelekh (Argentine trees) in Bueno Aires.  Among his books: Morgnroyt un demerung, lider (Dawn and twilight, poems) (New York, 1940), 160 pp.  He translated into Russian poems by Yiddish writers.  More recently he published poems in English as well.  His pseudonyms: Leonid Opalov in Russia; Leonard Opalov in English.  He was living in New York.

Sources: Shmuel Niger, in Tog (April 1940); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (April 1940); Y. Y. Kinis, in Forverts (May 1940).



Born in Lutomirsk (Lutomiersk), near Lodz, Poland.  She studied in Polish school, and Yiddish with a teacher.  She emigrated to the United States after WWI.  In 1934 she published poems in the journal Shikage (Chicago), and later also in: Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw and Vokhenblat (Weekly news) in New York.  In 1944 she won second prize in a competition in Tog (Day) in New York for a story she had written.  She published children’s stories in Kinder-zhurnal (Children’s journal) in New York.  She used Rina Oper as a pseudonym.  In 1951 she published the collected writings of her brother, Perets Opatshinski, together with a biography of him.

Thursday 21 August 2014


Born in Lutomirsk (Lutomiersk), near Lodz, into a family of Gerer Hassidim.  He was left an orphan while still young, and at age ten he traveled to study at the yeshiva in Lask, and thereafter in Kosove.  At twelve he began to compose poetry in Hebrew.  He worked as a boot maker and later an employee in a business in Lodz.  He left for Germany to enter the rabbinical seminary in Frankfurt.  Due to material constraints, though, he was forced to return home.  He settled in the factory town of Kalish where he became acquainted with the writer Asher Shvartsman, who was serving there in the Russian military.  Under his influence he undertook to write poetry in Yiddish.  After WWI which took him by surprise and during which he fell into German captivity, he wrote sketches and stories about his life as a prisoner of war.  He became a Hebrew teacher and later mastered shoe-making on his own.  He then settled in Lodz where he made a living from this trade, though he never stopped writing, becoming a contributor to Lodzher tageblat (Lodz daily news), and there he published sketches and stories about Hassidic life.  Together with the editor, Shaye Uger, he published Ilustrirte lodzher vokhnblat (Illustrated Lodz weekly), and he also published poems in blank verse in Moyshe Broderzon’s Yung-yidish (Young Yiddish) and in Varshever almanakh (Warsaw almanac) (1925).  He traveled to Warsaw and became a contributor to Unzer vort (Our word) which was put out by the Labor Zionist Party.  He also published stories in Lodzher folksblat (Lodz people’s news) and Unzer ekspres (Our express) in Warsaw.  Some of his reportage pieces appeared under the pen names: Moyshe Mekhuyev, Perets Opotshner, and Perets Khoside.  Following the outbreak of WWII, he stayed in Warsaw and together with all of the Warsaw Jews was confined in the ghetto.  There he became a letter-carrier, and later an active contributor to “Oyneg shabes” (the underground archive led by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum).  When the archive was excavated after the war, people found, among other things, numerous works by Opatshinski.  He died from typhus in the ghetto.  His wife and only child were murdered.
Among his books: Na vanad (Wanderer), published by the author (Perets Opotshner) (Lodz, 1933), 32 pp.; Gezamlte shriftn, mit a biografye fun Rina Oper-Opatshinski (Collected writings with an biography by [his sister,] Rina Opatshinski) (New York, 1951), 204 pp., and with responses to his works by Y. Katsenelson, Dr. Y. Margolin, Dr. A. Mukdoni, M. Broderzon, Kh. Krul, and Sh. Tenenboym; Reportazhn fun varshever geto (Reporting from the Warsaw Ghetto), with a preface by B. Mark (Warsaw, 1954).

