« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Pages 405-408]

Writers, Press, YIVO


Hebrew Poets from Lithuania

by Mordkhe Yafo

Translated by Tina Lunson

As is known, Lite produced a very large number of personalities in all areas of Yiddish and Hebrew literature and culture. In that department I will give a treatise on what more or less characterizes a line of significant Hebrew poets, who were born and reared in Lite. Some of them spent their whole lives there, acquiring development, character, and significance. Others began their poetic activity there but matured and developed as unique poets in other lands, mostly in Israel and America.

I will enumerate here only some of the poets who stem geographically from the very heart of Lite, from the few provinces that represent the organism of the Jewish-Lithuanian particularity. Namely: Avrom Dov Lebenzon, Mika Yoysef Lebenzon, Yehude Leyb Gordon, Binyumin Nakhum Silkiner, Avrom Shmuel Shvarts, Hilel Bibli, Y. D. Kamzun, Avrom Kriv, Avrom Broydes, Meyshe Basuk, Gavriel Preyl and Leye Goldberg.

Each poet who is listed here is distinguished in his own way; and their poetry represents various levels in Hebrew poetry. In all of them, the actual Litvish motif figures very little or not at all. Yet there are nevertheless apparent in them certain traits of the Litvak character: the melancholic-elegiac tone, the resonance, the intellectualism in its entire gamut from rumination, astuteness and skepticism, the modesty, the connection to lineage and to family, and the soulful idealization of everything spiritually Jewish.


Yehude Leyb Gordon

Y. L. G. was born in 1830 in Vilne. At 5 years he began to attend kheyder, at 11 was known as a prodigy, at 16 he knew the entire ShaS [Hebrew: abbreviation for “six orders”, another name for Talmud]. He received a basic secular education. He graduated from the Vilne rabbinical school and was engaged as a teacher in the government Jewish folks-school in Ponevezh [Panevëþys], later in Shavl [Ðiauliai] and Telz [Telšiai]. In 1872 he became secretary of the khevre mefitse haskole [Society for the promotion of enlightenment among the Jews of Russia; the first non-traditional boys' school in Vilne] and also of the Jewish community in Petersburg. He was assistant editor of Hamelits [Morning star]. He contributed in several Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian and German journals where he published poems, narratives, feuilletons, belle lettres and critical articles and such. He died in Petersburg in 1892. His works have been published in four volumes under the title Kol kitvey YLG [Complete writings of Y. L. G.] They include poems, stories, parables, letters and others. Also a book of his poems was published in Yiddish under the title Sikhes kholin [Weekday talk].


Mika Yoysef Lebenzon

M. Y. L., the son of Adom Hakoen Lebenzon, was born in 1822 in Vilne. He died of consumption in 1852. He received a many-sided Jewish and secular education. Even in the last years of his illness he exhibited a tremendous creativity in the area of Hebrew poetry, in which he is considered to be the pioneer of the artistically modern epic and lyric poetry. His poems were published in two volumes: Shirey beys tsion [Songs of the house of Zion], a collection of poems of a Biblical-historical character, and Kinor beys tsion [Harp of the house of Zion], lyric poems and translations, among which the translation of a part of Virgil's Aeneid is especially outstanding, titled ha-Risat troya [The Demolition of Troy].


Avrom Shmuel Shvarts

A. Sh. Sh. was born in 1876 in Zhezhmer [Žiežmariai], in the old Vilne province. He received a traditional Jewish education through his father, Rov Itsik Ayzik of blessed memory. In Petrushan, near Kovne, where his father became rabbi, the thirteen year-old boy began to write poems in Yiddish and Hebrew. His first poems were printed in Der yid [The Jew] and ha-Dor [The generation]. In 1900 he arrived in America, where he graduated as a doctor of medicine. His poems were printed in various literary publications. A collection of his word was published in Tel Aviv.


Binyumin Nakhum Silkiner

B. N. S. was born in 1882 in Vilki [Vilkaviškis], in Kovne province. He began writing his first poems in Odessa. He went to America in 1907. He finished New York University with a law degree. In New York he directed a Hebrew school. Directed Tanakh studies in the Schechter Seminary. His work: a poem Mul ohel timora [Opposite the tent of Timor], a book or lyric poetry, translation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, and others. Participated in composing an English-Hebrew dictionary, together with Yehude Koyfman; authored Hebrew text books and co-edited ha-Toren [The mast]. Died in 1933.


Hilel Bibli

H. B. was born in 1893 in Pilvishok [Pilviškes], Kovne province. His Jewish education was in kheyder, yeshive and under his father Rov Zalmen Dov Rashgolin of blessed memory. In 1908 he went to Vilne, where he studies secular topics for three years. In 1911 he went to America. He studied and earned his M.A. at Columbia University. From 1918 on he was appointed professor of Hebrew language and literature at the Schechter Teachers' Seminary. He published poetry and critical essays in various journals in America, Europe and erets-yisroel, His work: Shirim [poems] in two volumes, a small collection of his poems titled Neginot erets [Music of the land], a translation of Dickens' Oliver Twist and others. Edited the collection Nisim [Miracles] and Masad [Foundation].


