Tuesday 20 October 2015


YEKHEZKL DOBRUSHIN (December 10, 1883-August 11, 1953)

            He was a literary research, playwright, poet, and prose author, born in the village of Mutyn, Ukraine.  His father Moyshe, a timber merchant, came from Shchadryn, Byelorussia.  He studied Mishna and text commentators with itinerant teachers, as well as Hebrew and Russian with tutors.  In 1902 he moved abroad, studied there in the free Russian high school, and subsequently continued his education at the Sorbonne.  He was chairman of the Parisian organization of the Socialist Zionist Party.  After passing his examinations with the law faculty, he returned home in 1909 to care for his parents.  He then became ill with a serious foot ailment, laid in bed in Kiev until 1912, and then spent much time in Crimea.  In 1916 he settled in Kiev.  In 1917 he was active in the united socialist party.  He was one of the founders of the “Kultur-lige” (Culture league), as well as a member of its central committee and its executive bureau.  He was a teacher of Yiddish literature in the Jewish state people’s university, in the teachers’ seminary, and in other higher educational institutions.  He began his literary activities in Hebrew in Hatsfira (The siren), and in Yiddish in Vokhnblat (Weekly newspaper) edited by Hillel Tsaytlin.  From 1920 he was living in Moscow where he was active in local Jewish cultural institutions.  He was secretary of the first Jewish writers’ organization in Moscow.  Having received the title of professor, he gave lectures at the University for Nationalities of the West, in the academy for education, in the Jewish state chamber theater, in the theatrical studio of the Kultur-lige, and in the Jewish section of the Second Moscow University [now, Moscow State Pedagogical University], among others.  During WWI, he published poetry and literary criticism in Petrograd’s Togblat (Daily newspaper). Beginning in 1918 he developed a broad and creative work in a variety of fields—literature, theater, and pedagogy. He took an active part in publishing and editing the publications of the “Kultur-lige: the children’s magazines Kling klang (Cling-clang) in 1923 and Pyoner (Pioneer) in 1927-1928; the anthology Eygns (One’s own) in 1918-1920; Oyfgang (Arise) in 1919; Baginen (At dawn) in 1919; Bikher-velt (Book world) in 1919; the journal Shtrom (Current) in Moscow in 1922-1924; Yungvald (Young forest) in 1924-1927; the althology Sovetish (Soviet) in 1934-1941; and the Moscow newspaper Eynikeyt (Unity), 1942-1948. He wrote on the topic of the Yiddish classical writers and about Soviet Yiddish writers from the oldest to the youngest.  As a playwright he accomplished much for the Yiddish State Theater in Moscow.  Aside from his own plays, he adapted for the stage a string of works by Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Sholem-Aleykhem, Goldfaden, and others, such as: Masoes benyomin hashlishi (The travels of Benjamin the Third), Dray pintelekh (Three dots), Di kishefmakherin (The sorceress), Dos tsente gebot (The tenth commandment), Menakhem-mendl (Menakhem Mendl), and Tevye der milkhiker (Tevye the dairyman), among others.

            His first booklet of poems and one-act plays appeared in print in Vilna in 1912. He would later publish numerous books, but in all of the genres he produced one senses a poetic soul. There is a distinct sense for the times. For example, when there began in the Soviet Union the migration of the Jews onto the land, he would note this with his own distinctive eye. In the late 1920s he was visiting all the new Jewish settlements in Crimea, finding there images for his work. Thus was born his play Arum a baydl, agro-pyese in 2 bilder (Around a cabin, an agricultural play in two scenes) (Moscow: Shul un bukh, 1928), 54 pp., and a sketch cycle Erd-lebn (Life on the land) (Khakov: Central Publishers, 1929), 62 pp. The migrants dubbed one of their settlements “Dobrushino.” In Crimea and in the other ethnic Jewish regions of Ukraine, people would name the Jewish villages cropping up after the most prominent community leaders who had accomplished a great deal in the realm of Jewish land accommodations. After the war these names were changed to new ones, but the map of Crimea (changed faster than all, so that they would assume a Ukrainian or Russian word).

Dobrushin also invested a great deal in the development of the Yiddish theater. He served as literary director of the Moscow Yiddish State Theater. He also wrote original dramatic works. Over the years, the Moscow and other theatrical troupes staged his plays and one-acts works for children; Dobrushin also brought out numerous one-act and short plays for children, many of which were tendentious propaganda. A great number of theatrical works in the field of playwrighting and theater arts belong to Dobrushin. In 1939 his monograph Benyomin zuskind (Benyomin Zuskind), 60 pp., appeared from Moscow publisher “Der emes”; in 1940, Mikhoels der aktyor (Mikhoels the actor), 128 pp. In 1932 his collection of articles in which a major part is taken up by his essay “Sholem-aleykhems dramaturgye” (Sholem-Aleichem’s playwriting). For the Moscow anthology Yidn in fssr, zamlbukh (Jews in the USSR, collection) (Emes, 1935), he penned a piece entitled “Yidishe teater-kultur in ratn-farband” (Jewish theater culture in the Soviet Union). Shortly before his arrest, he brought out his last book, Di dramaturgye fun di klasiker (Goldfaden, Mendele moykher-sforim, sholem-aleykhem, y. l. perets)” (The playwriting of the classical authors: Goldfaden, Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Sholem-Aleichem, Y. L. Perets) (Moscow: Emes, 1948), 190 pp. He was one of the most beloved of teachers in the Jewish theatrical studio. On March 31, 1939 he was awarded by the Soviet government with an “honorary degree” “for extraordinary service in the development of Soviet theatrical art.”

