MOTL HARTSMAN (1908-December 15, 1943)
He was a poet, born in Berdichev, Ukraine, into the poor family of a house painter. From childhood he was hungry for knowledge, and when in 1918 the first Jewish school opened in the city, he immediately entered it to study, and it became his second home. There, together with a few other older children, he prepared his studies, read Yiddish and Russian books, and put on shows in the amateur school theater. There he also came to know for the first time Aleksandr Pushkin’s stories and the works of the Yiddish classic writers, Mendele Moykher-Sforim and Sholem-Aleichem, who once lived in Berdichev and described the city and its people in their works. As soon as he learned to read and write, he tried his hand at his first literary pieces, particularly successful with teachers who were themselves writers—Oyzer Holdes, Abraham Kahan, Shmuel (Syame) Zhukovski, and the journalist Buzi Goldenberg. A major role in the education of this future poet was also played by the young teacher Nine Brodovski who was responsible for establishing the school in Berdichev. When at her initiative, they sought to publish a written monthly journal, dubbed Dos kvelekhl (The source), there was a poem by Motl Hartsman in practically every issue. His poems excelled in their distinctiveness—with an unexpected poetic structure, with a word that was beyond the comprehension of children older than he was. Already experts considered Hartsman the most gifted among the beginning writers locally.
In the latter half of the 1920s in Berdichev, a Yiddish weekly Di vokh (The week), later called Der arbeter (The worker), began to appear in print, and Buzi Goldenberg (the later editor of the Kiev republican newspaper Der shtern [The star] and later of Birobidzhaner shtern [Birobidzhan star]) was an active contributor, as was the literary critic Shmuel (Syame) Zhukovski who died very young. According to their initiative, the newspaper introduced literary pages for beginning writers. Zhukovski thought very highly of Hartsman’s poems and many of them he recited from memory. “From childhood,” Avrom Gordon related, “Hartsman gravitated toward the big city. Kiev was his dream, and when he turned thirteen, he ran away there. One week later, when he returned to Berdichev, he explained that he washed his feet in the Dnieper River and that Dovid Hofshteyn listened to his poems and read aloud [to Hartsman] his own poems.” Hartsman grew up in a family of craftsman and himself became a worker in a factory. He later began studying in the Odessa Jewish Pedagogical Technicum, which was in general a workshop for Jewish men of letters from all over Ukraine. He later departed for Moscow and became a student in the Yiddish division of the literature faculty at the Moscow Pedagogical Institute, from which he graduated in 1934. When the Kiev Institute for Jewish Culture created a research position for writers under the direction of the literary scholar Maks Erik, Hartsman took up this post, to which only five young writers were deemed worthy of receiving—in addition to Hartsman, the group consisted of Nosn Zabare, Elye Gordon, Avrom Gontar, and Motl Shturman. Hartsman was already the author of two poetry collections: Mayn tsveyte yugnt (My second youth) and Mir, di zin (We, the sons). As is the case for many other creative dispositions, he was captivated by clattering, flowery slogans that the Communist Party would always exasperate the people. Although Hartsman’s lyre took self-confidence to excess—“We were born in battle for golden combat over the years”—one senses in the majority of his work a haunting disquiet which was clearly expressed in one of his most mature poems: “This is our destiny, even to die with a poem.” And, as if prophetically spoken: he volunteered for service at the front as a military correspondent four days after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, June 25, 1941; and he fell in the fighting at the age of thirty-five on December 15, 1943. Hartsman was among those few Yiddish poets who wrote at the front an entire poem and sent it in to the editor of Eynikeyt (Unity).
Among his books: Mayn tsveyte yugnt, poetry (Kharkov-Kiev: Central Publishers, 1931), 52 pp.; Mir, di zin, poetry (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1932), 64 pp.; Gutmorgn, mayn land! (Good morning, my country!), poetry (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1935), 158 pp.; Kh’hob lib dikh, lebn (I love you, life) (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1937), 28 pp.; Goldene fakeln (Golden torches), poems (Kiev, 1939), 162 pp.; A briderlekher grus (A fraternal greeting) (Kiev, 1939; Montevideo rpt., 1944), 25 pp.; Gezang un shverd (Song and sword) (Kiev, 1939), 181 pp., (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1970), 135 pp.; Rokhls libe (Rachel’s love), a poem (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1940), 72 pp.; Lider (Poems) (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1941), 58 pp.; “Mayn harts hot der soyne geshosn” (My heart shot the enemy), a poetry cycle in the anthology Di lire (The lyre) (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1985), pp. 148-60.
His translations include: Andrei Irkutov’s Der her berger git on in demisye (Mr. Berger submits his resignation [original: Gospodin Berger podaet v otstavku]) (Kharkov-Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1932), 64 pp. His work also appeared 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); Birebidzhan (Birobidzhan) (Moscow, 1936); Komsomolye (Communist Youth) (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1938), Shlakhtn (Battles) (Kharkov-Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1932); and Pyonerishe lider (Pioneer poems) (Minsk, 1934).
Sources: Emes (Moscow) (March 30, 1930); Kh. Dunyets, in Shtern (Minsk) (December 1932); N. Kabakov, in Farmest (Kharkov) (November 1934); A. Vevyorke, Der stil fun der proletarisher literatur (The style of proletarian literature) (Kharkov, 1932), p. 24; Sh. Herish, in Farmest (February 1936); I. Druker, in Shtern (September 1938); H. Bloshteyn, in Sovetishe literatur (Kiev) (January 1940); N. Y. Gotlib, in Sovetishe shrayber (Soviet writers) (Montreal, 1945), pp. 39-41; N. Mayzil, 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. 216; 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. 119-21.]