Wednesday 17 August 2016


MOYSHE ZILBERFARB (September 7, 1876-March 19, 1934)
            Well known by his pen name of “M. Bazin,” he was born in Rovno, Volhynia, into an affluent Hassidic family.  He attended religious elementary school, until age fourteen studied Talmud with the commentaries, and thereafter turned his attention to secular education.  He left home at age twenty, graduated high school (in 1898) in Zhitomir, and then went on to study chemistry at Kiev Polytechnic; from 1902 to 1904, he studied medicine at Berlin University.  He later studied, with some interruptions, law in Kiev and Berne (Switzerland), where he received his doctoral degree.  While still in Rovno, he was drawn into political and community activities, carried on discussions of Zionism and socialism with Nokhum Shtif, Shmuel Vayntsvayg, and other subsequent “Vozrozhdentses” (“reborn” figures), considered himself a convinced Marxist, and in the year 1898-1902 sought a socialist solution for the Jewish national question.  In the autumn of 1902 in Berlin, he met Dr. Nokhum Sirkin, and he joined the Berlin group “Ḥerut” (Freedom), to which also belonged, aside from Sirkin, V. Latski-Bertoldi, Z. Kalmanovitsh, and others—on this group “Ḥerut,” see the collection Hamon (Masses) (Berlin, 1903).  During Berlin University vacation in the spring of 1903, he traveled to Rovno and there met with a conference of young Zionist students (Shtif, Dashevski, Fridland, Vayntsvayg, and others), to which he was attracted.  This was the historic Rovno conference, that had been called in Kiev (April 1903) for a conference of socialist territorialist and Labor Zionist activists (Ben-Adir, Mark Ratner, Vladimir Fabrikant, Nokhum Shtif [the visionary], V. Latski-Bertoldi, and others), at which Zilberfarb gave a speech on the national question and social democracy, and he became one of the leaders and writers of the newly founded group “Vozrozhdenie” (Renaissance) from which later emerged the party of the Sejmists.  In the Russian anthologies of this group—known by the title Vozrozhdenie (in journal form: 1-2, London, March 1904; 3-4, Paris, November 1904; in book form: St. Petersburg, December 1905)—writing as M. Nazin and B. Danin, he penned such works as: “The Jewish Question amid the Rifts in the Socialist Press” (which also appeared in book form); “The Principle of National Political Autonomy”; “National and Territorial Autonomy and the Interests of the Jewish Proletariat.”  He became the leading representative of the new group abroad and student auxiliary groups of “Vozrozhdenie” in a variety of cities in Germany.  In 1904 he was expelled from Berlin University and expelled from Prussia, because of a political speech he gave against the current German Chancellor of the Reich von Bülow—see his description of this in: “Zilberfarb-mandelshtam-intsident” (Zilberfarb-Mandelshtam incident), in his Gezamlte shriftn (Collected works), vol. 2, pp. 125-36.  He remained in Germany for a short time more (in Saxony and Bavaria) and Switzerland, and when freer winds began to blow in Russia, he returned home, participated (September 1905) in the second conference of “Vozrozhdenie” in Krucha, Mogilev district, later traveled on propaganda work for the group through various cities in Ukraine, Byelorussia, and Lithuania, remained for quite a while in Vitebsk (where he was known by the party nicknames of Bazin and Ezra), and later still (April 1906) became one of the founders of the “Jewish Socialist Workers’ Party” (or SERP, “Sotsialisticheskaia evreiskaia rabochaia partiia”) which assumed the position held by Vozrozhdenie—for details on the history of this group, see Zilberfarb’s work in Royter pinkes (Red records) 1 (1921) in Warsaw.  Over the years 1906-1908, he worked on the central committee of the new party and wrote a great deal in its Russian and Yiddish organs: in Russian, SERP (Moscow, 1907-1908); in Yiddish, Di folksshtime (The voice of the people) and Di shtime (The voice) (Vilna, 1906-1907). In the latter he published, among other things, his major work on the role and significance of the Jewish community.  He was arrested in 1907 and expelled from St. Petersburg.  In the winter of 1908 he was attending a conference in Vitebsk when he was again arrested and was sentenced to exile in “distant locales” for three years—with the right to have a lighter sentence if he left the country.  He thus departed as a political emigrant, lived in Vienna (Austria) and Berne (Switzerland) where he completed his studies in law, became one of the most profound interpreters and explainers of national personal autonomy, and wrote from abroad for the Russian monthly Evreiskii mir (Jewish world) in St. Petersburg (1909-1910).  He returned to Russia in 1911, and until 1914 worked on behalf of the Rovno Society for Mutual Credit; thereafter, until 1917, he worked for YIKO (Jewish Cultural Organization) in St. Petersburg as an inspector of Jewish savings and loans banks.  At the same time he was writing for: Di alte shtime (The old voice), a collection (Vilna, 1911); Di yidishe velt (The Jewish world), a monthly (St. Petersburg, 1912) which published his well-known “Briv fun der yidisher provints” (Letters from the Jewish hinterland) (it appears in the second volume of his Gezamlte shriftn, where it is titled: “Unzer burzhuazye in der tsayt fun reaktsye, milkhome un revolutsye” [Our bourgeoisie in the era of reaction, war, and revolution]); Di yudishe velt (The Jewish world), a monthly (Vilna, 1914), issues 1 and 7; Di vokh (The week), a weekly (Vilna, 1915); In unzere teg (In our days), an anthology (Petrograd) (April 1916); and others.
