ZALMEN VENDROF (ZALMAN WENDROFF) (1877-1971)
The pen name of Zalmen Vendrovski, he was a prose author and essayist, born in Slutsk, Minsk district, Byelorussia; his father was a ritual slaughterer. Until age thirteen, he studied in religious primary schools, in a yeshiva, and Hebrew and Russian with a private tutor. Evincing no particular interest in a systematic education, he failed his examinations as an external student, though he did read a great deal of Russian, Hebrew, and Yiddish literature. At age sixteen, he left for Lodz where he worked in a textile factory, studied dentistry, and began writing poetry and stories. He debuted in print in 1901 with a story published in the Warsaw newspaper Der yud (The Jew). The difficult life of a laborer stimulated him to take a wanderer’s stick in hand. From Poland, he made his way to England, where he was a peddler, worked on a ship that carried cattle and in a factory producing soda water, and performed other jobs as well. For a time he lived in Glasgow, Scotland, where he peddled sheet music, diligently studied English, and published a long story in the local Idishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper), published by one Oppenheim. From there he moved to London, where he worked as a teacher in a Talmud-Torah, a tourist guide, a librarian, a doorman at an exhibition, a peddler through villages, and a typesetter in a publishing house, among other trades. There he became a close friend of Rudolf Rocker and published stories in the anarchist Arbayter fraynd (Friend of labor) and Zherminal (Germinal). He was also a contributor to the Labor Zionist weekly Der vanderer (The wanderer), edited by Grosman and Kalmen Marmor, and to Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor) in New York. In June 1905 he traveled illegally to Moscow, supported himself giving English lessons, and from there—after the December uprising in 1905—immigrated to United States where he traveled around a great deal, worked in a variety of trades, later settled in New York, became a contributor to Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal) and Der amerikaner (The American), and at the same time wrote for Fraye arbeter shtime. He was writing stories, human-interest articles, jottings, and correspondence pieces.
At the beginning of 1908 he was sent by Y. Sapirshteyn back to Russia as a correspondent for Morgn-zhurnal to replace the returning Philip Krantz. He was invited in Russia by Shmuel-Yankev Yatskan to come to Warsaw and write for Haynt (Today) and Idishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper). Vendrof lived in Warsaw until June 1915, in charge of the sections of Haynt called “Idishe shtet un shtetlekh” (Jewish cities and towns) and “Far der vokh” (For the week), and he published short features, humorous sketches, impressions, and stories. He published his first book there in 1911: Humoresken un ertseylungen (Humorous sketches and stories), two volumes of stories titled “Pravozhitelstvo” (Right of residence) and two volumes titled “Der breyter shmeykhl” (The broad smile). The greatest resonance came from the former “Pravozhitelstvo,” in which the author in a humorous form described the troubles that Jews suffered in the Pale of Settlement. This work was translated into Russian, and then, when the Russian writer Aleksandr Amfiteatrov published appeals for the stories in a series of newspapers, they received a wide repercussion in society. And, Jewish deputies in the Duma publicly quoted from it when they spoke about the Jews’ loss of rights. At the same time he was working as the Warsaw correspondent for Morgn-zhurnal and Der amerikaner, and he wrote as well for Fraye arbeter shtime and Di tsayt (The times) in London. He also published stories in Y. L. Perets’s Yudishe vokhnshrift (Jewish weekly writing) in Warsaw, as well as for a variety of holiday sheets.
