ZALMEN REYZEN (October 6, 1887-1941?)
A lexicographer and literary researcher, he was born in Koydenev (now, Dzyarzhynsk), Byelorussia, the brother of Avrom and Sore Reyzen. His father Kalmen Reyzen was a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment who wrote poetry in both Hebrew and Yiddish. As a child he lived with his parents, later with his sister in Mohilev and Vinitse (Vinnytsa), Ukraine. He studied in various religious elementary schools. He later moved to Minsk, where he studied in a Russian municipal school. While still a student, he was impressed by articles by Avrom Reyzen and Chaim Zhitlovsky concerning Yiddish. He settled in Vilna in 1915, and there he became active in an editor and fighter on behalf of Yiddish. He campaigned in speeches, arguing that Yiddish was the sole language of Jews and must become the language of instruction in schools with Jewish children. At that time, he became one of the main contributors to Letste nayes (Latest news), in which he introduced a modernized orthography. He was editor (1919-1939) of Vilner tog (Vilna day), which changed its name several times due to frequent confiscations by the authorities. Reyzen gave lectures on Yiddish and Yiddish grammar at the Jewish people’s university, at the Jewish teachers’ seminary, and in various teachers’ courses of study. He was one of the founders of the Jewish historical-ethnographic society and of YIVO, which from 1925 he served as principal leader, contributor to Yivo-bleter (Pages from YIVO), and editor of Yedies fun yivo (News from YIVO). For a time he was chairman of the Vilna journalists’ and writers association and the Yiddish PEN Club, and in 1928 he was a delegate to the PEN Congress in Vienna. At the invitation in 1930 of the Jewish Culture Association, he traveled to the United States, where he delivered a series of speeches. In 1932 he visited Argentine on assignment for YIVO. On September 18, 1939, when Vilna was occupied by the Red Army, he was arrested. This was a huge mystery, because both he and his newspaper were consistently pro-Soviet. In late October 1939, after turning Vilna over to Lithuania, the Soviets transferred him to the Alt-Vileyka prison, from whence he was deported, it would appear, (according to another version, he was deported from Bialystok) deep into Russia where he was shot to death somewhere in a Soviet prison.
Reyzen was active as a journalist, as a grammatician, literary scholar, and builder of secular Jewish culture. In addition to his newspaper, he contributed to: Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) and Yidishe velt (Jewish world), among other serials. Together with Avrom Reyzen, he published: Di muter shprakh, a metode tsu lezen un shrayben yudishe mit gramatikalishe klolim, baygeleygt ale hebreyishe verter, vos gehn arayn in der yudishe shprakh (The mother language, a method to read and write Yiddish with grammatical rules, with an attachment of all the Hebrew words that are included in the Yiddish language) (Warsaw, 1908), 78 pp., later editions (1912, 1914). “Under the direction” of Zalmen, Yudishe ortografye, kaligrafishe metode (Yiddish orthography, the calligraphic method), compiled by a group of teachers (Warsaw, 1912/1913), 32 pp., was published. In the first edition of his Yudishe gramatik (Yiddish grammar) (Warsaw, 1908), 99 pp., he wrote in the preface: “As it is neither strange nor unbelievable, there has not even been so much as an effort at a Yiddish grammar,…my grammar…only as a tryout will, it appears, demonstrate that Yiddish grammar is entirely possible and even rather easy to write up.” An enlarged edition under the title Gramatik fun der yidisher shprakh, ershter teyl (Grammar of the Yiddish language, first part) was published in Vilna in 1920 (162 pp.), second edition (Vilna, 1921). Among other things, in the introduction he writes: “The struggle for the Yiddish language, which has these past years flared up with such fervor in all the countries with Jewish communities, and the recognition of the great importance for our people, has brought to life national Yiddish philology which takes as its goal not only theoretical research into Yiddish, but places importance as well in the results that this very research provides in order to perfect our language, refine it, enrich and make it the instrument of modern Jewish culture in its disclosures.” Chapters of the second part of his grammar were published in Yidishe filologye (Yiddish philology) in Warsaw 1-6 (1924); Filologishe shriftn (Philological writings) in Vilna 1-3 (1926); and Yidish far ale (Yiddish for everyone) in Vilna 1, 2, 6-8 (1938).