            After the February-March Revolution of 1917, Zilberfarb moved to Kiev where he took a prominent part in the violent political life of that time.  He assumed a leading position in the central committee of the United Jewish Socialist Party (Jewish Socialist Workers’ Party and Zionist Socialists), took part in concluding the well-known agreement (July 3, 1917) between the “Central Council” (Rada) of Ukraine and the representatives of the provisional Kerensky government in Russia, and when the “Central Council” decided (July 1, 1917) to establish three vice-secretariats within the Secretariat for Inter-Nationality Affairs (for Russian, Jewish, and Polish affairs), Dr. Moyshe Zilberfarb—according to the agreement among the Jewish socialist parties (the Bund, the United Jewish Socialists, and the Labor Zionists) and the democratic Jewish People’s Party—was named vice-secretary for Jewish affairs, and soon, given his competence for the position, he effectively became the minister for Jewish national affairs in Ukraine.  Thus, from his earliest years devoted to studying the problem of national autonomy, Zilberfarb was the first person to manage in practice to lay the foundations for such autonomy.  He authored the first law for national personal autonomy that was enacted by the Ukrainian Rada on January 10, 1918 (on his activities as minister for Jewish national affairs, much was written in the newspapers and magazines; the history of this historic experiment, as well as documentation connected with it, can be found in Zilberfarb’s book Dos idishe ministeryum un di idishe avtonomye in ukraine [The Jewish Ministry and Jewish national autonomy in Ukraine] [Kiev, 1918/1919]).  His activities as minister were cut short.  On January 16, 1918, with the lightning fast changes in the political situation in the country, he was forced to resign his post.  In August 1918, when Hetman Skoropadskyi held power in Kiev, Zilberfarb was arrested but soon released.  He then became director of the Jewish People’s University in Kiev, and wrote for the daily Naye tsayt (New times) in Kiev (1918), Zamlbukh (Anthology) in Kiev (1919), and other serials.  When Communism gained the upper hand (1919) among the Jewish socialist parties in Russia, Zilberfarb left the United Jewish Socialist Party—of which he was the main leader for its entire existence—and completely withdrew from politics to become chairman of “Kultur-life” (Culture league) which over the years, 1918-1920, developed diversified activities.  Under the reign of General Denikin in Kiev (1919), he was twice arrested—on one occasion he was even placed before a court martial, but his friends underwent great trouble to successfully save him from a death sentence and have him released.  In this connection a newspaper in Vienna by mistake published the news that he was dead.  The Yiddish press then reprinted the false information and dedicated obituaries to him, wrote articles about him and his work, and in Bialystok a school was even named for him (Bazin School).  In August 1920 when he was with a delegation from the Kultur-lige in Moscow, he was erroneous arrested and imprisoned for several days in the well-known Cheka (secret police) prison: Lubyanka.  At the end of 1920 the non-Communist section of the central committee of the Kultur-lige was expelled by decree of the Soviet authorities from its administration, and although Zilberfarb still had the possibility to continue working in the Kultur-lige as a “spets” (specialist), he would not go along with this move, and in 1921 he moved to Warsaw, Poland, where he became chairman of the central committee of ORT (Association for the Promotion of Skilled Trades); in 1922 he was also a member of the central administration of ORT in Berlin.  