In June 1915 he left Warsaw for Moscow where he worked as a plenipotentiary for the relief committee for Jewish war victims—YEKOPO (Yevreyskiy komitet pomoshchi zhertvam voyny); he also participated in the work of the “Khevre mefitse haskole” (Society for the promotion of enlightenment [among the Jews of Russia]), OZE (Obschestvo zdravookhraneniia evreev—Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jewish Population), and the Jewish Historical Ethnographic Society, and he published some feature pieces in the volumes of YIKO (Jewish Cultural Organization) and in Petrograder togblat (Petrograd daily newspaper). After the February 1917 Revolution, he went on a lengthy assignment for YEKOPO over the Urals to Siberia, with the goal of observing the condition of Galician Jews who had been dragged out there by the Tsarist military authorities during WWI as “spies.” After the October Revolution, Vendrof returned from Irkutsk to Moscow, was hired as a clerk in the Commissariat of National Minorities, and later served as the administrator of the division of the press and literature in the Commissariat of Communications, in which he was primarily employed for editorial work. He also at this time placed pieces in Ekonomicheskaia zhizn' (Economic life) and other Russian-language newspapers and magazines. He was also translating into Yiddish a string of works by Jack London, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, and Ilya Ehrenburg, while publishing his own stories and jottings in the periodical press. In 1919 he published his book Arbet un noyt, dertseylungen (Labor and necessity, stories); and in 1941 the first volume of his autobiographical stories, Afn shvel fun lebn, dertseylungen un noveln (At the threshold of life, stories and novellas).
In the 1920s and early 1930s, he renewed his regular contributions as a correspondent to Tog (Day) and later as well to Forverts (Forward)—both in New York—Di tsayt in London, Tog in Vilna, and Moment (Moment) in Warsaw, where he published—under the pseudonyms: V. N. Dorf, Sambodi (Somebody), D. Moskvin, D. Volin, A Moskver, A Baobakhter, A Vanderer, Libin, Anin, and others—on general and Jewish life in the Soviet Union. When the Circle of Literary Writers and Artists was founded in Moscow in 1920, he became a member, but at the end of 1920 he was excluded from the Circle at the time of re-registration, because of his work for the Forverts in New York. He protested against this with a long letter to the managers of the Circle, in which he rejected all accusations against him and, among other things, declared: “I must make it clear generally that I have never in my life belonged to any party. I detest parties, from Zionist to Communist—I loathe them. I am by nature an enemy of party discipline.” The Circle took him back in at this point as a member, but the Jewish Communist writers were not able to forgive him.
During the years of WWII, he worked for the Yiddish division of foreign radio transmissions. Vendrof did not avoid the Soviet regime’s persecutions of Yiddish writers in the harsh year of 1948. He was arrested, tortured over the course of seven months (not allowing him to sleep through the night even once for all this time), and accused of being a “cosmopolite.” It was demanded of him that he admit to being “in contact with agents of hostile states.” In the end this writer in his seventies was sentenced to ten years in prison. In 1955 he was freed, returned to Moscow, and continued his creative work. In the autumn of 1957 he took part in a gathering with Israeli journalists and stated on that occasion that it was not true that the Soviet government said that Jews in Soviet Russia no longer wanted culture and literature in Yiddish. “One cannot,” he added, “cut off the roots of one of the oldest cultures in the world.” In 1958 the Moscow publisher “Sovetskii pisatel'” (Soviet writer) published a collection of his stories in Russian, Rasskazy o bylom (Stories of yesteryear), 372 pp.—translations by R. Rubinoy. He lived in Moscow until his death.
