Wednesday 22 March 2017


A. LITVIN (1862-March 6, 1943)
            Pseudonym of Shmuel Hurvits, he was born in Minsk, Byelorussia, to poor parents.  Until age twelve he studied in a religious primary school, before turning his attention to secular education.  He worked a teacher, but out of an ideological love of physical work, he left teaching, was a street-paver, later worked in carpentry and carving, was a typesetter, an employee in a business, a bookkeeper, and a street peddler.  In 1901 he arrived in the United States, where he worked in a shoe factory, delivered newspapers, and also was a contributor to radical newspapers in New York.  He began his literary activity with poems in the Russian weekly magazine Rodina (Homeland) in St. Petersburg in the 1890s, later contributing to other Russian-language periodicals.  He also wrote in Hebrew.  His first work in Yiddish was an article entitled “Erets-yisroel un ire heldn” (The land of Israel and its heroes) in Der yud (The Jew) (Warsaw-Cracow) which was founded in 1890.  After coming to America, he was a frequent contributor to Forverts (Forward) and other radical newspapers and magazines in New York.  He published poems, sketches, journalistic pieces, and popular scientific articles, principally on topics in Jewish history.  In 1905 he returned to Russia, living mainly in Warsaw and Vilna.  From May 1909 until the end of 1912, he published in Vilna the “social-literary and popular-scientific” monthly journal Leben un visnshaft (Life and science), with special publications from the journal: the anthologies Shtrahlen (Beams [of light]) in 1909 and Leben un visnshaft in 1911.  The main goal of the journal was to illuminate the most important issues of the day in both general and Jewish life, to create among Jewish youths an optimistic outlook on the world, and to awaken them to active work for their own improvement and the benefit of the people.  The journal published, among other items, characterizations of well-known Yiddish-Hebrew and general writers (such as A. M. Dik, Isaac Baer Levinsohn, Shomer, Linetski, Mapu, Dickens, Tolstoy, and Nekrasov, among others); translations from Bialik, Byron, Shelley, Longfellow, and others; historical works, folklore research, as well as writings by young writing talent in Yiddish, such as Dovid Eynhorn, Shmuel Niger, Leyb Naydus, and others.  He published in Fraynd (Friend) (1911-1912), then still in Warsaw, a series “Notitsn fun a rayzndn iber poyln” (Notes from a traveler through Poland) on Jewish economic life; this was the result of a research trip that he made, beginning in 1905, through the Jewish communities of Poland, Lithuania, and Galicia.  The immense quantity of materials that he amassed over the course of a year-long research project, he then adapted and published in his chief work: Yudishe neshomes (Jewish souls).  When he made his second visit to the United States in 1914, he became editor of a publishing house called “Kapitlekh historye” (Chapters of history).  At the same time, he placed work in various Yiddish newspapers and magazines, such as: Forverts (Forward), Der fraynd (The friend), the Labor Zionist daily Tsayt (Time) in 1920-1922, Der idisher kemfer (The Jewish fighter), Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal), and Tsukunft (Future), among others.  Litvin assembled all manner of folk creations, anecdotes, songs, and folktales.  He was interested in the complex issues in Jewish education, consumer and credit cooperatives, and in making the Jewish masses economically productive and socially healthy.  His greatest accomplishment, though, consists of his six-volume Yudishe neshomes (New York: Folksbildung, 1916-1917), second and third edition (1922)—a work with enormous value for our cultural history through its reflections on hundreds of types and images from all corners of Jewish life from the past, near and far.  He published a portion of his collected folksongs and stories in newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets, but many of his folklore collections remained packed in crates which—together with his own writings and the prepared third volume, Yidishe neshomes in amerike (Jewish souls in America)—were transported to the Yiddish Scientific Institute (YIVO).  Another of his major collections of folktales and old Jewish storybooks was transported to the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.  One volume of Litvin’s Yudishe neshomes also appeared in 1943/1944 in Hebrew translation by Avraham Kariv as Neshamot beyisrael (Tel Aviv: Am Oved).  Litvin was also a community and cultural leader.  He was a cofounder of the first Labor Zionist circle in Minsk and one of the pioneers of Labor Zionism in America.  He had also participated in the first circles of the Bund and in the years of Leben un visnshaft was in contact with illegal Bundist groups in various cities of the Jewish Pale of Settlement in Russia, but he remained closer to the Zionist direction in the Jewish labor movement.  He also stuck to his idea of making Jewish life productive, and he was the founder of the Jewish cooperative labor colony “Harmonia,” near Plainfield, New Jersey, and of the first Yiddish “forest” school in the colony.