Later, 1923-1925, he was active in Jewish emigration affairs, a member of the executive committee which later established JIAS (Jewish Immigrant Aid Society), according to a document of HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), in Poland.  He simultaneously was chairman of the publishing house of Kultur-lige in Warsaw, participated in the running of Tsisho (Central Jewish School Organization), for a time was also chairman of the Jewish writers’ and journalists’ association in Warsaw, and wrote as well as served as co-editor for such varied periodicals as: Der veg (The way) (Berlin, 1924); Bikher-velt (Book world) (Warsaw, 1928-1929); Zhitlovski-zamlbukh (Anthology for [Chaim] Zhitlowsky) (Warsaw, 1929); Virtshaft un lebn (Economy and life) (Berlin, 1930); Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) (Warsaw, 1924, 1933-1934); and the collection Sotsyalistisher teritoryalizm (Socialist territorialism) (Paris, 1934).  In his last years, Zilberfarb grew politically closer to the Bund and wrote a great deal for the Bundist daily Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper) in Warsaw (1926-1932), the monthly journal Unzer tsayt (Our time) in Warsaw (1927), and Vokhnshrift far literatur (Weekly writing for literature) in Warsaw (1931).  He had a heart attack in 1933 and remained thereafter paralyzed in bed in his apartment in Otvosk (Otwock), near Warsaw.  He also lost his eyesight during the period of his lengthy illness.  He died in March 1934.  His works in book form would include: in Russian, two books concerning the topic of the Jewish question amid the rifts in the socialist press (St. Petersburg-Mozir, 1906) and Jewish societies of mutual credit (St. Petersburg, 1913); in German, he published on the administration of Jewish communities in Russia (Pressburg, 1911); and in Yiddish, Dos idishe ministeryum un di idishe avtonomye in ukraine (Kiev: Idisher folks farlag, 1919), 81 pp. with an 85-page supplement of documents, Gezamlte shriftn, vol. 1 (“national autonomy, socio-economic issues, politics, community, culture”) (Paris-Warsaw, 1935), 486 pp., and vol. 2 (“Our bourgeoisie, memoirs, men, and books”) (Paris-Warsaw, 1937), 346 pp.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; L. Kahan, in Lodzher folksblat (Lodz) (February 22, 1918); Fashizirter yidishizm (Fascist Yiddishism) (Minsk, 1930), p. 7; Pinkes fun yekopo (Records of Yekopo [Yevreyskiy komitet pomoshchi zhertvam voyny—“Jewish Relief Committee for War Victims”]) (Vilna, 1931), pp. 280, 675, 745-46, 759; Kh. Dunets, In kamf af tsvey frontn (In a struggle on two fronts) (Minsk: Byelorussian Academy of Sciences, 1932), pp. 72f; Dr. M. Uriel, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (November 17, 1933); Ben-Adir, in Literarishe bleter (December 15, 1933); Ben-Adir, “Kharakteristik fun m. zilberfarbs gezelshaftlekhn mehus” (The character of M. Zilberfarb’s community essence), in Zilberfarb’s Gezamlte shriftn (1935), vol. 1, pp. 1-15; Oscar Janowsky, The Jews and Minority Rights, 1898-1919 (New York, 1933), pp. 69-70, 230-40; Kh. Sh. Kazdan, in Der veker (New York) (March 31, 1934); Kazdan, Fun kheyder un shkoles biz tsisho (From religious and secular primary schools to Tsisho) (Mexico, 1956), see index; Dr. Chaim Zhitlowsky, in Tsukunft (New York) (May 1934); Tsvi Hirshkan, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (February 19, 1935); N. Mayzil, in Literarishe bleter (June 14, 1935); Mayzil, Geven amol a lebn (Once was a life) (Buenos Aires, 1951), pp. 19, 21, 24, 25, 50-53, 61-67, passim; D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Tsukunft (June 1937); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 2 (Montreal, 1947), pp. 163-65; B. Kutsher, Geven amol varshe (As Warsaw once was) (Paris, 1955), see index; Vitebsk amol, geshikhte, zikhroynes, khurbn (Bygone Vitebsk, history, memoirs, destruction) (New York, 1956), pp. 338, 342-52.
Yitskhok Kharlash

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