Monday 28 January 2019


ZALMEN KAHAN (1906-July/August 1982)

            A journalist and playwright, he was born in Minsk, the older brother of the prose author Eli (Elie) Kahan. He came from a pious family. In 1930 he graduated from the Yiddish literature and linguistics division of Moscow State University. He graduated from the Herzen Institute in Leningrad, where he settled. He was active as playwright, and he dramatized a series of classical Yiddish works for the stage. In 1934 he debuted in print with a story in Shtern (Star) in Minsk, entitled “Studentn” (Students). From that point until the end of his life, he was active in Yiddish journalism, literature, and theater. He lived in Minsk, Kharkov, Vilna, Novosibirsk, and the last few decades of his life in Leningrad. He contributed to Emes (Truth) in Moscow, Shtern (Star) in Minsk, Eynikeyt (Unity), and Sovetish heymland (Soviet homeland), in which he published numerous stories and literary articles. He penned dramatic works for the stage, organized a Yiddish concert collective, and gave guest performances with it all over the Soviet Union. In Minsk he was director of the Byelorussian Yiddish State Theater. He translated for the stage the play A bagegenish mit der yugnt (A meeting with youth) by the Russian playwright Aleksey Arbuzov, and he adapted a series of other dramatic works which were staged. During WWII he was the responsible party for a military newspaper. After the war he was active as a cabaret playwright, and he wrote sketches, monologues, feature pieces, and poetry. He dramatized Sholem-Aleichem’s Stempenyu for the Riga Yiddish Theater Ensemble. His anti-fascist play Nit fargesn (Not to be forgotten) was produced by the Vilna Yiddish Folk Theater. When Sovetish heymland began publication in Moscow, he was its official representative in Leningrad and published a series of jottings and historical literary pieces. He also wrote about celebrated Jewish artists, scientists, and scholars—men such as Yisroel Tsinberg and Hillel Aleksandrov. He wrote as well about the Yiddish cultural treasures to be found in the Leningrad libraries, archives, and museums. A number of these essays were included in the anthology Funem zhurnalistishn bloknot (From the journalist’s writing pad) which Sovetish heymland published in 1987, after his death.

Source: Sovetish heymland (Moscow) 4 (1966), p. 160.

Khayim Maltinski

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), cols. 468-69; 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. 309-10.]

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