Arguing with the Storm Author Biographies

Bryna Bercovitch

Born: Cherson, Ukraine, August 13, 1894
Immigrated to Montreal: 1926
Died: Montreal, April 27, 1956

 

 

The youngest of seven children, Bryna Bercovitch grew up in the desperate poverty her
memoir describes. A rebel from an early age, Bercovitch developed her political views under
teachers who were secret revolutionaries against the Tsarist regime. Her studies at university
were interrupted by the Russian Revolution of 1917. Inspired by Trotsky, Bercovitch joined
the Red Army, and fought on the Polish front and in the Ukraine, where she was wounded
in battle. When she had recovered, she went to Moscow, where she studied theatre and acted
under Stanislavsky. Bercovitch began living with the artist Alexander Bercovitch, with whom
she had three children. Under pressure of the drastic conditions then prevailing — famine,
counter-revolution, social and economic upheavals — the family immigrated to Montreal.
The move to the New World was a deeply troubled one: poverty, language barriers, cultural
estrangement, constant moving from one slum lodging to another and a stormy marriage,
which ended in 1942. Bercovitch taught at Yiddish school and continued her work
for the Communist Party. In 1936, in the aftermath of the Trotsky Trials, Bercovitch left the
party. She retained the idealistic core of her radical beliefs, but her commitments gradually
shifted to her love for Yiddish literature and culture. Confined to bed after 1945, she began
to write a weekly column for Montreal’s Yiddish newspaper, The Canadian Eagle. Bercovitch’s
subjects ranged from reminiscences of early childhood, memories of Kiev, Odessa, and
Moscow, experiences in the Revolution and as a Depression-era immigrant to short fiction,
literary criticism, and commentary on current events, — some one hundred pieces in all.

Rochel Broches
Born: Minsk, Poland, September 23, 1880
Died: Minsk ghetto, 1942

 

 

 

Rochel Broches is the author of a broad literary oeuvre which includes short stories, novellas,
plays and children’s stories; the critical recognition she achieved saw her works translated
into Russian, German and English. When she was only nine, Broches began writing
a journal. Her father died that year and, as the eldest child, Broches had to start work as a
seamstress to help support her family. She later taught needlework at the Minsk Jewish Vocational
School for Girls. When Broches was nineteen, her first short story was published.
The difficulties Broches experienced during her childhood are reflected in her writing, which
speaks eloquently of the plight of the impoverished and oppressed. Soon after her first story
was published, Broches married; her husband was a dentist. In the 1920s, her work began
being published extensively in journals. She published a number of volumes, including
A Collection of Stories in 1922, Nelke: Stories in 1937 and Spinners in 1940. Her collected
works, containing over two hundred short stories, along with other texts, was being prepared
for publication by the State Publishing House of White Russia when the Germans
invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The book was never issued. A monument carrying the
words Untern Barg [“Beneath the Mountain”] — the title of one of her stories — stands
on the mass grave where she is buried.

 

Frume Halpern
Born: 1888
Immigrated to the United States: 1905
Died: New York, 1966

 

 

 

Frume Halpern was known as a proletarian writer not only because of her working-class
status as a masseuse, but also because her writing is informed by her commitment to left-wing
political causes. The stories are also infused with a profound and nuanced psychological
insight into the moral and ethical dilemmas her working-class protagonists experience,
as well as a sly humour and a gift for satire. Although Halpern’s stories were published for
over forty years in the left-wing daily newspaper Morning Freedom and, in later years, in
the literary quarterly Collections, as well as in numerous anthologies, her first collection of
short stories, Blessed Hands, did not appear until 1963. Halpern was by then in her mid-seventies.
Blessed Hands was published by a committee of prominent writers determined
that Halpern’s work not be lost to its reading public.

 

Sarah Hamer-Jacklyn
Born: Novoradomsk, Poland, 1905
Immigrated to Toronto: 1914
Died: New York City, February 9, 1975

 

 

 

Although she immigrated at the young age of nine, Sarah Hamer-Jacklyn’s writing is rooted
in the rich experience of shtetl life. Born into a traditional Chassidic family, she learned
English attending public school in Toronto but maintained the connection to Yiddish, her
mother tongue. In 1921, at the age of sixteen, she began acting and singing with a Yiddish
theatre troupe that toured across North America. She continued to write in Yiddish into
the 1960s, publishing three collections of her short stories. Her writing is infused with
wit, wisdom and insight into the lives of her characters.

 

Paula Frankel-Zaltzman
Born: Dvinsk (now Daugavpils), Latvia, February 23, 1916
Immigrated to Montreal: 1947
Date of death unknown.

 

 

 

When the Germans invaded her hometown of Dvinsk in June of 1941, Paula (Pesia) Frankel-
Zaltzman was 25 years of age; she was living with her husband and her parents. When
deportations began, Frankel-Zaltzman’s husband and two brothers, along with many others,
were rounded up. Shortly after, Frankel-Zaltzman, her mother and her invalid father
were among Jewish civilians forced into the newly formed Dvinsk ghetto. She at first managed
to remain in the ghetto with her mother and invalid father to assist them with the
daily search for food and safety. Although both parents, her husband, two brothers and
much of her extended family died during the war, Frankel-Zaltzman survived the ghettos
of Dvinsk and Riga as well as the concentration camp in Shtuthof. She was working in a
factory in Tehoren when she was liberated in 1945. Frankel-Zaltzman wrote the memoir
from which the story “A Natural Death” is excerpted just after the war while she was recovering in
the Fernwald camp for displaced persons in Munich, Germany. Her memoir was issued as
a private publication in 1949. It was warmly received not only for the literary qualities of
Frankel-Zaltzman’s account, but for the conscientious detail with which she recorded the
events and people she encountered.