His books include: Humoresken un ertseylungen (Warsaw: B. Shimin, 1911), 189 pp., second edition (1921), 191 pp.; Zerekh un bulani (Zerekh and Bulani) (Warsaw: “Familyen-biblyotek” [Family library], 1911), 163 pp.; Bakante parshoynen, humoristishe ertseylungen (Well-known persons, humorous stories) (Vilna: Yehudiah, 1912), fourteen stories; two volumes of his stories under the general title, Pravozhitelstvo, ertsehlungen, mayselekh un bilder (Right of residence, stories, tales, and images) (Warsaw-Vilna: Yehudiya, 1912), some of the included items were published earlier in separate volumes and sold by booksellers and book peddlers at five, seven, and eight kopeks each; Humoristishe shriftn (Humorous writings) (Vilna: F. Garber, 1912); Derlebt (Lived to see) (Warsaw: “Familyen-biblyotek,” 1912), 180 pp.; Der breyter shmeykhl, humoristishe ertseylungen (The wide smile, humorous stories) (Warsaw-Vilna: Yehudiah, 1914), 225 pp.; Gelekhter un trern, ertseylungen un humoresken (Laughter and tears, stories and humorous sketches) (Warsaw-Vilna: Yehudiah, 1914), 203 pp.; Arbet un noyt, dertseylungen (Moscow: Lebn, 1919), 78 pp.; Undzer gas, dertseylungen (Our street, stories) (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1967), 559 pp. Other undated, often short works: Baym grinem tishl (At the green table) (Warsaw: “Familyen-biblyotek,” n.d.), 156 pp.; Genekhtigt in suke (A night in the Sukkah) (Warsaw: B. Schimin, n.d.), 16 pp.; Mortkhe un skobelev (Mordechai and Skobelev) (Warsaw: Tsentral, n.d.), 16 pp.; Tsale der bal-khezhbn (Tsale, the calculator) (Warsaw: Tsentral, n.d.); Tsemekh dreykop (Tsemekh the gad-about) (Warsaw, n.d.); Der odeser krasevets (The handsome man from Odessa) (Warsaw, n.d.); Iber di kashes (On the questions) (Warsaw, n.d.); A endik af peysekh (An end to Passover) (Warsaw, n.d.), 15 pp.; A suke afn boydem (A sukkah in the attic) (Warsaw, n.d.); Frier un shpeter (Earlier and later) (Warsaw, n.d.), 14 pp. In 1920 the publishing house Yevana in Riga, Latvia, brought out Vendrof’s Pravozhitelstvo in small, separate booklets under the general title “Universal Library.” The publisher “Naye yidishe shul” (New Yiddish school) in Warsaw published in 1938 a pamphlet of his entitled In a stolerey-fabrik (In a carpenter’s factory), 16 pp.; and the Moscow state publishing house “Der emes” (The truth) brought out his Afn shvel fun lebn, dertseylungen un noveln (Moscow, 1941), 176 pp. His translations would include: Rudyard Kipling’s Dos helfants-kind (The elephant’s child) (Petrograd, 1917); Kipling’s Vi azoy der keml hot gekrogn a hoyker (How the camel got his hump) (Petrograd, 1917); L. B. Khavkina, Vi azoy mentshn hobn zikh oysgelernt boyen heyzer (How people learned to build houses) (Bialystok: Dos bukh, 1921), 102 pp.; Oscar Wilde, Der gliklekher prints (The happy prince) (Moscow: State Publ., 1921), 18 pp.
English translations of his work includes: When It Comes to Living, trans,. Irene Jerison (McKinleyville, CA: Fithian Press, 2004), 239 pp.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; Biblyografishe yorbikher fun yivo (Bibliographic yearbooks from YIVO), vol. 1 (Warsaw, 1928); Haynt-yubiley-bukh, 668-688, 1908-1928 (Jubilee volume for Haynt, 668-688, 1908-1928) (Warsaw, 1928), p. 20; A. Abtshuk, Etyudn un materialn tsu der geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur bavegung in FSRR (Studies and material for the history of the Yiddish literature movement in the Soviet Union) (Kharkov, 1934), pp. 25-32; D. Tsarni (Charney), in Tsukunft (New York) (June 1939); Charney, A yortsendlik aza, 1914-1924, memuarn (Such a decade, 1914-1924, memoirs) (New York, 1943), pp. 226, 301-2; “In der yidisher un hebreisher literatur” (In Yiddish and Hebrew literature), Tsukunft (1942; May 1947); N. Y. Gotlib, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (October 23, 1942); A. Kushnirov, in Naye prese (Paris) (July 27, 1945); B. Kutsher, Geven amol varshe (As Warsaw once was) (Paris, 1955); Dr. Kh. Shoshkes, in Tog-morgn zhurnal (New York) (November 25, 1956); Y. Serebryana, in Folks-shtime (Warsaw) (January 19, 1957); M. Kats, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (May 26, 1957); M. Kalikshteyn, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (October 4, 1957); Sheyne-Miriam Broderzon, in Tog-morgn zhurnal (June 9, 1957); M. Elboym, in Forverts (New York) (January 13, 1958); Khayim Leyb Fuks, in Fun noentn over (New York) 3 (1957); Y. Sheynin, in Morgn-frayhayt (August 25, 1958); 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; Morgn-frayhayt (February 7, 1960).
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), cols. 249-50; 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. 144-45.]