In the history of Soviet Yiddish literature, Dobrushin acquired an extraordinary reputation for his literary criticism and research work. This began with two short books— Aleksander blok, etyud (Study of Aleksander Blok) (Kiev: Jewish Section, State Publ., 1921), 28 pp.; and Gedankengang (Reasoning) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1922), 135 pp.—published 1921-1922 in Kiev. From that point forward, not a single important literary phenomenon transpired without his judgment. All well-known writers, 1920s-1940s, found a reflection in Dobrushin’s articles. His last great work was the monograph Dovid bergelson (Dovid Bergelson) (Moscow, 1947), 341 pp.

            His contribution was important as well to the publication of the works by the Yiddish classical authors. When “Emes” publishers undertook to bring out the collected writings of Sholem-Aleichem in 1935-1938 in fifteen volumes, Dobrushin wrote the prefatory remarks to volumes 1, 2, 3, 9, 14, and 15. He had begun his research on Sholem-Aleichem’s creative work before the Revolution. He published articles in anthologies dedicated to the second and third anniversaries of Sholem-Aleichem’s death, which appeared in Petrograd and Kiev in 1918 and 1919. Dozens of articles about Sholem-Aleichem were published under his pen.

            Dobrushin was also well-known as an indefatigable researcher into Jewish folklore. In the Moscow anthology Sovetish, he published work on the Yiddish lullaby and on classic as well as Soviet folklore among the Jewish masses. Virtually every collection of Yiddish folk songs and folk tales, published in the Soviet Union by an assortment of publishers, was accompanied with an article or commentary by Dobrushin. Over the course of many years, Professor Dobrushin read cycles of lectures on literature and folklore in colleges in Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa.

During WWII he was evacuated to Uzbekistan.  He was a leading member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow, particularly of its Historical Commission.  After the war he wrote a great deal about Yiddish writers who died on the battlefields.  He was arrested in early 1949. He suffered the punishment of exile to a camp near the Siberian city of Abez, and there he died.

            Among his books thus far not mentioned: Benkende neshomes (Homesick souls), a collections of poems, one-act plays, and images (Vilna: Yunge kunst, 1912), 64 pp.; Esterke (Little Esther) (Kiev: Kunst-farlag, 1914), 52 pp.; Ven gefiln vakhn (When feelings awaken), a drama (Vilna, 1914); In gortn (In the garden), a children’s play (St. Petersburg, 1916; second edition, Kiev: Kiever farlag, 1918); A mayse mit a kholem (A story with a dream), a children’s play, written with Dovid Hofshteyn (Kiev, 1919), 20 pp.; Farnakhtn, lider (Evenings, poems) (Kiev, 1921; second edition, Lodz, 1921), 44 pp.; A zun mit a regn, lider (A sun with rain, poems), children’s poetry (Vilna: Tsentraler shul organizatsye, 1921), 16 pp.; Got der fayer, yugnt plakat in dray bilder (The ardor of God, a youth placard in three scenes) (Moscow, 1922), 30 pp.; Yungvarg, instsenirung (Young people, a dramatization) (Moscow: Central People’s Publishers, USSR, 1927), 30 pp. (including musical notation by A. Pulver); Moyshke harmat, kinder dertseylung (Little Moyshe the cannon, a children’s story) (Moscow: Central People’s Publishers, USSR, 1929), 69 pp.; Sholem-aleykhems dramaturgye (see above), offprint from Tsaytshrift (Periodical) 2-3 (Minsk, 1929); Der gerikht geyt, komedye in dray aktn akhtsn bilder (The trial is on, a comedy in three acts and eighteen scenes) (Minsk: Central People’s Publishers, USSR, 1930), 79 pp.; Afn 62-tn (With the 62nd), a play in three acts (Minsk: Central People’s Publishers, USSR, 1931), 58 pp.; Kinder-teater (Children’s theater) (Minsk, 1931), 47 pp.; In iberboy, literarish-kritishe artiklen (Under reconstruction, literary-critical articles) (Moscow: Emes, 1932), 293 pp.; Kolvirtisher teater, eynakter un sketshn (Collective farm theater, one-act plays and sketches) (Moscow: Emes, 1932), 30 pp.; Kolvirtishe kinder, fraye fartseykhenungen (Collective farm children, free jottings) (Moscow: Emes, 1932), 55 pp.; Sovetishe dikhtung (Soviet poetry) (Moscow: Emes, 1935), 165 pp.; Pyesn (Plays) (Moscow: Emes, 1937), 184 pp.; Freydele, kinder-pyese in dray aktn (Freydele, a children play in three acts) (Kharkov: Central Publ., 1937), 29 pp.; Undzere mentshn, fartseykhenungen (Our people, jottings) (Moscow: Emes, 1942), 30 pp.; Heyse hertser, fartseykhenungen (Warm hearts, jottings) (Moscow: Emes, 1943), 29 pp.; foreword to Sh. Kupershmid, comp., Folkslider fun der foterlendisher milkhome (Folksongs from the fatherland’s war) (Moscow: Emes, 1944), 32 pp.

