YANKEV GERSHTEYN (d. 1943)
From Vilna, he was a musician, teacher, choral director, and writer about music. He was the son of R. Khayim Shloyme (Chaim Shlomo) Gershteyn, a teacher of Yiddish and Hebrew. He graduated from the Vilna teachers’ institute in 1904. Already as a student, he was active in Jewish organizations, and his teachers marked him as a “fervent nationalist.” He was a teacher at a Jewish public school in Vitebsk. He took part in the first Jewish, illegal teachers’ conference in Vilna in 1908, for which he and all the other participants were arrested. In 1915 he became a teacher at Jewish schools in Vilna, in which Yiddish was the language of instruction. Aside from music, he taught other subjects as well. He directed the choir of the Vilna Educational Association (Vilbig), which was dubbed “Gershteyn’s choir.” He also led the choir of the Jewish teachers’ seminary. “He was a magnificent music critic,” wrote Zalmen Reyzen, “but you would never be able to convince him that he should sign his own name to an article.” His reviews and essays on music were published in Vilner tog (Vilna day) and in other Yiddish publications under the pseudonym “A diletant” (a dilettante). A collection of his works appeared as Lider far a gemishtn khor (Songs for a mixed choir) (Vilna, 1939), 30 pp. During WWII, he did a great deal in the area of Jewish curriculum in the Vilna ghetto. He was a member of the first administrative committee of the literary association in the ghetto. There he gave lectures, and he delighted the ghetto residents with Yiddish song. In 1941 he contracted an illness of the eyes. In early 1943 he entered the ghetto hospital because of a heart ailment and, after remaining there for several weeks, he died. His funeral spontaneously turned into a community demonstration of the Vilna ghetto. Thousands of Jews came to offer him final honors. The poets Avrom Sutskever and L. Opeskin read specially written poems that were dedicated to him.
Sources: Lerer yizker-bukh (Memorial volume for teachers) (New York, 1952-1954), p. 566; Z. Shik, 1000 yor vilne (1,000 years of Vilna) (Vilna, 1939), p. 520; Dvorzhetski (Mark Dvorzetsky), Yerusholayim delite in kamf un umkum (The Jerusalem of Lithuania in struggle and death) (Paris, 1948), p. 516; Sh. Katsherginski, Khurbn vilne (The Holocaust in Vilna) (New York, 1947), p. 342; Katsherginski, in Tsukunft (New York) (September 1946); Zalmen Reyzen, in Vilner tog (February 13, 1931).