 

Malka Lee
Born: Monastrich, Poland, July 4, 1904
Immigrated to New York City: 1921
Died: New York, March 22, 1976

 

 

 

Despite the traditional Chassidic background that led her father to burn her early poetry,
Malka Lee persevered in her desire to be a writer and went on to publish more than nine
books of poetry and prose. In addition to her mother tongue of Yiddish, she became
fluent in Hebrew, Polish and German. Although as a student in Vienna she had written
poetry in German, in New York she soon returned to writing in Yiddish. She documented
her experiences of leaving her family and adjusting to life in North America in
her memoir Through the Eyes of Childhood, published in 1955. The book was dedicated
to Lee’s family, who perished during the Holocaust. Lee married writer Aaron Rappaport,
with whom she had two children. Lee soon gained a reputation as a writer in the
thriving Yiddish literary community in New York. She completed her studies in New
York at the Jewish Teachers’ Seminary, Hunter College and City College. Her books
were published in New York, Buenos Aires and Tel Aviv. After Rappaport’s death, she
Lee married Moshe Besser in 1966. Short Stories for Joseph, a children’s book published in
1969, became one of her best loved and best known works.

 

Rikuda Potash
Born: Tshenstochov, Poland, 1906
Immigrated to Palestine: 1934
Died: Jerusalem, 1965

 

 

 

The author of poetry, short stories, novellas and plays, Rikuda Potash gained recognition
within her lifetime from readers as well as her contemporaries in the literary and artistic
community. Although she began writing poetry in Polish as a young woman, Potash
was radicalized by the anti-Semitic events of the time, particularly the Lemberg pogrom
of 1918. Potash then began to study Yiddish literature and embraced Yiddish in her
own writing. In 1924, she moved to Lodz and became active in the literary community,
publishing her first poems in Yiddish. She married Yiddish poet Chaim Leib Fuks, and
they had a daughter, Aviva. When the marriage ended in 1934, Potash moved with her
daughter to Palestine; she published her first volume of poetry, Wind on Keyboard, in the
same year. Potash worked for over thirty years as the librarian of the Bezalel Art School
and Museum in Jerusalem. She was influenced by and influenced the artistic scene in the
city, particularly Mordecai Ardon, the renowned painter and director of the Bezalel. She
often accompanied her pages of poetry with drawings, an expression of her preoccupation
with issues of voice and vision. Her writing was acclaimed both in Israel and the
United States for its eloquence, psychological insight and cultural pluralism.

 

Chava Rosenfarb
Born: Lodz, Poland, 1923
Immigrated to Montreal: 1950

Died: Lethbridge, Alberta, 2011

 

 

A prolific and prominent Yiddish writer, and one of Canada’s national treasures,
Chava Rosenfarb began writing at the age of eight. She produced short stories,
novels, plays, essays and poetry. Much of her work deals with the Holocaust. After the
German invasion of Poland in 1939, she was incarcerated in the Lodz ghetto, then relocated
to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. After liberation in 1945, she lived as a displaced
person in Belgium before immigrating to Montreal in 1950. Her first collection of
ghetto poems, The Ballad of Yesterday’s Forest was published in 1947. Her work has been
widely anthologized around the world and translated into English and Hebrew. She was
the recipient of numerous awards, including the Helen and Stan Vine National Book
Award in 2005 (for Survivors: Seven Short Stories, translated by her daughter Goldie Morgentaler), the
Sholem Aleichem Prize from Israel in 1990, and the 1979 Manger Prize, Israel’s highest
literary honour. She also received the John Glassco Prize for Literary Translation in 2000
for her translation of her novels Bociany and Of Lodz and Love. Her major work, The
Tree of Life: A Trilogy of Life in the Lodz Ghetto, translated along with Goldie Morgentaler,
was released in three volumes by the University of Wisconsin Press. In June 2006 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Lethbridge, the first such honour to be given a Yiddish writer in Canada.

 

Anne Viderman
Born: Oushitza, Ukraine, June 20, 1899
Immigrated to Montreal: 1924
Date of death unknown.

 

 

 

As a child, Anne (Hannah) Viderman, was an avid reader, despite the poverty in which
she was raised. In the meagre library of her shtetl, many of the books were damaged or
partial: Viderman would compose the missing sections of the stories for herself, scribbling
them down on scraps of paper. Viderman was deeply affected by the anti-Semitic
scandals of the Dreyfus Affair as well as the “blood libel” trial of Mendel Beilus, a Jewish
tailor falsely accused of having murdered a gentile child in order to prepare the Passover
matzos. During the Russian Revolution, Viderman fled Russia with her family. She began
writing in 1929 and in 1939 became a columnist for Montreal’s Yiddish newspaper,
The Canadian Eagle. (Der kanader adler published first as a daily, and then as a weekly
from 1907 to 1988.) Viderman published two collections of short stories, articles and
memoirs, Sad Smiles (1946) and Old Home and Childhood (1960).

 

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