YOYEL MASTBOYM (JOEL MASTBAUM) (February 27, 1884-April 3, 1957)
He was born in Mezritsh (Międzyrzecz), Shedlets (Siedlce) district, Poland. He received a Jewish education fit for a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment and something of a general education as well. While still quite young, his family settled in Siedlce. At age fifteen he became a house painter. In the stormy years of 1904-1905, he joined the revolutionary movement under the influence of his older brother Yudl who was active in the PPS (Polish Socialist Party [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna]), was arrested by the Tsarist authorities, and was exiled to Siberia where he died. He later depicted the revolutionary movement in his novel Fun roytn lebn (From the red life). At that time he began to write. He then went with his writings in hand to Warsaw to visit Y. L. Perets, but his written work did not find favor with Perets. Tsvi Prilucki, the editor of Der veg (The way), the first Yiddish daily newspaper in Warsaw, published Mastboym’s sketch “Yirakhmielke dem shoykhets” (Yirakhmielke, the ritual slaughterer’s son) on the recommendation of his son Noyekh Prilucki. The writers Hillel Tsaytlin and Dovid Frishman befriended him, and Frishman himself translated and published Mastboym’s work in Reshafim (Sparks) and Haboker (This morning)—both in Warsaw. At that time, Mastboym wrote a great deal and published his stories and sketches in a variety of newspapers and anthologies, among them: Unzer lebn (Our life), Moment (Moment), Goldene funken (Golden sparks) edited by Prilucki, Yidishe yugend (Jewish youth) edited by Dr. A. Mukdoni, and Fraye teg (Free days) in 1911, among others—all in Warsaw. His first collection appeared in 1912: Skitsen un bilder (Sketches and images) (Warsaw: Velt-biblyotek), 75 pp. That same year he also published his first novel: Fun roytn lebn (Warsaw: Di tsayt, 1912), 171 pp., second edition (1921). At that time he was closest to the young writers who assembled around Dovid Frishman. During WWI he published in various newspapers in Poland stories and impressions from the war and German occupation. His dramatic poem in one act, Ohn a melodye (Without a melody), appeared in 1917 (Warsaw: Gitlin), 28 pp., in which the author—inspired by Vispyanski’s Khasene (Wedding) and Perets’s Baynakht afn altn mark (Nightime in the old market)—attempted in a symbolic manner to express the emotional standing of Jews who were stunned by events in the war. As early as 1912 he brought out a collection entitled Poylens klangen (Sounds of Poland) (Warsaw), 150 pp., published later in a second edition under the title Fun poyln (From Poland) (Warsaw: Di tsayt, 1920), 154 pp.—with contributions from: A. M. Vaysenberg, Fishl Bimko, Shiye Perle, Avrom Zak, Uri-Tsvi Grinberg, Yisroel Shtern, and others. In this collection, Matsboym himself penned: “Shtet un shtetlekh” (Cities and towns), from a trip through Siedlce, Kalish (Kalisz), Sieradz, Vlotslavek (Włocławek), Lask (Łask), Fabianice, Plotsk-Mazovyetsk, Old Gombin (Gąbin), and both new and old Lodz, among other sites, as well as characterizations of the musicians and artists: Khanekh Glitsenshteyn, Dovid Herman, B. Benson, M. Shneur, Leo Lyav, and M. Kipnis, and a speech of his, “Di yidishe froy in poyln” (The Jewish woman in Poland). Over the years 1919-1922, he spent time in London with his sister Basheve. He became acquainted there with the life of Jews in England and described his impressions in Moment and Ilustrirte vokh (Illustrated week) in Warsaw. In London he contributed to the daily newspaper Di tsayt (The times), edited by Morris Meyer. After returning to Poland, he published writings in: Hayom (Today), Moment, Lodzer