The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language
              (A Companion to MENDELE)
Contents of Vol. 07.004 [Sequential No. 130]

1)  About this issue of TMR (ed.)
2)  Biographical Sketch (Heather Valencia)
3)  Preliminary Note (Heather Valencia)
4)  Stencl's Berlin Period (Heather Valencia)

Date: 6 April 2003
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject: About this issue of TMR

Dovid Katz's essay on the neglected Whitechapel poet, A. N. Stencl
[Avrom-Nokhem Shtentsl], in the last issue of _The Mendele Review_ [vol.
7.003] has excited much interest.  The present issue of _TMR_ devoted to
the poet's Berlin period broadens our purview of both his life and his
art.  Heather Valencia,  a Yiddish and a German scholar, is especially 
well qualified to write on this subject.

Date: 6 April 2003
From: Heather Valencia 
Content:  Biographical Sketch  (Heather Valencia)

Heather Valencia was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on 26 April 1942.
Her first university degree was in French and German at Glasgow
University; her 1991 doctorate at Stirling University was on Avrom
Sutskever (thesis title -- "Bashtendikayt" and "b anayung":  Themes and
imagery in the earlier poetry of Abraham Sutzkever).  She teaches German
at the University of Stirling and the Open University and has taught
courses on Yiddish literature at the Oxford Summer Programme and at the
London Klezfest.  He r research interests include Abraham Sutzkever,
Yiddish writers and journalism in Weimar Germany, and Yiddish writing in
London.  She is the author of _ Else Lasker-Schueler und Abraham Nochem
Stenzel.  Eine unbekannte Freundschaft_ (1995), "Yiddish Writer s in
Berlin 1920-1936 (in _The German-Jewish Dilemma_, ed.  E. Timms and A.
Hammel,1995), and co-author of _Sprachinseln.  Jiddische Publizistik in
London, Wilna und Berlin 1880-1930_ (1999).  She wrote the entries on
Elsa Lasker-Schueler, Mani Leyb and Abraham Sutzkever for __Jewish
Writers of the Twentieth Century_. ed.  S. Kerbel (2003).  She is
currently working on Shmuel Harendorf1s play _Der kenig fun Lampeduse_
('The King of Lampedusa') and on further research on Abraham Sutzkever.
She can be reached at:  School of Modern Languages, University of
Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, Scotland.

Date:  6 April 2003
From: Heather Valencia 
Content:  A Preliminary Note (Heather Valencia)

                        A Preliminary Note

The article which follows was written a few years ago for inclusion in
the volume on Stencl which Leonard Prager described in the last _Mendele
Review_.  I am really delighted that he is hoping to revive this project
and publish the book, for as he and Do vid Katz have both stressed,
Stencl as a poet and literary figure deserves much more scholarly
attention than he has hitherto received.

I should like to take issue with two biographical points in Dovid Katz's
article.  To call Else Lasker Schueler "the love of [Stencl's] youth" is
in my view an over-simplification.  The relationship between Stencl and
the German-Jewish poet who was twenty-e ight years older than him was
much more complex than that, as I have tried to demonstrate in my
monograph _Else Lasker-Schueler und Abraham Nochem Stenzel.  Eine
unbekannte Freundschaft_ (see footnote 9 of my article).  The love of
his Berlin years was in f act the German teacher Elisabeth Woehler, with
whom Stencl lived for many years in Berlin, and whom Else
Lasker-Schueler referred to as Stencl's fiancee.  Elisabeth Woehler
learnt Yiddish, made excellent translations of his work into German,
negotiated with publishers and devoted herself to the poet and his work
for the rest of her life, pursuing for years the project of a German
edition of his poetry, and leaving all her money to him on her death in

Personal details like this about a writer can sometimes be written off
as mere tittle-tattle, but I feel that the record should be set straight
on the role of these two women in Stencl's life.  In the case of the
relationship with Else Lasker-Schueler, this is because I think that
the poet and her work had a considerable influence on Stencl, and
conversely, I believe that the influence of Stencl and Yiddish culture
on Else Lasker-Schueler is an important topic so far neglected in
Lasker-Schueler research.  In the case of Elisabeth Woehler, I
understand that Stencl never mentioned her to his friends and colleagues
in London, and I feel very strongly that the memory of this exceptional
woman, a true Righteous Gentile, should be honoured.  A lifelong friend
of hers, Annemarie Neumann, wrote to Stencl after her death in the
following words:

"Should we grieve over Elisabeth's death?  Certainly, she would have
liked to live longer, but the enormous and constantly increasing
injustice and suffering in the world caused her great pain.  She is now
spared all this.  But we miss her greatly, and above all, the world is
now impoverished by losing one of its finest and noblest human beings.
To have been her friends lays obligations on us."

Finally, on a slightly more frivolous note, I find it very hard to give
credence to Dovid Katz's claim that Stencl came to London in a coffin
accompanied by a grieving "widow".  Christobel Fowler-Sinsheimer and
Elisabeth Woehler had obtained the means for him to enter England
legitimately (see footnote 32 of my article), so that such a procedure
would not have been necessary, even if it were possible.  Moreover
Stencl, nothing if not a self-dramatiser, would surely have mentioned
this in his memoirs if it had been the case.  This may well be an
extract I have not read, however, and I am more than willing to be
corrected on this point, if evidence is available!

     Heather Valencia

Date:  6 April 2003
From: Heather Valencia 
Content:  Stencl's Berlin Period

Stencl's Berlin Period


Heather Valencia

Stencl lived in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany from 1921 until November
1936.  In his Yiddish literary journal _Loshn un lebn_ published in
London from 1940(1) onwards, he looks back on this period, vividly
evoking events and characters from life in Weimar Germany.  These
memoirs are hard to evaluate objectively.  Stencl's style reflects his
life during this period:  like his irregular, hand-to-mouth bohemian
existence, the writing jumps about impressionistically.  Often, for page
after page, he dwells lovingly on a small incident such as that of the
German hiker reading _The Communist Manifesto_ out loud to him in the
merry chaos of a night train journey, with German Wandervoegel singing,
drinking, and making love all round them.  He gives ironic sketches of
eccentric Berlin characters such as the cheap draper Herr Viktor.  At
other times he leaps across years, introducing characters and situations
without explanation.

Moreover, there are discrepancies between Stencl's account of his life
and the entry in the 1928-29 edition of Reyzn's _Leksikon_.  For
example, on the manner of the poet's leaving Poland for Holland, Reyzn
writes:  "Called up in 1919, from the barracks he fled to Holland."(2)
Stencl gives a more romantic version of the event:  on the evening his
call-up papers arrived, his father took him to the Rebbe of Sosnoviec,
who gave his blessing to a plan to escape; under cover of darkness,
Stencl fled from Poland that very night.  Here it is impossible to say
which version is true.  The poet may have later felt the need to
vindicate himself from the charge of desertion.  However, given Stencl's
deeply religious family background and the history of Jewish suffering
under enforced military service in Poland and Russia, his more dramatic
account does not lack the ring of truth.  Another interesting
discrepancy relates to the death of his revered father.  Stencl says:
"I receive a telegram from home:  `Father deceased.  If you will not say
kaddish, telegraph immediately'."(3) The original of the telegram in the
Stencl Archive in London reads "Father died to-day = kaddish."(4) Why
did Stencl embroider the simple request to recite the kaddish prayer
implied in the text of the actual telegram into the suggestion that he
might not wish to do so?  Throughout his autobiographical writings,
Stencl speaks of the conflict between his attachment to his father's
house and all that it represented, and his secular, bohemian life since
leaving home.  In describing his need to get to Berlin, he comments:  "I
knew that I could not go home any more:  since I had shaved off my beard
at Shevuot two years ago, all the bridges to my home had been
destroyed."(5) His regret and guilt at feeling estranged from the
tradition of his father also echoes through the poems of this period.
Stencl's misremembering of the text of the telegram as an old man could
be a reliving of this inner conflict.

