Friday 31 July 2015


MOYSHE KAMENSHTEYN (1888-June 20, 1938)

            He was a journalist and community leader, born with the family name Gutman in the town of Veper (Vepriai), Kovno Province, into a merchant family. He received a traditional Jewish upbringing and education. In 1907 he passed the examination to become an assistant pharmacist. From 1902 he was active in the Jewish labor movement, initially with the Labor Zionists and later with the Zionist socialists, and later still in the Fareynikte (United socialist) party, the Bund, and ultimately the Communist Party. He was one of the initiators of the Jewish school curriculum in Russia. He lived in Lodz and Warsaw, was arrested on several occasions, spent time in prison, and later lived illegally in Pinsk, Homyel' (Gomel), Minsk, Kiev, and Odessa. In 1917 he was chairman of the first committee for the organization of a labor council on Odessa; in July-August, he was a member of the Ukrainian central assembly in Kiev; in December, a member of the assembly in the Byelorussian People’s Republic in Minsk, where he implemented a manifesto on the national-personal autonomy of the Jews. He was as well a councilor in the Minsk Jewish community. From 1918 until early 1925 he lived in Warsaw and was active in the Jewish trade union school movement. In 1925 he returned to Russia, lived in Kharkov, and then later in Moscow. He was involved in work for Gezerd (All-Union Association for the Agricultural Settlement of Jewish Workers in the USSR) in accommodating Jews on the land. His publishing work began in 1903 for the newspaper Khronik fun poyle-tsien (Chronicle of Labor Zionism) in Vilna, which he also edited. He used a number of pseudonyms, such as: B. Zelikovitsh, Baltikalis, and Magen. All these pen names disappeared when he came to Moscow in 1925 as a political emigré. When Gezkult (all-Ukrainian society for the development of Jewish culture) was founded in Kharkov, he was put in charge of its central administration. Gezkult created theatrical collectives, looked after their repertoires, and sought to publish new work by Yiddish writers. He wrote for Royte velt (Red world) on matters of social economy and Party affairs. He was co-editor of Yunger shlogler (Young shock troops) in Kharkov (1931-1932). He was arrested in March 1938. Of the fifteen times he was arrested in Tsarist Russia and Poland, he succeeded in remaining alive, but this time it was different: he was shot on June 20, 1938.

His books would include: Ratnmakht, idishe erdaynordenung un gezerd (Soviet power, Jewish accommodation on the land and Gezerd) (Moscow: Gezerd, 1928), 62 pp.; Poyerim, kolektivizirt ayer virtshaft (Peasantry, collectivize your economy) (Kharkov: Central Publishers, 1929), 36 pp.; Der sotsyalizm in oyfbli, der kapitalizm in klem (Socialism booming, capitalism in desperate straits) (Kharkov-Kiev, 1932), 87 pp. He translated Nikolai Konstantinovich Lebedev’s Eyner aleyn tsvishn vilde (Alone among savages [original: Odin sredi dikarei]) (Moscow: Emes, 1935), 51 pp.

Sources: Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index; Ratnbildung (Kharkov) 2.12 (1930); Yeshurin archive, YIVO (New York)

Yekhezkl Lifshits

[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. 316-17.]

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