In the realm of Yiddish literary research, Reyzen published: manuscripts by Itsik Aykhl’s (Isaac Euchel) Reb henokh, and the full text of the drama in Arkhiv far der geshikhte fun yidishn teater un drame (Archive for the history of Yiddish theater and drama) (Vilna) 1 (1930), pp. 85-146; Di broder zinger in lemberg (The Brod singers in Lemberg) of 1886; “Dovid zahik” (David Zahik), author of Di roze tsvishn derner (The rose amid thorns) in Arkhiv far der geshikhte fun yidishn teater un drame 1 (1930), pp. 45-458; and “A kapitl fun shomers a roman vegn yidishn teater” (A chapter from a novel by Shomer on the Yiddish theater), in Arkhiv far der geshikhte fun yidishn teater un drame 1 (1930), pp. 459-60. Together with A. Fridkin, he published Avrom-Ber Gotlober’s Yidishe verk (Yiddish works) (Vilna, 1927), 257 pp. Of great significance was Reyzen’s Fun mendelson biz mendele, hantbukh far der geshikhte fun der yidisher haskole-literatur mit reproduktsyes un bilder (From Mendelssohn to Mendele, handbook of the history of the Yiddish Enlightenment literature with reproduced texts and pictures) (Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1923), 418 pp., with an introduction and biographical materials about the writers. A second piece entitled Fun elye bokher biz moyshe mendelson (From Elijah Levita to Moses Mendelssohn), prepared with Maks Erik and containing selections from Old Yiddish literature, had been typeset, but it was not published. The only copy with hand-written additions to the text may be found in YIVO in New York. Similarly unpublished was his 1910 planned (with Avrom Reyzen) reader, Di yidishe literatur in mustern fun ire verk (Yiddish literature in samples of its works); the plans may also be found in YIVO (New York).
Among Reyzen’s longer works must be noted: “Di vaybershe kniplekh un zeyer mekhaber” (The wives’ nest eggs and their author), Yidishe velt (Warsaw-Vilna) 6 (1928), pp. 436-56; “Eynike mekoyrim tsu der geshikhte fun der yidisher dertsiung in onheyb fun 19tn yorhundert” (Several sources on the history of Yiddish education at the beginning of the nineteenth century), Shriftn far psikhologye un pedagogik (Writings for psychology and pedagogy) (Vilna) 1 (1933), pp. 403-26; an essay on Sh. Chajes, Otsar beduye hashem (Thesaurus Pseudonymorum; Treasury of pseudonyms) in Vakhshteyn bukh, zamlbukh tsum ondenḳ fun d״r. bernhard vakhshteyn, 1868-1935 (Volume for Vakhshteyn, collection to the memory of Dr. Bernhard Vakhshteyn) (Vilna, 1939), pp. 585-618; “Psevdonimen in der yidisher literatur” (Pseudonyms in Yiddish literature), Yivo-bleter (Vilna) XII.7-8 (1939), pp. 3-36; his writings in Yivo-bleter about Elozer Shulman, Ber Borokhov, Jewish Enlightenment literature, and secular Yiddish literature were included in his Yidishe literatur un yidishe shprakh (Yiddish literature and Yiddish language) (Buenos Aires, 1965), 300 pp. Aside from Yivo-bleter (from his Vilna period), he also co-edited: with Shmuel Niger, Vayter-bukh (Volume for A. Vayter), with a biography of Vayter by Reyzen (Vilna, 1920); Pinkes, far der geshikhte fun vilne in di yorn fun milkhome un okupatsye (Records, on the history of Vilna in the years of war and occupation) (Vilna, 1922), 872 columns; Yidishe filologye (Yiddish philology) (Warsaw) 1 (1924); Filologishe shriftn (Vilna) 1-3 (1926-1929); with Max Weinreich, Biblyografishe yorbikher (Bibliographical yearbooks) (Warsaw) (1928).
