B. MORTKHE (BAR-TANA) (b. November 12, 1909)
He was born in the town of Podbrodz (Pabrade), near Vilna, into a poor home. He studied in religious elementary school and in a Hebrew school, and he joined a Zionist youth movement. In 1928 he made his way to Warsaw, where he continued his education in the Tachkemoni school. He began to write while still in his hometown (together with his friend N. Perski), and he did not link up with the young writers in neighboring Vilna who were radical Yiddishists, but with a group of young writers in Warsaw (Yitskhok Perlov, Y. Yanasovitsh, Avrom Lev, Y. Fridman, and Perski). He debuted in print in the first collection of the group, “Yunge poezye” (Young poetry), published under Y. Perlov’s editorship in 1928 in Brisk (Brest). He later published his poems in the annual collective writings of the group which were published in Warsaw: Ershte shrit (First step) 1 (1929), 2 (1930), 3 (1932). His “Letters” concerning the young Yiddish writers appeared in Vokhnshrift far literatur (Weekly writing for literature) (Warsaw) 78 (1932) and Dos vort (The word) (Warsaw) (February 16, 1934). He published two volumes of poetry in Warsaw: Ofene tirn (Open doors) (Warsaw: Konturn, 1933), 64 pp.; and Shotns afn veg (Shadows on the road) (Warsaw: Konturn, 1935), 80 pp. A large number of the over 100 published poems in the two books were of an autobiographical character. A portion of the poems were written in the form of letters from home. In 1935 he made aliya to the land of Israel, where he was active all through the years as a Hebrew teacher and writer. In 1948 there appeared in Tel Aviv: Barukh Ben-Yehuda’s Di geshikhte fun tsienizm (The history of Zionism [original: Toldot hatsiyonut]), published with assistance from the Labor Council of Histadrut in Israel, in Mortkhe’s translation. After his aliya, he published his works in Hebrew: Tseadim balaila, shirim (Steps at night, poems) (Tel Aviv, 1938/1939), 67 pp.; Min hametsar (From the strait) (Tel Aviv, 1939/1940), 61 pp.; Shirat haeden haavud (Poem of paradise lost) (Jerusalem, 1947), 95 pp.; Yom hatamid, poema lirit (The eternal day, a lyrical poem) (Tel Aviv, 1955), 159 pp., for which in 1956 he was awarded the Kessel prize in Mexico. He also translated into Hebrew: Moyshe Kulbak’s Montik (Monday), Meshiekh ben froym (The messiah son of Efraim), and Yankev frank (Jacob Frank) as Ḥevle geula, mistorin, roman uderama (The poangs of redemption: mystery, romance, and drama) (Tel Aviv, 1947), 252 pp. He also wrote volumes of poetry in Hebrew: Or leet erev, poema lirit (Light in gthe evening, lyrical poem) (Tel Aviv, 1961), 157 pp.; Hashaa haaḥeret, poema lirit (The other hour, lyrical poem) (Tel Aviv, 1969), 124 pp.; and Yalkut shirim (Satchel of poems) (Tel Aviv, 1983), 118 pp.; among others.
Sources: Sh. Zaromb, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (January 1, 1934); [Y. Bashevis,] on the poetry volume Ofene tirn (Open doors), in Globus (Warsaw) 10 (1933); N. Bomze, in Oyfgang (Sighet-Marmației) (November 1934); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 3 (Montreal, 1958), p. 480; Leyzer Ran, 25 yor yung vilne (Twenty-five years of Young Vilna) (New York, 1955); A. Shaanan, Milon hasifrut haḥadasha haivrit vehakelalit (Dictionary of modern Hebrew and general literature) (Tel Aviv, 1959), p. 496.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 385.]