Friday 10 March 2017


            He was born in Lune (Lunna), Grodno district, Byelorussia.  Until age twelve he was educated in Tanakh and Talmud, and he was already reading a great deal in Hebrew-Aramaic and Yiddish.  In 1857 he moved with his parents to Suvalk where his father, Leyzer-Dovid Liberman, the former “Lune Recluse,” became a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment and a writer for: Hamagid (The preacher), Halevanon (The Lebanon), and Hamelits (The advocate).  Under his father’s influence, he became acquainted with Hebrew literature, and he too turned his attention to secular learning.  At age sixteen he entered rabbinical school in Vilna, where he excelled as a stunning stylist in Hebrew and Russian and also for his talent in drawing and painting.  For a short time after graduating from rabbinical school, he took up teaching in Suvalk, and in 1898 he entered the technological institute in St. Petersburg, where he joined a revolutionary student circle—forerunners of “Narodnaya volya” (People’s will) and became acquainted with the illegal literature that had arrived in St. Petersburg from abroad.  Pyotr Lavrov exerted a particular influence because of his Russian journal Vperyod (Forward), which he was publishing in Zurich (Switzerland) and in which Liberman published around 1873 his first socialist writings.  For reasons of material difficulties, he was unable to complete his studies and in 1874 returned to Vilna where he attained a position in a company selling fire insurance.  There was at the time in Vilna a circle of Jewish socialists with Arn Zundelevitsh (a friend of Liberman’s from rabbinical school) as their leader.  Liberman joined the group and soon became one of its more energetic leaders.  Because of his insurance work, he often had to visit the poor villages and the landowners’ courtyards, and he made use of this in campaigning for socialism among the peasants.  Around 1875 he was reported to the authorities, and to save himself from arrest, he fled abroad.  He traveled to London, whence Lavrov had at the time transported his journal Vperyod, for which Liberman worked as a typesetter and a literary contributor.  Seeking to spread socialism among Jews, he published the first socialist proclamation in Hebrew under the title: “El shelome baḥure yisrael” (To the young men of Yisrael), which he signed “Hamitnadevim baam leveit yisrael” (The volunteers of the people of the house of Israel).  The appeal (which Liberman made for the establishment of Jewish socialism) was illegally smuggled into Russia in thousands of copies, made a huge impression, particularly on young men in the larger yeshivas, and was received with great enthusiasm from the group of Hebrew socialist-writers, such as: Lilienblum, Yehalel, Dr. Yitsḥak Kaminer, and A. Shereshevsky, among others.  In May 1876 he founded the “Agudat hasotsialistim haivrim” (Hebrew Socialist Union) in London.  He wrote out the rules of the Union in Hebrew and Yiddish in parallel fashion.  He also published the text in Vperyod.  At its first meeting (May 20, or Iyar 26), it was decided as well to found a union of Jewish workers in London, and on August 26, 1876 the founding conference of the “Ḥaverim kol baale hamelakha” (Friends of all trademen), the first Jewish workers’ union, at which incidentally were also in attendance Pyotr Lavrov and representatives of the English labor movement.  In his inaugural address, Liberman stressed that the Jewish question could be solved only in a socialist society.  Later there was established in London several further Jewish trade unions (a tailors’ union, a cloak makers’ union), but they soon thereafter fell apart.  Thus was created the beginning of the Jewish socialist movement and from it the awakening of Jewish trade unions in London.  A bit later there ensued a clash between the members of the Jewish socialist union and the police, and in December 1876 Liberman had to leave London.  He went first to Berlin and Königsberg, then on to Vienna where in May 1877, with material assistance from a group of Jewish students in Berlin, he brought out the first issue of the first socialist journal in Hebrew: Haemet (The truth).  The journal was distributed primarily in Russia.  The first issue was dispersed in a short period of time, and a second printing became necessary, but the third issue of the journal was confiscated by the Russian censors, and with the fourth issue it was discontinued.  In February 1878 Liberman, living in Vienna under a false name, was arrested and in November he was sentenced to a month in prison.  After freeing him, the Prussian government demanded that he be extradited, because while living in Berlin, he committed offenses against the “Socialist Law.”  The Austrian authorities deported him to Bavaria, and from there he was sent on to Berlin; in the famed “Nihilist Trial” in Berlin (April 26, 1879), he was sentenced to eight months in prison.  In all he spent just shy of two years in Austrian and Prussian prisons.  In London, where he returned after been freed, he discovered radically changed relations in both Jewish and Russian revolutionary circles.  In his personal life as well, he ran into dramatically strained relations, and in the late summer of 1880 (mostly for personal reasons) he left for the United States and several months later took his own life in Syracuse, New York.  He was quickly buried in a cemetery in Syracuse, and only over a half-century later, thanks to the efforts of Jewish socialist groups in New York, his funeral took place and his body was on June 24, 1934 transported and interred at a cemetery of the Workmen’s Circle in New York.  At the initiative of the newspaper Davar (Word), in the 1930s a collection of his Hebrew writings was published in Tel Aviv: Kitve a. sh. liberman (The writings of A. Sh. Liberman).[1]  Aside from his political works in Hebrew and in Russia and his socially satirical stories in Hebrew, he also wrote journalistic and fictional pieces in Yiddish, but this was never made public.  In November-December 1875, he wrote a socialist pamphlet in Yiddish while in London: “Kol kore al bney yisroel anshe rusya” (Appeal to the children of Israel from Russia), signed “Di idishe sotsyalisten” (The Jewish socialists) (see Kalmen Marmor, in Morgn frayhayt [Morning freedom] in New York [March 17, 1941].  While Liberman was living in Syracuse, a sketch by him in Yiddish entitled Der dolar (The dollar) was discovered; it was a characterization of the city of New York.  From the few items of his that remain in Yiddish, distinctive are his Yiddish letters which are sufficient to demonstrate that his was a pure and fluid Yiddish.  When on November 18, 1880, in the home of an acquaintance, Morris Sorenson, who was a baker in Syracuse, he shot himself in the head, he left behind the following note (written in Yiddish): “Jewish world, which has nothing in this life except troubles, must die.  I implore everyone not to judge me, unless he comes to the same state as I have….”

