Sunday, 28 May 2017


SHMUEL-KHAYIM LEVIN (SAMUEL LEWIN) (March 5, 1890-June 3, 1959)
            He was born in Konskivolye (Konskowola), Lublin district, Poland.  Until age sixteen he attended religious elementary school, synagogue study hall, and yeshiva.  The poverty in his home was extreme and the young Shmuel suffered enormously for just a piece of bread: he sold green apples on the railway line between Pulav (Pulawy) and Lublin, was a journeyman for a tradesman, went homeless in a variety of cities in Poland and Russia—as far away as Bukhara—and he suffered tuberculosis from childhood until his thirties.  In 1912 he left for Argentina, and there he would become a colonist.  A week before WWI broke out, he returned to Poland.  In 1920 he was sent off to Berlin, and in 1934, after Hitler came to power, he had to flee from there.  He wandered with his family through Europe for two years, until they reached the United States in 1936.  He began writing early in Life, but he only first published in 1917 in Lubliner togblat (Lublin daily newspaper).  From then on, he contributed work to: Di tsayt (The times) in Kovno; Folks-tsaytung (People’s newspaper), Bikher-velt (Book world), and Hatekufa (The epoch) in Warsaw; Fraye shriftn (Free writings) in Berlin); Dos naye leben (The new life), Di tsukunft (The future), Morgn-tsaytung (Morning newspaper), Tog (Day), Ikuf (IKUF [= Jewish cultural association]), and Hamer (Hammer) in New York; Di prese (The press) in Buenos Aires; Hamburger Familienblatt (Hamburg family newspaper); L’univers (The universe); and Forum; among others.  In book form: A sreyfe, drama in dray aktn (A fire, drama in three acts) (Warsaw: Tsentral-farlag, 1919), 85 pp.; Far zind, drama in dray aktn (For sins, drama in three acts) (Warsaw: Tsentral-farlag, 1919), 73 pp.; Gezang fun doyres, roman (Song of generation, a novel) (Warsaw: Brzhoza, 1928), 550 pp.; Kegn himl (Against heaven), stories (Warsaw: Brzhoza, 1935), 130 pp.; In goles, drame in 5 aktn mit an epilog (In the diaspora, drama in five acts with an epilogue) (Warsaw: Brzhoza, 1935), 132 pp. (confiscated by the Polish government); Khezyoynes (Visions), a poem (New York: Biderman, 1941), 80 pp.; Tsvishn tsvey thomen, trilogye (Between two abysses, trilogy) (Buenos Aires, 1959), vol. 1, 437 pp.; Shvarts berg un bloye toln (Dark mountains and blue valleys), vol. 2 (Buenos Aires, 1962), 368 pp.; Volkn-gedrang (Rush of clouds) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1970), 394 pp.[1] Tsurik in der heym (Back home) (New York: Shulzinger, 1980), 262 pp.  In German translation: Chassidische Legende (Hassidic legends), trans. Arno Nadel, with woodcuts by Y. Budko (Berlin: Rathenau & Horodisch, 1925), 84 pp., three printings; Dämonen des Blutes (Demons of the blood), trans. R. Beatus (Berlin: Der Syndikalist, 1926), 151 pp.; Zeitwende, Roman (Turning point, a novel) (Berlin: Soncino Society, 1926), 331 pp.; Gesichte (Visions), poetry in blank verse (Berlin: Horodisch & Marx, 1928), 127 pp.; Und er kehrte heim, Roman (And he returned home, a novel) (Vienna-Jerusalem: R. Löwit, 1936), 350 pp., with a preface by Franz Werfel—in Yiddish the novel was known as Der hoyfzinger (The court singer) (New York: Morgn-zhurnal, 1936).  In English translation: The Impatient Sages, a Legend (New York, 1948), 79 pp., translated by his son Jeremiah Lewin and with woodcuts by Joseph Budko.  In addition, we have Levin’s translation from the Russian: G. A. Gurev, Darvinizm un ateizm (Darwinism and atheism) (New York, 1931), 226 pp.  Being prepared for publication as well is Dov Sadan’s Hebrew translation of Chassidische Legende.  Levin wrote a great deal and quickly acquired a name in the literary world, both the non-Jewish and Jewish worlds.  Some of his writings were published in translation directly from manuscript and only later in Yiddish.  He was translated into Polish, German, English, French, Dutch, and Hebrew.  Many words of praise have been enunciated by Franz Werfel, Rudolf Rocker, and others.  In Nazi Germany, they openly burned his German-language books.  He spent his last years in New York, all but completely forgotten.  He interacted almost not at all among other people, but he did not cease writing.  He died in the Bronx, New York.  He left in his bequest in manuscript: novels, plays, and stories; and his widow Miriam Lewin published them bit by bit.  She also translated his books into German.  Among the surviving, unpublished dramas were: “In goles,” “Gekroynt vert ashmoday” (Ashmodai is crowned), “Kdoyshim kemfn” (The saintly ones fight on), “Der rebns gese” (The rebbe’s breed), “Vunder-erd” (Wonder land), and “A yid an akshn” (An obstinate man).  His trilogy is now being translated into French by Arnold Mandel, with the first volume already in production.  “This is a book,” wrote Shmuel Niger, “that lives with what should be, not just with what exists or once existed.  It is a dream of the future, which clings to the deepest roots of the past and flutters among the broadest wings of the present.  It lights up legends and dreams in ideals.  This is what Perets sought so fervently and thirstily.  It is, in fact, a continuation of Perets’s idealism, of Perets’s ethical romanticism, an echo of old Reb Shloyme’s song in the ‘golden chain.’”  “Levin drained the cup of Jewish fate,” noted Franz Werfel, “of the Jewish mission to the very bottom, and so was his talent so great that it dealt with the problem not with a writing voice.  Not with laments, not with clenched fists did he make accusations, no!  His tone was agreeably quiet.  And his hand which leads the reader—strong and sure and gentle.”

Sources: In Yiddish: Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); Y. Stupnitski, in Lubliner togblat (February 1920); Rudolf Rocker, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (January 30, 1925); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (New York) (April 1928); A. Katsizne, in Bikher-velt (Warsaw) (June 1928); F. Tsenzur, in Fraye shriftn (Berlin-Warsaw) (November 1928); Dr. V. Nayman, in Yidishe velt (Philadelphia) (February 1941); Dr. L. Zhitnitski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (January 1942); obituary notices in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) and Forverts (New York) (June 5, 1959), and in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (June 7, 1959); Sh. Rozenberg, in Der amerikaner (New York) (December 18, 1959); H. Fenster, in Literarishe heftn (Paris) (January 1960); Chaim Grade, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (August 15, 1960).  In Polish: Dr. M. Binshtok, in Chwila (Lemberg) (January 1920).  In German: A. Yitzhaki, in Jüdische Rundschau (Berlin) (May 8, 1921); Franz Werfel, in Jüdische Rundschau (January 1936); Dr. Weltsch, Selbstwehr (Prague) (January 17, 1936).  In Dutch: Y. H., in De Joodsche Wachter (Amsterdam) (January 31, 1936).  In English: obituary in New York Times (June 5, 1959).
Yankev Birnboym

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 348.]

[1] Translator’s note.  There is a full English translation by Joseph Leftwich in three parts: Between Two Abysses, Dark Mountains and Blue Valleys, and  Shining through the Clouds (New York: Cornwall Books, 1988); and Hebrew translation by Shimshon Meltser, Ben shene tehomot (Between two abysses) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1970). (JAF)

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