Sunday 26 June 2016


ARN (ARON) VERGELIS (May 7, 1918-April 7, 1999)

           He was a poet, prose writer, journalist, and playwright, born in the town of Lyubar, Zhytomyr district, Ukraine. In 1928 he moved with his parents to Birobidzhan, where he graduated from a ten-year Yiddish school. He was a student in the Yiddish division in the literature and philology department at the Moscow Pedagogical Institute.  He debuted in print in 1936 with a poem in issue 2 of Forpost (Outpost) in Birobidzhan.  From that point in time on, he published poetry as well in Birobidzhaner shtern (Birobidzhan star) and in Emes (Truth) in Moscow.  During WWII he was a parachutist in the Soviet Army and a company commander.  He was wounded on several occasions. The Moscow newspapers had even listed him among the dead, but in 1945 he returned to Moscow. After demobilization, he settled in Moscow, was editor of the Yiddish radio transmission of the All-Soviet Radio Committee, and deputy to the editor-in-chief of the anthology Heymland (Homeland).

            His first collection, Bam kval, lider (By the spring, poems), appeared in 1940, and his second, Birobidzhaner dor (Birobidzhan generation), in 1948. After the arrest in 1948 of the Moscow Yiddish writers, Vergelis left for Birobidzhan, and he worked there for several years for a factory newspaper, from time to time publishing items in Birobidzhaner shtern. From 1955 he was back in Moscow. In the 1950s, he prepared, for publication for the Russian-language publishers in Moscow, the works of Sholem-Aleichem, selections from Dovid Bergelson (Moscow, 1957), writings by Osher Shvartsman, a volume of poetry by Arn Kushnirov (Moscow, 1956), a collection of poems by Izi Kharik (Moscow, 1958), a volume of poems and children’s poetry by Itsik Fefer (Moscow, 1958), and others. In 1956 he published in Moscow a volume of poems in Russian: Zhazhda, stikhi i poemy (Thirst, verse and poems) (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel'), 120 pp.

            Beginning in 1961 and through its last issue (December 1991), he was chief editor of the journal Sovetish heymland (Soviet homeland) in Moscow, and thereafter with its successor, Di yidishe gas (The Yiddish street). Over the course of many years, he was an influential figure in Soviet Yiddish literature. His work played an important role at various stages: Until WWII he was considered a lyrical poet who embodied the genesis of a new taiga region and the feats of its first builders. This was a decidedly new page in the history of Soviet Yiddish literature—a page about how nature and mankind living within it become one, and one is hard-pressed to separate them. Everything with the richness of nature from Far Eastern regions lives, sparkles, and rushes forth in Vergelis’s poems about Birobidzhan. The second stage of his creative work is marked by the theme of heroism. It dominates his writing for the war years. In the 1950s the poet embodied the complicated problems of the postwar era. In the 1960s and 1970s, his poetry excelled with a marked socio-political character and purposiveness. And, finally, the last period was characterized by a new direction in his lyric poetry and was embodied in two cycles: “Lider fun der yidisher gas” (Poetry of the Jewish street) and “Bibl-lider” (Bible poetry). Aside from his poetic, prose, and journalistic writings, which appeared in separate publications, Vergelis wrote a large number of articles and dramatic works, two of which were staged by the Moscow Yiddish Drama Ensemble. With the passing of Arn Vergelis, this was indeed the last period of Soviet Yiddish literature. He died in Moscow.

His books would include: Bam kval, lider (Moscow: Emes, 1940), 95 pp.; Birobidzhaner dor, poetry (Moscow: Emes, 1948), 169 pp.; Azoy lebn mir, dokumentale noveln, fartsaykhenungen reportazh (How we live: Documented novellas, jottings, reportage pieces) (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1964), 485 pp.; Oyg af oyg, lider un poemes (Eye to eye, poetry) (New York: IKUF, 1969), 329 pp.; Fun alef biz tof, lider un gezangen (From A to Z, poems and songs) (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1970), 358 pp.; Raizes (Travels) (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1976), 454 pp.; Di tsayt (The times) (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1981), 477 pp.; Di hiter bay di toyern (The guardian at the gates) (Moscow, 1987); Tsoybergang (The magic way), poems (Moscow, 1984); Leyenbukh far shiler fun der onfang-shul (Reader for students in elementary school) (Khabarovsk: Khabarovsker bikher-farlag, 1989), 199 pp.; Lider un romansn af di verter fun arn vergelis (Poems and romances with the words from Arn Vergelis) (Moscow: Sov Kompozitor, 1987), 109 pp. He edited: Horizontn (Horizons) (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1965), 533 pp. He also published a cycle of poems: “Fun smolensk biz berlin” (From Smolensk to Berlin).

            He also wrote reportage pieces, stories, and a monograph entitled Birobidzhan in der yidisher literatur (Birobidzhan in Yiddish literature).  He compiled the final volume of Oysgeveylte verk (Selected works) by Sholem-Aleichem (Moscow, 1959), 374 pp., which appeared on the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth.  His work was also included in: Komyug, literarish-kinstlerisher zamlbukh ([Jewish] Communist Youth, literary-artistic anthology) (Moscow: Emes, 1938); the anthology Osher shvartsman, zamlung gevidmet dem tsvantsik yortog fun zayn heldishn toyt (Osher Shvartsman, collection dedicated to the twentieth anniversary of his heroic death) (Moscow: Emes, 1940).

Sources: Sh. Klitenik, in Forpost (Birobidzhan) (1936); M. Natovitsh, in Eynikeyt (Moscow) (February 24, 1945); A. Kushnirov, in Eynikeyt (December 18, 1945); N. Mayzil, in Ikuf (Buenos Aires) 43 (1946); Y. Dobrushin, in Eynikeyt (April 27, 1946); Y. M. Kudish, in In dinst fun folk (In service to the people), (New York, 1947), pp. 382-84; I. Fefer, in Folks-shtime (Lodz) 2 (1949); N. Y. Gotlib, in Tsukunft (New York) (May 1951); A. Bik, Vort un tsayt (Word and time) (Buenos Aires, 1951); Yankev Glatshteyn, in Tog-morgn zhurnal (New York) (October 21, 1955); Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (November 6, 1955); G. Kenig, in Morgn-frayhayt (October 21, 1956); Dr. Kh. Shoshkes, in Tog-morgn zhurnal (November 14, 1956); B. Kh. in Hapoel hatsair (Tel Aviv) (Tevet 12 [= December 27], 1955); Y. Gilboa, in Bitsaron (New York) (Kislev [= November-December] 1957); 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; Tsvi Efraim, in Der yidisher zhurnal (Toronto) (September 18, 1959); Y. Tsang, “Vi halt es mit idish in sovetn-farband?” (How is Yiddish doing in the Soviet Union?), Tog-morgn zhurnal (October 28, 1959); A. Vergelis, “Ofener briv tsu b. ts. goldberg” (An open letter to B. Ts. Goldberg), Morgn-frayhayt (November 30, 1959); B. Ts. Goldberg, “An entfer” (An answer), Tog-morgn zhurnal (December 30-31, 1959); B. Y. Byalostotski, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (December 1959).

Binyumin Elis

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 251; 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. 145-46.]

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