Avrom Broydes

A. B. was born in 1907 in Vilne. From 1923 he was in erets-yisroel, where he worked in the kibbutzes and in his last years was secretary of the Hebrew Writers' Union. His work: The poetry collection Betulim [Virginity], Eshnav [Porthole], Emunim [Faithfulness], Kol [Voice], Lekat shirim l'botey ha-sefer [Collection of poems for school], Betsar [Ore], and others.


Gavriel Preyl

G. P. was born in 1910 in Dorpat, Estonia. Educated in Lite. Jewish and general education in the Hebrew gimnazye in Virbaln and Mariampol. In 1922 went to America. He studied in high school and in a teachers' seminary at the yeshive named for Rov Itsik Elkhonen [Spektor] [now Yeshiva University]. In 1935 he debuted in Yiddish in Niu-yorker vokhenblat [New York weekly] and a year later in Hebrew in ha-Doar [The mail/post]. He participated in many Yiddish and Hebrew organs. In 1942 he received the Louis Lamed Prize for Hebrew Literature for his book of poems Nof shemesh v'kapur [Landscape of sun and frost].


Leye Goldberg

L. G. was born in 1910 in Kovne. She graduated from a Hebrew gimnazye there. Settled in erets-yisroel in 1934. Contributed to various Hebrew organs with poems, critical treatises and others. Her work: poetry collections, Tabaot ashan [Smoke rings], Shibolet yerukat ha-ayin [Green-eyed spike], Mikhtavim mi-nesia meduma [Letters from an imaginary journey], a novel Ve-hu ha-or [It is the light], and translations of Yiddish and European literature. She is Professor of Literature in Jerusalem University.

[Pages 407-418]

Kovne Lite Produced Over One Hundred Jewish Writers

(A short list from Zalmen Reyzen's Lexicon and other sources)

by Daniel Tsharni

Translated by Tina Lunson

For us worldly Jewish folk, Lite has for a long time not been a geographical concept but an ethnographic one.

Vilne, New York, Kovne, Johannesburg, Ponevezh, Tel Aviv, Shavl, Birobidzhan, Mariampol, Melbourne, are to us one state, one Jewish country.

Our Yerushalayim d'Lite [Jerusalem of Lithuania] could never have been a Yerushalayim d'Lite if the Poles had not held Vilne for even a hundred years but for two hundred years under their rule.

But we do not want to talk about Vilne. About Vilne there is already a very rich Literature in every language. The Vilne record books now stand as gravestones at the head of our holy martyred city. (Although, there is a large book about Vilne available, edited by Y. Yeshurin, published by the Vilne branch of the Arbeter Ring [Workmen's Circle] in 1935.)

This time we will go to visit the graves of our ancestors in the so-called “Kovne Lite”, which after the First World War became a state of its own. After the First World War the former Kovne province became a state of its own, but almost without borders.

The two neighboring countries where the majority of the people and property of the Jewish folk lived – Soviet Russia and Poland – had before the independence of Lithuania been locked closed with seven locks.

For twenty successive years little bracketed Lite could have no trade relations and no cultural connections with the closest two neighbors with whom Lite had been so closely knotted and tied before.

Kovne had to become the temporary capital city of Lithuania (instead of Vilne) and the only two borders that tied Kovne Lite to the greater outside world were the open borders to Germany and to Latvia.

Jewish Lite could only influence and be influenced by the small Jewish settlement in Latvia, and the Riger frimorgn [Riga morning] under the editorsip of V. Latski-Bertoldi, may he rest in peace, and Yankev Helman, may he rest in peace, became the daily addition to the Kovne Idishe shtime under the editorship of R. Rubinshteyn.

And the later-arriving folkist newspaper Folksblat [People's page], founded by Dr. M. Sudarsky, may he rest in peace, and Ozer Finklshteyn, may he rest in peace, sought its general collaborators in the Yiddish-writing colony in Berlin.

But this is not to say that the Kovne Lite did not possess any literary strengths of its won and no Yiddish-Hebrew folk institutions of its own. On the contrary, in the space of those twenty years between the two world wars there crystallized in Lite a broadly branched Yiddish-Hebrew press and literature, a broadly branched Yiddish-Hebrew school system and a strong political-social activity, but all in the narrow dalet-imes of one province, of one borderless-confined Lite-land.

Photograph with caption:
The Kovne Yiddish writers' group Mir Aleyn [We ourselves]

Indeed, it was not for nothing that the young literary forces of Lite-land gave themselves the name Mir Aleynikes.

The literary publications of Mir Aleyn very rarely reached the neighboring mother-city Vilne and even more rarely reached the neighboring sister-city Minsk.

The Mir Aleyn group in Kovne came into existence at almost exactly the same time as the Yung Vilne [young Vilne] group, but one did not know about the other and in any case they could not influence one another.

And how different also was to be the tragic fate of those two newly-sprouted literary groups:

Of the Yung Vilne group there remained, at any rate, the most important representatives of the group, A. Sutskever, Elkhonen Vogler, who can sing and mourn about the birth and death of their group, while of the Kovne Mir Aleyn almost no one is left. The poet and essayist Yankev Gotlib , as though forgotten, died young in Soviet Turkmenistan, the belletrist Elieyzer Heyman was burned alive in the Kovne ghetto and so on, and others.

