Sunday 26 February 2017


KHAYKL LUNSKI (June 29, 1881-1942/1943)
            He was born in Slonim, Byelorussia, to a father who was a teacher in a religious elementary school who descended from the Königsberg rabbi, R. Leybele the Baal-Pardes.  From age four he studied in a religious elementary school, from eight in the Slonim yeshiva, and at age thirteen he was proficient in two entire orders of the Talmud; he went on to study in the yeshivas of Slonim and Lide (Lida).  In 1892 he moved to Vilna, where for two years he served as a beadle in the Old Shul (alte kloyz) there.  He turned his attention to secular matters in 1893—through his acquaintance with the editor of Hakarmel (The Carmel), the bibliophile Khayim-Leyb Markon.  He was active in Zionist groups, founded a charity association and groups for study in the small prayer houses of the city.  In Vilna in late 1895, he became the librarian and manager of the Strashun Library, where he became the “guardian of Jerusalem of Lithuania” [Vilna], recalling thousands of details of all the brilliant minds of Vilna, and to every question he could find the text with the appropriate answer.  Indefatigably he collected books, rare manuscripts, and historical documents, and cared for them in the temple of the Jewish spirit, the Strashun Library.  During the years of WWI he aided the Jews expelled the Kovno and Courland regions, and in 1919-1920 he helped those re-immigrating from deep in Russia and were scattered about in the Vilna synagogues and their courtyards.  In late 1918 he aided Sh. An-ski found the Jewish historical and ethnographic society, collected for its archive and museum thousands of documents, religious texts, pictures, records, and folklore materials, as well as records of the society itself (1922) and its musical materials.  Lunski was also an active member of the bibliographic commission of YIVO.  As a writer he began in 1905 in Luaḥ erets-yisrael (Calendar of the land of Israel) of A. M. Lunts in Jerusalem with two poems of a Zionist bent.  He went on to publish a short religious work entitled Toldot hagaon hatsadik maran r’ mordekhai vaytsel (Biography of the brilliant, sagely teacher R. Mordekhai Vaytsel) (Vilna, 1916/1917), 23 pp., a short biography of the Slonim rabbi, grandfather of Lunski’s deceased wife.  He began writing in Yiddish in 1917 in Vilner zamlbukh (Vilna anthology), vol. 2 (1918), with a treatment entitled “Vilner kloyzn un der shulhoyf” (The Vilna prayer houses and the courtyard [of the Great Synagogue]); and in Pinkes (Records), edited by Zalmen Reyzen, with the essay “Der hunger un yakres in vilne in der tsayt fun okupatsye” (Hunger and scarcity in Vilna at the time of the occupation) and, together with Y. Broydes, a listing of the announcements of the occupiers in Vilna.  He contributed as well to the monthly Di naye velt (The new world) (Vilna, 1919).  Lunski attracted a great deal of attention for his pamphlet Fun vilner geto, geshtaltn un bilder, geshribn in shvere tsaytn (From the Vilna ghetto, images and pictures, written in difficult times) (Vilna: Association of Jewish writers and journalists in Vilna, 1920), 70 pp., with a preface by H. Yeivin; this work also appeared in Hebrew as Mehageto havilnai, tipusim utselilim (From the Vilna ghetto, images and shadows) (Vilna: Association of Jewish writers and journalists in Vilna, 1920), 70 pp.  “This pamphlet,” wrote Shmuel Niger, “is a sort of renewal of past record books.  It was created, in fact, by one man, but in this man lives the spirit and likeness of the old Jewish chronicler.  With his mouth the old Vilna speaks to us.  It tells us not about the past but about contemporary events….  He recounts everything not as a historian but as a chronicler—that is, as a person who has himself lived through it all with the people.”  Lunski also published memoirs concerning Sh. An-ski and A. Vayter (in M. Shalit’s Lebn [Life] and in Vilna’s Tog [Day]) and in a separate publication Legendes vegn vilner goen (Legends of the Vilna Gaon) (Vilna, 1925), 24 pp.; and in the Orthodox weekly newspaper Dos vort (The word) in Vilna (1925), he published a series of articles about a number of great rabbis, which came out in book form under the title Geoynim un gedoylim fun noentn over, 10 sipurim un agodes fun zeyer lebn un shafn (Brilliant and prominent men of the recent past, ten stories and tales from their lives and works), with photographs (Vilna, 1931), 103 pp.  He was also concerned with bibliographic work and with compiling a catalogue of the Strashun Library and a listing of the pamphlets and manuscripts of A. M. Dik.  He amassed thousands of books for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, made excerpts from old Yiddish religious texts and responsa works, from which he published “Iserlin’s yidish” (Iserlin’s Yiddish), with notes by Max Weinreich, in Yidishe filologye (Yiddish philology) (Warsaw) 1 (1924), pp. 288-302, and “Yidish bay r’ yankev vayln (The Yiddish of R. Yankev Vayln), Filologishe shriftn (Philological writings) 1 (1926), pp. 285-88.  He also published work in Vilner yorbikher (Vilna yearbooks) and in the Pinkes (Records) on the history of Vilna in the years of WWI and occupation (Vilna, 1922).  He also authored the legend Purim saragosa (Purim in Saragossa) (Vilna, 1928), 21 pp.  He was arrested by the Nazis when they entered Vilna in 1941 and then released.  In the ghetto he worked in the reading room, and he wrote works about the tombstones in the oldest Jewish cemetery in Vilna and about the Jewish publishing houses in the city.  He kept a diary of his life in the ghetto.  He was in the ghetto until the end of 1941 and then was deported to his death in Treblinka, according to Katsherginski; according to other information, he was tortured by the Nazis in Vilna and died in September 1942.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2 (with a bibliography); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (New York) (June 1921); Bal-Dimyen, in Tsukunft (June-September 1923); Pinkes fun yekopo (Records of Yekopo [Yevreyskiy komitet pomoshchi zhertvam voyny—“Jewish Relief Committee for War Victims”]) (Vilna, 1931), see index; Vilne (Vilna), anthology, ed. Y. Yeshurin (New York, 1935), pp. 739-40; N. Vaynig, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (March 17, 1933); A. Gaselnik, in Yivo-bleter (Vilna) 14.1-2 (1939), pp. 175-77; Yidies fun yivo (New York) 6 (1944), with a photograph of Lunski; Sh. Katsherginski, in Tsukunft (September 1946); Katsherginski, in Khurbn vilne (The Holocaust in Vilna) (New York, 1947); A. Tsintsinatus, Bleter vegn vilne, zamlbukh (Pages about Vilna, a collection) (Lodz, 1947); Dr. M. Dvorzhetski (Mark Dvorzetsky), Yerusholayim delite in kamf un umkum (The Jerusalem of Lithuania in struggle and death) (Paris, 1948), see index; Dr. F. Fridman, in Yivo-bleter (New York) 34 (1950), p. 232; Shmerke katsherginski ondenk-bukh (Shmerke Katsherginski remembrance volume) (Buenos Aires, 1955), p. 288; Sh. Sreberk, Zikhronot hamotsi laor (Memoirs of a publisher) (Tel Aviv, 1954), p. 112; A. Reznik, in Hapoel hatsair (Tel Aviv) (December 31, 1958); H. Abramovitsh, Farshvundene geshtaltn (Disappeared figures) (Buenos Aires, 1958), pp. 93-99; Udim (Firebrands) (Jerusalem, 1960), pp. 280-87; H. Kruk, Togbukh fun vilner geto (Diary of the Vilna ghetto) (New York, 1961), pp. 73, 82, 123-24, 163, 178-79, 208.
Mortkhe Yofe

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