tageblat (Lodz daily newspaper), Lodzer folksblat (Lodz people’s newspaper), Nasz Przegląd (Our overview), Nowy dziennik (New daily), Chwila (Moment), Bikher-velt (Book world), and Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves), among others. In those years Mastboym was associated with the Labor Zionists, and he gave speeches on their behalf in the Polish provinces. In the company of locals from town organizations, he especially enjoyed making a big hit among the town youths. He published in that time period the following books: In der fremd un andere dertseylungen (Abroad and other stories) (Warsaw, 1920), 164 pp.; Dos mazldike fishele (The lucky little fish) (Warsaw, 1921), 17 pp.; Maritas glik, dray doyres, roman (Marita’s happiness, three generations, a novel) (Warsaw, 1923), 441 pp., third edition (1926); Nokhumkes vanderungen (Nokhumke’s wanderings) (Warsaw, 1925), 243 pp.—this novel begins in a Polish town and ends in Buenos Aires; Salamandra (Salamandra), on the life of the Jewish glassworks owner and his workers (Warsaw, 1926), 163 pp.; Naye mentshn, roman (New people, a novel), about pioneer life in Poland (Warsaw, 1926), 181 pp.; Galitsye, varshe (Galicia, Warsaw) (Warsaw, 1929), 187 pp.; Di lukhes fun a tsigayner (The tablets of a Gypsy) (Warsaw, 1932), 197 pp., second edition (Warsaw, 1933). That year (1933) Mastboym made aliya to the land of Israel, where his works were translated into Hebrew and published in Davar (Word) and Haolam (The world). The first volume of his autobiographical writings, entitled Mayne shturmishe yorn (My stormy years), was published in Buenos Aires in 1950 (171 pp.).
In the summer of 1939, Mastboym paid a visit to his relatives in Poland, and there he was caught by the outbreak of WWII. He was forced to remain for a short time under the Nazi occupation, though he succeeded in escaping from Poland, and he made his way back to Israel. He wrote up these experiences of his in the Hebrew press. They were later published in book form under the title Sheshim yom bepolin shel hitler (Sixty days in Hitler’s Poland) (Tel Aviv: Davar, 1940), 133 pp. In 1951 a local committee was established in the state of Israel to celebrate Mastboym’s fifty years of literary activity and to publish his works in Hebrew. In Hebrew he published: Bamapakha, roman erets-yisrael beshelosha ḥalakim (In the furnace, a novel of the land of Israel in three parts) (Tel Aviv, 1935); Darka shel marita, roman (Marita’s way, a novel) (Tel Aviv: Masada, 1941), 204 pp.; Ḥalil hatsoanim (The Gypsies’ flute) (Tel Aviv, 1935), 214 pp.; Varsha 1939, sefer hazikaron (Warsaw, 1939, a remembrance volume) (Tel Aviv, 1940/1941), 220 pp.; Haḥayim haadumim (The red life) (Tel Aviv, 1941/1942). His work Der koyekh fun der erd (The power of the land), brought out by the jubilee committee (London, 1951), 293 pp., was also published in a Hebrew translation by Yaalov Eliav as Koaḥ haadama (Tel Aviv: Yavne, 1950). This was the first volume of his Israel trilogy which reflected the years 1933-1948. He also wrote a volume of memoirs about past Jewish life in Warsaw, in which Jewish literary life occupies a special place, initially published serially in Letste nayes (Latest news) in Tel Aviv, and in Di idishe shtime (The Jewish voice) in London, under the title Afn leyter (On the ladder) and later in a Hebrew translation by Elyahu Maytus as Al hasulam, pirke ḥayai hasoarim (On the ladder, chapters from a difficult life) (Tel Aviv, 1954/1955), 368 pp. Considered a writer who brought so much to literature, the World Jewish Congress decided to present him with an award for his contributions to Jewish culture. The date of bestowing the honor was set as April 23, 1957, but he did