In 1939, Max Weinreich, his wife Regina, and their son Uriel-Eliezer were stranded in Copenhagen, Denmark. Weinreich had been on his way to Brussels for a conference on languages with leading Danish linguists. But the outbreak of war put an end to his trip and he was forced to stay in Copenhagen while his wife traveled back to Vilna in order to care for the couple’s youngest child, Gabriel. We shall speak more of Max Weinreich and his stay in Copenhagen, but first, a few words on the East European Jews of Copenhagen.
Yiddish culture in Copenhagen
Beginning in the 1880s, large groups of Jews emigrated west from tsarist Russia. Most went to the United States but smaller groups made their way to Paris or London. About 5,000 Jews sailed from the Baltic ports to Copenhagen. In the poorest areas of town, they formed a ghetto where Yiddish was spoken and also performed on stage. In many ways, the ghetto of Copenhagen was similar to the Jewish environments that could be found in lower Manhattan or in the poor East End of London.
In an August 20 article in the Malibu Times, “Malibu Film Archive Gives Light To Anne Frank Documentary,” filmmaker Paula Fouce speaks of the importance of YIVO’s Holocaust collections, including the recently discovered Otto Frank file. (The article includes some inaccuracies, including the statement that YIVO has spent “$7 million dollars” on a “research tool for Holocaust survivors and their testimonies.”
Untitled poem by Yitsḥak Katzenelson, n.d Untitled poem by Yitsḥak Katzenelson, n.d. Dedicated to Khayke Kahan, “my friend from Korelitz.” “Of everything . . . / Of everything that I once had / There remains to me a heart tired and weary. . . .” Yiddish. RG 108, Manuscripts Collection, F73.12. (YIVO)
Poet and playwright Yitzkhak Katzenelson (1885-1944) was known chiefly for his work in Hebrew before World War II, especially in Łódź, where he helped found Ha-Bamah ha-‘Ivrit (The Hebrew Stage) Theater Company. But when he was incarcerated in the Warsaw Ghetto, he turned to Yiddish poetry as a way of reaching more readers. In 1942, his wife and two younger sons were deported to the Treblinka death camp. He and his older son joined the Jewish resistance in the ghetto and participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In May 1943, as the German razed the ghetto, he escaped to the Aryan side of the city and managed to obtain a Honduran identity certificate. This, however, did not save him. He and his son were incarcerated in a detention camp for foreigners in Vittel, France, and from there, deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered.
Even during his imprisonment in Vittel, he continued to write poetry, some of which survived in hiding places or in the hands of trusted individuals. Among the poems he wrote as a prisoner was the lament Dos lid funem oysgehargetn yidishn folk (Song of the Murdered Jewish People), which would become his best-known work.
Now, two adjunct professors from the Philology Department of Jagiellionian University in Krakow have joined together in a project focused on this poem and on Katzenelson’s life and work. Magdalena Sitarz is a specialist in the History of Literature and Yiddish Studies. She recently published Literature as a Medium for Memory. The Universe of Sholem Asch’s Novels (Peter Lang 2013). Andrzej Pawelec specializes in Philosophy, Linguistics and Translation Theory. He has recently published articles on Emily Dickinson’s poetry in Polish translations.
Visit yivo.org/video to view or listen to many of YIVO’s public programs from 2005 to the present. Our most recent addition is:
Tuesday, July 22, 2014: The Capital of Yiddishland: YIVO and its Relationship to Vilna, a lecture with Cecile Kuznitz (Bard College). Though locating YIVO in Vilna – “the capital of Yiddishland” – appears obvious in retrospect, the impetus for creating the institute originated in Berlin, and for more than two years YIVO’s location was uncertain. Why did YIVO’s leadership waver for so long on whether to locate in Vilna? What did its decision finally mean for the institute and for the city of Vilna itself? Listen to the audio.
On July 21, 2014 YIVO Head Librarian and Acting Chief Archivist Lyudmila Sholokhova delivered a presentation, “Evolving Yiddish audiences’ interest in theatre in Europe in the 19th – 1st half of the 20th centuries: Yiddish plays in the YIVO Library digital collections,” on a panel entitled “New perspectives on Jewish and non-Jewish relations in modern European Jewish culture based on Judaica Europeana digital collections” at the 10th Congress of the European Association for Jewish Studies in Paris.
