Naftali Herts Kon's Works Wrenched Out of Poland's Clutches

After Struggle, Yiddish Writer’s Work Finally Comes Home

Literary Reunion: Ina Lancman (center) and Vita Serf leaf through the writings of their father, Naftali Herts Kon, at the Warsaw City Archives in March. Tomasz Koncewicz (left) is the lawyer who argued their case.
Agencja gazeta
Literary Reunion: Ina Lancman (center) and Vita Serf leaf through the writings of their father, Naftali Herts Kon, at the Warsaw City Archives in March. Tomasz Koncewicz (left) is the lawyer who argued their case.

By Paul Berger

Published July 21, 2013, issue of July 26, 2013.
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Lancman assumed it would take only a few months to retrieve her father’s papers, so she was shocked when a Polish judge ruled in 2011 that her father’s material had been confiscated correctly. The judge “basically reiterated the sentence and the sentiment of the Communist court,” Lancman said. “I suddenly no longer saw Poland as a Western country.”

Over the following months, Koncewicz was pushed from court to court. He wrote more than 2,000 pages of legal pleadings. “I really took on the case with all my energy and power because I saw the great symbolic potential,” Koncewicz said. Finally, in October 2012, a judge at the Warsaw Regional Court ruled that the papers had been seized improperly and that they had to be returned from where they were being held at the Polish State Archives.

Lancman flew to Poland with her sister, Vita Serf, in March of this year to collect them.

Lancman said that she intends to donate the papers to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which already has a collection of her father’s work. She also wants to find a researcher who specializes in Yiddish literature and might be interested in using the documents she is amassing to write a book about her father.

Until then, she is left with 320 pages of letters, poems, articles, essays and notes — mostly typed, some handwritten, all in Yiddish, which is illegible to Lancman.

She said that neither of her parents taught her Yiddish, probably because they thought it was dangerous for a girl growing up in the Soviet Union.

“I blame them for not teaching me,” Lancman said, “but at the same time I understand why.”

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter, @pdberger


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