YITSKHOK DAGIM (b. April 8, 1908)
He was born in Vilna and studied in religious elementary school and yeshiva. After WWI, he studied at the “Mefitse haskalah” (Society for the promotion of enlightenment [among the Jews of Russia]) school and graduated from it in 1926. He was among the regular participants in school productions. After graduation he worked as a bookkeeper and took part in Vilna dramatic circles. In 1930 he was brought into the Vilna Troupe and traveled with the theater across Polish cities and towns. He translated and wrote theater reviews, one-act plays, and dramas, such as: Der alter klezmer (The old musician), image of life in three acts taken from Jewish life in America; A matone dem tatn (A present for Father), one act. Both of these plays were staged by the artist Sh. Kutner. During the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto (September 23, 1943), he hid out with his wife, children, father, and sister. When their food ran out, the children burst into tears and the hideout was discovered, the women and children shot, and Dagim and his father sent by the Nazis to work burning the corpses of the 80,000 murdered at Ponar. He cremated his wife, sister, and children—and with them the entire murdered Jewish population of Vilna. Over the course of four months, together with two other cremators, he unearthed at night a thirty-meter tunnel from their bunker to the woods. On April 15, 1944 he succeeded with the help of eighty burners in making his way into the woods. A number of them were seized and shot. Dagim reached the partisans with a group of others. When Vilna was liberated, he joined the Red Army. After the war he settled again in Vilna. His first publication appeared in 1924 in a student journal, Klangen (Sounds), a poem entitled “In fayer-flas.” As unbelievable as it might sound, the theme of the poem was a nightmarish vision of a bonfire of the dead in Ponar twenty years hence. He was the author of Der yubilyar, dertseylungen (The celebrant, stories) (Haifa, 19769), 160 pp.
Sources: M. Minkov, Yoyvl-heft fun der yingl-shul “mefitse-haskole” (Jubilee volume for the boys’ school “Mefitse-haskalah”) (Vilna, 1936), p. 61; A. Sutskever, Vilner geto (Vilna ghetto) (Paris, 1946), pp. 212-24; Sh. Katsherginski, Khurbn vilne (The Holocaust in Vilna) (New York, 1947).
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 190.]