Of the entire poetry group Mir Aleyn only eyner aleyn [one solitary] member survived, the poet Neyekh Itsik Gotlib, who went to Canada, where he recently published a yizker-bukh of poems sanctifying the memory of his murdered family: mamma, sister and four brothers, among them his poet brother Yankev Gotlib.

Now we will visit the “ancestral graves” of our grave-less friends and colleagues from Lite-land, where every stone in the street is a bit of tombstone for the murdered Jewish settlement in Lite.

I have searched in vain in Zalmen Reyzens's Leksikon for the names of the Mir Aleyn members in Kovne and for the Yung Vilne members in Vilne. When Zalmen Reyzen put together his Leksikon, the new literary groupings had not yet become well known.

But leafing through Zalem Reyzen's Leksikon, where a good four-fifths of his “immortals” are, so unfortunately, in the next world, I encountered more than one hundred Jewish writers and culture-bearers all of whom stem from Kovne Lite. And for me myself it was a great surprise that the former Kovne province itself had produced so many important personalities who made Lite great, as Lite made them great.

We want first of all to call out the name of each deceased writer and culture-bearer from Kovne Lite who has long been a citizen of our folk culture.

Avrom Eydelson, born in Vekshne [Viekšniai], Kovne Lite, in 1865, died in Berlin in 1922. A. Eydelson was the editor of the Yiddish-Russian Zionist journals Rassvet [Dawn], Yevreiskaya zhizn [Jewish life], Yevreiski narod [Jewish people] and the Hebrew weekly ha-Olam [The World].

Yankev Dinezon – Perets's intimate friend and companion. Born in New Zhager near Kovne in 1856 and died in Warsaw in 1919. Yankev Dinezon was renowned in Yiddish literature for his novels Evn negef [Stumbling block], Hershele [Little Hershl], Yosele [little Josef] and others.

Moris Vintshevski (pseudonym of Ben-Tsion Novakovitsh), born in the same year as Dinezon, 1856, in Yanove [Janova] Kovne Lite, and died in New York in 1929.

Prof. Getsl Zelikovitsh, born 1863 in Ritove, Kovne Lite and died in New York in 1926. Even as a boy he was known as "Getslke Ritever the genius", who already know 500 pages of Talmud by heart. But at age 16 he emigrated to Paris, where he became a teacher of Hebrew for the philanthropist Mikhal Erlanger, and studied oriental languages: old Egyptian, Ethiopian, Arabic, Sanskrit. In 1885 he participated as an Arabic-English interpreter with the title of Honorary Lieutenant in the English Military Expedition in Egypt, to liberate General Gordon from Khartoum. But because the accusation of Lord Kitshener that the Honorary Lieutenant Zelikovitsh sympathized with the Africans, he abandoned the English expedition and returned, by way of Abyssinia, to Paris where he received a doctorate as an Egyptologist from the Sorbonne. He came to America in 1887, where he soon became Professor of Egyptology at Pennsylvania University in Philadelphia and also, as is widely known, one of the pioneers of the Yiddish press in America.

Shmuel Yankev Yatskan, born in 1874 in Vabalnik, Kovne Lite, died in Paris and was brought back to be buried in Warsaw in 1936. He was already an ordained rov at age 18. For some time he was a wandering magid [preacher] and authored a booklet P'nini ha-yehudus [Pearls of Jewish Studies]. In 1906, along with N. Finkelshteyn, he founded in Warsaw the first Yiddish one-kopek newspaper Idishes togblat [Yiddish daily], and in 1908 the Haynt [Today]. In 1925 Yatskan also founded the Pariser haynt [Paris today].

Yehoyash (pseudonym of Shleyme Blumgarten), born in Virbaln [Virbalis], Kovne Lite, in 1871, died in New York in 1927. Yehoyash made himself immortal with his full translation of the Tanakh [abbreviation: Torah, Prophets, Writings].

Yoysef Yafo, born in 1865 in Salant, Kovne Lite. In 1892 he came to America nad began writing poetry, which made him very popular because of his folksy style. He died in New York on 1936.

Yoysef Luria, born in Pumpian, Kovne Lite, in 1871, died . . .
He was the editor of the famous weekly newspaper Der yud [the Jew], later also collaborator on the first Yiddish newspaper in Russia, Der fraynt [The friend] and also editor of the weekly Dos idishe folk [The Jewish people] in Vilne.

Meyshe Leyb Lilienblum, born in Kaydan, Kovne Lite , in 1849, died in 1910 in Odessa. At age 6 he was already an expert on the first Prophets. At age 9 he could recite a page of Talmud, at 14 he was married to an 11-year old girl in Vilkomir, at 16 he tore into philosophy books, became a teacher of Hebrew, a librarian, a book seller, was denounced for his heresies and in the 26th year of his rebellious life moved to Odessa, where he became the pioneer of the khibbat tsion [Love of Zion] movement.

Peysakh Marek, born in 1862 in Shedove, Kovne Lite. Died in 1920 in Saratov. He made himself famous with his collections of Jewish folksongs in Russia, which he published with the deceased Shaul Ginzburg.

Yehoshua Haleyvi Mazekh (pseudonym of Yehoshua Segal), born in New Zhager, Kovne Lite in 1834 (where Dinezon was born), died in 1917 in Vilne. Mazek was an abbreviation for Mizager khadash (New Zhager). He was made famous by his novels and tkhines [prayers and petitions in Yiddish] that were spread throughout all the Jewish Diaspora in hundreds of thousands of copies.

