Tuesday 20 February 2018


YISROEL SOSIS (September 15, 1878-1967)

            He was a historian and journalist, born in Balte (Balta), Podolia, Ukraine. Until age seventeen he studied in religious elementary school and on his own in the synagogue study hall. From 1899 he turned his attention to secular subject matter, moved abroad, lived in Berne, Switzerland, and in Paris, and studied philosophy, political economy, and sociology. In 1902 he joined the foreign organization of the Bund. After returning to Russia in 1904, he became involved in party work in a variety of cities, primarily Odessa. He was arrested and imprisoned. He regularly contributed to Bundist organs in Vilna: Der veker (The alarm) and Di folks-tsaytung (The people’s newspaper). After 1907 he also wrote for the Russian press in Elizavetgrad and Odessa. During WWI he was co-editor of the Russian publications put out by Yekopo (Yevreyskiy komitet pomoshchi zhertvam voyny—“Jewish Relief Committee for War Victims”), and he contributed work to: Novyi voskhod (New arise), Vilner vokh (Vilna week), and the collections under various titles that were published by Tog (Day) in St. Petersburg. After the February Revolutionary of 1917, he continued writing for the socialist press in Yiddish and Russian. He remained active in the Bund in its internationalist wing. He co-edited the Bundist Evreiskii rabochi (Jewish labor) and contributed to Minsk’s Der veker. After the split in the Russian Bund in 1920, he went with the Kombund (Communist Labor Bund) and joined the Russian Communist Party in 1921, became editor of the organ of the Jewish Section’s Der idisher arbeter (The Jewish worker) in St. Petersburg (which ceased publication after its twelfth issue), and contributed as well to Emes (Truth) in Moscow. Over the years 1921-1923, he was put in charge of the Jewish division in the Commissariat of Nationalities in Petrograd, a lecturer in the labor faculty of Petrograd University, and after the establishment of the Institute for Byelorussian Culture (“Invayskult”) following a decree from the Byelorussian Executive Committee of November 24, 1924, he was appointed chief of the historical section of Jewish division of the Institute in Minsk and co-editor of Tsaytshrift (Periodical), in which he edited the historical section. He had earlier published a series of scholarly works in the field of Jewish history. Soviet Jewish historians (in particular, Hilel Aleksandrov) discovered “deviations” in him from the central Party line, and he was expelled (in the early 1930s) from the party and fired as a professor. In his subsequent work, Sosis stayed in stride, but people claimed that he had a weak party eye. In the 1930s he was marked as an “ardent priest” of “the hyper-objective, supra-class, all-nationalities science.” He was judged more positively than the “bourgeois historians” Dubnov and Klausner, with “creeping empiricism,” “electism,” “a mixture of vulgar economism and historical idealism,” and the like. He was barred from the Party and eliminated from all leading positions. Of his various writings in the field of Jewish history and literature, he published a series of articles: “On the History of Jewish Social Orientations in Russia” in the Russian-lamguage Jewish Evreiskaia Starina (The Jewish past) in St. Petersburg (1914-1916); “On the History of the Jewish Socio-Economic and Cultural Life Style,” Evreiskaia Mysl' (Jewish thought) in Leningrad (1926); “Tsu der sotsyaler geshikhte fun di yidn in vaysrusland” (On the social history of Jews in Byelorussia), Tsaytshrift 1 (1926) in Minsk; “Mitteylung un materyaln” (Announcement and materials), questions and answers, in the same volume of Tsaytshrift; “Der yidisher seym in lite un vaysrusland” (The Jewish parliament in Lithuania and Byelorussia), Tsaytshrift 2 (1928); “Yidishe bale-melokhes” (Jewish craftsmen), Tsaytshrift 4 (1930). In book form: Di sotsyal-ekonomishe lage fun di ruslendishe yuden, in der ershter helft fun 19ten yorhundert (The socio-economic condition of Russian Jewry in the first half of the nineteenth century) (Petrograd: Togblat, 1919), 64 pp.; Tsu der sotsyaler geshikhte fun yidn in lite un vaysrusland (On the social history of Jews in Lithuania and Byelorussia) (Minsk: n.p., 1926), 32 pp.; Di geshikhte fun di yidishe gezelshaftlekhe shtremungen in rusland in XIX yorhundert (The history of Jewish social tendencies in Russia in the nineteenth century) (Minsk: State Publ., 1929), 202 pp. He also edited: Der idisher arbeter, the newsletter of the Jewish Section, Petrograd (1921); and co-edited Shriftn fun vaysrusishn melukhe-universitet (Writings from the Byelorussian State University), Yiddish section in the pedagogy department, vol. 2 (Minsk, 1929), 158 pp. He also published the work “Di historishe ‘visnshaft’ fun dem yidishn visnshaftlekhn institut” (The historical “scholarship” of YIVO), in Fashizirter yidishizm un zayn visnshaft (Fascist Yiddishism and its scholarship) (Minsk: Jewish Section, Byelorussian Academy of Sciences, 1930), 121 pp.; among other pieces. According to the decision of the presidium of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (March 1946), Sosis was placed on the historical commission, together with Tuvye Heylikman, Sheynin, Deborin, and others. This was followed with another interruption when there was no news of him, and we know little about what happened to Sosis in subsequent years. In the Warsaw-based Folks-shtime (Voice of the people) for June 30, 1962, it was noted that “Professor Y. Ts. Sosis is preparing for publication a long work entitled ‘Di geshikhte fun yidishn folk in rusland’ (The history of the Jewish people in Russia),…which explains the stance of the Jewish masses in the war against Napoleon 150 years ago,” and that soon a chapter of this work was to be published in the newspaper. This work remains in manuscript.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Y. Leshtshinski, in Forverts (New York) (March 9, 1931); Kalmen Marmor, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (March 16, 1931); D. Tsharni (Daniel Charney), in Di tsukunft (New York) (October 1935; Tsharni, “In der yidisher un hebreyisher literatur” (In Yiddish and Hebrew literature), Di tsukunft (May 1946); “Historishe komisye baym antifashistishn komitet in fsr"r” (Historical commission of the Ant-Fascist Committee of the USSR), Eynikeyt (Moscow) (March 2, 1946); Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index; information from Al. Pomerants in New York.

Yankev Birnboym

[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. 258-59.]

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