David Bergelson with his son Lev
|Born||12 August 1884|
Ohrimovo, Kiev province, Russian Empire (now Sarny, Cherkasy region, Ukraine)
|Died||12 August 1952 (aged 68)|
Lubyanka prison, Moscow, Soviet Union
|Known for||Yiddish Writer|
David (or Dovid) Bergelson (Yiddish: דוד בערגעלסאָן, Russian: Давид Бергельсон, 12 August 1884 – 12 August 1952) was a Yiddish language writer born in the Russian Empire. He lived for a time in Berlin, Germany before moving to the Soviet Union following the Nazi rise to power in Germany. He was a victim of the post-war antisemitic "rootless cosmopolitan" campaign and one of those executed on the Night of the Murdered Poets.
Born in the shtetl of Okhrimovo (also known as Okhrymovka, and also as Sarny near Uman) in Kiev province, he first became known as a writer in the wake of the failed Russian Revolution of 1905. From a Hasidic background, but having received both religious and secular education, much of his writing is reminiscent of Anton Chekhov: stories of "largely secular, frustrated young people…, ineffectual intellectuals…", frustrated by the provincial shtetl life. Writing at first in Hebrew and Russian, he only met success when he turned to his native Yiddish; his first successful book was Arum Vokzal (At the Depot) a novella, published at his own expense in 1909 in Warsaw.
In 1917, he founded the avant garde Jidishe Kultur Lige (Yiddish Culture League) in Kiev. In spring 1921 he moved to Berlin, which would be his base throughout the years of the Weimar Republic, although he traveled extensively through Europe and also visited the United States in 1929-30, to cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. According to J. Hoberman, he was "the best-known (and certainly the best-paid) Russian Yiddish writer of the 1920s". Until the mid-1920s he wrote for the New York City-based Yiddish-language newspaper The Forward.
His 1926 essay "Three Centers" expressed a belief that the Soviet Union (where Yiddish language and literature were then receiving official patronage) had eclipsed the assimilationist United States and backwards Poland as the great future locus of Yiddish literature. He began writing for the Communist Yiddish press in both New York (Morgen Freiheit) and Moscow (Emes), and moved to the Soviet Union in 1933, around the time the Nazis came to power in Germany.
He was positively impressed with the Jewish Autonomous Republic of Birobidzhan, and participated in the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee during World War II, co-editing the literary section of the Committee's journal, Eynikayt (Unity). However, like many Soviet Jewish writers, he became a target of the antisemitic "rootless cosmopolitan" campaign. Arrested in January 1949, he was tried secretly and executed by a firing squad in the event known as the Night of the Murdered Poets on 12–13 August 1952. After Stalin's death, he was posthumously rehabilitated in 1955, and his complete works were published in the Soviet Union in 1961.
Bergelson's only child, Lev, was an eminent Soviet biochemist who also served as a Soviet Army captain during World War II. Prof. Lev Bergelson emigrated to Israel in 1991 with his wife Naomi, where both he and his wife died in 2014.
The following is a partial list of Bergelson's works.
- Arum Vokzal (At the Depot, novella, 1909). "Alrededor de la estación", ed. Círculo d´Escritores, Madrid, 2014
- Departing (novella, aka Descent as listed below, 1913)
- Nokh Alemen; title variously translated as When All Is Said and Done (1977 English-language title) or The End of Everything. Al final de todo (Spanish version), Xordica editorial, Zaragoza, 2015.
- Divine Justice (novel, 1925)
- "Three Centers" (essay, 1926)
- Storm Days (short stories, 1928)
- Mides Hadin (novel, 1929). "Judgment", Northwestern University Press, 2017.
- Baym Dnieper (At the Dnieper, novel, 1932)
- Materialn (memoir, 1934)
- The Jewish Autonomous Region (pamphlet published by the Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow)
- Naye Dertseylungen (New Stories, war stories, 1947)
Translations into English
- When All Is Said and Done, translated, and introduced by Bernard Martin. Ohio University Press: Athens, 1977. ISBN 0-8214-0360-5.
- The Stories of David Bergelson: Yiddish Short Fiction from Russia (two short stories and the novella Departing), translated and introduced by Golda Werman, foreword by Aharon Appelfeld. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8156-2712-2.
- Descent (aka Departing as noted above), translated and introduced by Joseph Sherman. Modern Language Association of America: New York, 1999. ISBN 0-87352-788-7.
- Shadows of Berlin: the Berlin stories of Dovid Bergelson (seven short stories and a satirical sketch from The Forward), translated by Joachim Neugroschel. City Lights Books: San Francisco, June 2005. ISBN 0-87286-444-8.
- Judgment: A Novel, translated and introduced by Harriet Murav and Sasha Senderovich. Northwestern University Press: Evanston, 2017. ISBN 978-0-8101-3592-5.
- "jewua.org". Shtetl of Kiev Gubernia. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
- Hoberman 2005, p. 34.
- "Bergelson, Dovid". YIVO. YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
- Hoberman 2005, p. 36.
- Bergelson, Dovid (1999). Descent. Translated by Joseph Sherman. New York, NY: Modern Language Association. pp. xvii. ISBN 978-0-87352-788-0.
- Fishman, Boris. "Back from the Shadows". Tablet Magazine.
- Glinter, Ezra. "Before He Became a Communist". Zeek Magazine. Retrieved 17 June 2011.
- Hoberman, J. (11 August 2005). "The Twighlight Zone [review of David Bergelson, Shadows of Berlin, story collection edited and translated by Joachim Neugroschel]". The Nation. Retrieved 17 April 2016.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Biographical notes, in Italian, on the site of Antenati.
- Bergelson, David: Russian Yiddish Writer on the Museum of Tolerance site.
- Rosenwald, Larry, review of The Stories of David Bergelson, The Mendele Review: Yiddish Language and Literature, Vol. 01.001, April 13, 1997. Includes a passage from his writing, with multiple translations for comparison, and discusses questions about translating Bergelson.
- Rubenstein, Joshua The Night of the Murdered Poets, originally published in The New Republic, August 25, 1997, later republished as the introduction to Stalin's Secret Pogrom: The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, May 2001, Yale University Press.
- Dovid Bergelson on the site of the National Yiddish Book Center, includes a 1959 article about Bergelson from Morgn Frayhayt.