Dr. Izidor (Yisroel) Eliashev, famous under his pseudonym Bal-makhshoves, born in 1873 in Kovne, died in 1924 in Kovne. The first Yiddish literary critic. His first article in Yud (1899) was about Moris Rozenfeld. His funeral, which was implemented by the Kovne Jewish council, was turned into a peoples' funeral. All the Jewish businesses and institutions were closed. His grave is located near the grave of Rov Yitshok Elkhonen [Spektor].

Karl Farenberg (pseudonym for Yeshaye Rozenberg) born in Slobodke, Kovne in 1871. Died in New York. Already at 17 Farenberg had begun to write articles on public affairs and theater reviews in Russian (Voskhod, Vilenski Vestnik and in the Kovne Russian newspapers). He arrived in America and became an active coworker in the Yiddish press (Forverts, Varhayt, Tog [Forward, Truth, Day]). He was also editor of the journals Tsukunft, Literatur un lebn, [Future, Literature and life] and others. In New York he also founded and directed the Idishn literarishn farlag [Yiddish literary publishing house].

Ozer Finklshteyn. Born in Kovne in 1863, died in Kovne in 1923. Well-known attorney and community activist. Founder of the Jewish Folks-party in Lithuania, publisher of the populist newspaper Nayes [News]. Later, along with Dr. Mendl Sudarski, published the Folksblat [Peoples' paper], which bound Yiddish Lite to the non-Zionist Jewish world.

Efroym Kaplan, born in 1878 Shat, Kovne region. Debuted with articles in Hamelits and Hatsefira, later began to write in Yiddish in Yud. Emigrated to America in 1904, where he became a collaborator first in Tagblat [Daily page] and later at the Morgen zhurnal [Morning journal]. He was an important activist in Orthodox-Zionist circles in New York. He died in New York in 1945.

From more than one hundred Yiddish and Hebrew writers, culture-bearers and community activists who were born in Kovne Lite, we have taken just those well-known Jewish personalities that lived and were still influential in our twentieth century.

Now, from that same Kovne Lite we will take a few dozen important Yiddish writers and cultural activists who were creative and influential before my time (until 120 years) in all corners of the world.

We will present them in alphabetical order, as they are arranged in Zalmen Reyzen's Lexicon.

Binyumin Yankev Bialostotski, born in 1892 in Pumpian, Kovne Lite. Came to America in 1911. Debuted with a poem in Lebn un visnshaft [Yiddish: Life and science] (Vilne). Poet, essayist, speaker. Permanent staff member at Forverts.

Hirsh Bloshteyn, born in 1895 in Keydan, Kovne Lite. Debuted with poetry and narratives in 1912, in Lebn un visnshaft, active in the Yiddish-Soviet literature.

A. Berger, born in Birzsh, Kovne Lite. Came to America in 1904. Debuted with a poem in Tsaytgayst [Zeitgeist], 1910.

Yulius Brutskus, born in 1870 in Palangen, Kovne Lite. In 1921 he became the Minister for Jewish Affairs in Lithuania. Leader of the OZE society, scientific coworker with YIVO and other scientific organs.

M. Gets, Gershon Movshovetsh
, born in 1892 in Hikel, Kovne region, was a permanent coworker in the Riga Frimorgn [Morning] and the New York Morgen zhurnal [Morning journal]. During the Nazi occupation of Latvia, he was rescued.

Nosn Grinblat, born in 1886 in Virz, Kovne region. Studied in the Slobodke Yeshiva until age 16. Debuted in 1903 with novels in Russian in the Kovne Russian newspapers. From 1911 he began to write poems and novels in Yiddish. He was a permanent staff member in the Kovne Idishe shtime [Jewish voice]. On the eve of the Second World War he emigrated to erets-yisroel where he was chairman of the Hebrew Writers' Union.

Yudika, pseudonym of Yehudis Tsuk, born in 1898 in Gorzd, Kovne Lite. Published several books of poetry in Kovne and Canada, where the poetess is now located.

Mordkhe Yafo, born in 1894 in Dusiat, Kovne Lite. Debuted in 1917 with a poem in the Odessa collection Untervegs [On the way]. Published, together with the deceased B. Epelboym, the first Yiddish declaimer, of 20 printer signatures. A permanent staff member for the literary page at the New York Morgen zhurnal [Morning journal].

Helene Khatskels, born in 188.. in Kovne. Completed high school and the Bestuzhev Courses [higher education for women 1878-1918] in Petersburg, where she particularly studied history, and later graduated in natural science. She was active in the Bund and later became director of the culture and school movement in Kovne Lite. She published several textbooks about natural science and geography. She lives in Kovne.

Peri Lang, born in 1888 in Shkud, Kovne Lite. Studied in yeshivas. In 1904 he came to America and later became an activist in trade unions and the Socialist movement. A permanent staff member at Forverts.

Leybetshke der stolier [Leybetshke the carpenter], pseudonym of M. Berman, born in 1882 in Kovne Lite. Important activist in the Bund, took part in all the Bund publications. In 1935 he published an important book of memoirs, which was published in a second, enlarged edition in 1945 in New York. He escaped to America during the Second World War.

