YITSKHOK SHIPER (IGNACY SCHIPER) (November 9, 1884-late July or early August 1943)
He was a historian, born in Torne (Tarnów), Galicia. He studied in religious elementary school and yeshiva until age sixteen. At the same time, he attended Polish public school and high school. He studied law and philosophy at the Universities of Cracow and Vienna. In 1907 he received his doctor of law degree. In his youth he was close to the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), and in 1903 he joined the Labor Zionists and was a member of its central committee; in 1922 he joined the general Zionists and became one of its leaders and a deputy to the Sejm. In 1919 he was a deputy to the founding of the Polish Sejm and from that point settled in Warsaw. In May 1943 he was led out of the Warsaw Ghetto to the Majdanek concentration camp where he died.
He wrote studies in Polish, German, Yiddish, and Russian. He began his scholarly work in history with a study entitled Vegn kazimir dem groysns gezets-geburg legabe yidn (On Casimir the Great’s legislation regarding Jews) (Moriah, 1902). From that point, he contributed to an array of scholarly and general journals, to Party periodicals and daily newspapers, as well as to various literary publications and almanacs. He also placed work in: Moyshe Frostig’s Yudisher kalendar (Jewish calendar); Der yudisher arbayter (The Jewish laborer) in Vienna (1910-1911, editor); Di yudishe arbayter tsaytung (The Jewish workers’ newspaper) (1919-1920); Yidish teater (Yiddish theater) in Warsaw (1921-1922, co-editor); Der khodesh (This month); Arbeter-vort (Workers’ word) in Cracow (1921); Bikher-velt (Book world) in Warsaw; Anzelm Kleynman’s Yudisher literarisher kalendar (Jewish literary calendar); Di idishe emigratsye (Jewish emigration); Di naye gezelshaft (The new society); Idishe arbeter pinkes (Jewish labor report); Haynt (Today); Moment (Moment); Yivo-bleter (Pages from YIVO); Filologishe shriftn (Philological writings) and Historishe shriftn (Historical writings) from YIVO; among others. In all of these and many other publications in Yiddish and other languages, he placed numerous works on Jewish history, literary and theater history, criticism, and journalistic articles.
Among his longer writings: “Der onheyb fun ‘loshn ashkenaz’ in der balaykhtung fun onomatishe kvaln” (The beginning of “loshn ashkenaz” [lit., language of Ashkenaz] in light of onomastic sources), Yidishe filologye (Yiddish philology) (1924); “Afn rand fun maks eriks bukh Vegn alt-yidishn roman un novele” (On the edge of Max Erik’s book, Concerning the Old Yiddish novel and novella), Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) 112, 114, 116, 118 (1926); “Di eltste shpurn fun der yidisher shprakh un literatur” (The oldest vestiges of the Yiddish language and literature), Di yidishe velt (The Jewish world) 1 (1928); Kultur-geshikhtlekher fon fun der eltster yidisher literatur (Cultural historical background to the oldest Yiddish literature), Di yidishe velt 2; “Vegn eriks geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur” (On Erik’s history of Yiddish literature), Di yidishe velt 11-12, 17, 19, 22 (1928); “Vegn vaynraykhs Bilder fun der yidisher literatur-geshikhte” (On [Max] Weinreich’s Scenes from Yiddish literary history), Bikher-velt 5 (1928).
He also published a full array of popular articles on historical topics, such as: “Vegn maks brods roman dovid reuveni” (On Max Brod’s novel, Reubeni, Fürst der Juden [Reubeni, Prince of the Jews],” Tsienistishe bleter (Zionist sheets) 1 (1926); “Vegn leon faykhtvangers roman Yud zis” (On Lion Feuchtwanger’s novel Jud Süß), Tsienistishe bleter 3 (1926); “Portretn fun fihrer, shtadlonim fun poylishn yidntum” (Portraits of leaders and intercessors among Polish Jewry), “Yisroel Kempinski, der idish-poylisher kemfer in napoleons armey” (Israel Kempinski, the Polish Jewish fighter in Napoleon’s army), and “Der yidish-poylishe geshikhte in shpigel fun legendes” (Polish Jewish history in the mirror of legends), among others, all in Moment (1927-1928); “Problemen fun der idisher religyons-sotsyologye, loyt maks veber” (Problems of Jewish religious sociology, according to Max Weber), Moment 1-6 (1928); “Vegn di nayste yidishe historishe romanen” (Concerning the most recent Yiddish historical novels), Varshever shriftn (Warsaw writings); a series of articles, “Di broder zinger” (The Brod singers), Morgen (Morning) (March 12-September 30, 1927); “Yidishe tanakh iberzetsungen” (Yiddish translations of Tanakh), Literarishe bleter (November 15, 1928); and “Tsu der eltster geshikhte fun yidishe doktoyrim” (On the oldest history of Jewish doctors), Toz-yedies (Information from TOZ [Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia (Society for the protection of health)]) (January-February, June, August-November 1930; March-June 1931); among others. In 1960 there was published a long work by Shiper, entitled “Di haskhole fun yidishn lebn in poyln un raysn” (The beginning of Jewish life in Poland and Byelorussia), in Bleter far geshikhte (Pages for history) (Warsaw) 13 (pp. 25-59).
