PERETS (PERETZ) MARKISH (December 7, 1895-August 12, 1952)
He was born in Polonne, Volhynia, into a family of tradesmen. He was the fifth of seven children: five girls and two boys. He was given a very rare first name among Ukrainian Jewry, Perets, the same name as his grandfather who drew his pedigree back to Spain and where the name Perets was widespread. Until age ten he studied in religious elementary school and also with his father who was a scholar. From ages nine to eleven, he lived with his parents in the town of Romaniv. In his youth his singing voice was such that he assisted the local cantor on the High Holidays, and the news of his extraoprdinary voice reached the Berdichev cantor who traveled to Romaniv to talk with Markish’s father. He then left home to spend three years studying under this cantor in Berdichev. At age fifteen he began writing poetry in Russian. He went on to spend several years as an external student in Odessa. As he recounted in his autobiography: “Odessa was at the time the only large city in which Jews had the right to reside. The most prominent contributors to Jewish literature—Haim-Nahman Bialik, Mendele Moykher-Sforim, and Sholem-Aleykhem—lived then in Odessa. I met Bialik there for the first time in his home. I worked in Odessa as a courier, porter, correspondent, bill collector, and teacher; I wrote poetry and worked as a dental technician in the hope of receiving a residence permit which Jews in that trade had.” In 1916 he was drafted into the Tsarist army and sent to the German front, where he was wounded late that year; when he was discharged, he settled in Ekaterinoslav. He debuted in print in 1917 with his poem, “Der kemfer” (The fighter), in a newspaper also called Der kemfer, organ of the Fareynikte (United socialist party) in Ekaterinoslav, and later in the anthology Eygns (One’s own) in Kiev (1918). His very first poems demonstrated that a new strength had come to Yiddish poetry. Over the next few years, he published a great number of poetic works and made a significant place for himself in the upper rungs of the Yiddish literary realm. From 1918 he was closely associated with the group of Yiddish writers in Kiev, in which he was allied with two highly popular poets of “Kiev group”: Dovid Hofshteyn and Leyb Kvitko. His first collection of poems appeared as a book in 1919 Shveln (Thresholds) (Kiev: Yidisher folks-farlag), 163 pp., which established him as one of the most important young Yiddish poets in Ukraine. Critics received his first book, as well as all of his subsequent books, both positively and negatively. Y. Dobrushin wrote of his first book: “Young and impetuous has Markish come in a reckless and free manner to tell us his youthful truth, while disclosing thereby all of the merits and defects of his raw, still undeveloped talent…. He came to our literature without any heritage, unconnected—absolutely unconnected, to any segment of the Jewish or Gentile past or present…. Markish begins his story, the story of his ‘I,’ from his own self. He is himself the center of his talent, the center of his poetic impulse.” In 1921 Markish traveled to Poland where he appeared and spoke on the new poetry, recited his own poems, took an active part in the new Yiddish literature of Poland, published two works, and was the cofounder (1924) with Nakhmen Mayzil and other pen pals of many years of Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw, of which he was co-editor and in which he published numerous articles on literary and theater topics. He published in 1922 in Warsaw his pogrom poem Di kupe (The pile), with the dedication: “To those of you slaughtered in the ‘pile,’ in Horodishche [Gorodishche], the city by the Dnieper [River]—kaddish!” In the almanac Khalyastre (Gang), published by Markish and Y. Y. Zinger (Warsaw, 1922), he intensified the polemic around “old and new” in Yiddish literature. He also contributed poetry, essays, and articles (also using the pen name D’em) in various Yiddish newspapers and anthologies in Russia, Poland, and the United States, such as: Ringen (Links), Bikher-velt (Book world), Folks-tsaytung (People’s newspaper), Vilner tog (Vilna day), Shtrom (Current) in Moscow, and Tsukunft (Future) in New York, among others. He later visited London, Belgium, Paris, Madrid, and Jerusalem. Together with Oyzer Varshavski, he edited in Paris the anthology Khalyastre, vol. 2 (Paris, 1924), 84 pp. He was the only Jewish poet in Soviet Russia who dared to write a sizable poem about the land of Israel, which was included in his poetry collection Farklepte tsiferblatn (Sealed dials). Homesick for Russia and dazzled by the apparent possibility of state support for the development of Yiddish culture, he returned home in 1926, and there he became one of the most productive and important creators of Yiddish poetry and plays. He initially settled in Kharkov and later in Moscow, but he soon discovered that there was no freedom of creative work under Soviet conditions. He was awarded the Lenin Prize in 1939. His membership for candidacy was accepted for the Communist Party. He wrote a great deal throughout the 1930s and during WWII, and he was active in the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. He edited such anthologies as Tsum zig (To victory) (Moscow, 1944) and Farn heymland in shlakht! (For the homeland in battle!) (Moscow, 1941).
