The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language
(A Companion to MENDELE)


Contents of Vol. 09.005  [Sequential No. 157]
19 April 2005

TMR Eighth Anniversary Issue

1) In this issue (ed.)
2) On Henryk Berlewi (David Mazower)
3) Coming issue: Menke
4) Coming book reviews
5) Books and Journals Received

1) ----------------------------------------------------------------------

Date: 19 April 2005
From: Leonard Prager
Subject: In This Issue

Starting with this issue of TMR, which is an 8th anniversary issue, we are introducing a new regular column on Yiddish and the Graphic Arts. It will be written by David Mazower, a journalist with BBC radio in London and a scholar of Yiddish culture (as well as an occasional contributor to TMR). I want especially to thank Noyekh Miller for his steady help throughout the past eight years of TMR's growth and development.

We will highlight in particular the visual dimension in Yiddish book publishing, focussing on modern Yiddish illustrated books.  In all the leading centres of Yiddish book production, from Warsaw and Kiev to Paris and New York, Jewish artists could be found at the heart of Yiddish cultural life.  Their friendships with writers and publishers, and their prominence as theatre designers and newspaper cartoonists made them natural collaborators across a wide range of illustrated books, from children’s tales to modernist literature. 

It is hoped that this column will help stimulate wider interest in the field of Yiddish and the graphic arts.  The subject remains relatively unexplored, although in recent years a growing number of scholarly publications and library exhibitions have added to our knowledge to some of the key figures. [1] However, much basic work remains to be done, especially in the fields of bibliography and attribution, essential building blocks for future scholarship. Our new feature in TMR will provide some of that basic scholarship, in particular by assembling a bibliography of Yiddish illustrated books, beginning with some of the major artists working in this field.

Our first article looks at the work of the Polish Jewish artist Henryk Berlewi [Berlevi], a leading illustrator of Yiddish books in 1920s Warsaw.  It also discusses the re-emergence of an important cartoon by Berlewi, a product of his involvement with the Vilna Troupe and their landmark premiere of Anski’s play The Dybbuk. 


Date: 19 April 2005
From: David Mazower
Subject: On Henryk Berlewi

A.  HENRYK BERLEWI [ HENRIK BERLEVI ] (1894 – 1967)  (2)

More than most artists, Henryk Berlewi resists easy categorisation. He was active for six decades as a painter, graphic designer and theorist of art and design, but above all he was a restless innovator, active in many fields, experimenting with radically different styles, and switching between Jewish and non-Jewish artistic circles with apparent ease.  Today he is mostly remembered as an abstract artist, who paved the way for later trends like optical art. All but forgotten is his impressive contribution to Yiddish book design and Yiddish typography in the early 1920s.  This work, although limited to a small number of items, is of outstanding quality and represents one of the high points of Polish Yiddish modernism.

Berlewi was born in Warsaw in 1894 into an assimilated Polish Jewish family. As a teenager he studied art in Warsaw, Antwerp (1909 -10) and Paris (1911 - 12), then returned to Poland in 1913 and for a few years was mainly active in Polish art circles. However, in the period 1918 – 22 Berlewi returned to Jewish themes and was a well-known and popular figure in Yiddish literary, artistic and theatrical circles. (3) A fluent draughtsman, his sketchbooks from these years are filled with finely executed portraits of Jewish workers and the many Jewish writers, artists and folklorists who made Warsaw such a thriving centre of Jewish cultural life.  At the same time he became the artistic standard-bearer of the group known as Di Khalyastre [The Gang], the group of Yiddish expressionist writers led by Uri-Tsvi Grinberg, Perets Markish and Meylekh Ravitsh.  Berlewi’s brand of Jewish expressionist art and in particular his radical experiments with Yiddish typography are the perfect counterpart to the angry, elemental and fragmented language of the Khalyastre poets in this short-lived outburst of Yiddish ‘revolutionary excitement’. (4)

His flowing draughtsmanship is evident in the cover drawing for Sh. Londinski’s poetry collection Flamen (Flames) of 1920.  A buxom Venus rises naked from the waves, her full-length tresses falling in shimmering ripples behind her against an Art Deco sunburst.  With its wholesome eroticism and fluent curves, the effect is reminiscent of another draughtsman-typographer, the English artist Eric Gill. 