Despite such individual discrepancies, there are independent sources
which corroborate the less tangible but more important contents of
Stencl's memories of the period:  his evocation of the general life and
atmosphere of the time as seen through the eyes of a young
Yiddish-speaking immigrant, and his depiction of the inner conflicts
which such a situation induced.  The first source is the letters which
Stencl's parents wrote to him throughout this period.(6) In his mother's
usually brief codicils to the father's long letters, her anguish at the
infrequency of his letters is most poignant.  The letters record the
many different addresses which the memoirs show Stencl to have used as
poste restante.  Upon arriving in Berlin, he writes:  "I must get an
address.  At home they are dying for a letter from me.  It's months
since I wrote home."(7) And elsewhere he writes:  "When I arrived back
at the boarding house I remembered that I had again not written home for
weeks, not even a post-card."(8)

The other independent sources of information are the letters and
writings of two women.  Else Lasker-Schueler provides insights into
their friendship and her deeply affectionate regard for her "Hamid"
corroborates his account of their relationship.(9) Finally there are the
letters from Elizabeth Woehler, an art teacher in Berlin.  The
correspondence in the London archive runs from 1962 until her death in
1974, and contains frequent references to the times in Berlin, giving
further insight into the life and personality of the young poet.
Woehler's letters reveal a deep and loving friendship, and also raise
many interesting questions about the writer herself and about aspects of
German-Jewish relationships in the Weimar period.

Hence the autobiographical writings in Stencl's _Loshn un lebn_ should
be considered not entirely as a detailed factual account, but rather as
a lively subjective evocation of a turbulent period in German history,
from the point of view of a troubled but fascinated and sensitive
outsider.  These writings give both social and literary-historical
insights.  Stencl's impressions of Berlin and Weimar society, including
his forays into rural Germany, and his relationship with literary
circles illuminate Stencl's personality and the influences on his poetry
of this period.  They also cast light on the relationship between German
and German-Jewish intellectuals and the Yiddish-speaking East-European
writers and critics who were in Berlin during the twenties.


The atmosphere of the Weimar period was characterised by political
instability, economic insecurity, troubled awareness in the minds of
many people that the secure old order was passing but that no
discernible new order was taking its place, and ambivalent reactions to
industrialisation and new technology and their attendant social
upheavals.  Walter Laqueur sums up the contradictions and paradoxes of
the period:  "It was an age of experimentation, not of fundamental
discoveries; a restless, extrovert age, not one given to that calm
introspection which is usually associated with true greatness; an age of
conflict not of synthesis; rich in talent, wanting in true genius."(10)

All these uncertainties are reflected in the lives of the myriad
intellectuals and artists who gravitated to Berlin, and in the
characteristics of the artistic movements which burgeoned there.  These
turmoils and conflicts are reflected vividly in Stencl's personal
experiences.  Although his writings touch on the darker sides of this
period, they also capture its life and colour.  Stencl describes vividly
his first impressions of the streets of Berlin:

"There was clamour in every street and in the sprawling little dark
lanes, in the smoky cafes and sweating little restaurants, it was
swarming, like in full buzzing beehives, with traders and small-time
traders, with hawkers and market-sellers, with travellers, with
_lokshn_-dealers(11) and their brokers and money-changers, and other
people who simply hang around them; rubbing up against them, working for
them, ... and with all sorts of dark characters who have sunk to the
lowest level -- it is that terrible dream-ladder of our Father Jacob, on
which one either climbs from rung to rung until one opens a shop with a
plate-glass window in Schoenhauser Allee or even in Kant Strasse, or one
falls off it and breaks one's arms and legs and ends up going from house
to house knocking on doors trying to sell old clothes....  My companion
and I look at each other; I can't see him but I hear him saying:  'Here
in the alleys everyone earns his piece of bread honourably -- it is easy
to criticise a hawker'."(12)

"In front of the little cafes and restaurants where during the daytime
there was the clamour of small-time dealers and speculators, there was
now the glimmering whispering of dolled-up women, powdered and painted,
cheap street women trying earn a little bit of money and a `reel' --
squandering the wages of a hard day's work in order to sit in a man's
company in a cafe or in a dance hall....  No less sharp than the pangs
of hunger -- the carefully weighed out little morsel of butter, the
little ration of bread -- were the pangs of sexual desire."

"In a land where legions of young men had not returned from the
battlefield and twice as many as those killed had come home seriously
wounded, and the housewife had perforce been drawn into every kind of
hard men's work from the workshop to driving the trams, she was not just
going to remain in the secret recesses of her house, but became the
demanding one, unrestrained.  Like the sharp odours of the perfumes
which streamed out into Minz-Strasse from the open restaurant doors, so
the little crooked streets, the dark shady streets, breathed out the
odours of contagious diseases.

Just walking through this feverish atmosphere one is infected.  One
feels one's breath choking on something, becoming heavier and vomiting.
The hasty step which is hurrying to get somewhere, hesitates, becomes

These descriptions, like many others in the memoirs, communicate
Stencl's relationship to this new world:  his understanding of people,
especially his compassion for the weak, the poor and the
underprivileged, which is reflected in his poems as well.(14) He is both
attracted to and repelled by the atmosphere.  The conflict between his
fascination with modern worldliness and his attachment to the ancient
tradition symbolised by his father is a basic motif in his poetry in
this period.

Stencl describes the frenetic atmosphere of a country racked by
inflation, where money earned had to be spent immediately, but where "a
foreigner with a London pound, a Dutch guilder, an American dollar could
wander from cabaret to cabaret... and saunter after midnight along the
garishly lit Kurfuerstendamm, ending up in a hotel with not one woman,
but one in each arm."(15) He appears to have led a hand-to-mouth
existence for fifteen years.  He received payment for translations of
his poems which appeared in German literary journals, and, when "day
began to dawn in the pocket" as he put it, he resorted to casual jobs
such as working on farms, in an iron foundry, in a graveyard stamping
down earth on newly filled graves, or at "entrepreneurial" efforts --
hawking offcuts of cheap material, manufacturing compost, selling straw
hats on a market stall.  When he first arrived in Berlin he managed to
obtain a permit to spend three nights in an immigrants' night shelter.
Stencl captures the atmosphere of the transient sub-culture of
dispossessed migrants:

"I came into the dark little cul-de-sac of the night shelter just as its
gates were shutting and couples in the pitch darkness were just parting
from each other; as well as the noisy kisses the farewells rang out:
`Schatz, tomorrow in the cafe', `Schatz, tomorrow by the gate', `Schatz,
-- '.

At the entrance I shook myself awake as if from a dream.  The tall
German who was taking the sleeping-tickets reproached me with some
justification:  'Are you a _sweetheart_ already?  The first night you
are registered... you could have come a little earlier'.

In the first lit-up hall, directly you came in, where each person
received two stiff heavy cotton covers, a slice of black bread with a
little pot of black chicory coffee, there was a seething, turmoil of
noise as in an army barracks.  By the dim lighting one couldn't make out
the faces, just people's heads, wildly moving shadows, elongated on the
high bare walls -- I lost sight of the two {Hungarian} brothers.

>From the first hall {...} other open rooms led off each other, all with
high bare walls and cement floors covered with rows of iron bedsteads.
Apparently a large arms factory had been emptied of its machines and the
empty iron bedsteads laid out in straight rows like bayonets.