            In book form, he published: Di monarkhistishe un parlamentarishe zelbsthershung (The monarchic and parliamentary self-governance) by Karl Kautsky, translated [by Litvin] from the German (Warsaw: Progres, 1906), 34 pp.; In arbayt un noyt, lider un gedikhte (In labor and need, poetry) (Vilna, 1908), 87 pp.; Funem kheydershen pinkes (Records from the elementary school) (Vilna: Di velt, 1908), 87 pp.; In der nayer heym, bilder fun nyu yorker geto (In the new home, images from the New York ghetto) (Vilna: Di velt, 1908), 87 pp.; In podryad, poeme (In the matzo factory, a poem) (Vilna: Leben un visnshaft, 1909), 45 pp.; Shomer un zayn roman (Shomer and his novel) (New York, 1910); Ayzik-meyer dik (Ayzik-Meyer Dik) (New York, 1911); Unzer naye shul, khrestomatye (Our new school, a reader), by Y. Levin, Y. Lukovski, and Sh. Hurvits (Litvin) (Warsaw, 1913), 230 pp.; Momentn un perzonen in der yidisher geshikhte (Moments and persons in Jewish history) (New York: Folksbildung, 1915), 173 pp.; Akhashveyresh, purim-shpil, folks-operete in dray akten (Ahasuerus, Purim play, folk operetta in three acts) (New York: Literarisher farlag, 1916), 32 pp.; Yudishe neshomes, six volumes—1. “Lite” (Lithuania); 2. “Lite”; 3. “Lite”; 4. “Poylen” (Poland); 5. “Galitsyen” (Galicia); 6. “Baym rebns tish” (At the rebbe’s table)—(New York: Folksbildung, 1916-1917); Neshamot beyisrael (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1943/1944), vol. 1, 194 pp., translated from the Yiddish by A. Kariv; Lekoved peysekh, yontefdike zamlung fun literarishe, kultur-historishe un folkloristishe artiklen (folks-mayses, vitsn, anekdotn) far shul un heym (In honor of Passover, holiday collection of literary, cultural historical, and folkloristic articles—folktales, jokes, anecdotes—for school and home) (New York, 1938), 62 pp.  Litvin led a reclusive life in America, moving around for many years through Jewish farms, never speaking about his personal life, and living in a poor room in the neighborhood of Coney Island, where he ended the days of his life all alone.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Yoyel Entin, Yidishe poetn (Jewish poets), part 2 (New York, 1927), p. 42; Avrom Reyzen, Epizodn fun mayn lebn (Episodes from my life) (Vilna, 1929), part 1, p. 169; A. Reyzen, in Tsukunft (New York) (February 1931); D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Tsukunft (January 1931); Charney, Barg-aroyf, bletlekh fun lebn (Uphill, pages from life) (Warsaw: Literarishe bleter, 1935), pp. 226-29; A. Frumkin, in Forverts (New York) (March 19, 1932); H. Meyerson (Y. Kisin), in Tsukunft (November 1932); H. Rogof, in Forverts (June 23, 1935); Sh. Rabinovitsh, in Tsukunft (September 1935); G. Solomon (Sh. Grodzenski), in Idisher kemfer (New York) (March 12, 1943); B. Y. Byalostotski, in Tsukunft (May 1943); Byalostotski, Kholem un vor, eseyen (Dream and reality, essays) (New York, 1956), pp. 409-16; Sholem Levin, Untererdishe kemfer (Underground fighter) (New York, 1946), pp. 323-25; Geshikhte fun der tsienistisher arbeter-bavegung in tsofn-amerike (History of the Zionist workers’ movement in North America), 2 vols. (New York, 1955), see index; Talush, Yidishe shrayber (Yiddish writers) (Miami Beach, 1955), pp. 179-84; Shlomo Shreberk, Zikhronot hamotsi laor (Memoirs of a publisher) (Tel Aviv, 1954/1955), pp. 111-12; Y. A. Rontsh, Geklibene shriftn (Selected writings) (New York, 1960); B. Tsukerman, in Idisher kemfer (Rosh Hashanah issue, February 23, 1962 [?]).
Mortkhe Yofde


  1. Aleph Litvin lived with my mother, Mildred Rothstein, and her family as a boarder for many years, first in Coney Island and then in the Amalgamated Cooperative neighborhood in the Bronx.
    He was like a surrogate grandfather to her. I would love to find any English translations of his work, and would be willing to share what my mother told me about him.

    1. Susan, I would love to hear more about this. Would you be willing to be interviewed for the Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project? We collect stories about Yiddish writers as part of our work documenting oral histories about Yiddish language and culture. You can email me at or fill out our pre-interview questionnaire here:

  2. I would love to tell my mother's story. I can send you a copy of a book I wrote about her life on the lower east side as well. As I mentioned, I am also looking for a translator for his works,many ofwhich lie untranslated in Yivo.

  3. Very kind offer, Susan, but this is a translation, not my original work. Christa from the Yiddish Books Center could probably help. Good luck!