The Michael Friedman online Library of Jewish Writers presents audiences with classic Yiddish works, including well-known titles that have long been out of print. Among the authors featured on the website are Mendele Mocher-Sforim, Cholem Aleichem, and I.L. Perec. The library also features the extraordinary drama, The Dybbuk, written by Simon An-sky.
Yiddish literature encompasses all works written in the language of Ashkenazic Jewry. A language that is related to Middle High German, it is also one whose history is intricately bound with its literature. And it also there that its central European roots and mainspring also become evident. The translations by Friedman encompass classic works of modern Yiddish literature, generally dated from 1864 to the present.
12 titles have been translated into Polish by Friedman and are available to read and download for free on the friedmanfund.org website. This publication is the fruit of efforts by the Michael Friedman Foundation, an organisation devoted to promulgating Jewish literature across Poland and Polish-speaking readership. The Foundation was founded in 2013 by Marek Friedman, the translator's grandson, on the 100th anniversary of his grandfather's birthday.
A Late Translator
Michał Friedman, an acclaimed translator from both Yiddish and Hebrew, was born in Kowel and studied at the Polytechnic in Grenoble, France, as well as the Department of Journalism of Warsaw University. One of his lecturers in Warsaw was Melchior Wańkowicz. Later on, Friedman studied at the Institute of Jewish Studies by the Great Synagogue in Tłomackie, Warsaw. At the institute, one of Friedman's mentors was Mayer Balaban. It was there that the young Friedman encountered the classics of Jewish literature which he would go on to translate.
Michał Friedman in an archive recording of the Polish Radio, speaking, among other things, about I.B. Singer.
For many years after the war, Friedman headed the state-run Ministry of National Defence publishing company. In 1967, following strong anti-Semitic repressions that took place in Poland, Friedman was forced into early retirement. It was then that he began translating Yiddish literature. Later on, he would joke "It's too bad they didn't fire me earlier, because I would have started on the Yiddish translations sooner". From 1968, Friedman was connected to the Jewish Theatre in Warsaw, where he taught the language and the history of Jews.
He is known and remembered as an educator of a few generations of actors and artists. He died in 2006.
Three Yiddish Classics
What can we read in the Michał Friedman online library? Friedman translated the greatest prose authors of Jewish literature, including: Alter Kacyzne, Mendele Mocher-Sforima, Icchok Peretz, Simon An-Sky, Cholem Aleichem, Shalom Asz, Itzyk Manger, Abraham Suckewer and Isaac Bashevis Singer.
The works of the majority of them are available on www.friedmanfund.org and the Wolne Lektury (Free Reading) websites. These are mostly classics of Yiddish literature that were created in the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. The so-called fathers of Yiddish literature available for reading in Polish are Cholem Aleichem, Mendele Mocher Sforim and Icchok Laybus Peretz.
Two classic titles by Cholem Aleichem translated by Friedman are Z jarmarku and Kasrylewka (Inside Kasrilovka). Aleichem shows great humour and wit in his observations of Jewish life in shtetls located in present-day Ukraine.
Another classic is the Travels of Benjamin the Third by Mendele Mocher Sforima (real name Sholem Yakov Abramovich; the liteary pseudonym actually means Mendele the Book Peddler). The book is a satirical novel, whose protagonists – the Jews of Tuniejadówka – follow in the footsteps of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza on a journey across non-existent cities in Eastern Europe.
An audiobook fragment in Polish, produced by the Michał Friedman Foundation
The online library also features the transcription of Hasidic and Folk Tales by I.L. Peretz, the last classic of Yiddish literature, and the author most strongly connected with Poland.
The translation of Simon An-sky's The Dybbuk (or Between Two Worlds) deserves a special place in the library. One of the most famous works of Yiddish literature, it was first published in 1915. A Polish film production based on the drama was first shot in 1937, directed by Michał Waszyński. This film is considered a chief achievement of Yiddish cinema in a pre-war Poland. After the war, many Polish directors adapted The Dybbuk. Andrzej Wajda staged the play in the Stary Teatr in Kraków. Michał Friedman's translation was also used by Agnieszka Holland in her TV theatre production, and in the extraordinary performance directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski at TR Warszawa in 2003.
Kacyzne, Perle, midrash
Apart from these classic titles, the selection also includes books by Alter Kacyzne. The Vilnius-born author, who wrote in the first half of the 20th century, was also a prominent photographer and the author of many a reportage from Eastern Europe, published by the Jewish Forwerts journal. Four of his books are included in the collection, Dziwny Żyd (A Strange Jew), Stare Miasto (Old Town), Remedium dla literatów (A Remedy for the Literaries) and Chore perły (Ill Pearls).
There is also the Żydzi din powszedniego (Jews of the Everyday) novel, written by Joshua Perle in 1935. Perle was presented with the Jewish PEN club award for this title. Perle also translated Polish literature into Yiddish, including works of Janusz Korczak. During his time in the Warsaw ghetto, he worked with Oneg Szabat Emanuel Ringelblum. He died in the Nazi camp in Majdanek.
Click here to read and find out more about artists of the Warsaw ghetto.
The collection is completed by two anonymous works, translated by Friedman from Hebrew, From the Midrash Treasure-troves and Talmudic Agadas.
Although books from the Michał Friedman Library are available in electronic form, they all have traditional book covers designed by Agata Środa. All of the titles are also available through the Wolne Lektury website.
The Michał Friedman Library of Jewish Writers was created thanks to collaboration between the Nowoczesna Polska Foundation and the Programme for Social Archiving of the National Audiovisual Institute, which financed the creation of the library.
Edited by Mikołaj Gliński, translated by Paulina Schlosser, source: press release, own materials