Biography of Abraham Sutzkever
Abraham Sutzkever (July 15, 1913 – January 20, 2010) was an acclaimed Yiddish poet. The New York Times wrote that Sutzkever was "the greatest poet of the Holocaust."
Abraham (Avrom) Sutzkever was born on July 15, 1913 in Smorgon, Russian Empire, now Smarhoń, Belarus. During World War I, his family fled eastwards from the German invasion and settled in Omsk, Siberia, where his father, Hertz Sutzkever, died. Three years after the war, his mother, Rayne (née Fainberg), moved the family to Vilna, where Sutzkever attended cheder. In 1930, he joined the Bee Jewish scouting movement. He married Freydke in 1939, a day before World War II. In 1941, he and his wife were sent to the Vilna Ghetto. Ordered by the Nazis to hand over important Jewish manuscripts and artworks for display in an Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question, to be based in Frankfurt, Sutzkever and his friends hid a diary by Theodor Herzl, drawings by Marc Chagall and other treasured works behind plaster and brick walls in the ghetto. His mother and newborn son were murdered by the Nazis. On September 12, 1943, he and his wife escaped to the forests, and together with fellow Yiddish poet Shmerke Kaczerginsky he fought the occupying forces as a partisan. Sutzkever joined a Jewish unit under the command of Moshe Judka Rudnitski, and took part in several missions before being smuggled into the Soviet Union. In July 1943, he gave a fellow partisan a notebook of his poems, which reached the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow. In March 1944, a small plane was sent to the Vilna forests to bring Sutzkever and his wife to Russia.
In February 1946, he was called up as a witness at the Nuremberg Trials testifying against Franz Murer, the murderer of his mother and son. After a brief sojourn in Poland and Paris, he immigrated to Mandate Palestine, arriving in Tel Aviv in 1947.
Sutzkever has two daughters, Mira and Rina. He died on January 20, 2010 in Tel Aviv at the age of 96.
Sutzkever wrote poetry from an early age, initially in Hebrew. He published his first poem in Bin, the Jewish scouts magazine. Sutzkever was among the Modernist writers and artists of the Yung Vilne ("Young Vilna") group in the early 1930s. In 1937, he published his first volume of Yiddish poetry, Lider (Songs).
Sutzkever's second book of poetry, Valdiks ("From the Forest"), was published in 1940. In Moscow, he wrote a chronicle of his experiences in the Vilna ghetto (Fun vilner geto) and began Geheymshtot ("Secret City"), an epic poem about Jews hiding in the sewers of Vilna.
Sutzkever founded the literary quarterly Di goldene keyt (The Golden Chain). Paul Glasser of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York called him the most important Jewish poet in the postwar world. He became a public advocate of Yiddish, encouraging Jewish communities around the world not to let the language die.
In the 1970s Sutzkever wrote the series Lider fun togbukh ("Poems from a Diary, 1974–1981"), considered his masterpiece. The theme that runs through much of his work is that destroyed landscapes and societies can be reborn, and the murdered Jews of the ghetto live on in the memories of the survivors.
Sutzkever's poetry was translated into Hebrew by Nathan Alterman, Avraham Shlonsky and Leah Goldberg. In the 1930s, his work was translated into Russian by Boris Pasternak.
Abraham Sutzkever Poems
Did you ever see in fields of snow Frozen Jews, in row upon row? Breathless they lie, marbled and blue.
A Wagon Of Shoes
The wheels they drag and drag on, What do they bring, and whose? They bring along a wagon Filled with throbbing shoes.
A Trip Through Africa
All the noises, all the sounds, asleep. Under seven streams sleeps fear. And the elephant, so deep in sleep, That you can sneak up, cut off his ear.
Grains Of Wheat
Caves, gape open, Split open under my ax! Before the bullet hits me — I bring you gifts in sacks.
Smoke Of Jewish Children
Only smoke, smoke, hovering smoke, Dead children — puffs of living smoke. They call: Mama, mama! from the smoke,
Gather Me In
Gather me in from all the ends of time, from wood and stone, Embrace me like letters of a burning prayerbook. Gather me together — so I can be alone, Alone with you, and you — in all my limbs.
Digging a pit as one must, as they say. I seek in the earth a solace today. A thrust and a cut — and a worm gives a start:
With patches on our bodies, striped and parching, They chase us in the ghetto, streets are marching, Our buildings say farewell eternally, Stone faces walk with us at each decree.
Two years I longed for stalks, Silent stalks in a familiar field. When I struggled in the vise That caught me
Ode To The Dove
Seldom, once in a childhood, dazzling in rainbow of colors, An angel descends from the stars, his tune will be with you forever. An angel appeared — and vanished on the other side of the world, Over my chimney he left me a sign — a beautiful feather.
From Myself To Myself
How long is the road from myself to myself? Sometimes half a moment, That's all. Here is wholeness. But a serpent On the path between the two gates.
From Old And Young Manuscripts
And it will be at the end of days, And thus it will happen: the son of man Will bring to his hungry mouth Neither bread nor meat,
A letter arrived from the town of my birth from one still sustained by the grace of her youth. Enclosed between torment and fondness she pressed a blade of grass from Ponar.
At The Bonfire
In the forest, night stokes up a fire. Youthful trees grow ashen gray in fear. Among crackling branches, climbing higher, Shadows fall where axes sharp appear.
Away From The Four Walls
Away from the four walls,
Where the traces of my footstep sear,
Vast panoramas of granite
Fiery rocks. Abysses deep.
Music flows of melted gold:
— Beloved, your unknown name
Will be told!