In addition to the aforementioned two books, the following works by Markish appeared in book form: In mitn veg (In the middle of the road), poetry (Ekaterinoslav: Mayak, 1919), 61 pp. (Ekaterinoslav, 1920); Shtiferish (Mischievous), children’s poetry about the four seasons (Vilna: Tsisho, 1919), 46 pp.; Shveln (Kiev, 1919), poetry, 163 pp.; Nokhn telerl fun himl, a maysele (Seeking the impossible, a story) (Ekaterinoslav: Natur un mentsh, 1919), 48 pp.; Stam (For no good reason), poetry (Kiev, 1920), 192 pp.; Pust un pas (Idle) (Kiev, 1920), 163 pp.; Volin, poeme (Volhynia, a poem) (Vilna: Tsisho, 1921), 56 pp.; Farbaygeyendik, eseyen (In passing, essays) (Vilna: Tsisho, 1921), 56 pp.; Radiyo (Radio) (Warsaw: “Ambasador” [an invented publisher], 1922), 44 pp.; Nakht-royb (Nocturnal prey), poetry (Moscow: Lirik, 1922), 29 pp.; Der galaganer hon (The boastful rooster), children’s poetry, with drawings by Y. Tshaykov (Berlin: Klal, 1922), 30 pp.; Ovnt-shoen (Evening hours) (Kiev, 1922); Zang-gezang (Corn song), poetry for children (Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1923), 40 pp.; Ezriel un shloyme ber (Ezriel and Shloyme Ber), poetry (Kiev: Kultur-life, 1927), 58 pp.; Dor oys dor ayn (Generation out, generation in) (Kharkov: Ukraine State Publ., 1929), vol. 1, 390 pp.; Dor oys dor ayn, vol. 2 (Moscow: Emes, 1941), 526 pp., a novel about the revolution, 1917-1919; Brider (Brothers), a poem (Moscow-Kharkov-Minsk: Tsentr Publ., 1929), 274 pp., (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1929), 270 pp., and subsequent editions; Farklepte tsiferblatn (Kharkov: Ukraine State Publ., 1929), 330 pp.; Vokhnteg (Days of the week), poetry (Moscow-Kharkov-Minsk: Tsentr Publ., 1931), 244 pp.; Nit gedayget (Don’t worry), a poem (Kiev: Ukraine State Publ., 1931), 277 pp., which was later made into a play; Pyesn (Plays), in vol. 6 of his Gezamlte verk (Collected works) (Moscow: Emes, 1933), 283 pp.; Lider (Poetry), vol. 2 of his Gezamlte verk (Minsk: State Publ., 1937), 268 pp.; Eyns af eyns (One plus one), a novel (Kiev-Kharkov: Ukrainian state publishers for national minorities, 1934), 282 pp.; Anshl zalyaznik (Anshl Zalyaznik), a poem published under the title Dem balegufs toyt (Death of bourgeois) (Moscow: Emes, 1935), 228 pp.; Shtelt aykh for un molt aykh oys (Just think and just imagine!), poetry (Moscow: Emes, 1936), 32 pp.; Ufgang afn dnyeper (Sunrise over the Dnieper) (Moscow: Emes, 1937), 320 pp.; Foterlekhe erd (Paternal land), poetry (Kiev: Ukrainian state publishers for national minorities, 1938), 390 pp.; Lider vegn shpanye (Poems about Spain) (Moscow: Emes, 1938), 37 pp.; Undzer konstitutsye (Our constitution), on the elections in the supreme council of the Soviet Republics (Moscow: Emes, 1938), 14 pp.; Di melkern marfa (The milkmaid Marfa), a poem (Moscow: Emes, 1938), 32 pp.; Dertseylungen (Stories) (Moscow: Emes, 1939), 114 pp.; Mikhoels ([Shloyme] Mikhoels) (Moscow: Emes, 1939), 54 pp.; Di naye mishpokhe (The new family), poetry (Moscow: Emes, 1939), 29 pp.; Roytarmeyishe balades (Red Army ballads) (Moscow: Emes, 1940), 47 pp.; Poeme vegn stalinen (A poem about Stalin) (Moscow: Emes, 1940), 86 pp.; A toyt di kanibaln (Death to the cannibals), poetry (Moscow: Emes, 1941), 64 pp.; Far folk un heymland (For the people and the homeland), poetry (Moscow: Emes, 1943), 127 pp.