Wednesday 19 October 2016


MOYSHE TEYF (1904-December 27, 1966)

            He was a poet, born in Minsk, Byelorussia, into the family of an office employee. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, he became a laborer in a wallpaper factory. He studied in his free time at an evening school for working youth, and he later graduated from the Yiddish division of the Literature Department of the Moscow Pedagogical Institute. He was active in Komyug ([Jewish] Communist youth association) and began writing poetry in 1920, some of which was included in his book Lider un poemen (Poetry). In 1924 he was one of the founders of the young writers’ group associated with the journal Der yunger arbeter (The young worker). He soon became distinctive for his lyrical and romantic style. His lyrical hero belonged to those youths who “went off to death” for the Revolution. At first, these motifs sounded exalted and inspiring, but the more the poet met with harsh reality, the more his work was permeated by the dramatic and tragic. The dreamlike quality—with which his prewar poetry was tinged—of his ballads and poems (for example, the poems “Vialontshel” [Cello] and “A romantishe nakht” [A romantic night]) cede later in his poetry a place for deep dramatic and tragic inflection. Such was the case with: “Kikhelekh un zemelekh” (Cookies and rolls), “Zeks milyon” (Seven million), and “Ane frank” (Anne Frank), among others. Also, ethnic motifs began to prevail in his poems after the Holocaust. A growing interest in the old treasures and the universal cultural values of the Jewish people, and in the Bible, brought him to the magnificent poetic translation of “The Song of Songs.” During WWII, in which he took part as an artilleryman at the front lines, he experienced the tragedy personally—his wife and child died in the Minsk ghetto.

On two occasions the poet tasted the bitterness of languishing in Stalinist prisons and camps. He was first arrested in 1937, and shortly after being released in 1941, he was sent to the front. The second time he was purged in 1948, at the time of the Soviet regime’s attack on all of Yiddish culture. He emerged alive and was rehabilitated after Stalin’s death. Writing under the pen name of M. Sibirski, he left behind a remarkable poetry cycle about this era, a portion of which was published in Yerusholaimer almanakh (Jerusalem almanac) in 1992. With the founding of Sovetish heymland (Soviet homeland), Teyf served as a member of the editorial board and ran the poetry division. After his death, the journal published his poetic work “A nit-farendikte dertseylung” (An unending story) in 1984. His writings have been translated into Russian, Byelorussian, Hebrew, and other languages. The composer Maksim Dunayevski composed music in 1970 to the Russian translation, by Yuna Morits, of his poem “Kikhelekh un zemelekh.” He was living in Moscow until his death.

            His poems also appeared in: Oktyabr (October) in Minsk; Shtern (Star) and Royte velt (Red world) in Kharkov; Emes (Truth) and Eynikeyt (Unity) in Moscow; as well as in the literary almanacs, Atake, almanakh fun roytarmeyishn landshuts-literatur (Attack, almanac of the Red Army’s national defense literature) of 1934 and Sovetishe vaysrusland, literarishe zamlung (Soviet Byelorussia, literary collection) of 1935, both in Minsk by Byelorussian State Publishers.

Among his books: Hesele fun shlosgesele (Hesele from castle alley), a poem for children (Moscow: Emes, 1932), 32 pp.; Lider un poemen (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1933), 272 pp.; Parizer komune (Paris Commune), poem for children, cover and illustrations by Leyzer Ran (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1933), 19 pp.; Tsuzamen, kinder-zamlung (Together, children’s anthology) (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1935), 119 pp.; Proletarke, shvester mayne, novele (My sister the proletarian, a novella), illustrations by D. Kipnis (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1935), 63 pp.; Toyt oder royt (Dead or red), poetry (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1937), 64 pp.; Milkhome-lider (War poems) (Moscow: Emes, 1947). Oysderveylts, lider, balades, poemes (Selections: songs, ballads, poems) (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1965), 156 pp.; poetry cycle in Horizontn (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1965); Lider, balades, poemes (Songs, ballads, poems) (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1985), 63 pp. His work also appeared in: Kep, lider zamlung (Heads, poetry collection) (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1926); and S. Polonski’s 10 pyonerishe lider (Ten pioneering poems) (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1929). His published translations in book form include: Friedrich Schiller, Vilhelm tel (William Tell) (Minsk: State Publishers of Byelorussia, 1935), 143 pp.; Walter Raleigh, Ayvenho (Ivanhoe) (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1937), 413 pp.; Charles de Coster, Til oylenshpigel (Till Eulenspiegel [original: La Légende et les Aventures héroïques, joyeuses et glorieuses d’Ulenspiegel et de Lamme Goedzak au pays de Flandres et ailleurs]) (Moscow: Emes, 1938), 202 pp. He also translated the drama Untergang (Downfall) by Isaac Babel for the Minsk Yiddish theater.

Sources: M. Litvakov, In umru (Disquiet), vol. 2 (Moscow, 1926); B. Orshanski, preface to Kep, lider zamlung (Heads, poetry collection) (Minsk, 1926); Y. Dobrushin, Sovetishe dikhtung (Soviet poetry) (Moscow, 1935); 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; A. Sabar, in Davar (Tel Aviv) (Siven 18 [= June 2], 1961), including a Hebrew translation of Teyf’s poem “Kikhlekh un zemelekh” (Cookies and rolls); Yankev, Glatshteyn, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (September 29, 1961).

                                                                                                                                                    Leyzer Ran

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 283; 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. 163-65.

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