Writer, Playwright, and Revolutionary
His formal education was limited, but along with his childhood friend Chaim Zhitlovski, he studied Russian literature and culture. Always interested in folklore and popular culture, he started his career collecting workers’ songs.
Inspired by Peretz, An-sky switched from writing in Russian to Yiddish, and his first Yiddish poems became classic hymns of the Bund.
Listen to two of An-sky’s most famous poems: “צום בונד: אין זאַלציקן ים פון די מענטשליכע טרערן (To the Bund: In the Salty Sea of Human Tears),” first read at a conference of the Jewish Labor Bund event in Bern, 1901.
This song was later published along with the anthem he wrote for the Bund “די שבֿועה (The Oath)”
Deeply interested in Jewish folklore, An-sky organized an ethnographic expedition to the Pale of Settlement. Between 1912-1914, An-sky and his team gathered a tremendous amount of material and recorded 500 wax cylinders of song.
The expedition inspired his most famous play The Dybbuk, first performed by the Vilner Troupe in Warsaw in 1920 and then, in Bialik’s Hebrew translation, at Moscow’s Habima Theater.
Here you can watch the 1937 film version of An-sky’s play “Der dibek,” based on materials gathered from his ethnographic expeditions. Directed by Michał Waszyński and starring Lili Liliana, Leon Liebgold, and Abraham Morewski.
From the outbreak of WWI until the Russian Revolution, An-sky worked for EKOPO (Еврейский комитет помощи жертвам войны, the Jewish Committee for the Relief of War Victims), distributing aid to Jews in war-torn Russian Poland and Austrian Galicia and Bukovina and documenting the destruction of traditional Jewish life there. His diary of this experience was published in 1920 as חורבן גאַליציע (The Destruction of Galicia), translated by Joachim Neugroschel as The Enemy at His Pleasure in 2002.
On November 8, 1920, the day after attending the organizational meeting for a Warsaw Jewish Ethnographic Society, An-sky died of a heart attack. He was buried at the Peretz Shrine, alongside his friends Y.L. Peretz and Yankev Dinezon.