Monday 18 April 2016


LEYZER VOLF (LEJZER WOLF) (1910-April 1943)

            The nom de plume of Leyzer Mekler, he was a poet, playwright, and prose author, born in Vilna, into a poor family of a house painter.  He graduated from the sixth level of a Jewish public school, but due to a lack of funds, he could not continue his studies.  He began working with his father as a painter, later becoming a glove maker, but he frequently was without work. For a time he was close to the youth and student groups “Di bin” (The bee) and “Frayland” (Freeland), and from 1938 until the outbreak of WWII he was among the leaders of the Jewish scouts organization “Shparber” (Sparrow hawk) in Vilna.  He began writing in his student years, debuting in print at age sixteen with a poem “Di grine freyd” (Green joy) in Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw (1926).  He published practically every week until WWII in Vilner tog (Vilna day) poems and prose works that excelled in their satirical tone and their direct folk language.  He was a cofounder and contributor to the Vilna publications: Yung vilne (Young Vilna) (1934-1936), Kurts (Brief), Nayes (News), Yungvald (Young forest), Grininke beymelekh (Little green trees), the poetry collection Di bin, 1000 yor vilne (One thousand years of Vilna); Naye folkstsaytung (New people’s newspaper), Foroys (Onward), and Literarishe bleter—in Warsaw; Tsukunft (Future), Forverts (Forward), and In zikh (Introspective)—in New York; Byalistoker shtern (Bialystok star); Shtern (Star) in Minsk; Eynikeyt (Unity) in Moscow; and others.  Over the course of his short life, he managed to write hundreds of poems, long and short, of which only a small portion were published, among them: “Erdish” (Earthly), “Menakhem-mendl un sheyne sheyndl” (Menkhem-Mendl and Sheyne Sheyndl), “Tevye der milkhiker” (Tevye the milkman), “Motl dem mulyers” (Motl the bricklayer’s son), and “Eyropeyishe sonetn” (European sonnets), among others.  He also published dozens of dramas, comedies, and dramatic poems, such as: A driter teyl faust (A third part of Faust), Koshmarov, A malekh af der erd (An angel on Earth), the lyrical comedy Motke khabad (Motke the Habadnik) (written in Bialystok in 1940); also novels such as Mizrekh un mayrev (East and West) (Vilna, 1939) and Khrabya zindrom zlavragotski (Khrabya Zindrom Zlavragotski), a novel in verse; and stories, aphorisms, and theatrical pieces for children and youths, such as Martsepanes (Marzipans) which was staged in Vilna in 1938 by the Warsaw “Yung teater” (Youth theater), and Zavyerukhes (Blizzards), among others.  Among his books: Evigingo, poeme (Evigingo, a poem), in the style of Longfellow’s “Hiawatha,” written out in Romanization (Vilna: Gerangl, 1936), 16 pp.; Shvartse perl (Black pearl), poems (Warsaw: Literarishe bleter, 1939), 116 pp.; Lirik un satire (Lyric and satire), with a foreword by Arn Kushnirov (Moscow: Emes, 1940), 48 pp.; Di broyne bestye, baladn un satires (The brown beast, ballads and satires), with a foreword by Ezra Finenberg (Moscow: Emes, 1943), 38 pp.  He edited (and virtually wrote the entirety of) the literary collection Yungvald in four booklets, each 32 pp. (Vilna, 1939).  He also published literary essays and critical reviews of writers and books.  He also wrote under such pen names as: Herst Nakht, and Bestye Kurazh.

            Until October 1939, he was living in Vilna, and thereafter when the Soviets occupied Lithuania, he left for Bialystok where he lived until March 1940; he then left to join his sister in Dnepropetrovsk, and he spent a short time in Moscow where the Yiddish writing family received him as one of their own, and from there in the fall of 1940 he moved to Novomoskovs'k, Ukraine. In June 1941 he evacuated to Uzbekistan, where he worked in factories and collective farms and suffered from hunger and cold, but never let the pen drop from his hand. He died of exhaustion in April 1943 in the midst of work braiding rope on a collective farm in Shahrisabz, near Samarkand.  Under the editorship of H. Leivick, the World Jewish Culture Congress published Volf’s volume Lider (Poems) (New York, 1955), 204 pp., which included, in addition to Volf’s poetry selected by Leyzer Ran, also a poem by Avrom Sutzkever, Leyzer Volf’s autobiography (written in 1934 for a competition for youth biographies for YIVO), a characterization of him (entitled: “Leyzer volfs lebnsveg” [Leyzer Volf’s path in life]) by Leyzer Ran, a partial bibliography of his writings compiled by Ran and Yefim Yeshurin, and an afterword by Yankev Pat.  A portion of Volf’s poems were translated into Russian and, with an appreciation (entitled “The Yiddish Heine”) by Perets Markish, published in Literaturnaya gazeta (Literary gazette) (Moscow, March 15, 1940).  Shimshon Meltsar translated some of his poetry into Hebrew in the anthology Al hanaharot (By the rivers) (Jerusalem, 1956).

            Volf’s younger brother, KHAYIM VOLF, a celebrated illustrator, also wrote poetry, such as: “Skoytishe lider” (Scout poems).  He was living in Russia from 1935 and died ca. 1938-1939 in a Soviet concentration camp in Kazakhstan.

Sources: Leyzer Volf, Lider (New York, 1955), pp. 197-202; Shmuel Niger, in Tog-morgn zhurnal (New York) (February 6, 1955); Sh. Katsherginski, Shmerke katsherginski ondenk-bukh (Memoirs of Shmerke Katsherginski) (Buenos Aires, 1955), pp. 306, 308; Al hanaharot (Jerusalem, 1956), p. 431; A. Leyesin, in Tog (New York) (May 19, 1956); A. Sutskever, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 26 (1956); D. Lazar, in Maariv (Tel Aviv) (December 28, 1956); A. Vogler, in Arbeter-vort (Paris) (July 25, 1957); M. Astur, in Afn shvel (Mexico City-New York) (January-February 1959).

Khayim Leyb Fuks

[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. 129-30.]

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