Tuesday 4 June 2019


YOYSEF RUBINSHTEYN (JOSEPH RUBINSTEIN) (December 1905-February 24, 1978)

            He was a poet, born in Skidal' (Skidzieĺ), Białystok Province [now in Byelorussia]. He attended a “cheder metukan” (improved religious elementary school) and studied Russian with his father, a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment. In late 1918 he moved to Warsaw, where he worked during the day and studied at night in a Polish commercial school, later in a school for drawing. His literary debut came in 1925 in Warsaw’s Arbeter-tsaytung (Workers’ newspaper). He went on to publish in: Shprotsungen (Sprouts), Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves), Białystok’s daily Shtern (Star) and Minsk’s monthly Shtern. Rubinshteyn’s first collection of poems, Modeln (Models), was published in Warsaw by the Yiddish PEN Club (1939), 111 pp. A selection of this volume was published in Moscow (Emes, 1940, 35 pp.), edited and with a preface by Leyb Kvitko. A booklet of his poetry was set in type but destroyed in Minsk when the Germans occupied the city. In September 1939 he fled from Warsaw to Białystok, at the time occupied by the Soviets. For one-half year he was in Moscow as Dovid Bergelson’s guest, in connection with the publication of his book Modeln. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, he escaped from Białystok and turned up in Alma-Ata, capital of Kazakhstan. After the war, in the spring of 1946, he returned to Poland and lived in Lodz; in 1947 he moved to Paris, and in 1948 he traveled to New York as a delegate of the Parisian Yiddish writers’ association to the founding meeting of World Jewish Culture Congress—and there he remained. His experiences during the years of the war in the Soviet Union found reflection in his subsequent writings. He died in Tel Aviv.

            Some of the poems from Modeln were later published in the Russian almanac Mosti (Bridges) (Munich, 8 issues). In New York he published poems in: Tsukunft (Future), Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter), Forverts (Forward), and Veker (Alarm). There he also published all of his subsequent books: Nakht af nalevkes (Night in Nalevkes) (New York: Yiddish Culture Club, 1949), 190 pp., which contains new poetry and poems as well from Modeln; the trilogy comprised of Megiles rusland (The scroll of Russia) (New York: Tsiko, 1960), 254 pp., Khurbn poyln (The destruction of Poland) (New York: Tsiko, 1964), 256 pp., and Yetsies eyrope (The exodus from Europe) (New York: Tsiko, 1970), 287 pp. The trilogy expresses in a poetic manner the moods, pain, and feelings of a sensitive Jewish poet at the destruction of the Jewish people. The long narrative poems excel with their genuine poetic quality and poetic storytelling quality. In Modeln and Nakht af nalevkes, he introduced a modern tone, extraordinary images, and original conceptions. Rubinshteyn received many prizes: the Perets Prize in Warsaw (1939); from the Jewish Book Council (New York, 1960); the Bimko Prize from the Jewish Culture Congress (1964); the Tsvi Kessel Prize (1970); and the Atran Prize (1975). After his death two poetry collections of his appeared: Derzeungen (Visions) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publishers, 1978), 283 pp.; and Lider baym sof (Poems at the end) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publishers, 1984), 247 pp. A great number of unpublished poems remain in his archive.

            “Rubinshteyn the poet,” stated Shloyme Bikl, “possesses the sharp eye of an author of fiction…and he picks up everything and everyone’s dominant mood, first and foremost in the Yiddish writer’s environment, and he fashions it in suggestive verses, which are engraved in the mind of the reader so as not to be forgotten.” Concerning the trilogy, Yankev Glatshteyn wrote: “Yoysef Rubinshteyn possesses a thoroughly significant talent for writing novels, because he has all the virtues of a good storyteller and describer…. The poet has made peace between prose and poetry, and his songs are enriched by the full strength of a fine fiction writer, which serves him well not only in his work but [also] in the shadows that this work throws on various sides in various domains. Can this marriage of prose and poetry always be so successful, and can it endure in an area of thousands of lines? Impossible, but the triumph of Khurbn poyln and of Megiles rusland lies in the fact that the peace between the two ‘elements’ is conspicuous and partially successful.” And. Concerning a Rubinshteyn poem, Leyb Kvitko writes that it “is a complete story and a perfectly sculptured composition, in which every detail expresses most clearly the author’s idea.”

Sources: Elkhonen Tsaytlin, in Unzer ekspres (Warsaw) (February 24, 1939); Arn Tsaytlin, in Arbeter-tsaytlin (Warsaw) (March 17, 1939); Leyb Kvitko, preface to Modeln (Moscow: Emes, 1940); Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (April 20, 1947); A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (September 18, 1949); L. Finkelshteyn, in Veker (New York) (November 1, 1949); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (June 2, 1960); A. Glants-Leyeles, in Tsukunft (New York) (September 1960); Kh. Liberman, in Forverts (New York) (May 29, 1961); Yankev Glatshteyn, Af greyte temes (On ready themes) (Tel Aviv, 1967), pp. 130ff; Shloyme Bikl, Shrayber fun mayn dor (Writers of my generation), vol. 3 (Tel Aviv, 1970), pp. 60-66; Yitskhok Yanasovitsh, Penemer un nemen (Faces and names) (Buenos Aires, 1971), pp. 351-56; Noyekh Gris, in Veker (January 1971); Elye (Elias) Shulman, in Forverts (March 26, 1978).

Dr. Elye (Elias) Shulman

[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 505; and 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), p. 359.]

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