His translations include: Anatole France, Tayis (Thaïs) (Kiev, 1920; second edition, Warsaw, 1922-1923; Moscow: Emes, 1937), 185 pp.; Émile Verhaeren, Filip der tsveyte (Philip II [original: Phillipe II]); Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Edipus der kinig (Oedipus the king [original: Ödipus und die Sphinx, or Oedipus and the sphinx]; Victor Hugo, Gavrosh (Gavroche), adapted for Yiddish (Moscow: Central People’s Publishers, USSR, 1927), 64 pp.; Victor Hugo, Han der islender (Han d’Islande [Han of Iceland]); and others.  He compiled: Deklamater fun der sovetisher yidisher literatur (Declaimer of Soviet Jewish literature) (Moscow: Emes, 1934), 410 pp. (with Yoysef Rabin); Folks-mayses (Folktales) (Moscow: Emes, 1939), 62 pp.; Yidishe folkslider (Yiddish folksongs) (Moscow: Emes, 1940), 486 pp. (with Avrom Yuditski); Evreyskiye narodnye pesni (Jewish folksongs) (Moscow, 1947), 279 pp.

He contributed to the collections: Tsum ondenk fun sholem-aleykhem (To the memory of Sholem-Aleykhem) (Petrograd: Sholem-aleykhem fond, 1917); and Mikhoels, 1890-1948 (Mikhoels, 1890-1948) (Moscow: Emes, 1948).  His work was also included in: Teater-bukh (Theater book) (Kiev, 1927); Osher shvartsman, zamlung gevidmet dem tsvantsik yortog fun zayn heldishn toyt (Osher Shvartsman, collection dedicated to the twentieth anniversary of his heroic death) (Moscow: Emes, 1940); Far der bine: dertseylungen, pyeses, lider (For the stage: stories, plays, poems), with musical notation (together with Elye Gordon) (Moscow: Emes, 1929); Deklamater fun der sovetisher yidisher literatur (see above); Farn heymland in shlakht! (For the homeland in battle!) (Moscow: Emes, 1941); Far kleyne kinder (For small children) (Kiev, 1918); Klingen hemerlekh (Ringing gavels) (Moscow: State Publ., 1925); Lider (Poetry) (Riga, 1941).

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1, p. 655; Z. Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 1, pp. 537-38; Shmuel Niger, in Bikher-velt (Warsaw) 4-5 (July-October 1922), pp. 425-28; N. Oyslender, in Shtrom 4 (1923); M. Litvakov, Finf yor melukhisher yidisher kamer-teater (Five years with the state Yiddish chamber theater) (Moscow, 1924); Y. Lyubomirski, Der revolutsyonerer teater (The revolutionary theater) (Moscow, 1926); Dr. Y. Shatski, in Arkhiv far der geshikhte fun yidishn teater un drame (Archive of the history of the Yiddish theater and drama), vol. 1 (New York-Vilna, 1930), pp. 465-66 (reviewing Teater-bukh [Kiev, 1927]); A. Abtshuk, Etyudn un materialn tsu der geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur bavegung in FSRR (Studies and material for the history of the Yiddish literature movement in the Soviet Union) (Kharkov, 1934), pp. 25-47, 50, 51, 84-90, 139, 140, 268; E. Shulman, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) 5 (1934); D. Volknshteyn, Zeks shrayber ordntregers (Six writers who had received medals) (Kiev, 1940); “Inem melukhe farlag ‘der emes’” (In the state publishing house of “Der emes” [The truth]), Eynikeyt (March 25, 1947); P. Novik, Eyrope tsvishn milkhome un sholem (Europe between war and peace) (New York, 1948), p. 350; A. Mukdoni, Oysland (Abroad) (Buenos Aires, 1951), pp. 259-60; letter to Y. Opatoshu from Y. Dobrushin, in Zamlbikher (New York) 8 (1952), pp. 106f; Al. Pomerants, in Dovid edelshtat gedenk-bukh (Dovid Edelshtot memory book) (New York, 1952), pp. 532, 533, 554-56; Tog-morgn-zhurnal and Forverts (both New York) (November 23, 1955); H. Leivick, in Tog (New York) (December 10, 1955); Sh. M. Broderzon, in Tog morgn-zhurnal (January 3, 1958); Y. Lifshits and M. Altshuler, comps., Briv fun yidishe sovetishe shraybers (Letters of Soviet Jewish writers) (Jerusalem, 1979/1980).

Aleksander Pomerants 

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 184; 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. 90-92.]

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