Thursday, November 19, 2015

Frida Zak reminisces about Peretz Markish's very soft hand. When she was about to graduate from Yiddish school, the well-known Yiddish writer came to visit his parents in Frida's hometown Polonne. She fondly remembers how students performed Peretz's poems and songs. According to Frida, everybody danced around the New Year tree until the early morning hours.

Peretz Markish, who was born in 1895 in Polonne, enjoyed a traditional Jewish education. He was drafted into the Russian army during World War I and moved to Ekaterinoslav after his discharge from the military in 1917. Markish initially wrote Russian poetry, before he published poems in Yiddish. Markish’s early poetry was infused with the declarative pathos and the apocalyptic mood. The acclaimed poet relocated several times, first to Kiev and then to Warsaw. In 1926 Markish returned to the Soviet Union, but had spent time in major European cities. He headed the Yiddish section of the Soviet Writers Union from 1939 to 1943. During the postwar Stalinist purges, Markish was arrested and sentenced to death. He was executed on August 12, 1952, along with other well-known Yiddish writers, intellectuals, and cultural leaders in Moscow. This particular execution ordered by Joseph Stalin, came to be known as "Night of the Murdered Poets." Two years after Stalin’s death Markish was posthumously cleared of all charges (“rehabilitated”) in 1955.

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His major works, beside lyrical poetry, comprise epic poems, stories, novels, and drama. These include Di kupe (The Heap, 1921); Tsu a yiddisher tentserin (To a Jewish Female Dancer, 1940); Milkhome (War, two volumes, 1948); Trot fun Doyres (The March of Generations, 1966), Der fertsikyeriker man (The Forty-Year Old Man, 1978). Markish was also the cofounder of the weekly journal Literarishe bleter in Warsaw in 1924.

Markish’s first book Shveln (Threshholds, see also below) was published in 1919 in Ukraine. Many of Markish’s works can be found on the website of the Spielberg Yiddish Digital Library in the original Yiddish language. The Oyneg Shabes blog by the Yiddish Daily Forward reveals information on the commemoration of Markish’s life and work. A distinguished group of scholars and admirers of the poet celebrated Peretz Markish's 120th birthday in 2015. For more information take a look at this Yiddish article from the newspaper Forverts