SHLOYME BILOV (1888-1949)
A literary scholar and educator, he was born in Brisk (Brześć), Lithuania. His difficult childhood years led him into the socialist movement. In 1905 he joined the Bund. In 1907 he emigrated to the United States where he worked hard by day and studied on his own by night. In 1912 he graduated from a secondary school and entered Kingston College (Rhode Island) where he studied languages, literature, and philosophy. Following the February Revolution in Russia (1917), he was returning to Russia; en route, though, he was stuck for one year in Norway where he studied Scandinavian languages and literature. In 1918 he arrived back in Rovno (Rovnoye), western Ukraine, and became a manager of a Jewish night school and a leader in the Bundist organization. In 1919, he became the manager of the Jewish section of the Rovno Commissariat for People’s Education. He was arrested by the Polish authorities the next year, 1920, during the Polish occupation, and after being freed he settled in the nearby city of Kovel where he switched to the Jewish Communist Labor Bund (Kombund). When the Red Army withdrew from the city, he moved on to Kiev and from there to Homel and Novozybkov, where he switched (together with the local organization of the Kombund) to the Communist Party. From his return to Russia until the liquidation of Yiddish cultural work in Soviet Russia, Bilov was active as a school manager, lecturer, and teacher—mainly in Yiddish language and literature. In the early 1920s, he was a teacher in the pedagogical institutes in Novozybkov and Homel where he also undertook research on historical materialism in the Homel Jewish Party School. Over the years 1924-1926, he held the chair in Yiddish language and literature at the Odessa Institute for People’s Education. In 1930 he held a similar position in Kiev. From 1932, he was a professor in the Kiev Institute for Jewish Proletarian Culture and professor at the Linetski Theatrical Institute—where he lectured on Western European and Jewish literature and the history of painting. In addition to Yiddish, Russian, and Hebrew, Bilov also wrote in English, Norwegian, and Swedish; and he was the author of over 200 scholarly, critical works on questions of literature and art.
He began writing (in English) in 1914 in the American socialist weekly newspaper Labor Advocate (in Providence, Rhode Island). In 1923 he contributed to the Homel Komsomol (Communist Youth) weekly Nabat molodyozhi (Alarm for youth) in Russian and to the Yiddish magazine, Der komunistisher veg (The Communist way). In 1924 he edited a pioneering weekly newspaper Iskry ilyicha (Ilyich’s sparks) and was a contributor to the magazine (later, a newspaper) Der odeser arbeter (The Odessa laborer). Bilov was a member of the association of proletarian writers (1928-1930), secretary of the Jewish division the writers’ association in Odessa, and a councilman on the Odessa city council (1929). Later, as a scholarly contributor to the literature section of the Institute of Jewish Culture, he devoted his time to researching the creative work of Avrom Goldfaden, Moyshe Nadir, and Dovid Edelshtadt, and at the same time he played a significant role in preparing a full array of Yiddish actors, while working as a professor in the Jewish division of Kiev’s Linetski Theatrical Institute. Together with a group of others scholars from the Institute of Jewish Culture, he was arrested as an “enemy of the people,” but soon was released miraculously and thus evading the tragic fate of his colleagues. At the start of WWII, he was evacuated to Sverdlovsk, worked as a correspondent for the “Sovinformbyuro” (Soviet Information Bureau), and served on the Jewish Anti-fascist Committee. In 1945 he took up his work again at the Theatrical Institute in Kiev, but he was frequently summoned to exhausting “discussions” with security organs. After a short-term arrest and unpleasant interrogation, he became paralyzed. He died in Kiev, possibly of a stroke.
From his large body of work: “Kegn mekhanitsizm in der litforshung” (Against mechanism in literary research), in the collection, Farn leninishn etop in der literatur-kritik (Toward the Leninist stage in literary criticism) (Kharkov-Kiev, 1932), pp. 125-42; Literatur-frages bay marksn un engelsn, etyudn (Literary questions in Marx and Engels, studies) (Kiev, 1934), 34 pp.; “Fefer in shpigl fun der kritik” (Fefer in light of criticism), in the collection for Itzig Fefer (Kiev, 1934); “Edelshtadts dikhterisher veg” (Edelshtadt’s poetic way), in Dovid edelshtadts geklibene verk (Dovid Edelshtadt’s selected writings), vol. 2, compiled by Kalmen-Tsvi Marmor (Moscow, 1935), pp. 7-60; introduction and notes to Moyshe Nadir selected writings (Kiev-Kharkov, 1937), 404 pp.; Sholem-aleykhem (with Irme Druker) (Kiev, 1939), 183 pp., which also appeared in Russian; Avrom Goldfadn, Geklibene dramatishe verk (Selected dramatical writings), introduction by Bilov and Avrom Velednitski (Kiev, 1940), 328 pp.; “Sholem-aleykhem,” Sovetishe literatur (Soviet literature) 6 (1938), pp. 142-58.
Sources: The Fefer collection appeared in Literatur un revolutsye 1-2 (Kiev, 1934), see pp. 142, 144, 149, 151; launch session of the section on literature and criticism, Odeser arbeter (April 28, 1934); Dr. Y. Shatzky, review of Bilov’s Goldfadn book, in Yivo-bleter no. 20, pp. 109-12; “A groyser oyftu in antviklen di yidishe kultur un visnshaft” (A great feat in developing Jewish culture and science), Eynikeyt (Moscow) (April 2, 1946); “Dray disertatsyes” (Three dissertations), Eynikeyt (February 18, 1947); H. Vaynraykh, Blut af der zun (Blood on the sun) (Brooklyn, 1950), p. 48); Aleksander Pomerants, “Edelshtat un der yidish-sovetisher literatur-kritik” (Edelshtat and Soviet Jewish literary criticism), in Dovid edelshtat gedenk-bukh (Dovid Edelshtat memorial volume) (New York, 1952), pp. 530, 549, 553, 554.
Aleksander Pomerants and Leyzer Ran
[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. 45-46.]