Poet and Partisan Avrom Sutzkever Dies

By Forward Staff

Published January 20, 2010, issue of January 29, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Avrom Sutzkever, who died January 20 at the age of 96, was not only a great Yiddish poet but is acknowledged as being one of the great poets of the 20th century.

Avrom Sutzkever: He made himself Israel’s Yiddish poet.
YIVO
Avrom Sutzkever: He made himself Israel’s Yiddish poet.

For several years he had been ailing and living in a nursing home in Tel Aviv. It was a city upon which he’d had a profound cultural impact as founder of the leading Yiddish literary journal Di Goldene Keyt (The Golden Chain), which he edited until it ceased publication in 1995.

In the 1970s and 1980s, especially with the release of his series “Lider fun Togbukh” (“Poems from a Diary, 1974-1981”), he became the de facto national Yiddish poet. He received the Israel Prize in 1985 and remains the only Yiddish poet to win the prestigious award.

Sutzkever was born in 1913 to a family of rabbis and Torah scholars in Smorgon, southwest of Vilna in White Russia. His family escaped to Siberia during the First World War but in 1921 he returned to Vilna.

In 1933 he became active in the Yiddish literary group Yung-Vilne (Young Vilna) together with Chaim Grade, Shmerke Kaczerginski and Leyzer Volf. His first book of poetry “Lider” (Poems) appeared in 1937 and was followed in 1940 by “Valdiks” (Of the Forest), published during the brief period of Lithuanian autonomy.

During World War II he smuggled arms into the Vilna ghetto and successfully hid his own writing along with treasured manuscripts and documents of the YIVO Institute. He fled the ghetto with a group of partisans and was airlifted to Moscow. In 1946 he returned to Poland, and arrived in Palestine in 1947.

He wrote reflective and highly personal poetry that still addressed large historical subjects. Not a religious poet himself, Sutzkever used traditional references to make his point. He brought Europe to Israel and the excitement of the new land to Yiddish. But he remained scarred by the murders of his newborn son and his mother in the Holocaust.


From “There is no God, no World Creator”

Ever since my pious mother ate earth on Yom Kippur

Ate on Yom Kippur black earth mixed up with fire,

I, alive, must eat black earth on Yom Kippur,

I am myself a yortsayt candle kindled from her fire


Avrom Sutzkever’s Facebook page contains many interesting links to his books and translations.






Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.