Thursday 12 July 2018



            He was a poet and playwright, born in the town of Telenești, Bessarabia. Until age sixteen he received a fervently religious education, and thereafter he studied in the yeshiva of Khayim Tshernovitser (Chaim Czernowitzer) in Odessa. In 1912 he left home and traveled on a vessel (on which he worked in the steam room) carrying merchants from the Odessa harbor to Hamburg. He then left Hamburg on ship and made his way to Argentina. He worked initially as an unskilled laborer in Buenos Aires, for a short time as a teacher in a Jewish colony, and later (until mid-1921) he wandered around the Argentinian pampas, the Brazilian wasteland, and the uninhabited domains of South America with his friend Abe Kliger, also a poet. Soon thereafter, he left South America and returned to Europe, lived for a time in Germany, Belgium, Romania, and Bessarabia, and from there in late 1922 he arrived in the Soviet Union, where he initially settled down in Moscow but soon moved to Kharkov and from there to Kiev. His first published writings (under the pen name Ben-Sara) were Hebrew-language children’s poems in Sh. Levner’s Haperaim (The fruits) in Lugansk (1911) and in Sh. Ben-Tsiyon’s Moledet (Homeland) in Odessa (1912). In Argentina he switched to Yiddish. He debuted in print in Yiddish with a poem in the collection Shtraln (Beams [of light]) in Buenos Aires (1913), and he went on to publish articles, stories, feature pieces (also using the pseudonym Telenester Avezhera) in such serials, among others, as: Unzer vort (Our word) (1913), Tog (Day) (1914), Idishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper), and Di prese (The press) in Buenos Aires; Di feder (The pen) and Tsukunft (Future) in New York; Folks-tsaytung (People’s newspaper), Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves), and Varshe (Warsaw), in a poetry competition of 1922 he received first prize for his “Lid fun soykher” (Song of the businessman)—in Warsaw; in the Soviet Union his first poems and children’s stories appeared in Pyoner (Pioneer) in Moscow and Yunge gvardye (Young guard) in Kharkov, and he later contributed to numerous Yiddish publications there. His true métier, though, was as a playwright. His plays (see below) were staged on the Yiddish, Ukrainian, and Russian stages. When the mass arrests began in 1937, however, he too was arrested, but a year later he was allowed to return home. His last prewar booklet was Dos lenin-bliml (The Lenin flower). Following the Nazi invasion of the USSR, he was evacuated to Alma-Ata in Soviet Central Asia, where he lived until 1944. He then returned to Ukraine. He lived for a time in Czernowitz in Romania (1945-1946)—in Czernowitz, the Yiddish theater staged his last play, Traybt aroys der sheyd (Expel the devil). Among other items, he wrote at this time the Holocaust poems: “Klog-lid af telenetsh” (Dirge for Telenești) and “Der besaraber yid” (The Bessarabian Jew). From Czernowitz, he moved to Kiev, where he was arrested in 1948, during the murderous Stalinist actions against Yiddish writers and the liquidation of Jewish culture; he was exiled to a forced labor camp in the Far East, where he suffered terribly. He was released from the Gulag in 1955, following rehabilitation, and spent physically and spiritually, he returned to Kiev where he died that year.

In book form: Tsvit, lider (Blossom, poetry) (Buenos Aires: Committee to Publish Moyshe Pintshevski’s poems, 1918), 131 pp.; Farfalen (Doomed), stories (Buenos Aires, 1919); Fir poemes (Four poems) (Kharkov, 1930), 213 pp.; Far kinder (For children), poems and stories (Kharkov: Ukrainian State Publishers, 1930), 97 pp.; Far der bine (For the stage), one-act plays (Moscow, 1930), 112 pp.; Gedekte kortn (Covered cards), three-act review (Kharkov, 1930), 96 pp., which played for two years in the Kharkov State Yiddish Theater; Git dem forhang, komedye in eyn akt (Get the curtain, a comedy in one act) (Berdichev, 1931; Kharkov: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1932), 30 pp.; Lider fun tog (Poems of the day) (Kharkov: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1932), 131 pp.; Undzere kinder, lider (Our children, poems) (Minsk: Byelorussian State Publishers, 1933), 97 pp.; Dos lebn un der toyt fun vilyam sven, poeme (The life and death of William Sven, a poem) (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1935), 270 pp.; Der botshan (The stork), a play-story for very young children (Kharkov, 1935), 43 pp., from which the Bolshoi Theater created a children’s ballet which became part of its repertoire for over two decades; Eldorado, a pyese-maysele far kinder vegn (El Dorado, a play-story for children), six scenes (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1936), 51 pp.; Kolya (Kolya), a play (Kiev, 1937), 80 pp., which played in Kiev’s Yiddish State Theater; Fun friling biz friling (From spring to spring), poetry (Kharkov: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1938), 174 pp.; Di gliklekhe, vos hobn derlebt (The happy ones who survived), stories (Kiev, 1938), 130 pp.; Geklibene lider, poemes un mayselekh (Selected poems and stories) (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1940), 300 pp.; Di legende vegn di sokoln (The legend of the falcons), poetry (Kiev, 1941), 158 pp.; Dos lenin-bliml, mayselekh far kleyn un far groys (The Lenin flower, stories for young and old) (Kiev: Ukrainian State Publishers for National Minorities, 1941), 103 pp.; Ikh leb (I am alive), a drama in three acts (Moscow, 1947), 96 pp., performed in the war years at the Kiev Yiddish State Theater, in Kokand (1946-1948), and in the survivors’ camps in Germany; Der lets (The clown), a play; and the tragi-comedy Traybt aroys der sheyd, which played in Yiddish theaters. He was also the author of Kinder-balet (Children’s ballet), performed first in the Moscow academy theater in 1933, and until the war in Yiddish children’s theaters in the Soviet Union.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 3 (New York, 1959); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (New York) (February 1930); Y. Botoshanski, in Tsukunft (August 1931); Botoshanski, in Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia), vol. 5 (New York, 1957), p. 379; M. Khashtshevatski, in Royte velt (Kharkov) (August 1931); Yashe Bronshteyn, Sheferishe problemen fun der yidisher sovetisher poezye (Creative problems in Soviet Yiddish poetry) (Minsk, 1936); Sh. Rozhanski, Dos yidishe gedrukte vort in argentina (The published Yiddish word in Argentina), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires, 1941), see index; A. Kushnirov, in Naye prese (Paris) (July 27, 1945), pp. 39-42; Nakhmen Mayzil, Dos yidishe shafn un der yidisher shrayber in sovetnfarband (Jewish creation and the Jewish worker in the Soviet Union) (New York, 1959), see index; Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index; Y. Gar and F. Fridman, Biblyografye fun yidishe bikher vegn khurbn un gvure (Bibliography of Yiddish books concerning the Holocaust and heroism) (New York, 1962); Sovetish heymland (Moscow) (March 1964).

Khayim Leyb Fuks

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 430; 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), pp. 280-82.]

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