The great advantage of the place was its cleanliness and airiness.  The
halls were three storeys high, and every day, as soon as the occupants
had got up, the cement floors and the iron bedsteads were hosed down
with big water hoses and the covers gathered together to be
steam-cleaned.  All the ceiling-high windows were thrown open.  So it
was always fresh and airy in these barrack-rooms.  But in the nights
full of nightmares we tossed and turned on those Sodom and Gomorrah beds
and got up in the morning unslept, with designs stamped on our bodies --
we got out of bed naked as the day we were born, wrapped in the hard
horse blankets, barefoot on the cold cement floor and straight into the
bathroom, shuddered under the ice cold showers, stretched our limbs and
felt wonderful -- the echoing empty halls resounded with the delighted,
voluptuous whoops and the wild whinnying shrieks."(16)

For a considerable part of his early years in Berlin, Stencl's living
arrangements were of a provisional nature.  Sometimes he stayed all
night in a workers' bar or on a park bench, occasionally he enjoyed the
luxury of a rented (albeit bug-infested) room, and at times he slept in
the rooms of other poor Jewish artists, among them Shmuel Levin.(17)
Always he carried bundles of poems in his pocket, which gave him a sense
of identity and security.(18)

Stencl was often seized by horror of the aimless bohemian life; his love
for the countryside, which permeates his poetry, drew him to flee Berlin
for casual jobs in villages and on farms.  These episodes give rise to
humorous and self-ironical writing.  The period he spent, for example,
as a labourer on an estate furnishes a trenchant little sketch of an
archetypal Prussian Junker.  Stencl's attempt at digging potatoes was

"If 'blowing the shofar is an art, not a trade' then digging potatoes is
both.  With great skill and wise judgment one has to stick in the
pointed fork and with great strength lift it out and at the same
instant, with a huge 'whoosh' swing it up so that the crumbs of earth
scatter crisply and the grey-white potatoes roll like ripe apples when a
tree is shaken; one shouldn't have to pluck each potato from the soft
sticky snake-like roots.  {...} The _Graf_ of the estate was an Officer
of the Reserve who came home from the lost war as a Lieutenant with a
broad heroic chest covered with medals, who felt himself to have
excelled himself in his role and wanted to carry on playing it with
Prussian charm and glory; his 'trade' was to ride around on his young,
whinnying horse, groomed and gleaming -- 'geschniegelt und gebuegelt' --
and to crack his riding whip.  Suddenly he appeared with a
'Donnerwetter' at the door of the barn where the threshers were:  the
whinnying horse can't stop and rears up as a result of the anger which
wells up in his rider when he sees the little group of 'grannies' and
me, the 'agricultural worker', with my fork in my hand.  He sees what an
expert I am but {...} he is too lazy or too 'lordly' and proud to
dismount and show me how one should turn the fork like a real boss would
do when he saw how awkward and clumsy his worker was.  Instead he gave
an angry lash with the riding whip and galloped off."(19)

When Stencl was transferred to pasturing cattle, he used this
opportunity to sit dreaming, reading Ibsen and writing poetry all day,
and when to his horror the cattle all wandered into the hayfields, this
_yidisher_ Little Boy Blue was unmercifully chased off the estate by the
irate _Markgraf_.  The sting in the tail of this incident, however,
which might be seen as having prophetic significance, is that the
aristocratic landowner, on discovering that Stencl had written a poem
about Waldi, the little dog who was Stencl's 'accomplice', shot the


Always Stencl was drawn back to the Berlin world of artists and
intellectuals, where the atmosphere of uncertainty and turmoil reflected
the economic and social life of the city.  As Stencl describes it:

"Berlin 1921, the streets were full of cocottes and of artists of all
abilities, fighting to the death with each other.  {...} There was
inflation not just of the gold mark, but of all sorts of cut-price
'isms' in literature and painting, which were born at night in an
artist's studio, {...} and died two days later in an attic

Stencl's memoirs shed light on the life of the Yiddish writers in Berlin
in the Expressionist period leading up to the Nazi era.  To what extent
were the Yiddish intellectuals integrated in the general cultural life
of the time?  Did they have close links with other German-Jewish
intellectuals?  Were they influenced by contemporary literary movements?
Was the German literary scene touched by their work?  These questions
demand research; Stencl's memoirs provide pointers.

Stencl comments on the effect of the First World War on the relationship
between German and East European Jews:  contact for the first time
between German Jewish soldiers and Jews in Eastern Europe made the
assimilated Jew aware of his roots; it was as if he had found a brother.
This meant that the negative image of the _Ostjude_ began to change
among the assimilated Jews of Germany, and they regarded the forced
labourers, and later the refugees from pogroms in Eastern Europe as
their own kin.  Stencl rather wryly comments that for the first time
these Eastern Jews were accepted in "good Jewish homes," helping to
compensate for the lack of young men, "for after all, not only German,
but also German-Jewish soldiers fell in the First World War."(21) This
movement of the Eastern Jew back to the West had cultural implications
as well:

"The East European Jew began to make his way back to Western Europe on
the way to America, to Palestine... bringing... a new Yiddish culture, a
Yiddish-Hebrew literature."(22)

On the other hand it would be an oversimplification to suggest that
there was universal understanding of the culture of the Yiddish-speaking
_Ostjuden_ on the part of the assimilated German Jew.  The attitude of
the librarian of the Oranienburg Synagogue Library, quoted by Stencl, is
probably typical.  Watching Stencl avidly reading Opatoshu's novel _In
poylishe velder_ ('In Polish Woods'), he is amazed:  "I am standing here
thinking that a book in _jargon_ can apparently also be considered a

The Yiddish-speaking artists and writers were a small group.  The
principal figures mentioned by Stencl are:  Shmuel Levin, Zalmen
Shneyer, Moyshe Kulbak, Dovid Bergelson, Nokhem Shtif (Bal-Dimyen), Dr.
Elyashev (Bal-Makhshoves), Yankl Adler, Nokhem Sokolov, Hersh-Dovid
Nomberg, Sholem Ash, Yoysef Opatoshu, Perets Markish, Uri-Tsvi Grinberg,
Avrom Reyzn and Khaym-Nakhmen Byalik.  They were a shifting population;
some, like Levin, Shneyer, Kulbak and Bergelson, resided in Berlin for a
number of years, while others, like Opatoshu, Sholem Ash, Avrom Reyzn
and Byalik just visited.  Like other literary groups, they gravitated to
the Romanische Cafe.  Walter Laqueur evokes the atmosphere of this
meeting place of the Weimar intelligensia:

"Avant-garde and mass culture met in the coffee houses such as the
Romanische Cafe, at the corner of Tauentzien and Budapester Strasse, a
stone's throw from the Gedaechtniskirche; there you could see writers
and critics, painters and actresses and quite a few original characters
who never published a book, drew a line or composed a sonata, but
nevertheless had some influence on contemporary literature, music and
painting.  The painters had their own little table with Slevogt as
unofficial chairman; so had the Dadaists during their heyday.  {...} The
elegant Salonkommunisten went there -- Leonhard Frank, George Grosz
(dressed up a l'anglaise with a homburg) and Rudolf Leonhard -- complete
with monocle, silk shirt and a cane of rhinoceros hide to combat
capitalism more effectively.  {...} School reformers were sitting there
next to all kinds of fanatics, revolutionaries next to pickpockets,
people on drugs next to apostles of health-food and vegetarianism.  Such
a mixture caused a great deal of confusion, but it also acted as a
strong stimulant."(24)

Stencl describes the scene from the angle of the Yiddish intellectuals:

"From those fleeing the pogroms in the Ukrainian shtetls, from the
famine in the Russian cities, and from the Revolution, a kind of Jewish
colony formed itself in the west of Berlin, and the Romanische Cafe was
its parliament.  It was buzzing with famous Jewish intellectuals and
activists, well known Jewish lawyers from Moscow and Petersburg, Yiddish
writers from Kiev and Odessa, with flying party-leaders from the extreme
left to the extreme right wing -- it buzzed like a beehive."(25)

It was a scene of lively political activity and heated disputes between
the various factions:

"The Romanische Cafe was not just the focal point of a Jewish colony,
but had really become the place of the ingathering of the exiles.  {...}
People grouped themselves according to parties... something was being
planned at every table!  There were addresses, offices....  Arn
Singalovski, a 'permanent fixture', with his sharp pithy oratory, held
'parliamentary sessions' with two tables pushed together."(26)

The cafe had particular significance for the Yiddish writers as a centre
of literary and publishing activities:

"Associations are founded, publishing firms are started.  The famous
Ullstein Verlag opens a Jewish branch, the Klal Verlag.  The leaders of
the Kultur-lige open a second one.  Another public meeting, another
lecture by a newly-arrived guest, the tables are all fully

The Yiddish writers appear to have been a fairly self-contained group.
Stencl's writing gives little evidence of contact between Yiddish and
German artists in Berlin.  One must, however, remember that Stencl, as
he himself admits, arrived in Berlin ignorant of the European
avant-garde; he calls himself "a small-town lad of the synagogue and
shtibl."(28) Delightfully exemplifying his self-irony is his description
of being quizzed by two German intellectuals and betraying his complete
ignorance of Goethe and Heine -- challenging Goethe, so to speak, to a
poetic duel:  'I tell you what, Dr Suhl, you read me a poem by this
Goethe and I'll read one of mine, and we'll see which is better'.(29)

Stencl was not typical in this respect.  There is ample evidence that
many Yiddish intellectuals were _au fait_ with both contemporary and
classical European writers.  The many European works which appeared in
Yiddish translation in the early years of the century suggest a source
of cross-fertilisation.  Stencl's own education during this period owed
a great deal to the influence of his fellow writers:  Zalmen Schneyer,
for example, talked to Stencl of Richard Dehmel, Dr.  Elyashev lent him
a copy of _Des Knaben Wunderhorn_ and on the day when he let the cattle
stray into a Pomeranian hayfield, he was reading a friend's copy of
_Hedda Gabler_.

