David Bergelson was one of the greatest Yiddish storytellers, after the “classic” three (Mendeley, Shalom Aleichem, Perez), innovative and ground-breaking, he transformed the Yiddish literature in its three main genres: The novel, the novella and the short story. His works, which span through over 40 years of activity, are typically divided in to three periods.
In the first and earliest – which is characterized by a dark, but nuanced impressionism – he wrote short stories, novellas and two masterful novels (When All Is Said and Done and Descent), which all centered the intellectual and financial decline of the middle class residing in the small towns of Eastern Europe and living an empty and devoid life. In When All Is Said and Done (which is the Madame Bovary of Yiddish literature, both thematically and stylistically) He put a focus on the modern Jewish woman, who cannot find her place in the Jewish bourgeoisie environment.
The second period was written mostly in Germany, which Bergelson discovered (along with other Yiddish and Hebrew writers) only after the Russian revolution. There, he wrote stories which put a spotlight on the lives of immigrants; and a sharp and poignant, novel of ideas Divine Justice, which deals with tensions between the revolutionary government in the Soviet Union and the remnants of Jewish gentry there, and also touches upon anti-Soviet socialism. During this period, his writing became sober, sharp and analytical. His growing affinity to Soviet communism is also apparent during this time. It is also clearly expressed in the well-known essay “Three Centers” (1926), where Bergelson states that Yiddish literature will only be possible in Soviet Russia and will necessarily wither in the rest of its cultural centers (Poland and North America).
In 1933, with the rise of the Nazi regime, Bergelson returned to Russia, from which he parted in 1919. It is then that he received a status as a great Yiddish writer. He made every effort to adapt his style to the norms of socialist-realism. As a descendent of the declining Jewish gentry himself, he saw fit to invest himself in a great auto-biographical novel (Baym Dnieper), which meticulously followed the progression of his ideological and intellectual stances over time. This was part of the great endeavor of “self-criticism”, which Soviet Marxism demanded from ex-bourgeoisies who joined its ranks. Only two tomes of this great work were finished and published. In addition to this novel, Bergleson wrote numerous short stories and plays which were successfully dramatized in both the USSR and Israel.
Despite his unwavering loyalty to the Stalinist regime, he was imprisoned in 1949, along with the rest of the leaders of Yiddish culture in the Soviet Union, accused of Zionism and executed on August 12th, 1952.
*Biography by Dan Miron.
Yossel Birstein, Hebrew and Yiddish author, was born in 1920 in the small town of Biala-Podolsk, Poland, which he frequently revisited in his books. He studied in a cheder (religious Jewish school) and was a member of Hashomer Hatzair (the socialist-Zionist youth movement). At the age of seventeen, he boarded a ship and immigrated to Australia. He served in the Australian army for four years during World War II, along with his close friend, painter Yosl Bergner. It was during these years that his family was murdered in the Holocaust. In 1949, he published his first collection of poems, and a year later he immigrated to Israel and settled in kibbutz Gevat, where he worked as a shepherd. He later moved to Kiryat Tivon and Nazareth Illit, where he worked as a bank clerk. In 1982, he moved to Jerusalem, where he remained until he died of cancer in 2003, at the age of eighty-three. Birstein wrote his books in Yiddish and Hebrew and excelled in describing life situations, in twist-endings and anecdotes, and in an ironical and amused view of man’s existence. He published some ten novels, short story collections, and poetry books.
Photograph: Benny Lapid (creative commons)
Eliezer Chaim Bloom (also known by the pen name of B. Alquit) was born in Chelm, Poland in 1896. He was orphaned at an early age and received his education in Lublin, Warsaw, and Vienna. He immigrated to the US in 1914, where he first worked as a tailor in a sweatshop. He began his writing career as a poet at 1920, when he joined Leiles Glatstein Minkov’s group Einzich. He was a valued group member and between 1934 and 1938 also a co-editor of the Einzich magazine. His book of poetry, Vagen Tzvai Un Andara (On Two and Others) debuted in 1931, and in 1958, a collection of his short stories titled Oifen vag tzum Peretz Skver (On the Way to Peretz Square), was also published. After his death in 1963 his poems were published in a volume titled Lidar (Poems, 1964). “The Big Light” is taken from On the Way to Peretz Square.