Reyzen main work was his Leksikon fun der yidishe literatur, prese un filologye (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish literature, press, and philology) (Vilna, 1926-1929), 4 vols. In the first edition, under the title Leksikon fun der yudisher literatur un prese (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish literature and the press) (Warsaw, 1914), 1 vol., edited with Shmuel Niger, there were included biographies of writers from Old Yiddish literature, Yiddish periodical publications 1686-1913, and a listing of anonymous works—all of this was left out of the four-volume publication of 1926-1929. The Leksikon constituted an extraordinary achievement for Yiddish literary research. A portion of material was provided by the authors, but the greatest part of the biographies was the result of Reyzen’s own research, and it provided not only biographical details, but critical evaluations as well. There is also here major bibliographic material. In the preface to the first volume (1926), Reyzen wrote that he was planning to publish volume 3 on Old Yiddish literature, but this did not come to fruition. He, in fact, planned an additional volume which began to be set in type. Two pages from the planned volume were reproduced in Zamlbikher (Collections) (New York) 8 (1952), p. 194. A portion of the prepared materials may be found in the Reyzen archive in YIVO in New York.
In addition to the aforementioned works, he also edited, co-edited, or published the following: Mendele moykher-sforim, zayn lebn un zayne verk (Mendele Moykher-Sforim, his life and his works) (Vilna: Kinder-velt, 1918), 48 pp.; Yitskhok-leybush perets, zayn lebn un zayne verk (Yitskhok Leybush Perets, his life and his works) (Vilna: Tsisho, 1921), 36 pp.; Arn Itsik, Zikhroynes, loyt dem yidish-daytshn tekst (Memoirs, following the Judeo-German text) (Warsaw: Levin-Epshteyn, 1922), 152 pp.; Finf megiles, akdomes un khad gadye (The five scrolls, Shavuot hymns, and “An Only Kid”), rendered into Yiddish by Y. L. Perets, compiled with all variants, with A. Fridkin (Vilna: B. A. Kletskin, 1926), 345 pp.; Dos lebedike vort, khrestomaṭye farn IV un V lernyor fun folksshuln un mitlshuln (The living word, reader for the fourth and fifth school year of public schools and middle schools), with Shloyme Bastomski (Vilna: Naye yidishe folksshul, 1921), 320 pp., numerous subsequent editions.
Reyzen translated works from world literature for Avrom Reyzen’s weekly newspaper, Eyropeyishe literatur (European literature) in Warsaw (1911), among them: Heinrich Heine, Hartsrayze (Harz journal [original: Die Harzreise]). His translations in book form include: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ferbrekhen un shtrof (Crime and Punishment [original: Prestupleniye i nakazaniye]) (Warsaw: Progres, 1912-1914), 726 pp., later printing (Warsaw: Tsentral, 1927); Lew Wallace, Yerusholaim un roym, historisher roman oys der tsayt fun beys sheni (Jerusalem and Rome, a historical novel from the time of the Second Temple [original: Ben-Hur]) (Vilna: B. A. Kletskin, 1921), 493 pp.; Sh. An-ski, Di yidishe folks-shafung (Jewish folk creation) (Vilna: Tsisho, 1921), 36 pp., offprint from the journal Di naye shul (The new school); Ernst Trumpp, A kinig fun yude, historisher roman oys der tsayt fun khurbn beys rishon (A king of Judah, a historical novel from the time of the destruction of the First Temple) (Vilna: Unzer tog, 1922), 112 pp.; Guy de Maupassant, Geklibene noveln (Selected stories) (Vilna: B. A. Kletskin, 1923), 192 pp.; Selig Schachnowitz, In der medine fun di kuzarim, yidisher historisher roman fun dem akhtn yorhundert (In the country of the Kuzari, a Jewish historical novel from the eighth century [original: Im Judenstaat der Chasaren (In the Jewish state of the Kuzari)]) (Vilna: B. A. Kletskin, 1924), 285 pp.; Hans Christian Andersen, Der fliendiker kufert (The flying trunk [original: Den flyvende Kuffert]) (Vilna: Naye yidishe folksshul, 1931), 27 pp.
“Zalmen Reyzen’s steps from 1908,” wrote Khayim Giniger, “with Folshtendige yudishe gramatik (Complete Yiddish grammar) [some of the editions published that year bore the word “Folshtendige” on the title page] were the first with a foundation in truly linguistic and Yiddish linguistic premises to enhance the language.”