But Berlewi reserved his most striking and avant-garde Yiddish graphics for his collaborations with the leading Khalyastre poets Markish and Grinberg in the early ‘20s. For the cover of Markish’s poem Di Kupe (The Heap), published in 1921, Berlewi devised a striking gold-on-black composition in which the massive stone-like blocks of the title letters rise organically and almost imperceptibly out of a stylised landscape of mountain peaks.  Equally imaginative and even more abstract is Berlewi’s extraordinary design for the cover of Markish’s Radyo (Radio).  Here the Yiddish letters of the title have mutated into radio waves, lightning flashes of jagged and fractured forms which are almost unrecognisable as individual letters. And in somewhat more figurative vein, for Grinberg’s Mefisto (Mephistopheles) Berlewi produced a cover illustration combining his trademark geometric Yiddish lettering and a portrait of Grinberg smoking a pipe.

1921 marked the beginning of Berlewi’s acquaintance with the pioneering avant-garde artist, illustrator and typographer El Lissitsky, a formative influence on the younger man.  Berlewi moved to Berlin in 1922, and devoted much of his time to developing an all-encompassing theory of abstract art and design which he called ‘mechano-faktura’.  However he made one final and highly influential contribution to Jewish expressionism in his graphic work for the Yiddish journal Albatros (Albatross) from 1922 - 23.  Published in four issues in Warsaw and Berlin, under the editorship of Uri Tsvi Grinberg, the journal has been described by one historian as “a milestone in the integration of poetic, essayistic, graphic and typographic values”.  (5)

From 1928 until the late 1930s, Berlewi spent most of his time in Paris and Belgium.  He returned to figurative art, was active in scenic design, and produced portraits of prominent political and literary figures.  During the Second World War Berlewi joined the French resistance, and only returned to painting in 1947. A slow and deliberate painter, Berlewi now produced still lives in the painstaking, almost trompe l’oeil style of the Old Masters. He died in Paris in 1967.   





A number of important paintings and drawings by Berlewi came to light recently at the auction of the personal collection of a good friend of the artist, the Yiddish writer and painter  Mendel Mann.  Among the sketches several portraits of Yiddish cultural figures stood out - the singer, writer, photographer and folklorist Menakhem Kipnis (1878 – 1942), the painter Maurycy Minkovski (1881 - 1930), and the writer Yosef Opatoshu (1886 – 1954).  Also included was a cartoon by Berlewi which provides an insider’s satirical view of  perhaps the defining moment in the cultural life of post-WW1 Yiddish Warsaw, the sensational success enjoyed by the Vilna Troupe’s production of Ansky’s mystical drama Tsvishn tsvey veltn, oder der dibek (Between Two Worlds, or The Dybbuk. (6)

Berlewi had been closely involved with the genesis of the Vilna Troupe’s production. He was among a small group of actors, writers and theatre folk who listened to Ansky giving one of his first readings of the play in Warsaw, in the hall of the Yiddish Writers Club. (7)  It was more than likely that he was also among the large crowd who came to mourn Ansky following his death on 8 November 1920 and heard Mordecai Mazo, the director of the Vilna Troupe, make a public promise to stage the play by the end of the traditional thirty-day period of mourning. Berlewi was the artistic advisor to the company as it worked round the clock to make good on Mazo’s pledge, bringing up the curtain at Warsaw’s Elysium Theatre on the opening night of 9 December 1920.  Indeed, Berlewi was also responsible for the production’s defining public image, a highly stylised black and white portrait of the ill-fated lovers Khonen and Leye, which was used both on the poster and the programme.  