—“The people means in this instance the Jewish people,” wrote Meylekh Ravitsh, “and the homeland, naturally, is the Soviet Union. The Jewish people will include for vengeance the Jewish warrior in the golden chain, and the land that gave them the axe will dress in a golden star for their patriotic, heroic father.” “He can only be solemn, passionate, heroic,” noted Shmuel Niger, “… and this is the new theme and the new tone that has entered into Yiddish prosody—the theme and the tone of solemnity, of pathos and heroism.”—Tsum zig (To victory) (Moscow: Emes, 1944), 336 pp.; Milkhome (War), a poem (Moscow: Emes, 1948), 661 pp. (New York: IKUF, 1956), vol. 1, 314 pp., vol. 2, 317 pp.—two volumes, four parts: In onheyb (In the beginning), 43 chapters; Moskve (Moscow), 42 chapters; Stalingrad (Stalingrad), 36 chapters; Af mayrev (In the West), 41 chapters; altogether 162 chapters, each one of which contains between six and twenty-three poems, each sixteen lines long; altogether this last work consisted of 1,276 sixteen-line poems, over 20,000 lines—Yerushe (Inheritance), poetry (Buenos Aires: IKUF, 1959), 236 pp. (with a preface by Sh. Vaserman and an afterword entitled “Perets Markish” by Boris Lavrenyev, translated from Russian); Dor oys dor ayn (Warsaw: Yidish bukh, 1964), vol. 1, 389 pp., vol. 2, 526 pp.; Trot fun doyres, roman (The march of generations, a novel) (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1966), 689 pp.—about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising; Tsu a yidisher tentserin (For a Jewish dancer), a poem (Ramat-Gan: Masada, 1976), 94 pp.; Der fertsikyeriker man (The forty-year-old man) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1978), 138 pp. The great majority of his poems which appeared in Russian translation as Izbrannoie, stikhotboreniia i poemy (Selected works, poetry), published by Sovetski pisatel in 1956 (415 pp.). A second volume of poems and plays was brought out by the state publishing house in 1957. At various times, other works by Markish also appeared, including the dramas: Erd (Earth), Finfter horizont (The fifth level), Belovezher velder (Belavezha woods), Oyg far oyg (An eye for an eye), Der kinig fun lampeduze (The king of Lampedusa), Ver vemen (Who to whom? [Kto kovo?]), Moltsayt (Banquet), and Kol nidre (All vows), among others. A number of his plays were staged in the Ukrainian Yiddish State Theater in Kharkov, in the Moscow Yiddish State Theater, in Russian in the former Korsh Theater, and in the Vakhtangov State Theater. He also wrote scenes for the talkie-film Nosn beker fort aheym (known in English as “Nathan Becker Goes Home”), which was shown in the Soviet Union and the United States. On January 27, 1949, at the time of the liquidation of Yiddish writers in Soviet Russia, Markish was among those arrested, and he was horrifically tortured in prison. At his show trial, he was compelled to deliver a dignified, hour-long speech, until he collapsed. He was later shot on August 12, 1952.