Indeed, Stencl's biography demonstrates strong contact between himself
and a group of German intellectuals who befriended him and furthered his
literary interests.  The central influence was Elisabeth
Woehler, one of the most interesting figures in Stencl's memoirs.
Unlike all the other people who figure there, she is only seen
obliquely.  Normally Stencl gives graphic descriptions of people's
faces, dwelling particularly on their eyes and the expression of their
mouth.  In contrast, we have merely sporadic allusions to the
translations of "E.  Woehler" and at one point a comic scene where
Stencl, calling unexpectedly at the house of his German acquaintance,
Richard Miller, is left alone with instructions to make himself at home,
and is covered with confusion when a young woman emerges from the
bathroom, drying her hair on a towel!  In the rather awkward moments
which follow, they start discussing literature, and she reads aloud to
him from Goethe's _Faust_ for the rest of the evening.  It is never
stated that this was Elisabeth Woehler, but from time to time he refers
to "mayn forleyzerin" from Einbeck, Elizabeth Woehler's birthplace.  She
was an art teacher in the Freie Weltliche Schule in Reinickendorf, where
most of the teachers were Socialists, and the pupils were from poor
families.  A propos of the worsening political situation in Germany in
the early thirties, Stencl says of this school: "The teaching of the
Freie Weltliche Schule {...} made one think that the world was going
'forward'; that finally the good in the human being would triumph."(30)

Stencl's relationship with Elisabeth Woehler opened up another society
for him.  He comments at one point that the people he is seeing are
teachers of the Freie Weltliche Schule.  His contact with Elizabeth
Woehler evidently helped him to increase his knowledge of German
literature and European art.  She and other German-Jewish and non-Jewish
intellectuals took an interest in Stencl and tried, often successfully,
to have his poetry published in Germany.(31) His work was translated by
Dr A. Suhl, Etta Federn-Kohlhaas, and Elizabeth Woehler herself, who
learnt Yiddish for his sake.  Her letters to him from 1962 onward are
mainly written on picture postcards of paintings they had admired, and
allude to hours spent together in art galleries.  She visited him in
Whitechapel, and their friendship lasted till her death in 1974.  Her
letters reveal a sensitive, warm and humorous personality; her loving
concern for her old friend shines through them, and an almost
indecipherable note written on her death bed is headed "beloved Stencl."
She organised his escape from Germany with the help of a visitor to the
1936 Berlin Olympics, Christobel Fowler-Sinsheimer, who invited him to
come to London to write an article on English art.(32) In later years
Elisabeth Woehler visited him in Whitechapel, and she left him all her
money in her will.  After her death Stencl planted 100 trees in her
memory in Israel.(33)


Stencl is a greatly underrated poet.  True, the quality of his
substantial output is uneven, and some of the verse, particularly in
later years, is pedantic and banal.  However, his Berlin work is
vibrant, technically accomplished, and full of vivid and original
imagery which reflect the literary currents of the day.  So thought his
contemporary critics, and not just the Yiddishists.  It is interesting
that much of the work was published in the German translations of
Elisabeth Woehler and Dr Suhl before the original Yiddish versions
appeared in book form.  Stencl published in German-Jewish papers, such
as the Leipzig _Juedische Wochenblatt_ and the _Deutsch-Juedische
Volkszeitung_ and in German periodicals, notably the famous
_Weltbuehne_.  The poem cycles _Ring des Saturn_ and _Fisherdorf_ were
published in German editions(34); poems from the latter were broadcast
on German radio and Stencl's work was highly praised by a number of
German critics including Thomas Mann.(35)

Else Lasker-Schueler (who admittedly tended to extravagant utterances,
and whose judgment was perhaps coloured by her obvious predilection for
her blue-eyed young "Hamid") addressed him in a letter as "lieber
grosser Dichter" (`dear great poet') (36) and refers to him in _Das
Hebraeerland_ as "den vertraeumtesten unserer Dichter (`our dreamiest
poet')."(37) Stencl was considerably better known and more highly
regarded as a poet of European standing during his Weimar period than
during his later life in Whitechapel.

Interestingly, although according to Stencl the German translation of
_Fisherdorf_ was among the books destroyed in the book-burning of 1933,
his books of poetry continued to be published in Berlin, in Yiddish, up
till 1936.  Small Yiddish presses somehow managed to print the works of
Jewish writers under the very noses of the Nazis, three years after the
official banning and burning of "decadent" literature.

Stencl's large corpus of poetry encompasses many themes and shows his
mastery of a range of forms and styles.  Underlying his oeuvre of this
period is tension between ancient and modern, Jewish and secular,
country and city, the tradition represented by his life in Poland and
the feeling of being adrift in modern Berlin.  I will concentrate on
three volumes:  _Un du bist got_ ('And you are God'), _Fisherdorf_
('Fishing village'), and _Afn rog_ ('On the corner').  These works
reveal Stencl's poetic development, raise questions of literary
influence, and focus on several themes which arise out of his experience
of Germany and remain central in his work.

In _Un du bist got_ Stencl wrestles with the anguish and inner conflicts
of his early days in Berlin.  He says of the book:

"The struggle of _Un du bist got_ was still inside me -- I was the site
of this battle!  It was a {...} struggle with Satan -- with my own
shadow!  I was searching for the _ikh_ and trying to find the _du_ and
to save myself from both of them... each poem was an attempt to find a
hold, to save myself, to walk a tightrope... getting the taste of life
on my outstretched tongue...."(38)

The letter from his father commenting on the book, and Stencl's reaction
to this letter, pinpoint the conflict which permeates the collection of

"At Shie's house I found a letter from my father {...}.  Letters from
home always drove me mad!  My father's profound friendship for me shone
through the elaborate handwriting, my mother's writing like storks in
flight, full of passionate love, and Tsimele's gentle affection {...}.
When I had read one of these letters, I sat for hours in a distracted
state -- I realised there was a world where hearts are bound to each
other with a thousand threads and however much you pull yourself away
from them, they only become more and more tightly fastened -- you
wriggle as if in a net and sink in an eternal chasm of love and of
hatred for yourself.  {...} In the letter my father inquired about the
book:  He had read about a book by me in a review in a Warsaw newspaper.
He had understood some of the lines which were quoted, but not others.
And why had I not sent him the book?  And above all, what is the meaning
of the title of the book?

Can I write to him, that this is a last, agonising, bloody tearing
myself away from what was -- from my whole being?  -- that the
_anoykhi_, my whole `ikh' is undergoing a change -- has to change!  And
even the `du' {...} has no permanence -- hardly any feeling.... it means
creation, shaping, reflecting itself in a human being, or even perhaps
in the _ikh_, that is, in a _du_?... seeking one's reflection in a
running stream?....  As if one person were pursuing another, to become
one -- the letters home {...} -- can one answer such love with

In this reconstruction of an inner conflict nearly fifty years later,
Stencl relives it intensely, and the same anguish finds expression in
the themes, images and forms of the poems of _Un du bist got_.  The book
consists of three sections:  the first, "Un du bist got," evokes the
search by the _ikh_ for God, for the elusive _du_; in the second, "Un
ale meynen, az zey lebn" (`And everyone thinks he's alive'), the poet
looks at the world and its cruelty to the individual.  The final section
with its Hebrew title "Ve'eheye ketsipor boded al gag" (`And I shall be
like a lonely bird on a roof') also focuses on the poet's isolation in
the world, particularly in the city, but here Stencl moves from the
narrow confines of the individual self, depicting the plight of
humankind in general.

