Monday 29 January 2018


SHLOYME-YANKEV NYEPOMNYASHTSHI (December 10, 1896-January 13. 1930)

            He was a literary researcher and journalist, born in Krolevets (Krolevets'-Slobidka), Chernigov (Chernihiv) region, Ukraine. Until age sixteen he studied in yeshivas, later departing for the land of Israel, where for two years he studied in the Herzliya High School in Jaffa. In 1914 he went on vacation to visit his parents, who were then living in Poltava, and he stayed on in Russia. His first literary efforts were in Hebrew. In 1917 he was secretary of the provincial Zionist committee in Poltava, and he wrote appeals and addresses for the committee in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian. In 1918 he published with the Rabinovitsh brothers a humorous newspaper entitled Der mazek (The mischievous child)—two issues appeared; he also contributed to the Russian newspaper Poltavskie novosti (Poltava news), wrote articles in Erd un arbet (Land and labor), the organ of the “Tseire tsiyon” (Young Zionists) using the pen name Sh. Barkay, and in the Zionist organ Di velt (The world). Because he knew the Ukrainian language, he was lured to work on the Jewish “Central Secretariat.” In the volume Di idishe oytonomye un der natsyonaler sekretaryat af ukrayine, materyaln un dokumentn (Jewish autonomy and the national secretariat in Ukraine, materials and documents) (Kiev: n.p., 1920), he published a detailed bibliography on issues of autonomy and the Jewish community council. He contributed to the editorial collective responsible for the collection and revision of pogrom-related materials under the direction of Elye Tsherikover (Elias Tcherikower). Because of the surviving Petliura and Denikin pogromists, in 1919 he became a Communist and began contributing to the Soviet press in both Ukrainian and Russian. As a soldier in the Red Army, he experienced the Polish war campaign and later took up a series of positions in political organs and staff headquarters, also with the Kiev Cheka in the division fighting against bandits—“To select among the Ukrainians the disguised Petliurists, Denikinists, and other hooligans and murderers of Jews” (according to Daniel Tsharni [Charney]). In 1920 he was an internal contributor to Komunistisher fon (Communist banner); in 1922 he was manager of the Ukrainian telegraphic agency. In 1923 he moved from Kiev to Moscow to work in the press division of the central committee of the Russian Communist Party, where he was manager of the Russian-language journal Krasnaia petshat' (Red press). At the same time, he contributed articles and feature pieces to the daily newspapers: Der emes (The truth) in Moscow, Der shtern (The star) in Kharkov, and Oktyabr (October) in Minsk, mainly using the pseudonym Sh. Elkin. From 1927 he was editorial secretary in Moscow of the Russian-language, monthly magazine Tribuna (Tribune), organ of Ozet (Society for settling toiling Jews on the land). He was a passionate collector of all manner of historical documents, rare works, and manuscripts, and he bequeathed a large collection of important religious texts and cultural-historical documents. He also wrote in Hebrew, loved the language, and helped Hebrew writers, irrespective of his Communism. In 1923 he directed the bibliographic review of Yiddish books in the bibliographic weekly of the state publishing house, Knigonosha (Book peddler). In 1926 he prepared for publication and co-edited (together with Zyame Ostrovski and M. Kats) the Stenografisher barikht fun ershtn alfarbandishn tsuzamenfor fun “gezerd” (Stenographic report from the first All-Soviet Conference of “Gezerd” [All-Union Association for the Agricultural Settlement of Jewish Workers in the USSR]) (Moscow, November 15-20, 1926), published in 1927 (251 pp.). In Visnshaftlekhe yorbikher (Scholarly yearbooks) (Moscow) 1 (1929), there appeared two important works of research by him: “Onmerkungen tsu sholem-aleykhems briv” (Remarks on Sholem-Aleichem’s letters) and “Di dorem-mayrevdike konferents fun ‘bund’ in 1915” (The southwest conference of the Bund in 1915). His last work—“Naye materyaln vegn sholem-aleykhem” (New materials on Sholem-Aleichem)—was published in Royte velt (Red world) in Kharkov (January-February 1930). In manuscript he left behind: a full array of works in Hebrew, including a volume of essays Hafugot (Intermissions); and translations of Dovid Hofshteyn’s Meshiekhs tsaytn (Messianic times) into Hebrew as Yamot hamashiaḥ, H. Leivick’s Lamed vovnik (One of the 36 good men in the world), and Dovid Ignatov’s Vunder mayses fun altn prog (Wonder tales from ancient Prague) as Sipure niflaot miprag haantika, among others. In 1928 when Yoysef Opatoshu came to the Soviet Union for the first time, he visited Nyepomnyashtshi and later reported that his room “apparently had no walls. Closets, shelves, stacks of books all played the role of a wall.” They were stuffed with seldom-seen texts, rare works, including the first edition of Meor einayim (The light of the eyes) (Mantua, 1574). “Later as well,” noted D. Charney, “when I had left Moscow for Berlin, Nyepomnyashtshi would pelt me with letters and requests for new Hebrew books and periodicals, which he had to have, and I felt that this curious Nyepomnyashtshi derived satisfaction much more from the Hebrew cultural world of Warsaw, Berlin, Tel Aviv, and New York than with the Soviet Yiddish culture of Russia itself.” His untimely death in Moscow cut short his literary research and bibliographical work.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; obituaries in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) 5 (300) (January 31, 1930), Di vokh (New York) 22 (1930), and Di royte velt (Kharkov) (January-February 1930), p. 214; Y. Opatoshu, in Zamlbikher (New York) 8 (1953), pp. 210-16; V. Blatberg, Di geshikhte fun di hebreishe un yidishe shrayber in sovetn-farband (The history of the Hebrew and Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union) (New York: Institute of Jewish Affairs, World Jewish Congress, 1953), p. 14; D. Charney, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (January 1954); Y. Lifshits and M. Altshuler, comps., Briv fun yidishe sovetishe shraybers (Letters of Soviet Jewish writers) (Jerusalem, 1979/1980), pp. 369-90.

Aleksander Pomerants

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 391; and 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), p. 253.]

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