MEYER (MEIR) BIRMAN (November 24, 1891-December 24, 1955)
Born in Ponevezh (Panevezys), Kovno region, he attended religious elementary schools and yeshivas, in addition to studying with private teachers. During the expulsion of Lithuanian Jews (May 1915), he was deported to Melitopol in the Tavrich region. In 1917 he left for Harbin in Manchuria. Over the years 1939-1949, he was living in Shanghai, China. In 1916 he began to contribute to the Russian press in Melitopol. In 1920 he began publishing articles, correspondence pieces, and feature essays in the Yiddish press under the pseudonyms: M. Litay, M. Ben-Menachem, A Ponyevezher, A Vayt-mizrakhisher, and M. Rokhels, among others. He published depictions of Jewish refugees in Siberia, about Jewish life in the Far East, the Subotniks in eastern Siberia, and about the tribe of Chinese Jews as well as the Japanese who claimed that they descended from Jews. He wrote for: Folks-tsaytung (People’s newspaper) in New York, Tog (Day) in Vilna, Yidisher folksblat (Jewish newspaper) in Kovno, Tog in New York, Yidishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper) in Argentina, and elsewhere. Over the years 1920-1922, he was the editor of the one and only Yiddish-language newspaper in the Far East, Der vayter mizrekh (The Far East), published three times each week in Harbin. He was also the editor, 1919-1920, of the Yiddish-Russian bilingual Nashe slovo (Our word). He was as well the director of HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) in China, head of the publishing houses of “Tsukunft” (Future) and “Yidish,” and a leader of various communal and cultural organizations. Birman was the literary address in the Far East to which writer-travelers came, including: Perets Hirshbeyn, Melech Ravich, B. Ts. Goldberg, and others. On the eve of the Communist upheaval, he escaped in May 1949 from Shanghai and arrived in the United States. He died in New York.
In the December issue (1955) of the monthly journal Dorem-afrika (South Africa) in Johannesburg, an interesting work by Birman appeared, entitled “Kantonistn un zeyer seyfer toyre” (Cantonists and their Torah scroll), with a rare Cantonist song, “In der tsayt fun di kantonistn” (In the time of the Cantonists), and the notes to the melody of the song.