His Pyesn (Plays) and Lider (Poetry) are now spread through the six volumes of his Gezamlte verk (Collected works). His work also appeared in: Farn heymland in shlakht!; Lider vegn der royter armey (Poems about the Red Army) (Kiev, 1938); Birebidzhan (Birobidzhan) (Moscow, 1932); Lider vegn stalinen (Poems about Stalin) (Kiev, 1937); In fayerdikn doyer, zamlung fun revolutsyonere lirik, in di nayer yidisher dikhtung (In fiery duration, a collection of revolutionary lyrics in the new Yiddish poetry) (Kiev, 1921); Ruf, lider zamlung (Call, poetry collection) (Minsk, 1935); Der arbeter in der yidisher literatur, fargesene lider (The worker in Yiddish literature, forgotten poems) (Moscow, 1939); Osher shvartsman (Osher Shvartsman) (Kiev, 1939); Komyug, literarish-kinstlerisher zamlbukh ([Jewish] Communist Youth, literary-artistic anthology) (Moscow, 1938); Bafrayte brider, literarishe zamlung (Liberated brethren, literary anthology) (Minsk, 1939); Shlakhtn (Battles) (Kharkov-Kiev, 1932); Deklamater fun der sovetisher yidisher literatur (Reciter of Soviet Yiddish literature) (Moscow, 1934); Tsum zig; and Yugnt (Youth) (Kharkov, 1922).
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); Y. Dobrushin, Gedankengang (Reasoning) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1922); Dobrushin, Sovetishe dikhtung (Soviet poetry) (Moscow, 1935); Dobrushin, in Oyfboy (Riga) 2 (November 1940); Dobrushin, in Eynikeyt (Moscow) (June 28, 1942); N. Oyslender, Veg-ayn-veg-oys, literarishe epizodn (Way in, way out, literary episodes) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1924), pp. 110-21, 173-202; M. Litvakov, In umru (In anxiety) (Moscow: Shul un bukh, 1926), pp. 61-73, 132-42, 189-219; Oyslender, Af tsvey frontn, zamlung artiklen (On two fronts, collection of articles) (Moscow, 1931); N. Mayzil, Noente un vayte (Near and far), vol. 2 (Vilna: B. Kletskin, 1926), pp. 240-51; Mayzil, Doyres un tkufes in der yidisher literatur (Generations and epochs in Yiddish literature) (New York, 1942); Mayzil, Perets markish, der dikhter un prozaiker (Perets Markish, the poet and prose writer) (n.p.: Kanader IKUF, 1942); Mayzil, Tsurikblikn un perspektivn (Retrospectives and perspectives) (Tel Aviv, 1962), see index; A. Katsizne, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (January 7, 1927); Shmuel Niger, Yidishe shrayber in sovet-rusland (Yiddish writers in Soviet Russia) (New York, 1958), pp. 229-61, 469-70; H. Leivick, in Di vokh (New York) 5 (1929); D. B. Malkin, in Bikher-velt (Warsaw) (July 1929); Al. Pinkl, in Di royte velt (Kharkov) (September 1929); Y. Bronshteyn, Atake, literarishe-kritishe artiklen (Attack, literary critical articles) (Minsk, 1930); Kh. Dunets, In shlakhtn (In battle) (Moscow, 1931); D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Tog (New York) (January 17, 1931); Al Zilbershtat, in Forverts (New York) (May 26, 1931); Yankev Leshtsinski, in Forverts (March 9, 1931); B. Y. Byalostotski, Lider un eseyen (Poems and essays) (New York, 1932), pp. 79-130; Kh. Bronshteyn (A. Glants), in Tog (June 2, 1933); Itsik Fefer, in Farmest (Kharkov) (October 1934); M. Vinder, in Sovetish (Moscow) 3 (1935); M. Vortman, Perets markish (Peretz Markish) (Moscow: Emes, 1937), 189 pp.; D. Bergelson, in Forpost (Birobidzhan) 2 (1937); M. Y. Khaimovitsh, in Nyu yorker vokhnblat (New York) 61 (1937); N. Y. Gotlib, in Yoyvl-bukh fun keneder odler (Jubilee volume for Keneder odler) (Montreal, 1938); A. Pomerants, Inzhenern fun neshomes (Engineers of souls) (New York, 1943); Pomerants, Di sovetishe haruge malkhes (The [Jewish writers] murdered by the Soviet government) (Buenos Aires, 1961), pp. 162-70, 282-88, 484; Meylekh Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (January 24, 1944); Ravitsh, in Kiem (Paris) (1949); Ravitsh, in Zamlbikher (New York) 8 (1952), pp. 139-57; Ravitsh, in Der idisher kemfer (New York) (Rosh Hashana, 1958); Ravitsh, Dos mayse-bukh fun mayn lebn (The storybook of my life) (Tel Aviv, 1975); A. Kushnirov, in Naye prese (Paris) (July 27, 1945); Yankev Glants, in Literarishe zamlungen (Chicago) (1946); Z. Segalovitsh, Tlomatske 13, fun farbrentn nekhtn (13 Tłomackie St., of scorched yesterdays) (Buenos Aires, 1946); Sh. Katsherginski, in Dos naye lebn 26 (1946); Katsherginski, Tsvishn hamer un serp (Between hammer and sickle) (Paris, 1949); Yankev Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (In essence) (New York, 1947), pp. 31-39; Yankev Botoshanski, in Di naye tsayt (Buenos Aires) July 20, 1951; August 11, 1954); Elye Shulman, in Fraye arbeter shtime (New York) (July 18, 1952); Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene verk (Selected works) (New York: L. M. Shteyn-biblyotek, 1953), pp. 302-6; Shiye Gilboe, in Di tsienistishe shtime (Paris) (April 9, 1954); Gilboe, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 29 (1957); Y. Varshavski, in Forverts (November 10, 1955); B. Kutsher, Geven amol varshe (As Warsaw once was) (Paris, 1955), see index; Leon Krishtol, in Forverts (March 10, 1956); David Knaani and Arye Shamri, compilers, Lo amut ki eḥye (I shall not die but live on) (Merḥavya, 1957); Y. Rapoport, in Di goldene keyt 28 (1957); Dr. Shloyme Bikl, in Di goldene keyt 29 (1957); Bikl, Shrayber fun mayn dor (Writers of my generation) (New York, 1958), pp. 287-304; Y. Yonasovitsh, Mit yidishe shrayber in rusland (With Yiddish writers in Russia) (Buenos Aires, 1959), pp. 287-322; Sh. L. Shnayderman, in Forverts (November 20, 1959); Literaturnaia entsiklopediya (Literary encyclopedia), vol. 6 (Moscow), pp. 808-11; Yoysef Gar and F. Fridman, Biblyografye fun yidishe bikher vegn khurbn un gvure (Bibliography of Yiddish books concerning the Holocaust and heroism) (New York, 1962), see index; A. Sutskever, in Di goldene keyt (1962), pp. 27-46; L. Leneman, in Di goldene keyt 43 (1962), pp. 129-39, 44 (1962), pp. 124-27; Shimen Veber, in Forverts (September 19, 1962); A. Zak, In onhoyb fun a friling (At the beginning of a spring) (Buenos Aires, 1962), see index; M. Avishai, in Al hamishmar (Tel Aviv) (April 5, 1963), concerning the translation Dor holekh vedor ba of Dor oys dor ayn (Generation out, generation in) published in two volumes in Tel Aviv (1962); Y. Y. Lifshits and M. Altshuler, comps., Briv fun yidishe sovetishe shraybers (Letters of Soviet Jewish writers) (Jerusalem, 1979/1980), see index, pp. 243-348.
[Additional information form: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), cols. 369-70; 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. 230-34.]