Yudl Mark, born in 1897 in Palanga, former Kurland, later Kovne Lite. Philologist, pedagogue and ethnic writer on current affairs and activist. Published the first Yiddish school grammar (two editions, 1921 and 1923) and other works. He founded the Yiddish high school in Vilkomir and was a permanent coworker for the Kovne democratic newspapers Nayes and Folksblat. Later in the Folkist Party. Now in New York, one of the directors in YIVO, editor of the journal Di yidishe shprakh [The Yiddish language]. Editor of a current Yiddish dictionary.

Leon Savidzsh, pseudonym of L. Shabashevitsh, born in 1888 in Kovne, studied law and economic science in Paris. In 1915 he escaped to America, where he studied at Columbia University and became an attorney. Permanent staff member for the New York Tog.

Yente Serdatski, born 1879 in Aleksotas, suburb of Kovne. Debuted with a story in 1905 in the Warsaw Veg [Yiddish: Way]. In 1907 emigrated to America where she later became a permanent staff member at the Forverts. Her book Collected Writings appeared in 1913.

Alter Epshteyn, born 1879 in Ponemunek, Kovne region. 1908 emigrated to America. 1910 Debuted in Forverts with a story. 1921 published his first book of stories. Permanent staff member at the Tog.

Yisroel Efroykin, born in 1884 in Vekshne, Kovne Lite. He was one of the founders of the “SS” movement; later the co-founder of the Jewish Folks Party. Debuted with his first article in Fraynt [Yiddish: Friend] (1904) under the pseudonym Rafal Zon. Was staff member for the Idisher velt [Yiddish world] (Peterburg), for Di velt [The world] (Vilne), for Afn sheydveg [On the road] (Paris). In the war-year 1941 he escaped from France to Uruguay, where he published a book of essays, In kholem un in der vor In dream and in reality].

Dovid From, born in 1903 in Ponevezh, Kovne Lite, debuted with poetry in the Kovne Idishe shtime. Moved to South Africa in 1927. Published poetry books.

Yabkev Dovid Kamzan, born 1900 in Vorne, Kovne region. Debuted with Hebrew poems (1920) in the Hebrew-Yiddish section of the Berlin Yudish prese [German: Jewish press], which was published in German. Later he began to write poems in Yiddish. Lived in erets yisroel where he published his first poetry book with an introduction by Dovid Hofshteyn.
Y. Kisin, pseudonym for Yekusiel Garnitski, born in 1886 in Kovne. Came to America in 1904. He began to write poetry very young, later also essays and reviews. He translated many important works of world literature. He published an anthology of war poetry. Permanent staff member at the Forverts.

Yisroel Yankev Shvarts, born in Petrashun, a suburb of Kovne. In 1885 he debuted with a translation of Kh. N. Bialik's poem In feld [Yiddish: In the field] in Yoysef Lurie's Dos idishe folk [Yiddish: The Jewish folk], Vilne, 1908. He emigrated to America in the same year. In 1925 his poem Kentok [Yiddish: Kentucky] was published and later became famous. His anthology of Hebrew poetry appeared in 1943, and won the the Louis Lamed Foundation prize for literature.

Khaym Binyumin Shoys, born 1884 in Gorzshd [Gargždai], Kovne region. Debuted with poetry and prose in A. Litvin's Lebn un visnshaft [Life and science], Vilne, 1910. In the same year he emigrated to America, where he began to publish articles about Jewish history and Jewish literature. He also authored a Jewish history for the Arbeter ring [Workers' circle] schools. The CYCO Publishing House published his book Mayses fun breyshis [Stories from Genesis].

With all the above-named deceased and – long years to them – living Yiddish and Hebrew writers and culture-bearers the list of those who stem from Kovne Lite is far from exhausted. In Reyzen's Lexicon one can get acquainted with the biographies and with the accomplishments of another line of writers and cultural activists in all areas of Yiddish-Hebrew cultural life in the entire world that stem from Kovne Lite.

Here they are in alphabetical order:

Aron Aynhorn, Ben-Tsion Alfus, Dovid Apotheker, Shabsay Aronson, Aba Bukh, Leyvi Berman, Herman Bernshteyn, Tsvi Bernshteyn, Hirsh Bril, Dovid Goldblat, M. Gantser, Meyshe Gutman (Baltikaklis), Mordkhe Aron Ginsburg, Yoysef Zelik Glik, A. I. Grodzenski, Y. E. Davidzon, Rokhl Haltman, Nekhemye Dovid Hofman, Prof. Hirsh Peysakh Libman, Shifre Vays, Avrom Simkhe Zaks, Meyshe Zeyfert, Kalmen Zingman, Sender Zeldov, Avrom Yofe, Yankev Shmuel Yofe, Mordkhe Kats, R. L. Lakson, Rokhl Lurie, Yankev Haleyvi Lifshits, Z. Levin, M. Yannosovitsh, Lazaris Manfrid, Yankev Tsvi Sobel, Ester Eliashev, Y. Sh. Frenavitsh, Nisn Frank, Heri Kapelanski, Hirsh Rabinovitsh, Itsik Rabinovitsh, Akive Rabinovitsh, Ana Rapoport, Iser Mayer Rubin, editor Ruben Rubinshteyn, Bernard Ritshards, Elieyzer Shulman, V. Shulman, Aba Hilel Shkolnik, Meyshe Shmuel Shkliarski, and many others still, whose names were first noted in the fifth supplemental volume of Zalmen Reyzen's Lexicon, which was just ready to print on the eve of the Second World War.