In Berlewi’s cartoon, a large cow labelled Dybbuk stands with its legs wide apart.  Underneath the cow are a group of actors in costume; four of them are drinking milk direct from the cow’s teats while the fifth directs a jet of milk into a bucket.  Under the group is the caption Di vilner trupe (The Vilna Troupe), and several of the figures are clearly recognisable as characters from the play, particularly the young lovers Khonen and Leye. The cow has a crooked smile and a nasty glint in its eye and has turned its head to stare at the sixth figure in the picture.  This  downcast man sitting by himself in the corner is the only figure Berlewi identifies by name - the director of the Vilna Troupe’s 1920 premiere of Ansky’s play, Dovid Herman.

Let us note at this point that Berlewi’s design parodies and pays homage to one of the great works of classical antiquity: the Etruscan bronze sculpture known as Lupa Capitolina, the she-wolf that protected and suckled Romulus and Remus, the twins who legend has it founded the city of Rome.   The Vilna Troupe’s actors greedily crane their heads upwards to fill their mouths with milk in an almost identical pose to the chubby twins in the famous Roman landmark. (8)



Berlewi’s original sketch is undated and lacks a caption; fortunately however both are included in a reproduction of the cartoon in an obscure volume of memoirs published several decades later by the Polish Yiddish journalist Ber Kutsher.  This gives a date of 1921, a title - A melkndike ku (A Milking Cow) - and a caption, as spoken by Dovid Herman: “Tsugegreyt zey a ku….s’rint in di piskes…, un ikh?” (“I got them a cow….the milk’s pouring into their mouths…but what about me?”)

What is not yet clear is exactly what prompted Berlewi’s jaundiced reaction to the runaway success of the Dybbuk and also perhaps to the mania for mysticism and the Dybbuk craze which the production set off.  That the production was a smash-hit is undeniable - according to one account,  the company gave 390 performances of the play in its  first year to an estimated 200,000 theatregoers and the play itself took Jewish Poland by storm. (9)  Many observers believed that much of the premiere production’s extraordinary appeal was due to the conception of its director Dovid Herman, who was brought in to inject into the production some of the atmosphere of his own traditional Hasidic background.

It is more than likely that Berlewi produced his cartoon in response to a particular episode or set of circumstances. Perhaps the original contract was drawn up in such a way that Herman failed to reap his share of the profits from the play’s unforeseen success? It is also possible that the cartoon was itself a commission from one of the many Yiddish newspapers, cultural journals or satirical magazines of the time. Romulus and Remus fell out and the Vilna Troupe was also to suffer inner discord and undergo several metamorphoses. But even without knowing all the circumstances behind its creation, we can enjoy the sense of mischief and the artistic skill manifest in Berlewi’s Dybbuk milkcow, and feel thankful that this most ephemeral of sketches has resurfaced after so many years. 


This list is based on information from various sources, including library listings and booksellers’ catalogues.  It is almost certainly far from being comprehensive.  Further contributions to this and future bibliographic listings would be welcomed and acknowledged in any future published versions.

Akerman, Rivke, Poemen un lider fun payn. Paris, 1957, 96 pp.

Grinberg, Uri-Tsvi [Greenberg, Uri Zvi]. Mefisto, Warsaw: Literatur-fond baym fareyn fun yidishe literatn un zhurnalistn in varshe, 1922, 85 pp.

Hagay, Berele, A bisl rekhiles: vegn shrayber, kinstler, un shimi-tentser, Warsaw: 1926, 15 pp. (not seen).

Kope, Rivke, Toy fun shtilkeyt: lider, 1946-1950, Paris: Oyfsnay, 1951, 91 pp.

Kutsher, B., Geven amol varshe, zikhrones, Paris: Kultur-opteylung fun der dzhoynt in frankraykh, 1955, 331pp. (In addition to the cover graphic, this includes reproductions of Berlewi’s portrait sketches of Kutsher, Boez Karlinski, Alter Katsizne, Hilel Tseytlin, Shloyme-Leyb Kave, Dovid Herman, Zusman Segalovitsh, Yoysef Tunkel, Berlewi himself, Itshe-Meyer Vaysnberg, Efroym Kaganovitsh, Maurycy Minkovski (wrongly attributed to Feliks Frydman), and Aleksander Farbo. Berlewi’s ‘Dibek’ [Dybbuk] cartoon is reproduced on page 143.) 

