Thursday 27 September 2018


ELYE FALKOVITSH (1888-June 9, 1979)

            He was a linguist, born in Homyel' (Gomel), and graduated from the department of linguistics at Moscow University. In the 1930s he was a lecturer on the Yiddish language at the Second Moscow University in the department of Yiddish linguistics. He began working as chair of the Yiddish language department at the University of the Peoples of the West (Mayrevke) as well as at the Moscow Pedagogical Institute. He started his publishing work in the field of Yiddish linguistics in 1927. He brought out important work in the journal Afn shprakhfront (On the language front) in Kiev and elsewhere. In 1929 he published his first book: Yidish, gramatik far dervaksene (Yiddish, grammar for adults) (Moscow: Emes, 1929), 104 pp., with a second enlarged edition (Moscow-Kharkov-Minsk, 1930), 208 pp.; a subsequent edition appeared as Yidish far dervaksene (Yiddish for adults) (Moscow: Emes, 1936), 326 pp., with a second component entitled Yidish, fonetik, grafik, leksik un gramatik (Yiddish, phonetics, script, lexicon, and grammar) (Moscow: Emes, 1940), 383 pp. In the late 1920s when a reform of Yiddish orthography was underway in the Soviet Union, he was among the scholars who implemented this in practice. He participated in the language conference in Moscow on December 15, 1936, concerning elevating Yiddish to an official, state language—in connection with the decision of the Soviet government to construct a Jewish autonomous area in Birobidzhan. During WWII, he was a member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow. When the Nazi armies were approaching Moscow, he volunteered to join the Red Army, in the Opolchenie (Home guard), a voluntary military defense detachment, and was involved in pitched battles. He demonstrated an example of personal courage, about which the press wrote, including Dovid Bergelson in a sketch, “Undzerer a mentsh” (A man, one of our own), in the newspaper Eynikeyt (Unity). On the road he and his men stumbled upon a company of Germans in a village and engaged them in battle. They captured thirty-five Nazis and another eight were shot; he also carried out eighty-eight wounded fighters under enemy fire and provided first aid. He was captured by the Nazis, but at night with some eighteen Red Army members he took command and broke out with them to freedom. For this heroic deed, he was awarded the Order of Lenin. After the war he returned from the front to Moscow and was appointed chief editor of the Emes (Truth) press. In the late 1940s when all Jewish cultural institutions were liquidated, he switched to work as a lecturer. When Sovetish heymland (Soviet homeland) commenced publication, Falkovitsh was one of its most active contributors. His article “Opshay farn loshn” (Respect for the language), published in the first two issues of the journal in 1961, was a call to responsible continuation of the language. His other articles were polemical and rich in content. In 1960 the Moscow publisher Gospolitizdat (State publisher for political literature) brought out in Russian his Iskusstvo lektora (The art of the lecture). His series of studies of Yiddish published in Sovetish heymland (1974-1978) were an innovative textbook for those who wished to acquire a deeper knowledge of the language. After his death, there was published his work “Vegn der shprakh yidish” (On the language, Yiddish), fifty-eight pages in length, as an afterword to his major work, Rusish-yidish verterbukh (Russian-Yiddish dictionary) (Moscow, 1984). In his last years he conceived a series of biblical jottings, one of which was entitled “Vegn der ‘megiles-rus’ un andere tanakhish sforim” (On the “Scroll of Ruth” and other biblical texts), which Sovetish heymland published in issue 6 of 1978. Other books include: Rusish-yidish verterbukh far der onfang-shul (Russko-evreiskii slovarʹ, dlia nachalʹnoi shkoly, Russian-Yiddish dictionary for elementary school) (Moscow: Emes, 1941), 175 pp.; Yidishe punktuatsye (Yiddish punctuation) (Moscow: Central Publishers, 1931), 48 pp.; editor, Mikhoels, 1890-1948 ([Shloyme] Mikhoels, 1890-1948) (Moscow: Emes, 1948), 174 pp. He died in Moscow.

Sources: L. Reznik, in Afn shprakhfront (Kharkov) 2 (1934); M. Gurevitsh, in Afn shprakhfront (Kharkov-Kiev) 2 (1934); P. Markish, in Eynikeyt (Moscow) (June 28, 1942); Y. Nusinov, in Eynikeyt (August 5, 1942); D. Bergelson, in Eynikeyt (May 27, 1943); T. Gen, in Eynikeyt (October 2, 1945); Y. Yanosovitsh, in Di naye tsayt (Buenos Aires) (October 22, 1953); Yankev Glatshteyn, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (September 29, 1961); Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index.

Leyb Vaserman

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 437-38; 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. 289-90.]

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