Wednesday 16 December 2015


YOYSEF HOLDER (January 11, 1893-1944)
            He was born in Bichkiv, Maramureș County, Hungary [now, Romania], into a Hassidic home.  He attended religious elementary school, and from age thirteen studied in the yeshivas of Hungary and Galicia, acquiring the reputation of a prodigy.  At the same time, he was learning Hebrew and German, while also attending a Hungarian public school.  He later lived in Budapest, where he was employed in a bank.  His literary activity began at age fifteen with a Hebrew story published in Hamitspe (The watch tower).  In Yiddish he debuted with a humorous sketch—“Yekl mit dem hon” (Yekl with the rooster)—in the heavily Germanized Yidishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper) in Sighet (July 20, 1911) and with a poem in Yidisher blat (Jewish newspaper) also in Sighet (November 1911).  From that point forward, he published stories, poetry, human-interest pieces, and articles in Hatsofe (The spectator), Haolam (The world), Hayom (Today), Togblat (Daily newspaper) in Lemberg, Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily news) and Forverts (Forward) in New York, Yudishe morgnpost (Jewish morning mail) in Vienna, Vilner tog (Vilna day), and others.  In 1928 he published a book of poems in Vilna under the title Oft zingt zikh (Frequently sung), 80 pp.  For many years he was a contributor to the Hungarian Jewish press, for which he wrote in Hungarian about Yiddish literature and its authors; he translated poems from Hungarian into Yiddish, as well as the war drama Der levyosn (The leviathan) by Peter Oyvari (??) and the one-act play Di tragedye funem mentshn (The tragedy of man [original: Az ember tragédiája]) by Imre Madách.  He also assembled around himself literary novices from Maramureș and Sighet to teach them about Yiddish literature, and the local literary talents recognized him as their literary rebbe.
            On the eve of WWII he lost his job in the bank because of Hungarian anti-Semitism, and his Hungarian Christian wife remained the only provider in the family (they had no children).  At the time of the Nazi occupation of Hungary (March 19, 1944), Holder found himself in the Christian, and ever more anti-Semitic and Nazi, surroundings of his wife’s family.  He became ill, and his most intimate and strongest desire was that after his death he receive a proper Jewish burial.  He died two months before the liberation of Hungary.  His Christian wife wrapped his body in canvas—she had heard that this was how Jews buried their dead—and with the help of neighbors, she managed to carry the corpse and, according to the practice at the time, laid it at the gate.  She paid close attention, while they were gathering up the Jewish dead, as to where her husband was buried, and a year after the liberation of Hungary she set out to unearth him from the mass grave.  She recognized her husband’s corpse from the canvas in which she had wrapped him, and she thus executed Holder’s wishes to be buried according to Jewish law.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; Z. Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 1; Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (January 11, 1929); M. Ravitsh, in Vokhnshrift far literatur (Warsaw) (November 18, 1932); Y. Grinvald, Toyznt yor yidish lebn in ungarn (One thousand years of Jewish life in Hungary) (New York, 1945), p. 272; Grinvald, Matsevet kodesh (Holy monument) (New York, 1952), p. 48; Bukareshter zamlbikher (Bucharest anthologies) (Bucharest, 1947); Dr. Shloyme Bikl, in Tog-morgn zhurnal (New York) (April 17, 1955).

Zaynvl Diamant

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