Yet the chain of Yiddish-Hebrew writing families that stem from Kovne Lite extends farther. The largest number of them were killed in the horrible catastrophe and died before their time, but the survivors continue to carry on their literary activity.

Let us mention them:

Sore Ayzin[3], H. Osherovitsh[5], Dovid Umru[1], Aba Balasher[1], Z. Bak[4], Y. Gotfarshteyn[7], Aron Goldblat[7], Y. Gar[4], Ari Glazman[1], Dovid Globus[8], Yehudis Glaz[1], L. Garfinkl6, Leyb Glitsman[1], Azriel Gros, Efroym Grinberg[2], Leye Grinshteyn[1], Y. Grinshpan, Roze Gutman[4], Akive Goldenfal[2], Dr. Sh. Rafal Khasman[6], Z. Troyb[6], Khaym Yelin[5], Y. Yasada[5], A. Yerushalmi[2], Sh. Kukev[1], Ede Kohen, Berl Kohen [Kahn?][4], Rekhive Mogiliuker[4], Peysakh Markus[4], Y. Latsman[5], Kh. Leykovitsh[6], Y. Mohifis[2], editor M. Surdarski[2], Khatskl Fraker[9], Menukhe Prager, Daniel Prukhubnik[6], Freydl Tsefelovitsh-Darski[1], Yisroel Kaplan[6], Urie Katsenelbogen[4], A. Klaus[2], Dr. Y. Robinzon[4], Kh. Rafalovitsh[2], Leye Rudnitski[1], A. Shaban, L. Shibeli1s[1], D. A Shpiro[6], Dr. Kh. N. Shpiro[1], and others whose names I do not remember and whose fates are unknown.
All in all we have a large number of Yiddish-Hebrew writers, Culture-bearers and penmen, all of whom stem from Kovne Lite. Of some of them one can certainly say that each of them was an entire chapter of Jewish cultural history and Jewish martyrology.

Each one of them lived “mir-aleynik” [for us alone] and died for us all and not one of them died al kidish hashem [in sanctification of God's name] “mir aleynik” [for us alone], but also for us all.

May the memory of them be sanctified, as their deaths and murders, and blessed may be the life and creativity of those who gather together the bit of ash from the annihilated Kovne Lite and environs, who make up the composite books Lite and other similar works.

Kh. L.


  1. murdered Return
  2. died Return
  3. Africa Return
  4. America Return
  5. Soviet Union Return
  6. Israel Return
  7. France Return
  8. Arrested in the Soviet Union, fate unknown Return
  9. Drowned while sailing in 1923 Return

[Page 441]

The Yiddish Scientific Institute (YIVO) in Lithuania

by Kh. Shulman

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Right from its first year – 1925 – when the YIVO [Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut – Yiddish Scientific Institute] was founded in Vilna – Kovno Lithuania began to work energetically for its ideals and purposes, helping it both in scientific research activity and in the area of creating financial support. This was not so easy.

Vilna then belonged to the newly created (after the First World War) Polish Republic. However, the Lithuanians maintained that the city of [Grand Dukes] Gediminas and Vytenis, which was once the official residence of an independent Lithuanian state, must now belong to Lithuania and be the capital of the newly risen Lithuanian Republic. So, because of the renewed historical quarrel, there were no normal diplomatic and economic good-neighborly relations between Poland and Lithuania. The border between both states was hermetically sealed; there was no direct train connection; direct postal and telegraph connections did not exist. [To travel] from Vilna to Kovno (and back) one had to take detours – through Latvia and Germany – although a direct train connection would have taken no more than an hour.

[Page 442]

And yet in such difficult conditions, constant contact was maintained between the Friends of YIVO in Lithuania and the Center in Vilna.

In the year of its founding, YIVO possessed branch organizations in 18 countries of Europe and America; such a branch organization – Friends of YIVO – also formed in Kovno in 1925.

A special publication was published in January 1926 dedicated to YIVO under the name, Der Veg tsu Yidisher Visnshaft [The Road to Yiddish Knowledge], with the following articles: 1) Dr. M. Sudarski – Lomer Helfn Shafn [Let Us Help Create]; 2) Sh. Lewin – Yidishe Masn-Kultur Shafung in YIVO [Yiddish Mass Culture Creation in YIVO]; 3) Dr. Ester Eliaszew – Tsum Yidishn Visnshaftlekhn Institut [To the Yiddish Scientific Institute]; 4) Yudel Mark – Oysgabes fun der Filologisher Sektsie [Publications of the Philogical Section]; 5) Uria Katsenelenbogn – Bei Undz and Arum Undz, fun Kultureln Lebn in Lita, from Folk mitn Folk farn Folk [With Us and Around Us, from Cultural Life in Lithuania, from the People, with the People, for the People].

The Friends of YIVO arranged an exhibition at the premises of the Kovner Jewish Real Gymnazie [secondary school in which many subjects were taught in Hebrew] (April 1928, in the third year of YIVO's existence) with the purpose of popularizing YIVO among a wider strata of the Jewish population.