Londinski, Sh. Y., Flamen, Warsaw: Di tsayt, 1920, 115 pp.

Markish, Perets, Di kupe, Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1921, 32 pp. Edition: 1500

Markish, Perets, Radyo, Warsaw: Ambasador, 1922, 46 pp.

Segalovitsh, Z, Kaprizen: lider, Warsaw: Literatur-fond baym fareyn fun yidishe literatn un zhurnalistn in varshe, 1921, 235 pp.

Segalovitsh, Z, Tsaytike troybn, Warsaw: A. Gitlin, [1920?], 36 pp. (not seen).

Zak, Avrom, In onheyb fun a friling: kapitlekh zikhroynes, Buenos Aires: Tsentral farband fun poylishe yidn in argentine, 1962, 329 pp. (not seen).



Albatros, Warsaw + Berlin: 1922 – 23, nos 1-4.

Khalyastre, vol 1, Warsaw: 1922

Ringen, Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1921- 1922


Publisher’s logo:

The logo used by the Warsaw publisher Di tsayt, signed h.b., is almost certainly by Berlewi, but this requires further research.  See F. Bimko,  Fun krig un fun friden, Warsaw: Di Tsayt, 1921.



1.      Yiddish literary scholars who have featured the work of Yiddish book illustrators in their own publications include David Roskies and Benjamin Harshav.  Recent exhibitions include the Spertus Institute of Chicago display: Made in Chicago: The L.-M. Shtayn Farlag, 1926-1949;  Juedische Illustratoren des 20. Jahrhunderts’, an exhibition held in October 2004 at the Heinrich Heine Universitaet Dusseldorf; and  the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York show Radical Visions: Graphic Satire in the Yiddish Press, 1894 – 1939 (December 2004 – March 2005).  YIVO are currently considering plans to hold a major exhibition of modern Yiddish illustrated books in the near future.

2.      Berlewi usually signed his name ‘H Berlewi’ or ‘Henryk Berlewi’using Latin letters.  However in Yiddish, he uses ‘Henrik Berlevi’.

3.      Biographical information about Berlewi is drawn from a number of sources,  including : Nadine Nieszaver, “Peintres Juifs a Paris 1905 - 1939”, Paris, 2000; the Encyclopaedia Judaica;  Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon, vol 2, Montreal, 1947; and the exhibition catalogue ‘Berlewi -  Retrospektive Austellung, Berlin, 1964’, for the loan of which I am indebted to Professor Chimen Abramsky.

4.      The phrase is Sol Liptzin’s. See his A History of Yiddish Literature p. 251 ff. for a discussion of the Khalyastre poets.

5.      See the article by Avidov Lipsker in the Israeli journal of Yiddish studies Khulyot, no1 (Winter 1993).

6.      The auction was held at the Hotel Drouot, Paris, on 23 March 2005.

7.      See Ber Kutsher, Geven amol varshe, Paris, 1955, p.136.

8.      My thanks to Leonard Prager for pointing this out.

9.      See Yidisher teater in eyrope / tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes, edited by Itsik Manger, Yonas Turkov, and Moyshe Perenson, New York, 1968, p41.


3) ----------------------------------

Date: 19 April 2005
From: ed.  
Subject: Coming issue: Menke

A coming issue of TMR will be devoted to a compendious volume of Menke Katz's Yiddish verse translated into English by the celebrated translator-team Barbara and Benjamin Harshav. Menke. The Complete Yiddish Poems.  Edited by Dovid Katz and Harry Smith.  Maps by Giedre Beconyte. Published  by The Smith: New York 2005, 914 pp.  For ordering information:


Date: 19  April 2005
From: ed.
Subject: Coming Book Reviews

Dovid Katz's Lithuanian Jewish Culture (Vilna:  Baltos  Lankos, 2004, 398 pp), will yet be reviewed in TMR, as will be Nancy Sinkoff' s  Out of the Shtetl (
Providence: Brown Judaic Studies, 2004). Also scheduled for review is John Myhill's Language in Jewish Society: Towards a New Understanding.  Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2004.


