Thursday 9 March 2017


BEN-TSIEN (BENZION) LIBER (September 6, 1875-June 6, 1958)
            He was born in Jassy (Iași), Romania, the son of Yitskhok Libresko, the cofounder of Yiddish theater—together with Avrom Goldfaden.  He studied in public school, in a high school in Paris, and in Bucharest he received his baccalaureate degree.  At age fifteen he was already writing novellas and articles.  He contributed to the Romanian socialist movement and press.  During his years as a soldier, he was sentenced to prison for writing articles against torturing the peasants in the Romanian army.  He went on to teach for a while.  He then studied medicine in Vienna where he became a doctor.  He later studied psychology in Paris.  He wrote pieces for the German and French press, and he traveled through Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.  In 1904 he arrived in the United States, practiced as a doctor in New York, primarily in public health institutions.  At the same time, he took part in the labor movement, was active among the Labor Zionists, and wrote on questions of hygiene, vegetarianism, education, and art in: Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor), Forverts (Forward), Varheyt (Truth), and Dos naye land (The new land), among others.  He campaigned for his ideas about public hygiene for the people in a special monthly magazine, Unzer gezunt (Our health) in New York (1910-1917), in which he published, among other items, his translation of the French play: Eugène Brieux, Di bashedikte (The damaged ones [original: Les avaries]), which treated the illness of syphilis as a social disease, published in book form (New York, 1918), 63 pp.  He also wrote an original play of his own in four acts: Der zump (The swamp) (New York, 1913), 64 pp., in which he depicted the tragedy of a morally higher, freer, and independent personality in the demoralized environment of the cosmopolitan city.  In book form, he published: Dos geshlekhts-lebn (Sex life) (New York: M. N. Mayzil, 1918), 320 pp. (four printings).  He also wrote for English-language publications and edited the radical medical periodical, Rational Living.  He published in English his works: Your Mental Health; or, Between Mental Health and Mental Disease, for Intelligent Laymen and Physicians (New York, 1940), 408 pp.; Psychiatry for the Millions (New York, 1949), 307 pp.; Doctor’s Apprenticeship, Autobiographical Sketches (New York, 1957), 627 pp.; and The Child and the Home: Essays on the Rational Bringing-up of Children (New York, 1927), 248 pp.  For a time he worked with Jewish anarchists, and later he wrote for publications of the Jewish Communists.  In 1926 he visited Western Europe and described the impressions from his trip in a series of articles in Frayhayt (Freedom) in New York, later published in Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture), a publication of IKUF (Jewish Cultural Association) in New York.  Liber was professor emeritus of psychiatry at the New York Polyclinic Medical School and director of the clinic for mental hygiene at the Polyclinic’s hospital, and he worked also at the Psychiatric Institute of the state of New York.  He was a member of the New York Medical Academy, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Medical Association, among other such groups.  In 1957 he once again visited Bucharest and after returning wrote the book in English, The New Rumania: Communist Country Revisited after Sixty Years (New York, 1958), 190 pp.  He died of a heart attack in New York.
            His father, YITSKHOK LIBRESKO (LIBER) (November 19, 1850-June 11, 1930), dramatized Ayzik-Meyer Dik’s story “Di tsvey kleyne katerintshkes” (The two little organ grinders) into a play with four acts and titled Di derfilte libe (Love fulfilled); and he recounted his memoirs of the Yiddish theater to Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, who wrote them up and published them in his Hintern forhang (Behind the curtain) (Vilna, 1928).  He also wrote his autobiography which he left with his son, Ben-Tsien Liber.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2, with a bibliography; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); Yidishe kultur (New York) (March 1955; June-July 1958); Tsukunft (New York) (May-June 1955); Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (October 1956); Folksshtime (Warsaw) (May 28, 1957); New York Times (June 6, 1958); E. Almi, in Fray arbeter-shtime (February 15, 1963).
Yankev Kahan

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