Concerning the Gramatik of 1920, Noyekh Prilutski (Pryłucki) noted: “This was a serious work, executed with great diligence and ardent love, which introduced to the reader the issue of Yiddish linguistic science.”
“There was invested in Reyzen’s Yudishe gramatik,” commented Ber Borokhov, “a great deal of industrious work, immense love for the matter at hand, and a significant linguistic talent.”
Concerning the Leksikon, Max Weinreich had this to say: An “immensely great work which brought Reyzen into contact with hundreds of people and made him, to a large extent, a central institution of the entire Yiddish writing world. Yiddish was the central point of Reyzen’s interests—both in his scholarly and in his community activities.”
“With his healthy folk sensibility,” wrote Hirsh Abramovitsh, “he felt that to celebrate Yiddish culture, we must begin from below…. Of first importance was to build a Yiddish public school, a normal one, which would encompass all elements of the best and the most beautiful that the Jewish people and other peoples have created.”
Throughout his life, Zalmen Reyzen was involved in all realms of Jewish and Yiddish culture. He built Jewish schools, teachers’ seminaries, and YIVO. He encouraged Yiddish writers, and it was he who introduced the group “Yung yidish” (Youth Yiddish) into Yiddish literature. He remained devoted to Yiddish, Yiddish literature, literary research, and cultural development his whole life.
Sources: Noyekh Prilutski (Pryłucki), in Almanakh tsum tsehn-yeriger yubileum fun moment (Almanac for the tenth anniversary of Moment) (Warsaw, 1921); Max Weinreich, Shtaplen (Rungs) (Berlin, 1923), see index; Weinreich, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (September 21, 1928); Yankev Shatski, in Tsukunft (New York) (March 1924); Tsṿey yor arbet far dem yidishn visnshaftlekhn institute, a barikht far der tsayt fun merts 1925 biz merts 1927 (Two years’ work for the Yiddish Scientific Institute, a report for the period March 1925-March 1927) (Vilna: YIVO, 1927); Moyshe Shalit, in Bikher-velt (Warsaw) 5 (1928); Avrom Reyzen, Epizodn fun mayn lebn (Episodes from my life), vol. 1 (Vilna, 1929), pp. 95-96, 166-68, 291; Avrom Golomb, in Shriftn far psikhologye yun filologye (Vilna) 1 (1933), pp. 427-43; Altveltlekher tsuzamenfor fun yidishn visnshaftlekher institut, tsum 10-yorikn yoyvl fun yivo (World conference of the Yiddish Scientific Institute, on the tenth anniversary of YIVO) (Vilna, 1936), pp. 39, 67-93ff; Arn-Yitskhok Grodzenski, in Almanakh fun yidishn literatn- un zhurnalistn-farayn in vilne (Vilna) (1938), pp. 17-68; “Yizker” (Remembrance), Yivo-bleter (New York) 26 (1945), pp. 3-4’ Elye (Elias) Shulman, Yung vilne, 1929-1939 (Young Vilna, 1929-1939) (New York, 1946), pp. 8-12; Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (January 1946); Shmerke Katsherginski, Tsvishn hamer un serp (Between hammer and sickle) (Paris, 1949), pp. 16-20; Khayim Giniger, in Zamlbikher (New York) 8 (1952); A. A. Robak, Di imperye yidish (The empire of Yiddish) (Mexico City, 1958), see index; Hirsh Abramovitsh, Farshvundene geshtaltn (Disappearing images) (Buenos Aires: Farband fun poylishe yidn, 1958), pp. 171-81; Ber Borokhov, Shprakh-forshung un literatur-geshikhte (Language research and literary history) (Tel Aviv: Peretz Publ., 1966), pp. 161-66; Dov Sadan, Heymishe ksovim, shrayber, bikher, problemen (Familiar writings, writers, books, issues) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1972), see index; Goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 98 (1979); Zalmen Reyzen archive and protocol volume of the association of Yiddish writers and journalists in Vilna, YIVO archives, New York.
Elye (Elias) Shulman
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