Sunday 31 March 2019


MENAKHEM KIPNIS (1878-May 15, 1942)
            A musicologist, folklorist, feuilletonist, and theater reviewer, he was born in Ushomyr, Volhynia.  His father was a cantor.  He was orphaned at age eight.  Until age fourteen he studied in a Talmud Torah, later also secular subject matter.  Because of his beautiful tenor voice, he entered the Zhitomir choral school as a singer, later working as a soloist with the famed cantors Berl Mulyer, Nisn Belzer, and Zaydele Rovner.  With Rovner he gave cantorial concerts in Volhynia, Ukraine, Bessarabia, Lithuania, and Poland.  Around 1900 he entered the Warsaw Conservatory.  Over the years 1902-1918, he was the first Jewish tenor in the choir of the Warsaw Opera.  From 1913 he began collecting Jewish folksongs and appearing—with his wife Zimre Zeligfeld—in concerts throughout Poland as well as in the large cities of Western Europe.  With the outbreak of WWII, he was interned in the Warsaw Ghetto.  Kipnis’s diary of the ghetto was lost, and his large collections of Jewish folk music and melodies were destroyed in fires there.  He began writing on Jewish music in Hamelits (The advocate) and Hatsofe (The spectator).  His first music-related articles in Yiddish were published in 1907 in Krinski’s Roman-tsaytung (Fiction newspaper).  There he published biographies of well-known Jewish composers and musicians and offered evaluations of them.  He also contributed to Teater-velt (Theater world) in 1917 and Shtral (Beam [of light]) in Warsaw in 1921.  His most important written work appeared in Haynt (Today) in Warsaw, in which for many years he was a regular contributor.  Kipnis published there not only articles on music, theater, and the cantorial art, but also feuilletons, humorous sketches, travel impressions, and the like.  Especially popular were his series: “Yankev nar” (Jacob the fool), “Teater-mayses” (Theater stories), “Berd” (Beards [at a time when people were cutting off Jewish beards]), “Khelmer mayses” (Tales of Chełm), and “Pan metsenas” (Mr. Patrinizer [a fictional Polish lawyer who blames the Jews for everything]).  Many of Kipnis’s humorous stories were republished in Tog (Day) in New York.  From the late 1920s, he was publishing in Forverts (Forward) in New York numerous impressions of Jewish characters in Poland.  Together with B. Yushzon, he wrote a parody of An-ski’s “Dibek” (Dybbuk) under the title: Mitn koyekh fun dibek (With the strength of a dybbuk); it was staged in April 1921 in Warsaw’s Central Theater.  His writings included: Di velt-berihmte yidishe muziker (The world-famous Jewish musicians) (Warsaw: Bikher-far-ale, 1910), 81 pp. (maybe also 1912); 60 folkslider (Sixty folksongs) (Warsaw: A. Gitlin, 1918); 80 folkslider (Eighty folksongs) (Warsaw: A. Gitlin, 1925), 179 pp., new edition (1929); Khelemer mayses (Warsaw: Sh. Tsuker, 1930), 156 pp.; Nisim venifloes, kuryozen un bilder (Miracles and prodigies, curiosities and impressions)—part 1: (a) “Yekum purkan” (May deliverance arise); b. “Fosh hot mikh geratevet” (Fosh saved me); c. “Der dzedzits mitn kudlevaten hund” (The heir with the shaggy dog)[1]—(Warsaw: J. Ledenbaum, 1930), 29 pp.; 100 folkslider (One hundred folksongs) (Buenos Aires: Central Association of Polish Jews in Argentina, 1949), 269 pp.  Among his pen names: Mefistofel, Metronom, Itsikl Spirt, Sfinks, Nakht-Vanderer, and in Hebrew periodicals: Bat-Kol.  Kipnis “made great gains…in collecting and spreading the Jewish folksong,” wrote Henekh Kon, and “it was in this field that he may have done more than the St. Petersburg ethnographical society.”  As for Kipnis’s literary work, Nakhmen Mayzil noted: “The plot was the main thing for Kipnis.  More than anything else he was a portrayer or painter….  He was not the storyteller who creates something from nothing….  He animated and clothed in real clothing lives and figures of the past who lived and exerted an impact on life.”  He died in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 3; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 5 (Mexico City, 1966); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 1 (Montreal, 1945); F. Sherman, in Di khazonim velt (Warsaw) (January 1934); B. Mark, Umgekumene shrayber fun di getos un lagern (Murdered writers from the ghettos and camps) (Warsaw, 1954), pp. 49-50; Y. Y. Trunk, Poyln (Poland), vol. 7 (New York, 1953); Froym Kaganovski, Yidishe shrayber in der heym (Paris: Oyfsnay, 1956), pp. 423-31; Henekh Kon, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (August 25, 1967); Khayim Finkelshteyn, in Haynt, a tsaytung bay yidn, 1908-1939 (Haynt [Today], a newspaper for Jews, 1908-1939) (Tel Aviv, 1978), see index.
Berl Cohen

[1] Translator’s note. I am not at all sure about my translations of the second and third sections of this booklet. (JAF)

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