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  Great Artists: David Pinski, Yiddish Playwright

   David Pinski with Abraham Sutzkever in Israel

David Pinski with poet
Abraham  Sutzkever
Tel Aviv, Israel



Abraham Sutzkever, born in 1913 in Smorgon, Poland (now Smarhon, Belarus), is a Yiddish poet who also acted as a partisan during World War II and the Holocaust.

The activities of World War I compelled his family to flee to Siberia. Subsequently, in 1922, Sutzkever moved to Vilnius (then Wilno, Poland), where he attended cheder and also gymnasium (high school.) In the early 1930s, Sutzkever became a writer within the "Young Vilna" group and first published a poem in a literary journal in 1934.

When the Nazis occupied Vilnius in the summer of '41, Sutzkever, along with many others, was forced to live in the ghetto of Vilnius. Fortunately, in September 1943, Sutzkever was able to escape into the forest where he joined together with and fought with the partisans against the Nazi occupiers.

Sutzkever was able to save many of his manuscripts and published many of his poems after the war. During this time he lived in Moscow, Lodz, finally emigrating to Israel, as did David Pinski. He now lives in Tel Aviv.

Abraham Sutzkever was once the editor of "Di Goldene Keyt," a Yiddish literary publication in Israel.

An excerpt from a Sutzkever work follows, written in the Vilna Ghetto on 31 Dec 1942:

On the Anniversary of the Ghetto Theater


… We walled ourselves in
And live apart.
From your freedom outside, do not smile at us,
Do not pity —
For us, even death can blossom into wonder.

How can we sit together
With you in one place?
Your hatred for us will poison you like mice,
Our wounds — love will heal.

As long as the outside is yours —
Ours is the ghetto, here we will lie
And from God's heart, we will knead a redeemer
And polish a melody …


Perform, Jewish actors, in tatters and in walls,
Where life shrivels like hair that caught fire,
When red drops of your loved ones are seething on stones,
And the alleys convulse like half-slaughtered hens
And cannot arise, fly away, flee…
Perform, friends! Let us think: it's a shtetl of yore,
They celebrate a wedding at an autumn graveyard
With Jewish singing and dancing light,
In a joyous circle around the bride and groom!
Perform! From your mouth, let Yiddish sound,
Pure and clean as the ghost of a slaughtered child,
Harsh and hoarse as the voice of our rifle and gunpowder,
Performing tomorrow
Over the rooftops…

And you, melancholy fiddlers,
Who stole out at night
Into the lurking outside,
Shuffling past houses,
Evading patrols,
Creeping to your ruined old home
And digging up your fiddles
Planted before your march into the ghetto —
You play too!
Pluck out the deepest tones!
Let them carry above your bones
And stray far, where a Jew still shimmers…
Where a heart still trembles, waiting for good tidings.
Let them carry over fields, over front lines,
Pure and clean as the ghost of a slaughtered child,
Harsh and hoarse as the voice of our rifle and gunpowder,
Performing tomorrow
Over the rooftops…


Courtesy of
Sutzkever, A. A. Sutzkever: Selected Poetry and Prose. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991.


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