The poems, almost all in blank verse, are strongly expressionist in
their exclamatory, breathless style, and in their imagery:  the use of
the colours white, black and red to produce strong emotional and
symbolic associations is reminiscent of Itsik Manger's ballads and the
Expressionist city poems of Georg Heym.  Indeed the motif of the
apocalyptic city in _Un du bist got_, coupled with the grotesque
surrealism of much of the imagery, also reveals Stencl's affinity with
prevailing literary currents.

In two respects, however, the poems of this collection seem to owe much
to other cultural traditions:  the self who wanders throughout is
essentially the self-conscious 'I' of Romanticism seeking individual
fulfilment.  Like the _ikh_ in Moyshe-Leyb Halpern's poetry, he is
depicted with self-irony, and appears in several guises:  the homeless
wanderer, the clown, the vagabond drummer:

Azoy gey ikh tsvishn aykh,
Ikh bin a paykler,

Der parmet fun mayn paykl iz durkhgerisn, --
Poykt es in mir,
Poykt es in mir -- (p. 5)

('You people / This is how I walk among you, / I am a drummer,/ The skin
of my drum is torn, -- / So the drumming is inside me, / So the drumming
is inside --')

This essentially Romantic self-centred inwardness is intrinsically
different in poetic conception from the outward-moving, universalised
image of Man seen in Expressionist poetry and drama.  The other
significant particularity of these poems lies in the profusion of
imagery and expression drawn from Jewish religious language and ritual.
This fusion of European literary and Jewish religious traits gives much
modern Yiddish poetry, from Mani-Leyb to Sutskever, its specific
dynamic, and here serves to pinpoint the tension which Stencl feels
between the two worlds in which his self resides.

Sometimes the poet achieves a feeling of union with God:

Un du shoymst in mayne beyner,
Vayser vayn in vayse bekhers --

Got, got,
Gebundene shvakhkayt in mir
Mit oysgeshtrektn vaysn haldz...
Mit oysgeshtrekte vayse glider... (p. 9)

('And you foam in my bones, / White wine in white vessels -- // God, God
/ Fettered weakness in me / With stretched-out white neck...  / With
stretched-out white limbs...')

Here the colour white denotes both sparkling wine (the positive idea of
drinking the essence of God), and purification (God entering his bones),
but at the same time evokes the idea of death, as in the final two
lines.  In many of the poems, negative feelings predominate:  the _ikh_
is _hefker_ (p. 3:  'wild', 'licentious'; 'abandoned' in both senses of
the word), and there is a strong sense of the horror of the world and
the cruelty of God.  In one very powerful poem "Iz dokh got ful in ale
gasn" ('For God fills all the streets', p. 23) there is violent pagan
imagery connected with the demanding omnipresence of God:

Veln mir shpaltn fleysh in fleysh,
Veln mir shpaltn himlen in himlen --
Iz dokh got ful in ale gasn!

Brekhn mir orems of,
Biz di hertser ofbrekhn! --
Un zikh faln in di hertser! (p. 23)

('Come, / Let us split flesh in flesh, / Let us split heavens in heavens
{...} // For God fills all the streets!  // Come, / Let us break arms, /
Until the hearts break!  / And fall into each other's hearts!')

This theme of mutilation recalls the violent imagery also connected with
an all-powerful God-figure in Georg Heym's "Die Daemonen der Staedte"
('The demons of the cities') or "Der Gott der Stadt" ('The God of the
city'), and prefigures similar pagan, self-devouring images in many
poems of Avrom Sutskever.

The feeling of being cast adrift is reflected in the river and sea
imagery which recurs frequently in _Un du bist got_.  The _ikh_ is in a
little boat on a wild sea:

Vu ankern?
Az kh'hob moyre far felzn
Az kh'hob moyre far veln,
Un mayn zegl iz gelekhert --

Tsvey shvarts farloshene tare-likht,
Shtekn mayne ruders
In shvarts tsevildevetn veln-gevirbl,
Un mayn shifl vaklt un vaklt. (p. 18)

('Where shall I anchor?  / As I am afraid of rocks / As I am afraid of
waves, / And my sail is full of holes -- // Two black extinguished
morgue candles, / My oars stick / In the black wild turmoil of the
waves, / And my little boat rocks and rocks.)

The sea voyage as an image of human fate has a venerable pedigree, from
the medieval Ship of Fools, through _Moby Dick_, Rimbaud, and, in
Stencl's own time, Brecht's early poetry of the _Hauspostille_.(40)
Stencl's poem incorporates the image of oars as _tare-likht_, the
candles used in the ritual washing of the dead.  These candles are
extinguished -- a double image of death -- and so his oars are powerless
against the turmoil of the sea.  The other dimension of this image is
that the Jewish religious tradition has no longer the power to save him
from shipwreck -- this is a vivid poetic evocation of the turmoil he
mentioned in relation to the letter from his father.(41)

The second section of the collection focuses on the world rather than on
the divine, and on the fragility of human existence.  Here the poet
works his way towards a defiant affirmation of the world, despite the
anguish and cruelty of existence, often deliberately using Jewish
religious language and imagery in a secular and individualistic context:

Nisht vagn zol keyner
In mayn kodshe-kodoshim tsu kumen,
Vu shotns shvarts bataleste
Tuen shtile avoydes
Koyrim falndik un shorkhndik (p. 37)

('No one should dare / Enter my Holy of Holies, / Where shadows in black
prayer shawls / Perform their silent devotions / Kneeling in adoration,

Here and throughout the poem, the language of worship (specifically of
Yom Kippur), is applied to himself:  the shrine is within the _ikh_:
the 'shadows' within that holy place -- his poetic inner life -- are
seen as worshippers in _taleysim_ prostrating themselves before the Holy
of Holies which is the self.  It is in using images from his tradition
in this way that he most clearly evokes the gulf between himself and his

In the final section we see a foretaste of the Stencl of _32_ and of the
later Whitechapel poems.  The compassion for suffering humankind which
marks his later poetry is evident, and is presented from the viewpoint
of the lone observer, the bird on the roof.  Strong Expressionist traits
are here, as in the lyric of the apocalyptic city.  Human beings are
helpless marionettes, and the cruelty of the times is again evoked
through the image of bare human bones:

Kritst undzer tsayt
Di maysim ire
Af oysgesheylte mentshn-beyner.

Vet der kumendiker dor runtslen
Un mit pakhed
Mishn di bleter --

Bleter fun naye kisvey-koydesh,
Geshribn af oysgesheylte mentshn-beyner... (p. 85)

('Our time scratches / Its deeds / On bare human bones.  // Reading
them, / The future generation will shrivel / And in terror / Turn the
pages -- // Pages of new Holy Books, / Written on bare human bones...')

The _ikh_ is far from absent from the poems of this final section, but
its fate is seen in the context of the whole of humanity, which it views
with an ironic, critical eye.  The perversity of existence is captured
in the poem where the _ikh_ is a miller whose grain is mouldering
despite the turning of the windmill sails, and who screams for water
despite the rushing stream which he has dug:

Un ikh shtey af ale hoykhe berg
Un shray:

Berger dreyen,
Toln shprudlen,
Un mir shrayen,
Un mir shrayen... (p.86)

('And I stand on all the high mountains / And scream:  / Water!  /
Water!  // Mountains spin, / Valleys gush forth, / And we scream, / And
we scream...')

The impotence (or is it divine dissatisfaction?) of the _ikh_ is also
that of all humanity, and the scream -- which has now almost become a
cliche of Expressionism -- is an effective motif here and elsewhere in
the collection.

