Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Moshe Michal Kitai


Born on 13 April 1886 in Riga, Lettland [Latvia]. Due to the hardships with the "life rights," his parents were poor, and since the age of seven he was raised in Zager, wherein his mother traveled over to with the children. At the age of fifteen he returned to Riga to his father, early on was a member of a Hebrew association, then in the "Bund," and thereafter in S.'S. In the summer of 1907 he was arrested, moved to Copenhagen, Germany and Switzerland, and again returned home.

His sister's child, the writer Mark Razumni writes:

"From childhood on he experienced the taste of bitter distress, of heavy effort. As a youth, he had already associated his fate with the labor movement, has been in prison several times (from my very early childhood, I remember when, once in on the first day of May, Michl was brought home a miserable and barely alive). Later he fluttered around a lot, across Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, working for a clockmaker, for a boot stitcher, often times also doing difficult, physical work and then coming back to Riga a mider, life saver and a single bag: a bunch of songs, written during his wanderings."

In 1910 he debuted with a song in "Di yidishe shtime," under the direction of Belle Mkhshvut, and since then began his writing, most of the time associated with daily newspapers, living in Vilna, Berdichev, Moscow, Odessa, Kiev, Lettland [Latvia], and Warsaw, where he traveled with Nachman Mayzel to America, taking over the editing of the "Literarishe bleter."

 When the Second World War broke out, K., took whatever was left, returned to Riga, expecting the city to be occupied by the Soviet Union. But in 1941 Riga fell to Hitler, and K. was barely able to flee. Earlier he was in Tashkent, then in Samarkand, where he passed away in the beginning of 1942.

K. was hugely in love with the Yiddish theatre and wrote a lot about it. A small portion of his articles about writers and artists he published in his book, "Undzer shrayber un kinstler" (Warsaw, 1938, 234 pp.).

Mark Razumni characterizes him this way:

"Michal Kitai went out as modest and quiet as modest and quiet he lived. His entire life he passed with quiet steps, all the while feeling guilty about something, in this silence, like living people standing in the shadows, in his entire small-brained, low-key figure, he had a great greed for life and embraced a love for people. The mission of his life he realized in instilling heartiness, tenderness, gentleness in human relationships. And very often when the bright light shone, a lovely word from our Michal made people forget their bad moods, their little empires, their wrinkles on their foreheads flared, and suspicious adults transformed into carefree children.

And then when people became like children, Kitai felt especially good with them, because children always were his greatest love, his strongest bond. With children he played as if he was child, stiff as a child, suffocated like a child (?) ... In the simplicity and immutability with which he felt and received the child, the tender, painful and sheer personality of the person in life and in people, until the last breath remained in Michal Kitai."'

Melekh Ravitch characterized him so:

"If a Yiddish writer can have the soul of a 'Bontche the Silent,' then he has divine grace within him, and he possesses the resurrected soul of 'Bontche the Silent.' ... Everyone loves him, but in their love of Kitai, never demanded anything from anyone, and that is why everyone was so loved by him. ... There is not a single Yiddish writer who will not speak gossip and will not be an object of gossip from others ... Moshe-Michal Kitai was the exception, who confirmed the rule ... and he wasn't such a mean person. Initially he had taken part in political life, and quite boldly displayed his left sympathies, and infrequent in his criticism of broken or compromised left creations. Secondly, he was very lacking in his literary taste. Although he wrote in all areas, he had no pretensions. At the very least, he had pretensions with his fiction work, his youth, the poems and his subsequent fiction sins, the stories. Thirdly, he was very careful about the literary and journalistic ethics. No words were written that were against his conviction, or against his taste.

Underdeveloped, weak with a slightly bruised nose, with glasses, and quietly and quickly and with a mixture of seven Yiddish accents, all the time a little German, because he was from Riga. Without a family -- if I am not mistaken -- he wasn't connected. I never saw him anywhere in a family circle ... He used to always seek company from other homes ...

Everything Moshe-Michal could do was in the realm of journalistic work. ...Kitai was loved in Riga and Riga in those years lived carefree. ... A few years later I had already met him in Warsaw. ... Because of the absence of Nakhman Mayzel, Kitai had Bontche silently edited the 'Literarisher bleter,' and after years Kitai's brother came to me in New York. Kitai asked people to save him. He is in Sweden. From there he moved to the Soviet Union, in the country of his sympathies, and now he already graces himself with the truthful 'Bontche the Silent' in heaven."

In August 1942 K. passed away in Kuybyshev.

  • Zalman Reisen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature," Vilna, 1929, Vol. 3, pp. 628-630.

  • Melekh Ravitch -- "Mayn leksion," Montreal, 1947, pp. 145-47.

  • Mark Razumni -- In andenk fun michal kitai, "Yidishe shriftn," Warsaw, N' 7-8, 1962.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 6, page 4929.

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