Wednesday 16 September 2015


MOYSHE GERSHENZON (1903-April 16, 1943)

            He was a Soviet Yiddish playwright, satirist, and author of fables, born in Chernikhov, Ukraine. His father, an educated man, worked in the office of a merchant. On the eve of the 1917 Revolution, his family moved to Zhytomyr. In 1922 Gershenzon enrolled in the upper pedagogical course of study in Kiev. There he became acquainted with other lovers of Yiddish. They brought out a wall newspaper Kursant (Student) and a humorous bulletin. A year later, he and his colleagues created a student theatrical collective in which he and other future Yiddish writers took part, including: Benyomen Gutyanski, Zalmen Skuditski, and Hershl Diamant. Khane Yanovski, also a member of the troupe, would later become Gershenzon’s wife. They gave their theater a humorous name, “Mishlakhes” (Calamity), and it acquired a positive reputation in Yiddish circles. In 1924 Komunistishe fon (Communist banner) suggested to the “Mishlakhes” collective that they appear on stage as an ensemble of the club, and the club organized tours through Ukraine and took upon itself the road expenses. The spectators in Kiev, Bila Tserkva, Vasyl'kove, and other cities warmly welcomed the slapstick, dramatizations, vaudeville-like performances of the ensemble. “Mishlakhes” existed until 1927. Meanwhile, Gershenzon began working in the Kiev Yiddish State Theater and continued his efforts in playwriting. Later, he moved over to the Kiev Yiddish Children’s Theater, where he staged Sholem-Aleichem’s Motl peysi dem khazns (Motl the son of Peysi the cantor) and Yankev Dinezon’s Yosele (Little Joe). This marked the beginning of his professional literary activity. In 1936 he wrote the play Util and short thereafter the comedy Hershele ostropolyer (Hershele of Ostropol). In the view of the Kiev Yiddish Children’s Theater, it was a huge success. In August 1937, Benyomen Zuskind staged it in the Moscow Yiddish State Theater and also to great success. Gershenzon also composed satirical poetry and fables, one-act plays and miniatures. In 1939 he began studying at the Kiev State Institute of Theatrical Art. That same year, an all-USSR competition for the best one-act play was announced. Gershenzon submitted his play Der director (The director) which won third prize. When the Moscow Yiddish State Theater again came on tour to Kiev, he met Shloyme Mikhoels and explained to him that he was working on a new comedy: Khelmer khakhomim (Wise men of Chelm). Mikhoels scheduled the play to be stage in the second half of June 1941, but—although Gershenzon had finished writing it—the war changed their plans. In December 1941, he and his family evacuated to Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan. After a course in a machine-gun school in Andijon (Uzbekistan), he was made a lieutenant in late 1942. He died in fighting in the Caucasus.

            Among his writings: Hershele ostropolyer, a folks-shpil in dray aktn (Hershele of Ostropol, a folk play in three acts) (Kiev: State Publisher of Ukrainian National Minorities, 1939), 68 pp.; Khelmer khakhomim, a comedy in three acts, six scenes, in Sovetish heymland (Soviet homeland) 3 (1964); the above two plays were staged in the Vilna Yiddish People’s Theater in the 1980s; Hershele ostropolyer was performed by the Moscow Yiddish State Ensemble under the direction of Benyomen Shvartser in the 1960s and 1970s; in 1999 it was staged in Tel Aviv by “Yidishpil-Teater.”

Sources: I. Kupnis, in Eynikeyt (Moscow) (September 25, 1945); Kh. Loytsker, in Eynikeyt (October 7, 1947); B. Mark, in Folksshtime (Lodz) 49-50 (1947); L. Olitski, comp., Dimentn far ale (Diamonds for everyone) (Warsaw, 1951), p. 107.

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 167; and 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. 85-87.]


  1. MOYSHE GERSHENZON wrote a play for pioners Util (Junk).- Kharkov; Kiev: Tsentrfarlag : Alukrainishe optaylung, 1931.- 51 pp.
    מ. גערשענגאנ, װײנשלבױמ
    Util : Pionern-shpil
    M. Gershenzon, Vaynshlboym
    Vaynshlboym was the director/producer of the shil

  2. MOYSHE GERSHENZON translated into Yiddish V. Kulitshenko's (pseud. V. Lir) biographical story about American pioner Harry Eisman Hari Ayzman.- Kharkov; Kiev : Melukhe-farlag far di natsionale minderhaytn in USRR, 1933.- 23, [1] pp.
    הארי אײזמאנ
    װ. קוליטשענקא (װ. ליר) ; יידיש - מ. גערשנזאנ