Despite the prevailing anguish or even despair of the poems, the first
two sections end on a note of reconciliation.  The first finishes with
the _ikh_ achieving union with the divine through an ecstatic chasidic
dance, while the second section culminates in a mysterious allegory,
"Dos shlisele" ('The key', p. 63), one of the few poems to have a title.
Here the _ikh_ as hermit has shut his room against the world and God,
and thrown the key through the window.  In a strange dream-like sequence
he is led out of his room by two whores who have broken down the door,
to find the key on an altar:  it is the key to 'the lower paradise', to
the 'the princess's seven-doored palace' and to the 'tower of
young-life'; the altar on which the key lies is kept watered with human
blood.  He suddenly recognises it as the discarded key to his room, the
whores are his sister and his beloved, and with them and the magic key
the _ikh_ finds the way to these three idyllic places.  The poem has
affinities with the esoteric symbolism of the stories of Reb Nakhmen
Bratslever.  Like these, it seems to represent a rejection of narrow
individualism and a commitment to humankind.  Through this the profane
is purified and transfigured into the good and the beautiful.

The final poem of the whole collection is ambiguous.  It can be
interpreted as affirming this social commitment.  The poet sees his past
years as milestones lying on the way which leads to God.  The passers-by
use these to tap the dust off their shoes:

Bay yedn klap
Git mayn yung harts a tsapl (p.91)

('At every knock / My young heart quivers.')

Though he sees the future years as "balodnt mit shvere shteyner"
('burdened with heavy stones'), the final image can be seen as positive,
suggesting that his heart remains alive through human contact:

Inmitn veg
Unter mayn letstn vaysn shteyn
Vet eybik tsaplen mayn harts
Far yedn farbaygeyer,
Vos geyt tsu dir (p. 92)

('Along the road / Under my last white stone / My heart will always
quiver / For every passer-by / On his way to you.')

The poem can also be read as a vision of deep pessimism:  while others
find their way to God, the _ikh_, remains inert on the roadside, serving
simply as an aid to their passage, and never achieving union with the
God whom he seeks throughout these anguished poems.  This ambiguity
reflects the mood of the whole collection.

In _Fisherdorf_(42), in sharp contrast to _Un du bist got_, Stencl felt
he had found himself, had resolved the conflicts of the earlier poems.

"It is worth all the spectres, all the seven kinds of hell to feel
suddenly that out of the spider's webs a canvas is spread before you
which stretches from the depths of hell to the seventh heaven, and you
climb from stage to stage, and from all the constellations of images
living entities emerge {...} and you stand face to face with your _du_
as in a bright mirror -- indeed the non-real is so alive, you can grasp
it with your hands {....} You mould yourself in pieces of earth and you
capture your own life -- at that time I called these poems

Thomas Mann's appreciation, though implying a certain stereotyped view
of "the Jewish race," pinpoints the essential pictorial quality of the

"This astonishing Jew [...] overturns all the usual ideas about the
'intellectualism' of his race which are current in this country, for his
passionate poetic sensuality, his love for the "warm steaming earth, are
obviously totally spontaneous, and his perception and vivid imagery are
[...] enviable.  [...] This new poet will be much talked about, I

Stencl's own description of the poems as still-lifes is apposite(44).
He turns from the turmoil of the self, to the outside world:  the _ikh_
seldom appears.  Jewish themes are completely absent, and the poems
observe the life of a rural German village, in its two spheres of work,
the land and the sea, and the lives of the peasant and the fisherman.
Stencl sees the two essential aspects of the people's existence as work
and rest, and the two sections of the book have these titles.  However,
the themes encompass, too, Stencl's deep feeling for the often menacing
power of the land and sea, and the complex inter-relationship between
them and the farmers and fishermen.  Land and sea, living entities, are
part of the people who depend on them.

The poems are Impressionist; they capture and eternalise a fleeting
moment, for example, villagers going home from church on a sunny Sunday
morning in "Fun kloysterl" ('Going home from church' p. 55).  The
atmosphere of working people at leisure, and the colourful procession in
the sunlight are caught by an extended metonymical image, where the day
itself is described in terms of the festive Sunday caps of the women:

Der tog iz a varemer un a frumer,
Geyt er in a likhtikn heybl ongeton,
Mit flaterdike breyte bender,
Mit flaterdike hele shleyfn
Un groyse shnirn shvartse kreln.

('The day is warm and pious, / Dressed in a bright little cap, / With
broad fluttering ribbons, / With bright fluttering bows / And long
strings of black beads.')

One image at the end typifies the playful gaiety of the Sunday morning,
the young men of the village lounging on the corners, showing off, one
imagines, to the passing girls:

Un di yungen af di rogn
Brenen mit tshuprines in zun
Tsiyen oygn un gebn zikh in di zaytn,
Un tapn mesers
In di tife hoyzn-tashn.

('And the boys on the corners / Their hair burning in the sunlight /
Make faces and nudge one another / And feel the knives / In their deep

Often a scene is embodied in human or animal gestures or in inamimate
objects as in Stencl's `Hoyf mit botshan' (`Farmyard with Stork', p. 8)
with its fluttering doves, laden carts, melancholy horse walking round
and round as the threshing machine creaks, and the unexpected,
humorously and affectionately observed stork on the roof:

Blaybt er shteyn, der groyser botshan
Af zayn oysgebetn shtroydakh,
Heybt of a langn, darn fus
Tsu zayn nideriker rie
Un trakht tsu a harblekhn inyen.

('There he stands, the great stork / On his thatched roof with its bed
of straw / Lifts a long, thin leg / To his short-sighted eyes / And
devises some difficult business.')

Many of these poems are like poetic equivalents of Velasquez' painting
of the old woman cooking eggs, or of Degas' laundresses.  Stencl writes
unsentimentally of the beauty and dignity of labour and the toil-worn
human being after a long life of work.  In "Nokh der arbet" ('After
work'), describing the peasants and animals resting after a day's work
and waiting for the next, he uses a slow and stately rhythm to lend
dignity to the theme:

Afn shvel fun der vayser khate
Roykhert s'poyerl zayn letste fayke
Un varft arayn a getseylt vort.
Un zayn opgearbet ferdl in shtal
Zupt groyse zupn
Un kratst mit a vakldiker podkeve.

S'brekht azoy mekhayedik in di beyner
Azoy menukhedik gut,
Un dem hunts ofgeshtelte oyern
Khapn of shtiklekh shmuesn
Mkoyekhn morgndikn veter...' (p.26)

('On the doorstep of the white hut / The peasant smokes his last pipe /
And puts in a measured word or two / And his exhausted horse in the
stable / Gulps with great gulps / And scratches itself with a shaky
hoof.  // Bones ache so pleasurably / So relaxingly / And the dog's
pricked-up ears / Catch fragments of talk / About tomorrow's

Stencl evokes old people in a vivid painterly manner, as in the "Balade
fun der borevke-bobe" ('Ballad of the old bilberry-seller'), where the
first lines focus on the hands of the old woman, comparing them with
bushes torn out by the roots:

Aroysgerisene kzhakes mit vortslen
Zeyen oys ire oysgetriknte hent.
Un di borevkes vos zi mest on
Zaynen zikher die aroysgerinene blut-tropn. (p. 48)

('Her dried-up hands / Look like torn-out bushes with roots / And the
bilberries which she measures / Are surely drops of blood which have
trickled out'.)

This synecdoche (a common trope in Stencl's verse) evokes the old woman
by describing her hands.  The image of the dry roots is dominant, the
reader first perceiving them as roots and then as hands, which therefore
have a disembodied, dehumanised quality.  Stencl's image is violent --
the shrubs have been torn out and are bleeding.  Inanimate nature fused
with human suffering (the toil of the old woman's life) is conveyed by
the metaphor of the bilberries as drops of blood.

The perspective of the poem changes in the final two stanzas; the
omniscient author intervenes to tell the story of the old woman's life:

Ven zi iz a yung-blut geven,
Hot zi shoyn ire ershte milkh farkoyft in shtot,
Yener, vos hot ir dem boykh gemakht,
Hot zi ahingefirt vi a fule milkh-kan!

('When she was young, / She sold her first milk in town; / The man who
made her belly big / Took her there like a brimming milk-can!)

The word _blut_ links the second stanza to the first, contrasting the
image of toil with that of gaiety.  The idea of carefree youth in the
first line, however, is shattered by the following lines showing a woman
exploited by her lover as a milk-producer, _a fule milkh-kan_.  In the
end we find her with fallen cheeks -- an empty, battered old milk-can:

A blekhene milkh-kan a tseboygene,
Shteyt zi azoy mit ire ayngefalene bakn.

