MARK RAZUMNI (RAZUMNY) (September 24, 1896-1988)
The author of stories and plays, as well as a translator, he was born in the Lithuanian town of Zhager (Žagarė), Lithuania. His Jewish given name was Meyer. As a child he moved with his parents to Riga, where he grew up. He studied for two years in religious elementary school and graduated from high school in 1913. In addition to his progressive teachers in high school, his mother exerted a great influence on him with her folk wisdom, as did his uncle Dovid-Nisn Kitay (an enlightened Hebrew writer) and his cousin Moyshe-Mikhl Kitay who was later a well-known writer. He was active in his youth in Labor Zionism. In Riga he studied in the art school of Borkhert and Rozen. In 1918 he worked in a toy factory, and one year later he was working in a bank in Hamburg, while auditing university courses in the evenings in philosophy, aesthetics, and literature. He was expelled from German in 1921 as a “bothersome foreigner,” and he returned to Riga where he began contributing to the democratic newspaper Dos folk (The people). He also placed work in the humorous publications brought out by Mikhl Kitay and the artist Mikhail Yo. When Dos folk became an organ of Agudat Yisrael, the religious Orthodox group, in 1924, he left the editorial board and together with a group of journalists led by Maks Shats-Anin put out the pamphlet Di gele prese (The yellow press). Over the years 1926-1934, he wrote for the newspaper Frimorgn (Morning). After several trips to Europe and the United States (see below), he found Frimorgn closed down by the semi-fascist regime of Kārlis Ulmanis, rendering him unemployed for several years. In 1937 he became editor of the illustrated magazine Idishe bilder (Jewish images) which stayed in print until September 1939. During WWII he was evacuated to Tashkent, returning to the Latvian capital in 1946. In the Soviet period, he became secretary of Riga’s Jewish cultural administration, under Shats-Anin. It ran all the Jewish institutions in the new Soviet Latvia. He was also at this time a contributor to Maks Shats-Anin’s Kamf (Struggle) and the journal Oyfboy (Construction) in Riga.
He began writing poetry in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian in his youth. He debuted in print with a story in German, published in 1920 in Hamburg’s Israelitisches Familienblatt (Israelite Family Journal). Unbeknownst to him, this story was translated and published in 1921 in Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper) in New York—under the weekly rubric: “Di shenste noveles fun der velt-literatur” (The most beautiful stories in world literature). He went on to write stories, features, fables, reviews, reportage pieces, and initially also poetry in various languages. One early work was the one-off humorous publication, Purim un khanike (Purim and Hanukkah) (Riga, 1921). In addition to those works serials mentioned above, he also published in: Herts Aktsin’s humor magazine Ashmodai, Rozenboym’s Baltisher emigrant (Baltic emigrant), Di vokh (The week), the weekly Di naye tsayt (The new times), Riger shriftn (Riga writings), Der veg (The way), Unzer veg (Our way), and Riger moment (Riga moment) (1925, 48 issues)—all in Riga. From 1961 he was publishing extensively in Sovetish heymland (Soviet homeland) and other Jewish Communist publications.