not live to see it. He died in Tel Aviv. “Mastboym is an original phenomenon,” wrote Zalmen Reyzen, “in Yiddish literature. Careless and confused in form, with a remarkable incapacity sometimes literally for inaccurate and corrupted style, often unable to control the materials with which he is dealing, yet he has his own tone, a deeply original and quaint one, fresh and alive, alien to every literary influence, which gives his work its distinctive charm. Highly musical, as Mastboym has a fine ear for the dark world of sounds, images, smells, and colors, and in his entire maladroitness, in the wild mixture of naïve childishness and sophisticated modernity, there pulses a real or long dreamt of life, expressed in a many-colored mosaic of memoirs, experiences, dreams, and visions.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); D. Tidhar, in Entsiklopedyah leḥalutse hayishuv uvonav (Encyclopedia of the pioneers and builders of the yishuv), vol. 2 (Tel Aviv, 1947), pp. 1039-40; Shmuel Niger, in Dray doyres (Three generations) (Warsaw, 1920), pp. 262-73; Niger, in Di tsukunft (New York) (June 1921; May 1924); Sefer haishim (Biographical dictionary) (Tel Aviv, 1937), pp. 336-37; Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 1 (Montreal, 1945), pp. 126-30, vol. 3 (Montreal, 1948), pp. 254-55; Z. Segalovitsh, Tlomatske 13, fun farbrentn nekhtn (13 Tłomackie St., of scorched yesterdays) (Buenos Aires, 1946), p. 93; N. Mayzil, Tsvishn khurbn un oyboy (Between destruction and construction) (New York, 1947), pp. 215-16; Mayzil, Noente un eygene, fun yankev dinezon biz hirsh glik (Near and one’s own, from Yankev Dinezon to Hirsch Glick) (New York, 1957), pp. 125, 285; B. Kutsher, Geven amol varshe (As Warsaw once was) (Paris, 1955), pp. 161, 205; Shlomo Shreberk, Zikhronot hamotsi laor (Memoirs of a publisher) (Tel Aviv, 1954/1955), pp. 156-57; Khayim Leyb Fuks, in Fun noentn over (New York) 3 (1957), pp. 200-17; Fuks, Arbeter-vort (Paris) (July 7, 1952); Fuks, in Folk un velt (New York) (June 1957); N. Grinblat, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 8 (1951); Grinblat, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (March 20, 1953); Y. Kaspi, in Yivo-bleter (New York) 36 (1952), pp. 361-62; Kaspi, in Sefer yizkor lekehilat shedlets (Remembrance volume for the community of Shedlets [Siedlce]) (Tel Aviv and Buenos Aires, 1956), p. 280; Kaspi, in Der shpigl (Buenos Aires) (March 1958); G. Vaysman, in Di tsukunft (October 1953); Vaysman, in Lebns-fragn (Tel Aviv) (June-July 1957); A. Maytus, in Letste nayes (January 9, 1953); Maytus, in Di tsukunft (October 1957); A. Zak, in Di idishe tsaytung (Buenos Aires) (July 12, 1953); Zak, In onhoyb fun a friling (At the beginning of a spring) (Buenos Aires, 1962), see index; E. Almi, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (March 1957); Almi, in Letste nayes (May 17, 1957); Almi, in Unzer shtime (Paris) (March 15, 1958); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (April 17, 1957); Y. Shpigl, in Di goldene keyt 28 (1957); Dr. Shloyme Bikl, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (May 12, 1957); D. Naymark, in Forverts (New York) (April 28, 1957); A. Lis, Heym un doyer, vegn shrayber un verk (Home and duration, on writers and work) (Tel Aviv: Y. L. Perets Library, 1960), pp. 66-70; Avraham Shaanan, Milon hasifrut haḥadasha (Dictionary of modern literature) (Tel Aviv, 1959), col. 492; Dov Sadan, Avne zikaron (Milestones) (Tel Aviv, 1961/1962), pp. 148-51; Mortkhe Khalamish-Flint, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (April 9, 1962); A. A. Roback, The Story of Yiddish Literature (New York, 1940), p. 243; Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 7 (New York).