LEON TALMI (LEYZER TALMINOVITSKI) (January/February 1893-August 12, 1952)
He was a current events author and translator, born in the town of Lyakhavichy, Byelorussia, into a family of merchants. He studied in religious primary school, later attending the local senior high school. He early on joined the territorialist movement and later joined the Zionist Socialist Party. Around 1912 he moved with his parents to the United States, lived for a time in a provincial city in the state of Ohio, and then settled in New York where he became (1916) secretary of the territorialist newspaper Unzer vort (Our word). From that time forward, he remained connected to the journalistic world. After the February Revolution (1917), he departed for Russia, where he worked for the Kiev-based Naye tsayt (New times), the daily organ of the “Fareynikte” (United socialist party), and survived all the metamorphoses of the Fareynikte until its merger with the Russian Communist Party, when he became a Communist. In 1919 he published a translation of Oscar Wilde’s Der shlekhter riz (The bad giant [original: The Selfish Giant]) (Kiev: Kiever farlag), 14 pp. In 1920 he returned to the United States. He edited the monthly Oyfboy (Construction), published (1922-1923) in New York by the American division of the Idgezkom (Idishe gezelshaftlekhe komitet, [All-Russian] Jewish Social Committee [for relief to pogrom victims]); he published in issues 3 and 10 of Oyfboy a list of 515 Yiddish books and pamphlets that were published in Russia over the years 1917-1922. He later became a regular contributor to Morgn-frayhayt (Morning freedom), the Communist newspaper in New York. He was also co-editor of the Communist monthly Der hamer (The hammer). He was one of the principal leaders in the IKOR (Yidishe kolonizatsye organizatsye in rusland [Jewish colonization organization in Russia]) movement in America; the group was founded in the U.S. in the fall of 1924. In 1929 he went with an IKOR expedition to Birobidzhan, and as a result he published a book entitled Af royer erd, mit der “ikor” ekspeditsye in biro-bidzhan (On rough terrain, with the IKOR expedition to Birobidzhan) (New York: Frayhayt, 1931), 258 pp. This was a pro-Soviet book, full of rapturous praise for the Jewish migrants’ epic. In the early 1930s, after his return to the United States, he continued his editorial activities with Communist publications, including several IKOR works in New York, and he co-edited the Ikor-yorbukh (IKOR annual) (New York, 1932). In 1934 he settled for good in the Soviet Union, withdrew from Yiddish work, and became one of the editors of English-language propaganda for the Bolshevik regime. His name appeared very seldom in Yiddish publications thereafter, and he went on to work as one of the translators and editors of propaganda publications in English. His work appeared in the anthology Birebidzhan (Birobidzhan) (Moscow, 1936).
During the years of WWII, Talmi’s name was frequently mentioned as a member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow. He wrote articles on the fight against fascism. His last place of work was “Sovinformbyuro” (Soviet Information Bureau). He was arrested on July 3, 1949, charged with “anti-Soviet and nationalist activities, as well as espionage on behalf of America,” and in accordance with the sentence of the military jury from the high court of the Soviet Union, he was executed on August 12, 1952, with twelve other accused of the same offenses.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; A. Pomerants, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (April 27, 1931); P. Vyernik, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (April 19, 1931); A. Glants, in Tog (New York) (May 8, 1931); V. Abrams, in Der hamer (New York) (June 1931); 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), p. 25.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 276; 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. 160-61.]