[Page 443]

The Jewish newspaper organizations, the Jewish press from 1686-1928, was particularly represented at the exhibition, thanks to the material that the YIVO center in Vilna put together. The exhibition drew a large audience of visitors from the [Jewish] intelligentsia. The Lithuanian [non-Jewish] intelligentsia also was interested; it helped a great deal to raise the interest in YIVO and its importance in Lithuania.

Lawyer Uzer Finkelsztajn, a delegate from Kovno, came to the first general conference of YIVO (1929). Through detours (through Berlin and Riga), the friends from Lithuania sent telegraphic greetings to the conference in Vilna. “We wish the conference success, strengthening the basis of creative Jewish culture.” Signed: YIVO – Kovno, OZE [Obshchestvo Zdravookhraneniia Evreev – Society for the Protection of Jewish Health], Dr. Matis, Kantor, Rozowski, Chatskeles, Lewin, Trumpianski. A second dispatch: “We are with you at our joint holiday of Jewish culture” – signed “Gezelshaft Libhober fun Visn [Society of Lovers of Knowledge], Yiddish teacher, private instructor Lazarson. “I wish you the greatest success in your highest, most important work for Jewish culture and Jewish knowledge: driven by the creative impetus, the builders and activists of YIVO serve the highest cultural achievements” – R. Rubinsztajn, editor of Yidisher Shtime [Yiddish Voice] telegraphed.

The delegate, Uzer Finkelsztajn, brought with him personal greetings from Prof. Mikhal Bircziszko (rector of the Lithuanian University in Kovno, later of Vilna University – V. Sh.) and also from the Society for Lithuanian-Jewish Understanding, of which he was the chairman. A greeting was also sent by the pedagogical council of the Jewish Gymnazie [secondary school] in Vilkomir.

The idea of YIVO became more widespread in Lithuania. At a large meeting, the delegate Uzer Finkelsztajn gave a report about the first general conference; giving speeches were: Dr. Sudarski, Ester Eliaszew, Wajsbard, Ruvin Rubinsztajn, Dr. Lampert, N. Grinblat. All of the speakers emphasized their support for YIVO for its work. Kovno undertook to collect 50 dollars a month for the Center. Groups of Friends of YIVO were cultivated in the larger cities. In Poneṿezsh [Panevėžys] – the report of the Central Managing Committee emphasizes – the economic section of YIVO produced particular interest. The group allocated one-time support of 40 dollars and obligated itself to send 20 dollars a month

[Page 444]

for the Central's expenses; the chairman of the Poneṿezsh group was Dr. H. Landau. In Vilkomir, at a meeting of 300 people, Yudel Mark (member of the managing committee) gave a lecture about YIVO; YIVO planted deep roots here; Shirvint [Sirvintos] – the first financial support of 10 dollars for YIVO. While the organizing committee was still in Berlin, the students of the Vilkomir Gymnazie sent their collected money. The small shtetele [town], Kibart [Kybartai], proposed (later this activity was actually carried out by YIVO) a good plan: in addition to active support, passive support should be created – such as paying a designated sum annually and receiving all or a number of publications from YIVO for a small price. A sympathizer in Kibart wrote, “In every provincial shtetl there will be found a certain someone who will take upon themselves the task of creating such subscriptions; this was particularly important in Lithuania, where the Yiddish lovers were not organized.

In Spring 1926, an historic economic section was created, which led an action to collect historic documents and materials; a special person was designated for this action; much material about national autonomy was collected and sent to Vilna.

Various ethnographic, bibliographic, terminological and historical material was also collected, which was sent to the appropriate committees at YIVO.

A special action for YIVO was carried out in Lithuania in May 1931. In addition to the local activists such as Dr. M. and A. Sudarski, Dr. Matis, Dr. Gersztajn, Lawyer Finkelsztajn, Y. Rozowski, the delegates from the Center (Vilna), Dr. M. Weinreich and B. Kletskin took part in the action. In addition to the meetings and gathering in connection with the action, a large people's gathering took place, at which Dr. M. Weinreich (Center), Uzer Finkelsztajn, Dr. Eliaszew, Helena Chatskels, Yudel Mark appeared. The lecturers drew hundreds of listeners, also from the refugees who then streamed from Poland to Lithuania. The entire Jewish press in Lithuania wrote a great deal about YIVO and the action. A larger sum of money was collected. The YIVO activists also tried to acquaint the non-Jewish society in Lithuania with the purposes and tasks of YIVO. The Jewish Education Society invited a group of Lithuanian professors, journalists, lawyers and community leaders; Dr. M. Weinreich and Lawyer Uzer Finkelsztajn gave them lectures. Both large Lithuanian newspapers: Lietuvos

[Page 445]

Aidas [Lithuanian Echoes] and Lietuvos Žinios [News of Lithuania] published large articles with information about YIVO.

A completely successful action was carried out to create the fund to build YIVO's own building in Vilna – the palace of Yiddish knowledge. The Kovner Education Society declared that it would gather 500 dollars despite the crisis that ruled in the country. The personnel of the Jewish Central Bank assessed themselves for 100 dollars and were recorded as a founder of YIVO House. “Not a collection of donations, but an assessment of sympathizers who have a warm feeling for YIVO,” the personnel wrote in a letter to the Center. “Separated from you – we monitor with enthusiasm and wonder your every step and every phase of your work, which is close to us, dear and loving.”

