OYZER HOLDES (HOLDESHEYM) (1900-1966)
He was a literary researcher and playwright, born in Kishenev, into a family of a watchmaker. He spent his childhood and youth in Berdichev, where he studied in and a regular Jewish school, later graduating from a Russian high school. He belonged to the first post-October group of Yiddish writers. From 1919 he was working as a teacher in Berdichev, Kiev, and Kharkov. He was a student in the philology department at the Second Moscow University [now, Moscow State Pedagogical University]. For a certain period of time (1933-1937), he worked for the monthly journal Farmest (Competition), in which he placed critical articles and had charge of the section “Litkonsultatsye” (Literary consultation). He was a member of the editorial board (1934-1937) of the Kharkov pedagogical journal Ratnbildung (Soviet education) and of the monthly journal Yunger shlogler (Young shock worker) (1931-1932). He contributed to the journals Di royte velt (The red world) in Kharkov and Shtern (Star) in Minsk, and to the Kharkov newspapers Der shtern (The star), Yunge gvardye (Young guard), and Zay greyt (Be prepared). Over the period 1935-1936, he was a scholarly associate of the Institute for Jewish Culture in Kiev and the author of literature textbooks for Jewish schools. During WWII he lived in the city of Orenburg in the Ural Mountains and worked as a journalist for the Southern Ural Military Circle. He returned to Kharkov after the war and there continued his literary activities. He was purged in the late 1940s and exiled to a northern camp, and from there he returned after being rehabilitated in 1955. From 1961 he was publishing articles in Sovetsh heymland (Soviet homeland) in Moscow.
Holdes, however, was not only a literary critic and researcher; he also assembled and adapted Jewish folklore. His Mayses, vitsn un shpitslekh fun hershl ostropolyer (Tales, jokes, and pranks of Hershl Ostropolyer) appeared in 1941, published by Kiev’s Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities. How he came to the idea of publishing such a work as this, he explained in the foreword: “Working in a school as a teacher of literature, I began to jot down from the children’s mouths the tales of Hershl Ostropolyer, and later I complemented these tales with what I remembered myself from childhood and what I gathered in my family and among acquaintances and in Berdichev.” While working in Kharkov, through his editing of the children’s newspaper Zay greyt, he turned to his pupils and readers asking them to send him folktales that they knew or had heard. Hundreds of letters arrived with stories. The majority of them were differing variations of the wisdom of Hershl Ostropolyer. To verify and adapt this material, he made a trip through the towns of Podolia, visited Derazhne, Khmil'nyk, and especially Medzhibozh where Hershl Ostropolyer lived and where they even preserved his grave. Holdes also took up playwriting, and his drama Moyshe lang (Moyshe Lang)—see below—was staged on the eve of WWII by the Kiev Yiddish State Theater. In 1948, the Kharkov Russian Theater produced his play Andere mentshn (Other people). He died in Kharkov.
Among his writings: Hantbukh far yidisher literatur (Handbook for Yiddish literature) (Kharkov: Central Publishers, 1931), 320 pp., with Fume Shames; Arbetbukh af shprakh un literatur far der 7-ter grupe fun der arbeṭshul (Workbook for language and literature for the seventh group in the workers’ school) (Kharkov: Central Publishers, 1931), 179 pp., with Yitskhok Rodak, Khayim Loytsker, M. Gelman, and F. Shames; editor and author of the foreword to Sholem-Aleichem’s Dos meserl (The penknife) (Kharkov, 1934); Literarishe khrestomatye farn 7tn lernyor der politekhnisher shul (Literary reader for the seventh school year at the polytechnic school), with F. Shames (Kharkov: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1934), 327 pp.; “Oysher shvartsman biografye” (Biography of Oysher Shvartsman), in the Oysher Shvartsman, Lider un briv (Poems and letters) (Kiev: Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, 1935); Literatur-lernbukh farn 7tn klas (Literature textbook for the seventh class) (Kharkov: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1936), 121 pp.; Moyshe lang, pyese in 4 aktn (Moyshe Lang, a play in four acts), published in the anthology Sovetishe literatur (Soviet literature) (Kiev, August 1939); Mayses, vitsn un shpitslekh fun hershl ostropolyer, as retold by Holdes with a critical biographical preface (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1941), 199 pp., the second edition (Warsaw: Yidish bukh, 1960), 210 pp. His work was also included in: Almanakh, fun yidishe sovetishe shrayber tsum alfarbandishn shrayber-tsuzamenfor (Almanac, from Soviet Jewish writers to the all-Soviet conference of writers) (Kharkov: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1934). He translated into Yiddish: Anton Chekhov’s Shlofn vilt zikh (Let me sleep [original: Spat’ khochetsya]) (Kharkov: State Publ., 1935), 31 pp.; and Maxim Gorky’s Danko, a maysele (Danko, a short story) (Kharkov: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1936), 14 pp. He prepared for publication Sholem Aleykhem’s Blondzhende shtern (Wandering stars), with a literary critical preface, background history, and selection of variants (Kiev, 1936). He also adapted in Yiddish a volume by L. Mayakovskaya, Mayakovskis kindheyt un yugnt (Mayakovsky’s childhood and youth) (Kiev, 1937).
Sources: A. Kushnirov, in Naye prese (Paris) (July 27, 1945); Eynikeyt (Moscow) (April 2, 1946; December 23, 1947); N. Meyzil, Dos yidishe shafn un der yidisher arbeter in sovetn-farband (Jewish creation and the Jewish worker in the Soviet Union) (New York, 1959), see index.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 206; 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. 107-8.]