('A tin milk can, all bent, / So she stands there with her sunken

Here, as in his later London poems, Stencl impassively paints the fate
of the poor through metaphor.

His deep empathy with the forces of the natural world also underlies the whole cycle(45).
An intimate relationship with nature can be a partnership or a fight for survival, as shown
in Stencl's sea-poems.  "Dos shturem-lid" ('Storm-poem') starts with a dramatic image:

A kats mit grine oygn farzhmurete,
Mit ayngetsoygene sharfe gratshes,
Iz der groyser okean in zun,
Ayndrimlendik brumt er fun tsevaremtn boykh aroys! (p.90)

('A cat with green squinting eyes, / Her sharp claws drawn in, / Is the
great ocean in the sun, / Dozing he mutters from the depths of his warm

This image extends throughout the poem, with the sailor-speaker defying
the sea:  "Ho ho ho, we are not mice {...}."  The great cat springing
and being tamed is the eternal battle between man and the sea.

Mit zegl-shtrik bindn mir ire lapes!
Un kukndik in ire oygn ire grine,
Zingen mir fun vayber, fun ketsishe!

('With the ropes of our sails we bind her paws, / And looking into her
green eyes / We sing of feline women!)

The cat metaphor links the sea and women, the two sources of the
sailors' lust for life.  Stencl's sailors with their empathy with and
defiance of the sea, their wild sexuality and lust for life, resemble
the vagabond adventurers and seafarers of Brecht's contemporaneous
_Hauspostille_.  _Fisherdorf_ does not romanticize nature but evokes its
raw interdependence with man.


Another major theme in Stencl is the city, in particular the cities of
Berlin and London.  His feeling for the city and the plight of its poor
echo Morris Rosenfeld and the so-called sweatshop poets, the first
Yiddish poets whom Stencl read.  The Berlin poems, however, are
Expressionist in tone and atmosphere.  In the little-known _Afn rog_, a
long poem in two parts published in 1935, Stencl reveals his uneasy
awareness of the darkening political atmosphere.  The _ikh_ wanders
through the streets of the city with its brooding atmosphere of threat.
With images of blood, death and decay, and intimations of a barely
suppressed scream, Stencl paints a surreal nightmare city:

Mit tog-ofgeyn iz aza shoyder in blut
Oystsutrifn tsvishn tseshotnte rogn,
Yeder fremder, yeder harter trot in droysn
Hilkht op in di shleyfn mit a vildn yogn.

Mit tog-fargeyn nemt arum aza shrek,
Yeder rog fun shteyner a tsevorfener hoyfn!
Un dos harts iz a kind mit vakldikn geyn,
Vos vil fun eygenem shotn antloyfn (p. 3)

('At daybreak there is such terror in the blood / Dripping out between
shadowed corners, / Every strange, hard footstep outside / Echoes in my
temples, wildly racing.  // At dusk such fear surrounds me / Every
corner is a scattered heap of stones.  / And the heart is a child
walking unsteadily, / Trying to flee from its own shadow.')

The poem is diffuse, illogical, with recurring nightmare motifs of
birth, death, blood, fear, high mountains, deep valleys, heaps of
stones, and an indistinct 'she', apparently the beloved.  The _ikh_, in
a crepuscular Poe-like atmosphere, speculates on her reaction to his

Un zikh-sharndik azoy mit krepenem shorkh,
Un in hartsn aza zisn nogn,
Vet zi plutsling ofshimern mare-zaydn
Far a farbaygeyer do tsvishn di rogn -- . (p. 11)

('And so shuffling along with a rustle of crepe / In her heart such a
sweet gnawing, / She will suddenly shimmer forth in silk-like mourning /
Before a passer-by here among the street-corners...')

Though rarely mentioned, the city is a constant brooding presence.  The
street-corners seen as scattered heaps of stones suggest decay and
desolation.  While sounding the existential themes of Expressionist
poetry, the poem's specifically Jewish dimension expresses the unease of
a Jewish poet in Berlin in the mid-thirties.  Stencl tells us he wrote
the poem "in Berlin, in di 'dray-vokhn' 1935" -- the three weeks between
the Fast of Tammuz and Tisha b'Av, traditionally associated with


In his Berlin period Stencl was influenced by prevailing artistic
movements, while managing at the same time to write his own brand of
idiosyncratic and original verse.  His underlying themes of the city,
the vitality of the countryside and the natural environment, and the
life of working people, together with the way in which these
preoccupations interact and clash with his traditional Jewish roots,
form the inspiration of his poetry until the end of his life.  The
Berlin period was a formative one.  At least one student of Yiddish
poetry believes that Stencl has been largely ignored by literary
historians because he was not part of or identified with any literary
group.(46) This suggestion is supported to a certain extent by his
biography, though it should be modified in the light of the above
discussion.  In his Berlin period Stencl had close contact with both
Yiddish and German-Jewish literary groups and with both Jewish and
non-Jewish individuals; during this period he made a name for himself,
producing what is perhaps his finest poetry.  In London, with a
restricted and ever-contracting readership, he was isolated and sank
into oblivion.  Perhaps the reassessment now under way will accord him
the recognition his best work deserves.


1. "It was only with no. 72 in January 1946 that the journal was
'regularized' and permanently assumed the name _Loshn un lebn_" (See
"Checklist of _Loshn un lebn_." [in projected volume - LP]).  Before this,
the journals were the individually titled 'yidishe heftlekh', generally
referred to as _Shtentsls heftlekh_ (1940-1945).  In this article the
abbreviation LL is used for _Loshn un lebn_. See Prager 1990, p. 425.

2. Zalman Reyzn, _Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese un
filologye_, 4 vols (Vilna, 1929) iv, p. 625 (all translations are mine
-- HV).

3. LL October 1973-January 1974, 48.

4. In Stencl's memory the verb used for 'to die' is _nifter vern_,
whereas the actual telegram uses the blunter _shtarbn_.

5. LL January 1967, 21.

6. See Avraham Greenbaum, "To 'My wise and understanding son':  Letters
from Poland to Germany, 1922-1934."  [to appear in the projected volume
_Stencl and His Circle_ -- LP]

7. LL January 1967, 23.

8. LL August/September 1968, 33.

9. See my study of the relationship between Else Lasker-Schueler and
Stencl:  Heather Valencia.  _Else Lasker-Schueler und Abraham Nochem
Stenzel.  Eine umbekannte Freundschaft_, Frankfurt-am-Main/New York:
Campus Verlag, 1995.

10.  Walter Laqueur, _Weimar:  A Cultural History_ (New York, 1980), p.

11.  _lokshn_ was a common slang expression for dollars or other foreign

12. LL February/March 1967, 40-41.

13. LL April/May 1967, 32.

14.  As Stencl described it:  "The lower one sinks, the more deeply one
is with God; being on one's knees together with the lowliest of human
beings is an act of worship....  I got close to human beings in their
forlornness -- that is probably the reason for my 'immediacy'."
Stencl's use of the final term is probably a reference to Zalmen
Shneyer's judgment on his poetic talent (see LL November/December 1967,

15.  LL January 1968, 24.

16.  LL April/May 1967, 43.

17.  The Polish-born Yiddish writer Shmuel Levin {Samuel Lewin}
(1890-1959) lived in Berlin from 1920 to 1934.  See NL 5:298-300.

