31 March 1891|
Biłgoraj, Congress Poland
|Died||13 June 1954
|Occupation||Novelist, short story writer|
Hinde Ester Singer Kreytman (31 March 1891 – 13 June 1954), known in English as Esther Kreitman, was a Yiddish-language novelist and short story writer. She was born in Biłgoraj, Congress Poland to a rabbinic Jewish family. Her younger brothers Israel Joshua Singer and Isaac Bashevis Singer also became writers.
Kreitman had an unhappy childhood. According to her son, her mother gave her to an uncaring wet nurse for the first three years, who left her under a dusty table where she was visited once a week by her mother, who did not touch her. Later, as a highly gifted child, she had to watch her younger brothers being taught, while she was relegated to menial household duties. Kreitman's first novel includes numerous scenes depicting the main female character's desires for education: scenes in which she waits with great anticipation for the bookseller to arrive in their town, dreams of becoming a scholar, and hides a Russian text-book from the male members of her family so that they won't find out she is studying in secret. It is likely that these incidents reflect Kreitman's own story.
In 1912 she agreed to an arranged marriage, and went to live with her husband, a diamond cutter, to Antwerp, Belgium. The events surrounding this marriage are both described by her in Deborah and by Isaac Bashevis Singer in his autobiographical collection In my Father's Court.
In Antwerp her son, Morris Kreitman, was born. (He later was known by his journalistic pen name, Maurice Carr, and his novelistic pen name, Martin Lea.) The outbreak of World War I forced the family to flee to London, where Kreitman lived for the rest of her life, except for two long return visits to Poland.
Her marriage was not happy. She and her husband both worked in menial jobs, and she translated classic English works into Yiddish to earn extra money. Although she had been the first in the family to write, she published relatively late in life, her first novel Der Sheydims Tants (Dance of the Demons) appearing in Poland in 1936. It was translated by her son in 1946 as Deborah. Her second novel, Brilyantn (Diamonds) was published in 1944, and her book of short stories, Yikhes (Lineage) was published in 1949. Many of her works deal with the status of women, particularly intellectual women, among Ashkenazi Jews. Other works explore class relationships, and her short stories include several set in London during The Blitz, which she experienced.
After World War II Kreitman attempted to contact her mother and a third brother, Moyshe, who had become a village-rabbi in Poland and had fled to the Soviet Union with their mother and his wife; their father had died before the war. Although she received two postcards from southern Kazakhstan, in the town of Dzhambul, (today Taraz), no further communication was forthcoming. Forced evacuation of Jewish refugees to Central Asia under extremely harsh conditions was relatively common in the Soviet Union during World War II, and both are reported to have perished in 1946. Her other brother Israel Joshua Singer had died in New York in 1944, but her remaining sibling, Isaac Bashevis Singer, came to visit her in London in 1947.
Her relationship with her brothers had always been complex. Her son tells about how she constantly told him stories about her brothers – until mother and son went to visit them Poland in 1936 when she felt rejected by both and never talked about them again. This feeling of rejection must have been aggravated when Isaac Bashevis Singer refused to help her immigrate to the United States after 1947. He also did not answer letters and failed to send money, although – then far from being the famous and well-to-do writer he would become in his old age – he was comparably secure and Kreitman and her family were in great need.
Kreitman's two brothers are not known to have encouraged or helped her as an author. Her books were never reviewed in Yiddish daily The Forward, for which they both worked. But the deep impression her personality made on both of them is reflected in their work. In Israel Joshua Singer's Yoshe Kalb an unhappy and unstable seductress appears to be modelled on Kreitman, and Isaac Bashevis Singer's Satan in Goraj includes an innocent girl who is crushed by circumstance, who carries Kreitman's features and particularities. (Esther Kreitman suffered either from epilepsy or another physical or mental condition with similar symptoms, and was later in life diagnosed as paranoid.) I.B. himself stated that his sister was the model for his fictional Yentl, a woman from a traditional background who wishes to study Jewish texts. He considered Esther Kreitman the "best female Yiddish writer" he knew, but difficult to get along with. "Who can live with a volcano?" (Hadda, p. 137). And he dedicated the volume of his collected short stories The Seance (New York, 1968) "To the memory of my beloved sister".
Kreitman died in 1954 in London. Since her death her works have been translated into French, German, Dutch and Spanish. Almost her entire small output is now available in English translation.
Works by Esther Kreitman in Yiddish and English
- Der Sheydim-Tants (Warsaw: Brzoza, 1936); translated by Maurice Carr as Deborah (London: W. and G. Foyle, 1946; republished London: Virago, 1983, New York: St. Martins Press, 1983, London: David Paul, 13 August 2004, ISBN 978-0-9540542-7-4, and New York: Feminist Press, 1 May 2009 ISBN 978-1-55861-595-3). Reviewed in The New Yorker (14 January 1985) : 117–118.
- Brilyantn (London: W. and G. Foyle, 1944); translated by Heather Valencia as Diamonds (London: David Paul, 15 October 2009, ISBN 978-0-9548482-0-0).
- Yikhes (London: Narod Press, 1949); translated by Dorothee van Tendeloo as Blitz and Other Stories (London: David Paul, 1 March 2004 ISBN 978-0-9540542-5-0).
- Esther Kreitman papers, YIVO.
- Carr, Maurice. "My Uncle Itzhak: A Memoir of I. B. Singer." Commentary, December 1992: 25–32.
- Carr, Maurice. "Kadish Mayn Muter Ester Kreytman." Loshn un Lebn 173 (June 1954): 8–10. (In Yiddish)
- Carr, Maurice. "My Mother, Hindele", Introduction by David Mazower, Pakn-Treger 45 (Summer 2004): 44–49.
- Clifford, Dafna. "From Diamond Cutters to Dog Races: Antwerp and London in the Work of Esther Kreitman", Prooftexts 23 (2003): 320–37.
- "Ester Kreytman, o'h." [London] Yidishe Shtime 18 June 1954: 1. (In Yiddish)
- Fogel, Joshua. "Esther Kreitman and Her Sketch, 'A New World,'" The Yale Review 73 (Summer 1984): 525–32.
- Hadda, Janet. Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
- Kreitman, Esther. "Ester Kreytman's Notitsn Vegn Zikh Aleyn." [London] Yidishe Shtime. 9 July 1954: 3. (In Yiddish)
- Norich, Anita. "The Family Singer and the Autobiographical Imagination." Prooftexts, 10 n. 1 (Jan. 1990): 97–107.
- Ravitch, Melech. "Ester Kreytman." Mayn leksikon vol. 4 pt. 2 (Montreal: Komitet, 1982): 254–6. (In Yiddish)
- Sinclair, Clive. "Esther, the silenced Singer", Los Angeles Times, Sunday, 14 April 1991: BR1, 11.
- Singer, I.J. Fun A Velt Vos Iz Nishto Mer. (New York: Farlag Matones, 1946). In English as Of a World That is No More. Trans. Joseph Singer. (New York: Vanguard Press, 1971).
- Tree, Stephen. Isaac Bashevis Singer. (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2004). (In German)
- A Bibliography of Works by and About Esther Kreitman
- The Life and Works of Esther Kreitman
- Books by Esther Kreitman in All Languages
- Article on the "Jewish Women's Archive"