The delegates from the Center, Dr. M. Weinreich and B. Kletskin, visited a series of provincial cities, such as Shavel [Šiauliai], Poneṿezsh and Kibart and others. Public appearances were arranged; active groups to support YIVO were created everywhere. The actions showed that favorable soil had been created in Lithuania for Jewish cultural work in general and YIVO in particular. Even though contact with Vilna had been maintained the entire time and Lithuania constantly supported the center with regular assessments and collection campaigns, because of the general circumstances, the formal legalization of the “Friends of YIVO in Lithuania Society” was not carried out until February 1943; at the first founding meeting, a managing committee was elected with the following YIVO activists: Dr. M. Sudarski, Dr. V, Matis, Y. Rozowski, Lawyer Werblowski, Helena Chatskeles, B. Kantor, Sh. Lewin, Sh. Zeidelson. Entering the Central Council, which consisted of representatives of all countries, were three Lithuanian members: Dr. M. Sudarski and Dr. M. Matis (Kovno), Dr. H. Landau (Poneṿezsh). The latter was also a member of the Central Economic Statistical Section.

At the 10th anniversary congress of YIVO (August 1935), a large delegation from Kovno came from Lithuania: Dr. M. Sudarski, Mrs. Alta Sudarski, Yudel Mark, Y. Radulanski, from Poneṿezsh – Dr. H. Landau. In his welcoming speech, Dr. Sudarski noted the difficult political conditions under which the Friends of YIVO in Lithuania maintained its connection to the Center.

The deliverer of the report at the congress,

[Page 446]

Z. Kalmanowicz, tortured by the Nazis in the Vilna ghetto, particularly emphasized that the Society of Friends of YIVO in Kovno worked systematically, gave maximum material help to YIVO both through regular monthly payments and more or less frequent actions.

Alta Sudarski (one of the most devoted YIVO activists in Lithuania – as she was introduced by the chairman of the Congress, Dr. M. Weinreich) saluted [the Kovno Society] in the name of the historical-ethnographic society.

The action for YIVO by the emissary from the Center, H. Giliszenski, was carried out (1937) with great success. The best Jewish intelligentsia from Lithuania took part in the action; in Kovno, Vilkomir, Shavel, Poneṿezsh, Mariampol [Marijampolë], Vilkovishk [Vilkaviškis], Neustadt, Kibart, Alita [Alytus] – everywhere, the groups of Friend of YIVO showed the greatest activity. “The Friends of Jewish Culture in this active Jewish settlement (Lithuania) mobilized for the mission of YIVO in the city and town and many times showed their sincere support of Jewish culture and knowledge,” wrote the News from YIVO, no, 6th of June 1937. “The Central managing committee of YIVO sent hearty congratulations to the group, Society of Friends of YIVO in Lithuania, and emphasized that their constant warm response to the needs of YIVO was a consolation in our difficult times.” A particularly warm thank you to the Society of Friends was printed in the entire Yiddish press in Lithuania for the widespread regular support that it gave to the YIVO emissary, H. Giliszenski (News From YIVO, the 8th of December 1937).

With the outbreak of the Second World War, when Vilna was united with Lithuania, very close contact was established with the Vilna Center. The News from a Division, no. 1st of February 1940, writes, “The first months after Vilna joined Lithuania, YIVO materially and societally became entirely subject to the help of the Lithuanian Jews. Their tested devotion to the Institute did not disappoint this time, too.” In the autumn of 1940, the executive bureau of YIVO carried out negotiations with the rector of Vilna University, Professor M. Bircziszko, about establishing a university chair for the Yiddish language and literature at the university. Such a university chair was designated; the candidate for instructor had to be presented by YIVO. For local needs, particularly for the Vilna

[Page 447]

faculty, YIVO had revived the cycles of scientific lectures on the themes: the Yiddish language, Yiddish literature, as well as ethnographic Jewish history, demography and economics; lecturers were: N. Prilucki, Z. Kalmanowicz, Sh. Mendelson, Kh.Sh. Kaczdan, P. Kon, Dr. M. Aleksandrowicz, D. Weinik, M. Heler. Thanks to the lectures, many of the Jewish-Polish intelligentsia, who were completely estranged from Jewish life, again became close to the Jewish people.

The YIVO in Vilna carried out an impressive celebration of [Y.L.] Peretz on the 25th anniversary of his death. Professor Sh. Dubnow of Riga was invited and gave a great speech about Peretz on the radio. The introduction of the radio broadcast about Peretz

[Page 448]

was given by the rector of the University, Professor M. Bircziszko. The Friends of YIVO in Lithuania Society arranged readings about Peretz in Kovno, Shavel and Poneṿezsh by Sh. Mendelson. The readings drew a large number of listeners everywhere.

The collection of YIVO's emissary. M. Mandelman, who visited the larger provincial cities in Lithuania, gathered large sums of money for YIVO and subscriptions for their publications, was a great success. At that dark time, when all sources of income and, in general, contact abroad were interrupted, the actions of M. Mandelman helped a great deal to strengthen the existence of YIVO and the continuation of its activities until the Hitler murderers attacked Lithuania and brought the destruction of the culturally creative and colorful Jewish life.

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Lita (Lithuania)     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max G. Heffler

Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 26 Oct 2021 by MGH