Sources: Melech Ravich, “A gedenk-bukh nokh a tragishn mentsh un dikhter” (A memory book for a tragic man and writer), Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (December 5, 1952); Ber Mark, Umgekumene shrayber fun di getos un lagern (Murdered writers from the ghettos and camps) (Warsaw, 1954); Dr. Ph. Friedman, Bleter far yidisher dertsiung (Writings on Jewish education) (November 1949), part of a work concerning Ringelblum’s archive; Y. Hofer, in Nayvelt (Tel Aviv) (December 1952); Kh. L. Fuks, in Ksovim fun khayim krul (Writings of Khayim Krul) (New York, 1954).

Wednesday 20 August 2014


YOYSEF (JOSEPH) OPATOSHU (December 24, 1886-October 7, 1954)
     The adopted name of Yoysef-Meyer Opatovski, he was born in Stupsker Vald, near Mlave (Mława), Poland.  His father, Dovid, was a timber merchant from an old Polish Hassidic family which traced its pedigree from Rabbi Leyb Khaneles, author of Vayigash yehudah (And Judah drew near); he was one of the first Maskilim in Poland and wrote poetry in Hebrew.  His mother hailed from generations of forester Jews, born and raised in the woods.  At age twelve he graduated from Russian public school.  Together with his older brother, Fayvl—who later published Yiddish poetry in Roman-tsaytung (Fiction news), Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor), and elsewhere and Hebrew poems in Hayehudi (The Jew) in London—he studied Hebrew, Bible, and Talmud with his father.  At age fifteen, he entered a trade school in Warsaw, and at age nineteen he left for Nancy, France, where he studied engineering in the local polytechnic.  One year later in 1906, due to a lack of funds, he had to interrupt his studies and return home, where he once again became engaged in self-study and made his first effort to write fictional stories (among them the first sketch of “Af yener zayt brik” [On the other side of the bridge]).  At this time, he paid a visit to Y. L. Perets (later described in Zamlbukh y. l. perets [Y. L. Perets anthology], New York, 1915).  Early in 1907 he emigrated to the United States and settled in New York, where his father had earlier moved.  There he worked at first in a factory, then delivered English newspapers, later becoming a teacher in a Jewish elementary school, while in the evenings he studied at Cooper Union from which he graduated in 1914 with a degree in civil engineering.  For a short time he was engaged with his trade, but soon he switched over to literature.
     His first literary publication appeared in 1910 with the story (newly revised) “Af yener zayt brik” in the anthology, Literatur 2 (New York).  In Avrom Reyzen’s Dos naye land (The new land), he published fragments from later works.  In 1912 he published A roman fun a ferd-ganef (A novel of a horse thief) in the first volume of D. Ignatov’s anthology, Shriftn (Writings) of which he was also a co-founder; and in volume 2 he published Moris un zayn zun filip (Morris and his son, Philip).  These two stories together brought the young author notice.  In 1914 there appeared in the anthology Di naye heym (The new home) Opatoshu’s long story, “Fun nyu yoker geto” (From the New York ghetto), later dramatized as “Heys blut” (Warm blood).  In the same year (November 8), he began to publish stories in Tog (Day) in New York, and he remained thereafter a regular contributor to this daily newspaper until the end of his life; he published hundreds of longer and shorter pieces there.  In 1918 he published in Tsukunft (Future) his novel, Aleyn (Alone), the story of a forest girl, which was later considered to be the third part of his historical novel, In poylishe velder (In the Polish woods).  In 1919 in Di naye velt (The new world), he published his novel, Lerer (Teacher)—in book form it appeared as Hibru (Hebrew)—in which he offered a strong, though a bit one-sided, depiction of the environment surrounding a “Hebrew teacher” at that time in New York.  In 1921 his novel In poylishe velder appeared, and this work made him famous.  A historical novel of great scope with marvelous descriptions of Hassidism in a time of decline remains a monument for the generations in Yiddish literature—not to mention the fact that this actual work came out in fragments.  It was reprinted more than ten times and was as well translated into many foreign languages.  His work 1863 appeared in 1926—the second part of this novel which mainly depicts the Polish uprising of that year, although the characters of the first novel all figure in the story.  The organic tying together of the two novels was slack, and between these two parts and the third, Aleyn, a loose connection reigns.
     In 1922 and 1929, Opatoshu visited his old home, Poland, and made contact with the Vilna publisher, B. Kletskin, which, aside from a few isolated works, began (in 1928) to publish Opatoshu’s collected writings in fourteen volumes [see below].  From that year as well, his works began to be reprinted in Soviet Russia, although with special introductions.  At the same time, he did not stop publishing short stories weekly, as well as translations from other languages under the pseudonym A. Pen.  Beginning in 1922, he contributed to Moment (Moment) and Folks-tsaytung (People’s newspaper) in Warsaw, Der yidisher kemfer (The Jewish fighter) and Tsukunft in New York, Di prese (The press) in Buenos Aires, and in his last years Di goldene keyt (The golden chain) in Tel Aviv.  He also gave lectures on the Yiddish language in the Jewish teacher’s seminary and in the Jewish Workers University in New York.  