Abraham Sutzkever (Yiddish: אַבֿרהם סוצקעווער — Avrom Sutskever; Hebrew: אברהם סוצקבר; "Słowacki", July 15, 1913 – January 20, 2010) was an acclaimed Yiddish poet. The New York Times wrote that Sutzkever was "the greatest poet of the Holocaust."
Abraham (Avrom) Sutzkever was born on July 15, 1913 in Smorgon, Russian Empire, now Smarhoń, Belarus. During World War I, his family fled eastwards from the German invasion and settled in Omsk, Siberia, where his father, Hertz Sutzkever, died. Three years after the war, his mother, Rayne (née Fainberg), moved the family to Vilna, where Sutzkever attended cheder. In 1930, he joined the Bee Jewish scouting movement. He married Freydke in 1939, a day before World War II. In 1941, he and his wife were sent to the Vilna Ghetto. Ordered by the Nazis to hand over important Jewish manuscripts and artworks for display in an Institute for Study of the Jewish Question, to be based in Frankfurt, Sutzkever and his friends hid a diary by Theodor Herzl, drawings by Marc Chagall and Alexander Bogen, and other treasured works behind plaster and brick walls in the ghetto. His mother and newborn son were murdered by the Nazis. On September 12, 1943, he and his wife escaped to the forests, and together with fellow Yiddish poet Shmerke Kaczerginsky he fought the occupying forces as a partisan. Sutzkever joined a Jewish unit under the command of Moshe Judka Rudnitski, and took part in several missions before being smuggled into the Soviet Union. In July 1943, he gave a fellow partisan a notebook of his poems, which reached the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow. In March 1944, a small plane was sent to the Vilna forests to bring Sutzkever and his wife to Russia.
In February 1946, he was called up as a witness at the Nuremberg Trials testifying against Franz Murer, the murderer of his mother and son. After a brief sojourn in Poland and Paris, he immigrated to Mandate Palestine, arriving in Tel Aviv in 1947.
Sutzkever wrote poetry from an early age, initially in Hebrew. He published his first poem in Bin, the Jewish scouts magazine. Sutzkever was among the Modernist writers and artists of the Yung Vilne ("Young Vilna") group in the early 1930s. In 1937, he published his first volume of Yiddish poetry, Lider (Songs).
Sutzkever's second book of poetry, Valdiks ("From the Forest"), was published in 1940. In Moscow, he wrote a chronicle of his experiences in the Vilna ghetto (Fun vilner geto) and began Geheymshtot ("Secret City"), an epic poem about Jews hiding in the sewers of Vilna.
Sutzkever founded the literary quarterly Di goldene keyt (The Golden Chain). Paul Glasser of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York called him the most important Jewish poet in the postwar world. He became a public advocate of Yiddish, encouraging Jewish communities around the world not to let the language die.
In the 1970s Sutzkever wrote the series Lider fun togbukh ("Poems from a Diary, 1974–1981"), considered his masterpiece. The theme that runs through much of his work is that destroyed landscapes and societies can be reborn, and the murdered Jews of the ghetto live on in the memories of the survivors.
Works in English translation
- Siberia: A Poem, translated by Jacob Sonntag in 1961, part of the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works.
- Burnt Pearls : Ghetto Poems of Abraham Sutzkever, translated from the Yiddish by Seymour Mayne; introduction by Ruth R. Wisse. Oakville, Ont.: Mosaic Press, 1981. ISBN 0-88962-142-X
- The Fiddle Rose: Poems, 1970-1972, Abraham Sutzkever; selected and translated by Ruth Whitman; drawings by Marc Chagall; introduction by Ruth R. Wisse. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-8143-2001-5
- A. Sutzkever: Selected Poetry and Prose, translated from the Yiddish by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav; with an introduction by Benjamin Harshav. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. ISBN 0-520-06539-5
- Laughter Beneath the Forest : Poems from Old and Recent Manuscripts by Abraham Sutzkever; translated from the Yiddish by Barnett Zumoff; with an introductory essay by Emanuel S. Goldsmith. Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0-88125-555-6
Awards and recognition
- In 1985, Sutzkever was awarded the Israel Prize for Yiddish literature. Sutkever's poems have been translated into 30 languages.
- Hilda Bronstein, A Vogn Shikh, lyrics by Avrom Sutzkever, music by Tomas Novotny Yiddish Songs Old and New, ARC Records
- Karsten Troyke, Leg den Kopf auf meine Knie, lyrics by Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, Itzik Manger and Abraham Sutzkever, music by Karsten Troyke
- Abraham Sutzkever, The Poetry of Abraham Sutzkever (Vilno Poet): Read in Yiddish, produced by Ruth Wise on Folkways Records
- "The Twin-Sisters" - "Der Tsvilingl" Text: Avrum Sutzkever, Music: Daniel Galay, Narrator (Yiddish) Michael Ben-Avraham, The Israeli String Quartet for Contemporary Music (Violin, Viola, Cello) Percussion, piano. First performance: Tel-Aviv 2/10/2003 on the 90th birthday of Avrum Sutzkever.
- Lori Laitman, "The Seed of Dream", based on poems by Abraham Sutzkever as translated by C.K. Wlliams and Leonard Wolf. Commissioned by The Music of Remembrance organization in Seattle. First Performed in May 2005 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle by baritone Erich Parce, pianist Mina Miller, and cellist Amos Yang. Recent performance on January 28, 2008 by the Chamber Music Society of Southwest Florida Mezzo-soprano Janelle McCoy, cellist Adam Satinsky pianist Bella Gutshtein of the Russian Music Salon.
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- "God the Implausible Kinsman". The New York Times. 1984-06-17. Retrieved 2010-04-02.
- "Avrom Sutzkever - Daily Telegraph obituary". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- Sela, Maya (2010-01-28). "An ambassador of the Yiddish language, Haaretz". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "UC Press E-Books Collection, 1982-2004". Escholarship.org. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- Berger, Joseph (2010-01-23). "Abraham Sutzkever, 96, Jewish Poet and Partisan, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-10.
- "Poet and Partisan Avrom Sutzkever Dies". The Forward. 2010-01-20. Retrieved 2010-04-10.
- Mer, Benny (2010-01-22). "A divine providence has been removed, Haaretz". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "Siberia: A Poem". Unesco.org. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "Israel Prize Official Site - Recipients in 1985 (in Hebrew)".
- "Welcome chambersociety.org - BlueHost.com". Chambersociety.org. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "musicofremembrance.org". musicofremembrance.org. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "chambersociety.org". chambersociety.org. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- Vertex Media. "janellemccoy.com". janellemccoy.com. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
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- Dawidowicz, Lucy S. From that Place and Time: A Memoir 1938 - 1947. New York: Norton, 1989. ISBN 0-393-02674-4
- Daniel Kac, Wilno Jerozolimą było. Rzecz o Abrahamie Sutzkeverze". Sejny: Pogranicze, 2004. ISBN 83-86872-51-9
- Szeintuch, Yehiel, Abraham Sutzkever, in Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust vol. 4, pp. 1435–1436
- Sutskever's work in English translation
- Bibliotheca Iiddica
- Poetry readings on YouTube
- Abraham Sutzkever among The Writers and Painters Group "Jung Vilna"
- Catherine Madsen on Abraham Sutzkever's life