Book-length works, originals and translations, in Yiddish would include: Onheyb fun kapitalizm bay yuden in mayrev-eyrope (The beginning of capitalism among Jews in Western Europe [original: Anfänge des Kapitalismus bei den abendländischen Juden in früheren Mittelalter (Beginnings of capitalism among Western Jews in earlier Middle Ages)], translated from the German by Hillel Maimun (Warsaw: Arbeter heym, 1920), 88 pp.; Geshikhte fun yidisher teater-kunst un drame fun di eltste tsaytn biz 1750 (History of Yiddish theatrical art and drama from earliest time until 1750) (Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1923-1928), 3 vols.—vol. 3 separately entitled Yidishe folks-dramatik biz 1750 (Yiddish folk drama until 1950)—220 pp., 264 pp., 302 pp.; Di virtshaftgeshikhte fun di yidn in poyln beys mitlalter (Economic history of the Jews in Poland during the Middle Ages) (Warsaw: Ch. Bzhoza, 1926), 324 pp. He wrote three monographs on Jewish self-governance in the Middle Ages, the first part translated by Emanuel Ringelblum; the other parts were written in Yiddish which had become his primary language for literary and scholarly work after settling in Warsaw; Kultur-geshikhte fun di yidn in poyln beysn mitlalter (Cultural history of the Jews in Poland during the Middle Ages) (Warsaw: Ch. Bzhoza, 1926), 312 pp.; Yidishe geshikhte (Jewish history), 4 vols. (Warsaw: Akhisefer, 1930). In Hebrew one book by Shiper was published: Ketavim nivḥarim vedivre haarakha (Selected writings and appreciative remarks) (Tel Aviv, 1966), 282 pp.
Shiper was and remains one of the greatest historians of Polish Jewry, a pioneer with his works in the field of Jewish self-government, Jewish economic history, and Yiddish theater history. Yisroel Tsinberg made a series of critical remarks of Shiper’s theories of his historical approach to Yiddish theater, yet his conclusion was that: “Every pioneer…must stray here and there, and Dr. Shiper is the true pioneer in the field of research on Yiddish theater. He took on himself the difficult task of assembling heretofore uninvestigated materials, critically illuminated them, and constructed an entire edifice of wide scope, based upon scientific foundations.”
Yankev Shatski put it this way: “Shiper’s book [on Yiddish theater] will always be recognized as the first pioneering work with a broad literary frame, written with zest and finesse…. The results are positive for a great number of questions and especially…for reconstructing…the awkwardly published texts of Yiddish Purim plays.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 5 (Mexico City, 1966); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 2 (Montreal, 1947); Yankev Shatski, in Tsukunft (New York) 3, 9 (1927); Avrom Menes, in Tsukunft 8 (1932); Mark Vishnitser, in Tsukunft 8 (1943); Yekhiel Hirshhoyt, in Fun noentn over (New York) 1 (1955), with a bibliography; Zalman Shazar, Or ishim (Light of personalities) (Tel Aviv: Am oved, 1954/1955), pp. 279-84; Rifoel Mahler, Historiker un vegvayser, eseyen (Historian and guide, essays) (Tel Aviv: Yisroel-bukh, 1967), pp. 259-73; Y. M. Biderman, in Tsukunft (May-June 1967); Mikhl Vaykhert, Zikhroynes (Memoirs), vol. 2 (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1961), see index; Ḥ. Dan, in Hapoel hatsayir (Tel Aviv) 5 (Adar 12 [= March 12], 1968); Arye Tartakover, Ḥalutse hahistoriografiya hayehudit (Pioneers of Jewish historiography) (Tel Aviv, 1971/1972); Isaiah Trunk, in Gilead (Tel Aviv) (1976), pp. 255-56; Khayim Finkelshteyn, Haynt, a tsaytung bay yidn, 1908-1939 (Haynt [Today], a newspaper for Jews, 1908-1939) (Tel Aviv, 1978), p. 237.