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol.2 (with a bibliography); Morris Vintshevsky, in Tsukunft (New York) (December 1894; February 1907; February 1909); Leo Deutsch, in Tsukunft (August 1916); B. Borokhov, in Tsukunft (June 1917); Vl. Medem, in Arbayter luekh (Warsaw) (1921), pp. 163-74; Dr. M. Berkovitsh, in Arbayter luekh (June 1924); Pinkhes Kon, in Bikher-velt (Warsaw) (December 1928); Kon, in Fun noentn over, ed. M. Shalit (Warsaw) (January-March 1930; April-June 1930); M. Her, in Visnshaftlekhe yorbikher (Moscow) 1 (1929), p. 119; Sh. Ogurski, in Tsaytshrift (Minsk) 4 (1930), pp. 238-55; Y. Y. Lifshits, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (January 2, 1931); M. Ivenski, in Forverts (New York) (May 8, 1932); Ivenski, Arn-shmuel liberman, zayn shturmerishe lebn un tragisher sof (Arn-Shmuel Liberman, his story life and tragic end) (New York, 1934), 24 pp.; E. R. Malachi, in Forverts (September 4, 1932); Tsvi Krul, Ḥaye a. sh. liberman (The life of A. Sh. Liberman) (Tel Aviv, 1932), 30 pp.; Moyshe Shtarkman, in Tog (New York) (May 20, 1934); H. Lang, in Forverts (June 24, 1934); N. Mayzil, Arn-shmuel liberman, der ershter yidisher sotsyalist (Arn-Shmuel Liberman, the first Jewish socialist) (Warsaw, 1934), 64 pp.; R. Braynin, in Tog (February 14, 1935); Avrom Kahan, Arn liberman, historishe roman (Arm Liberman, historical novel) (Kiev, 1935), 254 pp.; Kalmen Marmor, in Der hamer (New York) (November 1930); Marmor, in Morgn-frayhayt (October 2, 1938; March 17, 1941); Marmor, in 10-yoriker yubiley internatsyonaler arbeter orden (Tenth anniversary of the International Workers Order) (New York, 1940); Marmor, in Yidishe kultur (New York) (January 1941); Marmor, Arn libermans briv (Arn Liberman’s letters), with an introduction and explanation by K. Marmor (New York, 1951); Dr. N. Turov, in Hadoar (New York) (February 9, 1945); Elye Tsherikover, “Der onheyb fun der yidisher sotsyalisticher bavegung” (The beginning of the Jewish socialist movement), Historishe shriftn fun yivo (Historical writings from YIVO), vol. 1 (Warsaw, 1929), col. 1669ff, vol. 3 (Vilna-Paris, 1930), see index; Tsherikover, Geshikhte fun der yidisher arbeter-bavegung in di fareynikte shtatn (The history of the Jewish labor movement in the United States), vol. 2 (New York: YIVO, 1945), see index; V. Finsber, in Forverts (December 2, 1951); G. Aronson, in Der veker (New York) (January 1, 1951); R. Roker, In shturem (In the storm) (Buenos Aires, 1952), pp. 203-15; G. Kresel, in Goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 13 (1952); Elye Shulman, on Liberman’s letters, in Lebns-fragn (Tel Aviv) (April-May 1952); Kh. Sh. Kazdan, Fun kheyder un shkoles biz tsisho (From religious and secular primary schools to Tsisho) (Mexico City, 1956), see index; Shaye Trunk, Di geshikhte fun bund (The history of the Bund), vol. 1 (New York, 1960), pp. 48, 52.
Borekh Tshubinski

[1] Translator’s note. According to WorldCat, this volume came out in 1928. (JAF)

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