DANIYEL MARSHAK (August 6, 1872-19370
He was a poet, prose author, and playwright, born in Tukum (Tukums), Latvia. He was the son of an itinerant schoolteacher who, as a heretic, prepared in a short period of time to take the examination to become a private tutor, and thus had to leave the city, settle with his family in Libave (Liepāja), where he worked as a teacher in a state school, though he couldn’t remain there long. He taught his son to make cigarettes, while Daniyel’s mother made kvass, and he (the father) then disappeared when Daniyel was all of ten years old. An abandoned wife (agune), his mother had no means of support for her children. Thus, from childhood he was forced to interrupt his studies and go to work (building chairs, making cigarettes), but he devoured Russian and German books paid for with cigarettes to his Christian friends who lent them the books. He later learned the cobbler’s trade, and this stayed with him his entire life. (Residents of Minsk later described that through shoemaking he was able to take up being a writer, and until his last days he sat on the street corner on his shoemaker’s stool and mended footwear.) In 1891 he left his hometown and he set out for the land of Israel. En route he stopped in Warsaw, trying to find his father. There he was cheated out of his travel monies, and that made it impossible for him to continue his trip. He later became a soldier, serving in Kovno; during this time, he became a socialist and was active in the Bund. Later still, he settled in Minsk where until his last days he worked in a shoemaker’s workshop.
In the late 1890s he began to write poetry and stories in German. For revolutionary activities, he was thrown in prison in 1904, and it was there that he began to write in Yiddish. He debuted in print (autumn 1905) in Fraynd (Friend) in St. Petersburg with a story entitled “Aheym” (Homeward). From that point he published a great number of stories and sketches, the majority involving the lives of revolutionaries and workers (recounted in a simple, heartfelt realism). In Fraynd, Idishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper), Leben un visnshaft (Life and science), and Veker (Alarm), among other serials, he also published poetry and even a novel entitled Di farshtoysene (The repudiated one) in 1913 in which the heroine is a working girl with a hunchback. 1915 he wrote a children’s play entitled Dos zibetel (The seventh) in Grininke beymelekh (Little green trees) in Vilna; for Chaim Zhitlovsky’s Dos naye leben (The new life) (New York) 7 (1909), he produced a poem, “Der oytser” (The treasure); and for Veker, a poem “Der vofnshmid” (The arms-maker). In 1921 B. Kletskin Publishers in Vilna brought out his book Dertseylungen (Stories) (214 pp.). At that time he also published two dramas and completed Sh. An-ski’s unfinished drama Tog un nakht (Day and night). In subsequent years, he was more active in the field of translation (see below). In 1936 he was working on his novel Di farshtoysene, hoping that it might pass the demands of “socialist realism,” but Ber Orshanski noted in the introduction to the novel that the main weakness of the work consisted of the fact that “Marshak had accepted the Bundist movement as a genuine revolutionary movement, and therefore he had become extremely disappointed and lapsed into despair.”
Other works of his include: Tamare (Tamara), a play in three acts (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1928), 87 pp.; Umzister tuml (Useless din), a comedy in one act (Minsk: Byelorussian Society of Playwrights and Composers, 1930), 40 pp.; Gots geyerke (God’s [female] peddler), one-act play (Minsk: Central People’s Publishers, USSR, 1930), 32 pp.; Di frashtoysene, a novel (Minsk: State Publ., 1936), 461 pp. In his later years he also translated into Yiddish from German and Byelorussian: Vitalii Bianki, Murzukh (Murzukh) (Minsk, 1929); Sergei Timofeevich Grigor'ev, Amba (Moscow: Central People’s Publishers, USSR, 1939), 136 pp.; A. Orlov, Krankeytn ba kelber (Illnesses among calves) (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1932), 32 pp.; H. Kobets, Di hute (The glassworks), a contemporary play in three acts and fourteen scenes (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1933), 83 pp.; A kol fun daytshland (A voice from Germany) (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1935), 76 pp.; Mikhas' Lyn'koŭ, Der bayan (The bayan [a kind of Russian accordion]), stories from Byelorussia (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1934), 48 pp.; Lyn'koŭ, Af der hoykher khvalye (On the high cloud) (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1936), 125 pp.; Zmitrok Biadulia, Der onkum (The arrival) (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1936), 275 pp.; and others.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); Y. Bronshteyn, in Prolit (March-April 1930); B. Orshanski, Di yidishe literatur in vaysrusland nokh der revolutsye (Yiddish literature in Byelorussia after the revolution) (Moscow, 1931); Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index.
[Additional information from: Chaim Beider, Leksikon fun yidishe shrayber in ratn-farband (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union), ed. Boris Sandler and Gennady Estraikh (New York: Congress for Jewish Culture, Inc., 2011), pp. 235-36.]