Henrik Ibsen. Di froy fun yam: drame in 5 akten (The Lady from the Sea: drama in 5 acts). Translated into Yiddish by S. Dobrik. London, 1908.
On July 29, 2014, Yedies editor Roberta Newman visited the CYCO Yiddish bookstore in Long Island City, New York, where she spoke with Hy Wolfe about the history of CYCO (pronounced Tsiko) and overlooked Yiddish writers. In addition to serving as the director and sole employee of the bookstore, Wolfe is known for his work as an actor, singer, and director.
A few years ago, CYCO was forced to relocate from its longtime home in Manhattan to just across the East River in Queens. A short hop on the number 7 train from Times Square, the new headquarters is a large airy room in an industrial building, with a spectacular view of the New York City skyline and rows and rows of books on steel shelving. Visits are by appointment only but books can be mail ordered. There is a catalog of available books posted on the CYCO website but if you don’t find what you’re looking for there, it is advisable to send a direct inquiry to email@example.com, since there are additional titles available for sale which are not listed online.
This broadcast from February 28, 1965 presents excerpts from a paper delivered at YIVO’s annual conference, which had taken place the month before. As Yedies reported at the time, Joseph Gar, a student of “the history of the recent catastrophe” (note that this was before the term “Holocaust” came into general use), presented a lecture on “Concentration Camp Bergen-Belsen: Its Origin, Development and Liberation.” The original purpose of the camp was to house foreigners, including Jews, who could be exchanged for Germans interned in Allied countries. But soon a regime resembling that in other camps was introduced. Because of frightful overcrowding, epidemics broke out that took the lives of thousands, “including the now famous Anne Frank.” When the British liberated the camp on April 15, 1945 they encountered thousands of sick and dying prisoners.
From 1963-1976, YIVO had its own program on WEVD, the radio station established by the Socialist Party of America in 1927 (its call letters stand for the initials of American socialist leader Eugene V. Debs), which was purchased by the Jewish Daily Forward in 1932 and became a major venue from Yiddish programming.
YIVO used its spot on WEVD for Yiddish-language interviews and discussions with leading New York Yiddish cultural figures, as well as for reporting on its own scholarly and cultural work.
A new podcast of this program in the order in which it was originally broadcast will be posted here every two weeks.
Presentation of series curated by Matt Temkin, YIVO Sound Archives.
On Friday, August 1, 32 students graduated from the 47th Uriel Weinreich Summer Program in Yiddish Language and Culture. The siem (graduation ceremony) opened with remarks by Dr. Sheva Zucker, the program’s Academic Director, and Chava Lapin, YIVO board member and instructor in the program. Guest speaker Kalman Weiser (York University), an alumnus of the program, delivered a talk on “YIVO and its Rebirth.”
But the important part, this being a Yiddish event, was the singing. Below are some photos of student performances from the ceremony.
Esther Wratschko leads the audience in song. Photo by Melanie Einzig.
Jean-Gabriel Davis performs a solo. Photo by Melanie Einzig.
Netalie Matalon reads an original Yiddish composition. Photo by Melanie Einzig.
Samuel Milstein, Magda Matloka, and Noah Barrera-Stanford perform a poem by Itzik Manger. Photo by Melanie Einzig.
Babette Albin performs a poem. Photo by Melanie Einzig.
Getting in place for the theater workshop final performance, Interview With the Last Demon, based on The Last Demon by I.B. Singer.
Scene from the play: the famed ethnographer Anna Shinsky arrives at the house of the last demon in Tishevitz. Photo by Melanie Einzig.
Intermediate I students Noah Barrera Stanford and Ivri Bunis beaming, with their YIVO certificates. Photo by Melanie Einzig.
The June 1967 issue of Yedies reported on the untimely death of Uriel Weinreich, noted linguist and lexicographer, in whose name YIVO established its intensive summer Yiddish immersion program. Forty-seven years later, his legacy continues in other ways, too: in the Yiddish-English English-Yiddish dictionary that saw publication a year after he died; in his textbook, College Yiddish, first published in 1949, and still in use today; and in a number of scholarly works on linguistics considered to be fundamental to the field as a whole, including Language in Contact, first published in 1953 and recently reissued in a new edition in 2011.
Uriel Weinreich’s papers are in the YIVO Archives as RG 552. In 2007, YIVO held a day-long symposium to mark the 40th anniversary of his death, “Uriel Weinreich: The Father of Yiddish Scholarship in America.”