Date: 19 April 2005
From: ed.
Subject: Books and Journals Received

Books and Journals Received

Itzik Manger, Dunkelgold; Gedichte.  Jiddisch un deutsch.  Herausgegeben, aus dem Jiddischen ueberzetst und mit einem Nachwort versehen von Efrat Gal-Ed. Mit Umscrift des Jiddischen, Abbildungen und mit CD. Frankfurt am Main: Juedischer Verlag im Suhrkamp Verlag, 2004. [ISBN 3-633-54198-5]. A tastefully produced book published by the distinguished century-old Juedischer Verlag, with felicitous translations and a cd that reproduces with outstanding fidelity the author reading a selection of his own work.

Na vaNad; Zikhronot shel Yekhezkel Kotik. Kheylek sheyni. Mahadura meturgemet uMevueret beYedey David Assaf . Tel Aviv: Bet Shalom-Aleykhem / HaMakhon lekheyker toldot Polin veYakhesey Yisrael-Polin /  HaMerkaz lekheyker haTefutsot al shem Goldshteyn-Goren / Universitat Tel-Aviv, 2005. [English title-page: Wanderer; The Memoirs of Yechezkel Kotik. Volume Two. Edited and translated into Hebrew with an Introduction by David Assaf. Tel Aviv: Beth Shalom Aleichem / The Institute for the History of Polish Jewry and Israel-Poland Relations / The Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center / Tel Aviv University] [ISBN 965-338-059-1]. The notes and appendices of this richly annotated edition of the second part of Kotik's memoirs enhance one's reading of this celebrated work. 

B. Yeushzon (Moyshe Yustman) Lezikhro, Jerusalem, 2005, 72 + [4] pp. This Hebrew pamphlet compiled by Yehoshua Yustman in memory of his father, editor and feuilletonist of Warsaw's pre-Shoa daily newspaper Haynt, contains short essays of remembrance and appreciation by Dov Sadan,  Moshe Yanon, Eliezer Shtaynman, Moshe Sneh, B. Shefner, Ezriel Carlebach  and Dovid Flinker.

Yiddish South of the Border. An Anthology of Latin American Yiddish Writing. Edited by Alan Astro with an Introduction by Ilan Stavans. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2003. The selections are from works published in or associated with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay -- and Texas!

Volume 3, Number 1 (January 2005) of the prize-winning Partial Answers, "a semiannual journal sponsored by the School of Literatures of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem... devoted to the interdisciplinary study of literature and the history of ideas" includes Yechiel Szeintuch's exploration of a central motif in the works of Ka-Tzetnik: "The Myth of the Salamander in the Work of Ka-tzetnik," 101-132. This essay is part of the author's comprehensive study of Ka-Tzetnik. [ISSN 1565-3668]

The major essay in the latest Jiddistik Mitteilungen (Nr. 32, November 2004) is Roland Gruschka's preliminary study of the language of Mendel Lefin's bible translations: "Einige Beobachtungen zur Grammatik im Jiddisch von Mendel Lefin Satanovers Bibeluebersetzungen," 1-23. Interest in Lefin has been growing and we can look forward to further studies.

Lebns-fragn; sotsyalistishe khoydesh-shrift far politik, gezelshaft un kultur num. 629-630 (55-ster yor) (merts-april 2005). David Roskies has been reminding us that the Yiddish press never stopped writing about the Shoa. This issue of the veteran Bundist journal edited by the versatile Yitskhok Luden continues this endless probe. [48 Kalisher St., Tel-Aviv 65165, Israel. Tel. No. 972-4-5176764] [ISBN 1565-0103]


End of The Mendele Review Vol. 9005
Editor, Leonard Prager

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