His novel, Di tentserin, roman a shtik yidish lebn in di yorn 1910-1911 (The dancer, a novel from Jewish life in the years, 1910-1911), belongs to the more significant of his works of his early years, and his masterpiece, A tog in regensburg (A day in Regensburg) is a story of German Jewish life in the sixteenth century.  He demonstrated in his shorter works many artistic strengths and a pulsating life in the reconstructed and half stylized manner of the wider epoch.  In May 1934 he traveled to Palestine and Soviet Russia (his impression of the Land of Israel were published in his book, Tsvishn yamen un lender [Between seas and lands]).  The Yiddish literary world celebrated his fiftieth birthday in 1937.  In his last years after WWII, he worked on his historical novels entitled: Der letster oyfshtand, 1: r. akiva (The last uprising, vol. 1: R. Akiva) published in 1948; and 2: bar kokhba (Vol. 1: Bar Kokhba) published in 1955, posthumously.  In 1951 he made a trip to three countries in South America (Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil), and Jewish intellectuals as well as the wider public honored the distinguished writer.  He received just as warm a reception in Israel when he visited for the second time in 1952.  Opatoshu was active in New York in all undertakings and institutions that were linked to secular Jewish culture; he was a member of the managing committee of YIVO and the Jewish Culture Congress, and he was also a leader in the Y. L. Perets Writers Union as well as the Jewish Pen Club.  In the evening after Yom Kippur, 1954, he died suddenly.  He was buried in the old cemetery of the Workmen’s Circle where one also finds the graves of Sholem-Aleykhem, Yehoash, Yankev Gordin, and other major figures in Yiddish literature.
     Yoysef Opatoshu, who became one of the group known as the “Yunge” (Young ones) around 1910 and was well known for his In poylishe velder, was one of the first writers of the historical novel in Yiddish.  His subject matter had the widest scope.  The heroes of his hundreds and hundreds of stories were either powerful, full-blooded, and uncouth—portrayed as powerful and full-blooded or the opposite: refined, gentle, and purely spiritual figures.  His Yiddish grew ever more polished and refined.  His sentences were short, strong, condensed, and rhythmic in their energy.  He was one of the most cultivated and productive Yiddish storytellers, and he occupied an honored place at the head of the table in Yiddish literature.  His unexpected death made a tremendous impression in the entire Jewish world.
     His books include:
Fun nyu yorker geto (From the New York ghetto) (New York, 1914), 102 pp.
A roman fun a ferd-ganef, un andere dertseylungen (A novel of a hose thief, and other stories) (New York, 1917), 266 pp. (Warsaw, 1922; Kiev, 1928)
Untervelt (Underworld) (New York, 1918), 209 pp.
Aleyn, roman (Alone, a novel) (New York, 1919), 211 pp.
Hibru (Hebrew) (New York, 1920), 275 pp.
In poylishe velder (In the Polish woods) (New York, 1921), 357 pp.; (Warsaw, 1922), 339 pp.; by 1928 it had gone through ten printings and 17,000 copies in print; (New York, 1947), 340 pp., a corrected edition; (Buenos Aires: Y Lifshits-fond, 1965(, 412 pp.
Favloyrene mentshn (Lost people) (Berlin, 1922), the novel Hibru under a different title.
Untervelt (Underworld) (Warsaw, 1922), 282 pp.
Der mishpet (The trial) (Warsaw, 1923), 15 pp., edition for children.
Rase, lintsheray, un andere dertsyelungen (Race, lynching, and other stories) (Warsaw, 1923), 104 pp.
Arum di khurves (Among the ruins) (Vilna, 1925), 240 pp., stories.
1863, roman (1863, a novel) (Vilna, 1926), 231 pp.; (Kiev, 1929).
Lintsheray un andere dertseylungen (Lynching and other stories) (Vilna, 1927), 240 pp.; 
Shikh-putser (Shoeshine boy) (Kharkov, 1927), 39 pp.
Arum grand-strit (Around Grand Street), with a forward by Shakhne Epshteyn (Kharkov, 1929), 244 pp.
Di tentserin (The dancer) (Vilna: Farlag Kletskin, 1930), 373 pp.
Koylngreber (Coalminers) (Kharkov, 1929), 14 pp.
Af yener zayt brik (On the other side of the bridge) (Kharkov, 1929), 299 pp.
Soreke, funem bukh aleyn, farkirtst far kinder (Little Sarah, from the novel Aleyn, abridged for children) (New York, 1923), 27 pp.
A tog in regensburg (A day in Regenburg) and Elye bokher (Elijah Bakhur [Levita]) (New York, 1933), 127 pp.; (Paris: Goldene pave, 1955), 106 pp.
Pundeka retivta (Pundeka Retivta) (Chicago, 1933), 24 pp.
Blut un fayer (Blood and fire) (Warsaw, 1935), 64 pp.
Gorek strit, dertseylungen (Gorek Street, stories) (Warsaw, 1936), 46 pp.
Tsvishn yamen un lender (Between seas and lands) (New York, 1937), 177 pp.
Mlave-nyu york, dertseylungen (Mlave-New York, stories) (Vilna, 1939), 297 pp.
Mentshn un khayes (Men and beasts) (New York, 1938), 288 pp.
Ven poyln iz gefaln (When Poland fell) (New York, 1943), 311 pp.
Der letster oyfshtand, roman, 1: r. akiva (The last uprising, a novel, vol. 1: Rabbi Akiva) (New York, 1948), 402 pp.
Yidish un yidishkeyt, eseyen (Yiddish and Jewishness, essays) (Toronto, 1949), 96 pp.
Afn barg nevo (On Mount Nevo) (New York, 1949), privately printed in fifteen exemplars, 16 pp.
Yidn-legende, un andere dertseylungen (A legend of the Jews and other stories) (New York, 1951), 320 pp.
Lima-gogo (Toronto, 1951), private printing with fifteen published exemplars, 16 pp.
Mlaver dertseylungen (Stories of Mlave) (Buenos Aires, 1954), 306 pp.
Der letster oyfshtand, roman, 2: bar kokhba (The last uprising, a novel, vol. 2: Bar Kokhba) (New York, 1955), 322 pp.
Lintsheray (Warsaw: Yidish bukh, 1958), 47 pp.

Gezamlte verk (Collected works) (Vilna: Farlag B. Kletskin, 1928-1936) in 14 volumes:
1. A roman fun a ferd-ganef
2. Untervelt
3. Hibru
4. Aleyn
5. Lintsheray
6. In poylishe velder
7. 1863
8. Arum di khurves
9. Af zaytike vegn (Along side ways)
10. Byanko
11. Di tentserin
12. Klasnkamf (Class struggle)
13. Shtet un mentshn (Cities and people)
14. Mi un furem (Effort and form)
Translations of his works into Hebrew include: Moris (New York, 1918); Be-ya’arot polin (In Polish woods) (New York, 1921); 1863 (Tel Aviv, 1929); Yom be-regenspurk (A day in Regensburg) (Tel Aviv, 1943); Be-tsel ha-dorot (In the shadow of generations) (Tel Aviv, 1945); Anashim ve-khutsot (People and the streets) (Tel Aviv, 1945); Khurban polin (The catastrophe of Poland) (New York, 1947); Dare matah (Dwellers below) (Tel Aviv, 1946); Ha-mered ha-akharon, r’ akiva-bar kokhba (The last uprising, R. Akiva-Bar Kokhba, a novel) (Tel Aviv, 1953).
            In poylishe velder also appeared in Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, English, German, Spanish, and Romanian translations; Roman fun a ferd-ganef in Polish and Russian; 1863 and A tog in regensburg in Polish; A rayze kin erts yisroel (A trip to the Land of Israel [= Tsvishn yamen un lender]) in Russian; Lintsheray in Ukrainian and Romanian; Der letster oyfshtand in English; and a number of his stories in Spanish.  [Translator’s note.  Many more translations have appeared since this was written.]
            Aside from the anthology Di naye heym (New York, 1914), he edited the anthology Fun tsayt tsu tsayt (From time to time) (New York, 1925) and Zamlbikher (Anthologies) (with H. Leivick) (New York, 1936-1952).  He received the Louis Lamed Prize in 1944 for his book, Ven poyln iz gefaln.  Among his pseudonyms: A. Pen, Y. Davidson, Y. D.  The first volume of Opatoshu’s writings in Hebrew were published in 1955 in Israel under the title: Meah sipur ve-sipur (Hundreds of stories), translated by Dov Sadan, with an autobiographical introduction (Tel Aviv, 1955), 411 pp.

Sources: Opatoshu-biblyografye (Opatoshu bibliography), vol. 1, published by the (Mlaver-Bendiner) Y. Opatoshu Branch 639 of the Workmen’s Circle (New York, 1937), 71 pp., vol. 2 (New York, 1947), 32 pp.; Tsu opatoshus bazukh in lite (On Opatoshu’s visit to Lithuania), collected notebooks, published by the Yiddish Literary Group in Lithuania (Kaunas, 1930), 16 pp.; Nachman Mayzel, Yoysef opatoshu, zayn lebn un shafn (Joseph Opatoshu, his life and work) (Warsaw, 1937), 195 pp.; B. Rivkin, Yoysef opatoshus gang (Joseph Opatoshu’s course) (Toronto: 1948), 59 pp.; Y. Freylikh, Yoysef opatoshus shafung-verk (Joseph Opatoshu’s creative work) (Toronto, 1951), 162 pp.; B. Grobard, A fertlyorhundert, esey vegn der yidisher literatur in amerike (A quarter century, an essay on Yiddish literature in the United States) (New York, 1935), 211 pp.; Algemayne yidishe entsiklopedye (General Jewish encyclopedia), vol. 4 (Paris, 1937), pp. 118-21 (Shmuel Niger); Entsiklopediyah ha-ivrit (Hebrew encyclopedia) (Loynson); Entsiklopediyah israelit (Israeli encyclopedia) (Berlin-Jerusalem, 1929); Entsiklopediyah kelalit (General encyclopedia), vol. 1 (Tel Aviv, 1950); Rashim be-yisrael (Leaders in Israel) (Tel Aviv, 1953-1955) (David Lazar); Yankev Pat, Shmuesn mit yidishe shrayber (Chats with Jewish writers) (New York, 1954).

            Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 8 (New York, 1942) (B. Rivkin); Grosse Jüdische National-biographie (Czernowitz, 1925), vol. IV, pp. 564-66 (S. Wininger, ed.); Jüdisches Lexikon (Berlin, 1930); Bol’shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopeiia, vol. 8 (Moscow, 1934); Malaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopeiia, vol. 6 (Moscow, 1930), p. 87; Literaturnaia Entsiklopeiia, vol. 8 (Moscow, 1934), pp. 303-4.