18.  When Dr.  Yisroel (Izidor) Elyashev (Bal-Makhshoves) kept his poems
for three weeks, Stencl was reduced to a state of almost neurotic
anxiety:  "This is probably the way a mother feels who has given away
her baby to a wetnurse; she constantly touches her breast -- something
there is not right.  The packet of manuscripts which I had carried about
for months, for years in my breast pocket, which had kept on growing
like a living thing -- I didn't have it any more.  An emptiness there,
an unease -- I keep nervously feeling the place:  'It's not there!'  I
hear my lips whispering."  (LL February/April 1968, 22)

19. LL June 1967, 26.

20. LL January 1968, 25.

21. LL February/March 1967, 36.

22. Idem.

23.  LL January 1968, p. 21.  The disorientation of the
newly-assimilated or half-assimilated Jew is a major theme of
20th-century Yiddish literature (for example Hersh-Dovid Nomberg's
_Fliglman_ or Dovid Bergelson's _Tsvishn emigrantn_).  Stencl points to
a real-life example of this tragic character in the person of Fritz
Mordechai Kaufman (1888-1922), the general secretary of the Jewish
Arbeiterfuersorgeamt (Workers' Social Welfare Office) who committed
suicide at his desk.  Stencl sees his fate as a symbol of the divided
self, "the conflict within him between 'German' and 'Jew'... even his
names 'Fritz' and 'Mordechai' testify to this... they warred within him
like Jacob and Esau in their mother Rachel's body, like Cain and Abel
bringing their sacrifice, and one murdered the other...."  (LL
February/March 1967, 37).  In 1913 Kaufmann issued the journal _Die
Freistatt_, said to be the first German-language periodical devoted to
the cultivation of Yiddish language and literature.

24. Laqueur, _Weimar_ pp. 227-228.

25. LL October/November 1968, 24.

26.  LL May/June 1969, 16.  Born in Belarus and educated in Germany and
Switzerland, Dr.  Arn Singalovski (1889-1956) was famous as a brilliant
public speaker.  His great life purpose was vocational education and he
was a major figure in ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation and Training)
dedicated to productivization of the Jewish masses.  He was also known
by the pseudonym Arn Tshenstokhover.  See NL 6:423-425.

27.  LL October/November 1968, 24.  These loud, voluble groups disputing
in what must have sounded like an outlandish _jargon_ would have been
conspicuous even in the hotch-potch of characters and nationalities
which Walter Laqueur describes, and yet I have not found any reference
to the East European Yiddish-speaking intellectuals in general works
about the Weimar literary scene.  Cf. the pre-World War II Polish
literary world where Yiddish work, though vibrant, was ignored.

28. Ibid, 29.

29. LL February/April 1970, 23.

30. LL February/March 1973, 23.

31.  For example Dr.  A. Suhl, Arnold Zweig, Richard Miller, Robert and
Erna Seitz, the publisher V.O.  Stomps, and Alfred Richard Meyer, the
president of the Kartell Lyrischer Autoren.

32.  Christabel Fowler was a Quaker who helped many Jews to escape from
Germany in the Thirties.  Together with Elizabeth Woehler, she
translated two of Stencl's longer poems into English:  _Di letste nakht;
tripikhon_ (`The Last Night; Triptych') and _Di balade fun di
grine epelekh_ (`The Ballad of the Green Apples').  Her husband, Hermann
Sinsheimer (born 1884 Freinsheim/Rheinpfalz, died 1950, London), was the
artistic director of the Munich Kammerspiele, and from 1929-33 the
feuilleton editor of the _Berliner Tageblatt_ He was the author of
novels, a comedy _So sind wir_ ('The way we are'), and a book of
memoirs, _Gelebt im Paradies_ ('I have lived in paradise').

33.  It would be illuminating to find out how a woman with her
interests, ideas and political beliefs managed to survive in Germany,
mentally and physically, throughout the Hitler years; unfortunately, it
seems as if no testimony from her exists, for in her will she requested
that a box containing all her personal papers should be burnt, unopened.
Some of her later translations of Stencl are signed 'Eva Voelker',
presumably to conceal her identity.

34. See bibliography below.

35.  Extracts from critical comments on the earlier German edition,
_Fischerdorf_ are quoted at the end of the Yiddish edition.  Thomas Mann
writes:  "This Jew is to be admired for his instinct for plasticity and
his daring imagery.  When one reads the poems of A.N.  Stencl, all the
ideas one has here about the famous 'intellectualism' of the Jewish race
become null and void.  Stencl's passionate poetic emotion and his love
for the 'warm steaming earth' are obviously completely natural and even
the prose writer has to be jealous of the penetrating power of Stencl's
imagery.  I believe that people will talk a great deal about this new
poet'.  Other positive comments are quoted from the _Vossische Zeitung_,
the _Prager Presse_, and the _Deutsch-Juedische Volkszeitung_.

36.  Else Lasker-Schueler, _Briefe_ vol.2, ed. by Margarete Kupper
(Munich:  Koesel Verlag, 1969), p. 181.

37.  Else Lasker-Schueler, _Prosa und Schauspiele_ (Munich:  Koesel
Verlag, 1962), p. 892.

38. LL July/August 1971, p. 24.

39.  LL May/June 1971, pp. 19-20.  Two numbers of _Loshn un lebn_ are
dated March/April 1971.  This is the later one, and should be dated
May/June.  See "Checklist of _Loshn un lebn_," endnote 19, in the 
projected Stencl volume.

40.  Brecht's _Hauspostille_ was first published in Berlin in 1927.
Mani-Leyb's poem "Tsu velkhn hafn vet der vint undz brengen?"  (`To what
harbour will the wind take us?') also uses the concept of the ship
drifting helplessly on the waves to denote the modern Jew deprived of
ancient certainties.

41. See Stencl's discussion of the letter from his father quoted above.

42.  _Fisherdorf_ was written in 1926.  The village it refers to was
Neuendorf on the Island of Wolin.  The German edition was published in
1931, and the Yiddish edition in 1933.

43. LL July / August 1971, p. 26.

44.  Elizabeth Woehler reported other comments which Stencl made about
Fisherdorf in conversation with her:  "Actually it is a narrative.  The
poems are connected with each other" (note in EW's handwriting in the
Frankfurt archive).  To a certain extent this is true in that the cycle
moves from spring to winter, and there is a love-jealousy triangle
hinted at in the poems which deal with the lives of Jan, Marusha, and
the robber Hendrikes, but the poems do stand on their own as individual
lyrical poems.

45.  Empathy with nature is also one of the main characteristics of the
later London poetry, where bright spots of natural beauty illuminate the
lives of the East End dwellers:  a striking example is "Der
Shemiramis-gortn fun Vaytshepl" ('The Hanging Gardens of Whitechapel'),
analysed by S. Prawer in the first annual Avrom-Nokhem Shtensl Lecture,
_A.N.  Stencl, Poet of Whitechapel_ (Oxford 1984).

46.  See Jeffrey Grossman, 'Far vos ignorirn di literatur-historiker
A.-N.  Shtenslen?' in _Oksforder yidish_ vol.1, ed. by Dovid Katz,
(London:  Harwood Academic Publishers, 1990), pp. 91-106.


Grossman, Jeffrey, 'Farvos ignoriren di literatur-historiker A.-N.
Stentslen?', in _Oksforder yidish_ vol.1, ed. by Dovid Katz, (London:
Harwood Academic Publishers, 1990), pp. 91-106.

Laqueur, Walter, _Weimar, A Cultural History, 1918-1933_, (New York:
Perigee Books, 1980).

Lasker-Schueler, Else, _Das Hebraeerland_, _Gesammelte
Werke_ vol. 2, ed. Margarete Kupper, (Munich: Koesel Verlag, 1962).

Lasker-Schueler, Else, _Wo ist unser buntes Theben, Briefe von Else
Lasker-Schueler_ vol. 2, ed. Margarete Kupper, (Munich: Koesel
Verlag, 1969).

_Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur_, vols. 1-8, New
York: Congress of Jewish Culture, 1956-1981.

Prager, Leonard, _Yiddish Culture in Britain_ (Frankfurt: Peter
Lang, 1990).

Prawer, S.S., _A.N.Stencl, Poet of Whitechapel_ (Oxford:
Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies, 1984).

Reyzn, Zalman, _Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese un
filologye_ (Vilna: Farlag fun B. Kletskin, 1928-29).

Shtentsl, Avrom-Nokhem, _Un du bist got_ (Leipzig: Shemesh
Farlag, 1924).

Shtentsl, Avrom-Nokhem, _32_ (Berlin: "Energiadruck", 1933).

Shtentsl, Avrom-Nokhem, _Fisherdorf_ (Berlin: Farlag un
Drukeray "Energia", 1933).

Shtentsl, Avrom-Nokhem, _Afn rog_ (Berlin, 1935).
End of _The Mendele Review_ vol 7 no. 004 [Sequential No. 130]
Leonard Prager, editor

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