Friday 18 December 2015



            He was a linguist, current events writer, and translator, the younger brother of the writer Fayvl Holmshtok, born in Minsk, Byelorussia.  From 1916 to 1918, he lived in the United States.  He was active in the “Workers’ University” at the Sholem-Aleichem Folk Institute in New York, and he translated a number of books from Russian into Yiddish.  He returned to Soviet Russia in 1918, lived in Minsk, worked as a teacher, and took up scholarly work in the field of linguistics. Like the majority of Soviet linguists, he contributed to producing the so-called “Marxist conception” in the field of language research. Together with M. Mishkovski, Shloyme Rives, and students from the Minsk Jewish Pedagogical Technicum, where he worked as a language and literature teacher, he assembled an instructional reader (which was later reprinted several times). He also concerned himself with translations—among others, works by Marx and Engels and F. Seniushkin, see below. He led the commission charged with creating a major academic Yiddish explanatory dictionary. At the Yiddish language conference held in Kiev in May 1934, he gave a presentation on this dictionary. In 1935 there was published in Minsk the first trial volume of this dictionary under his editorship. He published an article in the Kiev journal Afn shprakhfront (On the language front) on dialectology, lexicology, and etymology. After this, as Birobidzhan was declared to be a Jewish autonomous district, he accepted an invitation from the regional leaders and moved from Minsk to Birobidzhan. He was particularly interested in producing a uniform Yiddish for students who came there from various and sundry dialectological environments. In 1936 he began in Birobidzhan preparation of a national-wide language conference. He was appointed chairman of the scholarly commission of the regional executive committee. In the daily schedule for the planned conference, his presentation, “On the unification of Yiddish dialects,” was approved. A number of his ideas in this area are summarized in his essay, “Uniformatsye fun di yidishe dialektn” (On the unification of Yiddish dialects) which was published in Forpost (Outpost) 1 (1937). The language conference, however, was disallowed, and Holmshtok was arrested. His subsequent fate remains unknown. According to no precise information, he was said to have died during exile in 1942.

He wrote about pedagogy and linguistic matters in various Soviet Yiddish publications, such as: Yunger pyoner (Young pioneer) in Minsk (April 2, 1927).  He was the editor of Lingvistishe zamlung 1 (Linguistics collection 1), with style-editor Moyshe Kulbak (Minsk: Byelorussian Academy of Sciences, 1933), 93 pp.; and Oktyaber-kinder (October children), with L. Mishkovski and Shloyme Rives (Moscow: Central People’s Publishers, 1926), 100 pp., a textbook for Jewish schools.  He also translated: Dos kinstlerishe shafn (The artistic works) by D. Nikolaevich [Ovsianiko-Kulikovskii] (New York: Di heym, 1919), 52 pp.; Politishe ekonomye (Political economy [original: Kurs politicheskoi ekonomii]) by Aleksandr Bogdanov (New York, 1920), vol. 1, 244 pp., vol. 2, 551 pp.; Shtat-visnshaft (State science [original: Ocherki nauki o gosudarstvie]) by V. I. Dunaev and A. A. Nikitskii (New York: Di heym, 1920), 300 pp. (edited by Dr. Yitskhok-Ayzik Hurvits); Komunistisher manifest (Communist manifesto) by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Moscow: Central People’s Publishers, 1924), 181 pp., republished in Warsaw (Kultur, 1931 and 1932); Di arbet fun di fabrikn un zavod-komitetn ba di badingungen fun itstiker tsayt (The work of factories and plant committees under contemporary conditions [original: Rabota fabrichno-zavodskikh komitetov v sovremennykh usloviiakh]) by F. Seniushkin (Minsk, 1926), 120 pp.  He also contributed work to Afn shprakhfront (On the language front), in which (no. 3-4) he published a work entitled: “Vegn dem yidishn oystaytsh-verterbukh” (On the Yiddish explanatory dictionary).  He was editor of Yidisher verterbukh (Yiddish dictionary), trial volume (Minsk: Byelorussian Academy of Sciences, 1935), xii and 26 pp., and he wrote the preface to it. 

Sources: M. Gurevitsh, in Emes (Moscow) 283 (1935); Y. M. Budish, Almanakh in dinst fun folk (Almanac in service to the people) (New York, 1947), p. 382.

[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. 108-9.]

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