His writings include: Aranea di shpin, noveln (Aranea the spider, stories) (Riga: Oazis, 1924), 96 pp.; Der mord af andrey-gas (The murder on Andrey Street) (Riga, 1926); Hintergeslekh, dertseylungen (Back alleys, stories) (Riga, 1929), 157 pp.; Dos land fun toyznt geshtaltn, a nesie iber norvegn (The country of a thousand images, a trip through Norway) (Riga: Bikher far alemen, 1929), 100 pp.; Eyner tsvishn milyonen, fun an amerikaner nesie (One among millions, from an American trip) (Riga: Bikher far alemen, 1931), 123 pp.; Vi a shif afn yam (Like a ship on the ocean) (Riga, 1932); Mentshn in shtoyb, noveln vegn aynzame (Men in dust, stories about loneliness) (Riga: Yungbukh, 1935), 118 pp.; Yidishe melukhe (Jewish state), a historical novel (Riga, 1939), 143 pp.; Motke khabad (Motke Khabad), a comedy (Riga, 1940), 106 pp.; Tsofn-shayn (Northern light), a drama (Riga: Logos, 1940), 88 pp.; Breyter di trit (Wider steps), stories (Moscow, 1975), 301 pp.; Doktor herman meyerovitsh (Dr. Herman Meyerovitsh), an unpublished drama performed in Riga (1933). He also published in Ringen (Links) in Kovno (1940) the first act of a play entitled Avrom goldfaden (Avrom Goldfaden). His translations include: Erich Maria Remarque, Afn mayrev-front iz ruik (All quiet on the Western front [original: Im Westen nichts Neues]) (Riga: Bikher far alemen, 1929), 240 pp.; Lion Feuchtwanger, Idn (yud zis) (Jews: The Jew Süss [original: Jud Süss]) (Riga: Bikher far alemen, 1928), 194 pp.; Edgar Wallace, Dos geheymnis fun a froy, roman (The secret of a woman, a novel [original: The Strange Countess]) (Riga: Bilike bikher, 1930), 182 pp.; A. Svirskii, Roytkop, roman far yugnt (Red head, a novel for youth [original: Ryzhik (Redhead)]) (Riga: Bikher far alemen, 1931), 371 pp.; Nikolai Garin-Mikhailovskii, Tyomes kinderyorn, roman far yugnt (Tyome’s childhood, a novel for youth [original: Detstvo Tiomy]) (Riga: Bikher far alemen, 1931), 191 pp.; Fingerman, Thom fun lebn (The abyss of life) in Unzer veg. During his travels through Poland and Scandinavia, he staged his plays Motke khabad, Di klole (The curse), and his dramatization of Sholem-Aleichem’s Blondzhende shtern (Wandering stars). He also dramatized Mendele’s Masoes benyomen hashlishi (The travels of Benjamin III). His work appeared as well in: Horizontn (Horizons) and Dertseylungen fun yidishe sovetishe shrayber (Stories by Soviet Yiddish writers) (Moscow, 1969). Two of his books were translated into Russian. Into German, Jürgen Rennert translated: Breyter di trit as Auch im Herbst blühen die Bäume (The trees bloom also in autumn (Berlin, 1979); and his A velt mit vunder, dertseylungen, noveletn, mesholim (A world with wonder, stories, novelettes, fables) (Moscw: Sovetski pisatel, 1986), 221 pp., as Eine Welt voller Wunder (A world of wonder) (Leizig, 1985), 151 pp. His pen names include: M. Ramuz, M. Arzem, M. Oyslender, Markus Ring, and Pingvin. Razumni was one of those to lay the foundations for a short Yiddish novel—the novelette—a form which he used in his later years. “Mark Razumni’s novelettes,” wrote Y. Remenik, “…a genre of stories in miniature in which he is unique,…are narrative, picturesque…. In his novelettes, the picture is artistically functional, as it bears as well a conclusion,…a logical and philosophical intent.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) 20 (1928); Moyshe-Mikhl Kitay, Unzere shrayber un kinstler (Our writers and artists) (Warsaw: Jewish Universal Library, 1938); Folks-shtime (Warsaw) (September 24, 1966); Itonut yehudit shehayta (Jewish press that was) (Tel Aviv, 1973), see index; M. Altshuler, Yahadut berit-hamoatsot baaspaklarya shel itonut yidish bepolin, bibliyografya 1945-1970 (The Jews of the Soviet Union from the perspective of the Yiddish press in Poland, bibliography) (Jerusalem, 1975), pp. 166-67; Y. Remenik, in Sovetish heymland (Moscow) 9 (1976); Yeshurin archive, YIVO (New York).
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 496; 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. 348-50.]