Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Forverts in English

A side of my father – the Yiddish poet, Wolf Younin – that few people saw

Read this article in Yiddish

Wolf Younin, whose yortsayt was this week, was a Yiddish poet, folklorist, book collector and columnist for several Yiddish newspapers, including the Forverts. A number of his poems were set to music and because they sound so much like folk songs, few people know he wrote them. One of these songs is “Zing Shtil” (Sing Quietly), sung here by the Yiddish singer, Lucette van den Berg. The melody is by Sholem Secunda.

The former chief curator of the Polin Museum in Warsaw, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, says in this interview that Younin was the one who inspired her to become an avid Yiddish book collector herself.

And below, in this Forverts exclusive, Younin’s daughter, Dina Mann, gives us a touching portrait of what it was like living with this exceptional figure in the Yiddish world.

_

Monday, May 31 marked the yortsayt of my father – the Yiddish poet, teacher and folklorist, Wolf Younin, also known as Volf, Wolfie and Velfke. Although many people who remember my father knew his public persona, I thought it would be fitting to share what I remember as his daughter.

My dad was born in Siberia in 1906. Because of wars and unrest, he moved around a lot. He was a drop dead gorgeous man and found himself drawn to the movie industry in Hamburg, Germany. Thanks to his platinum blond hair and blue eyes, as well as his knowledge of several languages, including Russian, German and Spanish, he got roles in a number of films.

After he passed away, I found dozens of headshots and profile shots of him. Because of his muscular physique he modeled for a living for some time while he wrote poetry. He could fix a roof, was able to teach me to ride a bike but also knew how to clown around. Often, when riding the train with the family, he contorted his face and body and soon had all the passengers in the car in stitches.

Wolf Younin

Wolf Younin in his youth Image by Dina Mann

His greatest gift was his generosity and affection. He always had a dollar in his hand for me, even after I started college. He would pay my fare, wherever I went, and I always paid him back by check. But, after his death, as I went through his desk I found every check I ever wrote, uncashed. It became clear to me that he would never have taken money from me.

Wolf Younin

Image by Dina Mann

His hands were always warm, even on the coldest days of winter; he went everywhere with his coat unbuttoned.

He was also extremely sensitive and wept openly when the family was not getting along. His greatest comfort was his writing. He penned librettos, poems, articles for Yiddish newspapers and also loved to garden and to attend family gatherings.

When he became ill with lung cancer (he and my mother smoked cigarettes for years) he lost a lot of weight. He was receiving chemotherapy and hated it. My mother had to convince me to talk him into going and he cried painful tears. I remember that my mother had made blueberry pancakes for him, and I saw his ankles were swollen. I offered to massage his swollen feet and he accepted graciously. He told me he wished there were more loving people like me.

He desperately wanted to live so he forced himself to eat despite his nausea. My last memory of him was him eating those blueberry pancakes.

Though he was not a religious man – he never fasted on Yom Kippur or mentioned God – I found him, on my final visit, lying in the hospital bed we rented from the hospital, reading the tanakh, the Bible. I think he was so terrified of dying that in his last days, he was giving in to a force beyond him.

Engage

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.