ELYE-YANKEV GOLDSHMIDT (November 11, 1882-1941/1942)
He was born in Kraytsburg, Latgalye (Latgale), Latvia, into a poor laboring family. His father Tsvi-Hirsh-Nisn belonged to a pioneering socialist labor circle, and for that reason he spent three years in the Dvinsk (Daugavpils) prison. The younger Goldshmidt studied in religious elementary schools and yeshivas in Dvinsk, Volozhin, and Vilna. At age fifteen he joined Vilna socialist circles, initially Zionist socialist and later Bundist ones. He remained in the Bund until practically the end of his life. In the years 1902-1905, and later in 1912, he too spent several months in jail. From his earliest youth, he studied languages, history—especially early Jewish history—and Hebrew literature. He showed a great flair for folklore and a significant aptitude for a scholar. From 1915 he was working as a teacher of Jewish literature and history in the boys’ school of the society “Mefitse haskalah” (Society for the promotion of enlightenment [among the Jews of Russia]) in Vilna. His encyclopedic knowledge and his personality bonded his students to him for many years.
He began writing in Hebrew and Yiddish when he was fifteen year of age. He contributed work to the Vilna newspapers: Idishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper) (1909); Der tog (The day) (1912-1913); Hazman (The times); Der fraynd (The friend) (1914-1915, and Letste nayes (Latest news) (1916-1918). From time to time, his writings appeared as well in: Lebn un visnshaft (Life and science), Di vokh (The week), Folks-tsaytung (People’s newspaper), the Bundist weekly Unzer shtime (Our voice) (1919), Dos fraye vort (The free word) (1921); Unzer tsayt (Our time) (1922); and Unzer gedank (Our thoughts) (1923), among others. He published stories, some original and some translated, poetry in Hebrew and Yiddish, scholarly articles, and longer works on such topics as: a biography of Aleksandr Herzen, the philosophy of Rudolf Eucken, the Sanhedrin and Jewish criminal law, Ellen Key and her book The Century of the Child (in Lebn un visnshaft), Mortkhe-Arn Gintsburg (in Letste nayes, 1918), Yehoshua Mezaḥ (in Vilner zamlbukh [Vilna anthology] 2, ed. Ts. Shabad), the tragically killed revolutionary Kalman Krapivnikov (in Unzer shtime, 1919), Franz Hilker’s aesthetic education (in Di naye shul [The new school]), and Hirsh Lekert (in Unzer tsayt, 1922). He published in the collection, Lita (Lithuania) in 1914 and 1916: “Lite un di litviner” (Lithuania and the Lithuanians), “Di litvishe prese un di litvishe parteyen” (The Lithuanian press and the Lithuanian parties), “Di litvishe nuansn fun der yidisher kultur” (The Lithuanian nuances of Jewish culture), “Di yidn inem groysfirshtntum lite” (The Jews in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania), and articles and translation from Lithuanian. For the Vilna Pinkes (Records) (1922, ed. Zalmen Reyzen), he wrote: “Zeks vokhn litvishe hershaft in vilne” (Six weeks of Lithuanian rule in Vilna) and “Di yidishe prese in vilne tsayt der milkhome” (The Yiddish press in Vilna during the war) (1914-1922). “Not just a bibliography,” wrote Bal-Dimyon, “but a bit of history of Jewish cultural life, from the entire surroundings, from an entire epoch.”
His books include: translation of Ivan Franko’s Biudzhet zviriv as Byudzhet bay di khayes (Budget of the beasts) (Vilna, 1907); Lita, vol. 1 (Vilna, 1914), 62 pp., vol. 2 (Vilna, 1918), 98 pp.; translation of Ellen Key, The School of the Future as Di shule fun der tsukunft (New York, 1915), 58 pp.; translation of G. Roux, Man un vayb, lebn bay khayes (Man and woman, life among the animals) (New York, 1915); Pavel Blonskii’s Skoła w Europie zachodniej i Americe as Di shul in mayrev-eyrope in amerike (The school in Western Europe and America) (Vilna, 1921), 47 pp.; Fun loytern kval, geshikhtes un legendes (From a pure spring, stories and legends) (Vilna, 1921), 178 pp. (an enlarged edition of this appeared as Fun yidishn kval [From a Jewish spring], New York, 1926, 190 pp.); Tsu vilne (To Vilna), a poem (Vilna, 1922), 16 pp. (republished in the volume, 1000 yor vilne [1000 years of Vilna] by Zalmen Shik, Vilna, 1939, pp. 323-36); Bay di bregn fun nil (On the banks of the Nile), a historical novel from the time of the Second Temple, freely adapted from “Mr. So-and-So and Professor Graetz,” with additional, original scenes and pictures (Warsaw, 1922), 168 pp.; compilation (with V. Rivko) of Lernbukh fun yidisher geshikhte in mitlelter (Textbook of Jewish history in the Middle Ages) (Vilna, 1924), 236 pp.; translation of Salomon Maimon’s Lebensgeschichte as Shloyme maymuns lebnsgeshikhte (Salomon Maimon’s life history), two parts (Vilna, 1927); translation of Der seyfer hazikhroynes fun dovid haruveyni (The memoirs of David Re’uveni), with a historical treatise by the translator (Vilna, 1927), 243 pp.; In tsayt finstere un beyze (In dark and sinister times) (Vilna-Philadelphia, 1930), 200 pp.; translation from the French of two works by Honoré de Balzac, Eugénie Grandet as Di tokhter fun kargn milyoner (The daughter of a stingy millionaire) and Une Femme de Trents Ans as Di froy fun 30 yor (A woman of thirty) (Vilna, 1936). He also wrote a detailed biography of A. Vayter (Ayzik Meyer Devenishski), rich in materials. He was also responsible for the Yiddish and Russian translations of the Passover Haggadah, published by Yehudiya in 1913; and Yiddish translation of Psalms and Mikra meforash (Scripture explained) for Tanakh, published by Rozenkrants and Shriftzetser (Vilna, 1923-1925).
The last two years before WWII, the managing committee of Jewish community of Vilna appointed him head of the Sh. An-shy Museum and Library and the Reading Room at the museum. About his death, there are various versions. According to Sh. Katsherginski (in Khurbn vilne [The Holocaust on Vilna]), he was arrested as he was seeking refuge in June 1941, and soon thereafter, in July, was he was shot in Ponar. A. Sutskever in his book Fun vilner geto (From the Vilna ghetto) recounted that, in August-September 1942, Goldshmidt was held in the cellars of the Gestapo together with Noyekh Prilucki. Every morning someone would take them to the Jewish libraries, where they had to put together lists of Jewish rarities for Nazi “research” on Judaism. A short time later, the Germans murdered them.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; Bal-Dimyon, in Tsukunft (New York) (June, July, September, 1923); M. Shalit, in Bikher-velt (Warsaw) (August 1928); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (December 1928); L. Finkelshteyn, in Bikher-velt (August 1929); A. Sutskever, Fun vilner geto (Moscow, 1946), p. 115; Sh. Katsherginski, in Khurbn vilne (New York, 1947), “Yizker leksikon” (Remembrance handbook); Katsherginski, Tsvishn hamer un serp (Between hammer and sickle) (Paris, 1949), p. 96; Tsintsinatus, in Bleter vegn vilne, zamlbukh (Pages about Vilna, a collection) (Lodz, 1947); Dr. F. Fridman, in Yivo-bleter (New York) 34 (1950), p. 232; H. Abramovitsh, in Unzer shtime (Paris) (March 29, 1951); Dr. Y. Shatski, in Der yidisher folk (New York) 23 (1928); Shatski, in Di vokh (New York) (1929).