Poet and Partisan

Avrom Sutzkever

The great Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever was born July 15, 1913 in Smorgon (today Smarhoń, Belarus) about 60 miles from Vilna.

Sutzkever published his first work in the Jewish Scouts magazine and became a part of the writer and artist circle called יונג ווילנע (Young Vilna).

Following the German invasion in the summer of 1941, Sutzkever and his wife Freydke used the guise of forced labor to help smuggle arms to partisans and conceal rare Jewish manuscripts from the YIVO collection. The couple escaped the ghetto in 1943 and joined a Jewish partisan group in the forest.

After the war, Sutzkever testified at the Nuremberg Trials, returned to Poland in 1946, before moving to Paris and finally settling in Palestine in 1947. In Tel Aviv, he founded the Yiddish literary journal די גאָלדענע קייט (The Golden Chain), remaining its editor until the journal ceased operating in 1995.

Avrom Sutzkever died in Tel Aviv in 2010 at the age of 96.

Watch this video from the Yiddishkayt Helix Project featuring the landscapes around Smorgon, Belarus and a recording of Sutzkever reading a poem from his masterpiece of an anthology, לידער פון טאָגבוך (Poems from my Diary),ווער וועט בלייַבן (Who Will Remain)” written in 1974.

Who will remain, what will remain? Wind will stay behind.
The blindness will remain, the blindness of the blind.
A film of foam, perhaps, a vestige of the sea,
A flimsy cloud, perhaps, entangled in a tree.

Who will remain, what will remain? One syllable will stay,
To sprout the grass of Genesis as on a new First Day.
A fiddle-rose, perhaps, for its own sake will stand
And seven blades of grass perhaps will understand.

Of all the starts from way out north to here,
That one star will remain that fell into a tear.
A drop of wine remaining in a jar, a drop of dew.
Who will remain, God will remain, is that enough for you?

translated by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav