BERL BOTVINIK (BOTWINIK) (December 24, 1885-August 29, 1945)
Born in Rakov (Rakaw), Byelorussia, into a family of poor carpenters. He studied in religious schools in Minsk. He became a sign painter. He joined the Bundist movement and was arrested for spreading illegal literature. In 1905 he moved to the United States, where he initially worked in his trade and was active in the Jewish socialist movement. His first published pieces were stories in Yidishe arbeter velt (Jewish workers’ world) in Chicago and Forverts (Forward) in New York. In a contest of stories concerning Jewish life in America, organized by Forverts, he won a prize for his story “Shabes in der fri” (Sabbath morning). From 1913 he was one of the leading contributors to Forverts, and editor of its theater department. From 1921 he served on the editorial board of Veker (Alarm) in New York, where he also published pieces of a play entitled Yezus kristus (Jesus Christ). His theatrical piece, Beylke maronetke oder di tayvlshe libe (Beylke Maronetke, or devilish love), was staged in 1913 and in 1919 (in a newer adaptation) by the Yiddish Art Theater. A one-act play, Der vegetaryaner (The vegetarian), was staged by the “Free Yiddish Folksbine.” In 1921 his play, Shayke der bal-agole (Shayke, the wagon driver), co-written with Y. Adler (B. Kovner), was performed in St. Louis. Together with Mikhl Kaplan, in 1912 he tried to publish a journal in the Roman alphabet, Unzer shrift (Our writing), which provoked a polemic in the Yiddish press. Among his books: Ertseylungen un bilder (Stories and images) (New York, 1920), 256 pp.; Geklibene ertseylungen (Collected stories), 2 volumes (New York, 1948), which was brought into print by his family after his death. In 1984 Wayne State University Press in Detroit brought a translation by Philip J. Klukoff of some of his short storie, entitled Lead Pencil.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; Z. Zilbertsvayg, Teater-leksikon, vol. 1; B. Gorin, Di geshikhte fun yidishn teater (History of the Yiddish theater) (New York, 1929), vol. 2; A. Kahan, in Forverts (February 15, 1931, January 5 and April 16, 1932); Hillel Rogof, in Forverts (April 23, 1932); D. Ignatov, in Tsukunft (December 1944); Melekh Ravitsh, in Yorbukh (New York, 1949).