Thursday, 11 April 2019


LEO KENIG (Shabbat Shira [=January 12,] 1889-August 29, 1970)
            He was an art and literary critic and a journalist, born in Salen, Minsk Province.[1]  His name at birth was Arye-Leyb Yofe.  Early in life he was brought to Odessa.  There he studied in religious elementary school and the yeshiva of Kh. Tshernovits (Rav Tsair).  Over the years 1908-1912, he studied painting at Jerusalem’s Betzalel Academy, later in the arts schools of Munich and Paris (1912-1914).  In 1914 he settled in London.  At an international PEN Congress in 1925, he saw to it that Yiddish literature would be included in the world PEN Federation.  From 1954 he was living in Kibbutz Hatzerim in Israel.  He debuted in print at age fifteen with a story entitled “Der ekstern” (The external student), which Y. L. Perets published in Der veg (The way) in Warsaw.  Around that time, he published several sketches in Idisher kempfer (Jewish fighter), edited by Kalmen Marmor.  Although he would later also write up images that were fictional, in the main he dealt with art, Yiddish literature, and general Jewish issues, and concerning these he published articles and essays in: Di idishe velt (The Jewish world) in St. Petersburg and Vilna; Tsukunft (Future), Literatur un leben (Literature and life), the anthology Ist-brodvey (East Broadway), Tog (Day), and Forverts (Forward)—in New York; Di tribune (The tribune) in Copenhagen, Berlin, and London; Di naye gezelshaft (The new society), Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves), Inzer hofening (Our hope), Bikher velt (Book world), and Varshever shriftn (Warsaw writings)—all in Warsaw; Di tsayt (The times), Idishe post (Jewish mail), and Yidish (Yiddish)—in London; Literarishe revi (Literary revue), a one-off publication of 1926, and Kiem (Existence)—in Paris; and Di goldene keyt (The golden chain) in Tel Aviv; among others.  Around 1912 he published (with Mark Shvarts) in Paris the first art journal in Yiddish, entitled Makhmadim (Delights).  In 1920 he published in London (with Yoysef Leftvitsh, Moyshe Oyved, and others) a monthly for literature and art, Renesans (Renaissance), of which six issues (January-June) appeared.  Of Kenig’s articles and essays there, we should note the following: on Yiddish literature and Jewish sculpture; Yiddish and Hebrew; Palestine and Jewish forms; Bezalel; Raphael; and other topics.  He also published a novel in English in 1934, and his work appeared as well in Joseph Leftwich, ed., The Way We Think (New York-London, 1969).
            In book form: Mortkhe antokolski (Mordechai Antokolski) (St. Petersburg: Di idishe velt, 1912); Yidn-kinstler (Jewish artists) series—Kamil pisaro (Camille Pissarro) (Paris: Le Triangle, 1927), 16 pp.; Maks liberman (Max Liebermann) (Paris: Le Triangle, 1927), 16 pp.; Yankev epshteyn (Jacob Epstein) (Paris: Le Triangle, 1928), with reproductions—Shrayber un verk (Writers and works) (Vilna: B. Kletskin, 1929), 185 pp.; Vu haltn mir in der velt, shtudyen in “natsyonale higyene” (Where do we stand in the world, studies in “national hygiene”) (London: Y. Naroditski, 1933), 77 pp.; Geto oder melukhe (Ghetto or state) (Warsaw: Os, 1939), 77 pp.; Folk un literatur, finf lektses vegen di hoyfṭ tendentsn un di karakteristikes fun der moderner yidisher literatur (People and literature, five lectures on the main tendencies and characteristics of modern Yiddish literature) (London: Workmen’s Circle Education Committee, 1947), 134 pp.; Dos bukh fun lesterungen (Sefer redufim, The book of blasphemies) (London, 1948), 250 pp.  Kenig would often utter controversial opinions that would arouse discussion in the Yiddish press.  This last book of his, published only a few after the Holocaust in Europe, was sharply attacked by a number of Yiddish critics and journalists.  Shmuel Niger asked: “What was it really, not theatrically…[and] not recklessly, that pushed Leo Kenig to take pen in hand to dishonor his own habits and to blaspheme others’ sanctity?”  As a rule, Kenig was considered as a writer, noted Zalmen Reyzen, to be “one of the best and most spirited of Yiddish journalists, essayists, [and] critics, with a profound knowledge of art, a fine aesthetic taste,…diverse and many-sided in subject matter.”  Kenig also wrote a book in Hebrew volume, Yehudim baomanut haḥadasha (Jews in modern art) (Tel Aviv: Devir, 1962), 162 pp.  He published several volumes under his real name.  He adopted his pseudonym from a Lodz boy in Jerusalem with the name Leo Kenig, who gave him his passport in 1910, so that the Turks would allow him to leave the land of Israel.  He died in Kibbutz Hatzerim.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 3; Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 3 (Montreal, 1958); Avrom Reyzen, in Tsukunft (New York) (March 1930); Shmuel Niger, in Idishe tsaytung (Buenos Aires) (November 11, 1949); A. Gordin, in Yidishe kultur (New York) 2 (1950); Y. M. Nayman, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 13 (1952); Yankev Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (In essence), vol. 2 (Buenos Aires, 1960), pp. 105-11; Avraham Shaanan, Milon hasifrut haḥadasha haivrit vehakelalit (Dictionary of modern Hebrew and general literature) (Tel Aviv, 1966); G. Kressel, in Hadoar (New York) (eshvan 21 [= November 20], 1970); Yeshurin archive, YIVO (New York).
Berl Cohen

[1] According to Avraham Shaanan, he was born in Odessa.

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