Friday 18 May 2018


YISROEL SEREBRIANI (July 1900-August 8, 1978)

            He was a literary critic and researcher, as well as a bibliographer, born in Kalinkovitsh (Kalinkavichy), Byelorussia, into a working-class family. His father, Ayzik-Benyomen son of Yitskhok, was the finest tailor in their town, although he died young. After his death, the twelve-year-old Yisroelikl had to become the main breadwinner in his home and went to work as an apprentice at the only recently opened print shop in their town. From age of seventeen, at the time of the eruption of the Russian Revolution, he was working as a qualified typesetter in Kiev. Also working in this very Jewish print shop as a proofreader at the time was the poet Osher Shvartsman. From this time Serebriani evinced his great interest in literature and made his first literary efforts at this time, but he did not as yet dare show them to anyone among the celebrated Kiev Jewish writers (Dovid Bergelson, Der Nister, Perets Markish, Leyb Kvitko, and Dovid Hofshteyn). In the years of the bloody Russian civil war, he turned his attention to setting in type illegal proclamations. When the White Army occupied Kiev, someone denounced him as the young typesetter engaged in this, and the followers of Denikin threw him in prison. When Kiev became Soviet terrain, he was released, volunteered to join the Red Army, and fought on the front against Piłsudski’s Polish forces. Demobilized after the civil war, he turned up in Homel (Gomel, Homyel') in the early 1920s, where he entered the Jewish pedagogical technicum. There his talents as a literary critic began to be apparent, and his work on Dovid Hofshteyn received the highest assessment from his teachers. In 1924 he became secretary of the Homyel' literary group “Oktober-dor” (October generation). That was the year he debuted in print with a poem. One year later he made his way to Minsk and continued his literary and educational activities there. From 1925 he moved to Minsk and became a member of the Minsk literary group “Yunger arbeter” (Young laborer) and was accepted as a student in the department of literature and linguistics in Minsk State University. In 1930, after graduating, he was kept on by the philologist Mortkhe Vaynger in the department as a research student. At the same time, he was working as a typesetter in a print shop, where he also led a literary circle. In this group, he later worked together with Maks Erik and Moyshe Kulbak. After completing his research studentship, he was selected as a scholarly collaborator at the Institute for Jewish Culture in the Byelorussian Academy of Sciences. For a short time, he served as manager of the Yiddish section for literature and language. After defending his dissertation, he received the academic title “Candidate in Philological Science” (equivalent to a Ph.D.). In subsequent years he published dozens of articles in a variety of scholarly publications, literary journals, and newspapers in Yiddish, Russian, and Byelorussian, among them: “Tsu der problem fun azoy gerufene kiyever period in der yidisher nokhoktyabrdiker poezye” (On the issue of the so-called Kiev period in Yiddish poetry after October), Literarisher zamlbukh (Literary anthology) (Minsk, 1934); “Sholem-aleykhem un folklor” (Sholem Aleichem and folklore); Notitsn vegn mendelen (Notes about Mendele); “Gorki un di yidishe literatur” (Gorky and Yiddish literature); “Mayakovski un di yidishe poezye” (Mayakovsky and Yiddish poetry); and about Avrom Goldfaden, Shloyme Mikhoels, Ester-Rokhl Kaminski, Noyekh Lurye, Zalmen Vendrof, Izi Kharik, Moyshe Kulbak, and Maks Erik. He also gave a great deal of recognition to the younger generation of writers: Elye Kahan, Avrom Gontar, Henekh Shvedik, Motl Gruvman, Reyzen, and others. In 1957 his bibliographical work, “Iberzetsungen fun yidish af rusish in di yorn 1941-1948 (oystsugn fun a greserer arbet)” (Translations from Yiddish into Russian in the years 1941-1948, excerpts from a longer work), was published in Parizer tsaytshrift (Parisian periodical) 15-16 (1956-1957), pp. 94-101. He also translated a number of important works from Russian, edited Yiddish and Russian books, and wrote his own—about Sholem-Aleichem and Mendele. In addition, he compiled, prepared for publication, and wrote an introduction to the literary heritage of Arn Gurshteyn. On the occasion of his sixtieth birthday in 1960, he was accorded a welcome greeting from the presidium of the Moscow writers’ association. From 1961 he began publishing a great number of articles and research works in Moscow’s Sovetish heymland (Soviet homeland), such as: 5 (1962), “Vegn novele un novelist (fun a greserer arbet)” (On novels and novelists, from a longer work), pp. 120-25. He died in Moscow.

            In book form: Shloglerishe trit (Traumatic steps) (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1932), 108 pp., edited with Maks Erik, introduction by Serebriani; Mendele moykher sforim, zayn lebn un shafn, loyt di verk fun a. gurshteyn, m. viner un and. (Mendele Moykher-Sforim, his life and work, according to the works of A. Gurshteyn, M. Viner, and others) (Moscow: Emes, 1948), 96 pp.; Sholem-aleykhem i narodnoie tvorchestvo (Sholem Aleichem and folklore) (Moscow, 1959), 220 pp.; Sovremenniki i klassiki (Contemporaries and classics) (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel', 1971), 310 pp.; Forgeyer un mittsaytler (Forerunner and contemporary) (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1982), 59 pp., which included the essays: “Di yidishe sovetishe literatur in di yorn fun der groyser foterlendisher milkhome” (Soviet Yiddish literature in the years of the great war of the fatherland [= WWII]), “Tsu der geshikhte fun a kunst-verk” (On the history of a work of art), “Sholem-aleykhem vegn kinstlerishe iberzetsungen” (Sholem-Aleichem on artistic translations), and “A kleyner traktat vegn groyser libe” (A small tractate on great love). His translations include: Ivan Turgenev, Eltern un kinder (Parents and children [Fathers and Sons, original: Otsy i deti]) (Minsk, 1940), 199 pp.; and Mikhail Lermontov, Der held fun undzer tsayt (A Hero of Our Time [original: Geroy nashego vremeni]) (Minsk, 1940), 216 pp.

Sources: B. Orshanski, “Di yidishe poezye in vaysrusland nokh der revolutsye” (Yiddish poetry in Byelorussia after the Revolution), Tsaytshrift (Minsk) 5 (1931), p. 38; “In der literarisher komisye” (In the literary commission), Afn visnshaftlekhn front (Minsk) 1-2 (1932), pp. 159, 161; Di bafrayte brider (The liberated brother), anthology (Minsk, 1939), p. 43; “Vegn der literarisher yerushe fun di umgekumene shraybers” (On the literary heritage of the murdered writers), Eynikeyt (Moscow) (January 14, 1947); Dr. Kh. Shashkes, “Bagegenishn in moskve” (Encounters in Moscow), Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (August 11, 1956); M. Kats, “A lebediker grus fun di hayntike sovetish-yidishe shraybers” (A vital greeting from the contemporary Soviet Yiddish writers), Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (May 26, 1957); Mats, “Tsulibn toyt fun hirsh kamenetski” (Because of the death of Hirsh Kamenetski), Morgn-frayhayt (May 29, 1957); N. Mayzil, Dos yidishe shafn un der yidisher shrayber in sovetnfarband (Jewish creation and the Jewish worker in the Soviet Union) (New York, 1959), pp. 132, 149; S. Rabinovitsh, in Folks-shtime (Warsaw) (February 6, 1960); P. Shrayber, “Yisroel serebriani, tsu zayn 60stn geboyrntog” (Yisroel Serebriani, on his sixtieth birthday), Folks-shtime (August 6, 1960); Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index.

Aleksander Pomerants

[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. 167-68.]

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