Abraham Sutzkever (Yiddish: אַבֿרהם סוצקעווער —
Avrom Sutskever; Hebrew: אברהם סוצקבר; 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."
2 Literary career
4 Works in English translation
5 Awards and recognition
8 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Abraham (Avrom) Sutzkever was born on July 15, 1913, in Smorgon, Vilna
Governorate, Russian Empire, now Smarhon’, Belarus. During World War
I, his family moved to Omsk, Siberia, where his father, Hertz
Sutzkever, died. In 1921, his mother, Rayne (née Fainberg), moved the
family to Vilnius, where Sutzkever attended cheder.
Sutzkever attended the Polish Jewish high school Herzliah, audited
university classes in Polish literature, and was introduced by a
friend to Russian poetry. His earliest poems were written in
In 1930 Sutzkever joined the Jewish scouting organization, Bin
("Bee"), in whose magazine he published his first piece. There he also
met with wife Freydke. In 1933, he became part of the writers’ and
artists’ group Yung-Vilne, along with fellow poets Shmerke
Kaczerginski, Chaim Grade, and Leyzer Volf. 
He married Freydke in 1939, a day before the start of World War II.
In 1941, following the Nazi occupation of Vilna, Sutzkever and his
wife were sent to the Vilna Ghetto. Sutzkever and his friends hid a
diary by Theodor Herzl, drawings by
Marc Chagall and Alexander Bogen,
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 Kaczerginski, he fought the
occupying forces as a partisan. Sutzkever joined a Jewish unit and
was smuggled into the Soviet Union.
Sutzkever's 1943 narrative poem, Kol Nidre, reached the Jewish
Anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow, whose members included Ilya
Ehrenburg and Boris Pasternak, as well as the exiled future president
of Soviet Lithuania, Justas Paleckis. They implored the
rescue him. So an aircraft located Sutzkever and Freydke in March
1944, and flew them to Moscow, where their daughter, Rina, was
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 emigrated to
Mandatory Palestine, arriving in
Tel Aviv in 1947.
In 1947, his family arrived in Tel Aviv. Within two years Sutzkever
founded Di Goldene Keyt (The Golden Chain)"
Sutzkever was a keen traveller, touring South American jungles and
African savannahs, where the sight of elephants and the song of a
Basotho chief inspired more
Belatedly, in 1985 Sutzkever became the first
Yiddish writer to win
Israel Prize for his literature. An English compendium
appeared in 1991.
Freydke died in 2003. Rina and another daughter, Mira, survive him,
along with two grandchildren.
Abraham Sutzkever died on January 20, 2010, in
Tel Aviv at the age of
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, his first volume of Yiddish
poetry, Lider (Songs), was published by the
Yiddish PEN International
Club . ; a second, Valdiks (Of the Forest; 1940), appeared
after he moved from Warsaw, during the interval of Lithuanian
In Moscow, he wrote a chronicle of his experiences in the Vilna ghetto
(Fun vilner geto,1946), a poetry collection Lider fun geto (1946;
“Songs from the Ghetto”) and began Geheymshtot ("Secret
City",1948), an epic poem about Jews hiding in the sewers of
Di festung (1945; “The Fortress”)
Yidishe gas (1948; “Jewish Street”)
Sibir (1953; "Siberia")
In midber Sinai (1957; "In the Sinai Desert")
Di fidlroyz (1974; "The Fiddle Rose: Poems 1970–1972")
Griner akvaryum (1975; “Green Aquarium”)
Fun alte un yunge ksav-yadn (1982; "Laughter Beneath the Forest: Poems
from Old and New Manuscripts")
In 1949, Sutzkever founded the yiddish literary quarterly Di goldene
keyt (The Golden Chain), Israel's only
Yiddish literary quarterly,
which he edited until its demise in 1995. Sutzkever resuscitated the
Yiddish writers from Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union
and Israel. Official Zionism, however, dismissed
Yiddish as a
defeatist diaspora argot. "They will not uproot my tongue," he
retorted. "I shall wake all generations with my roar."
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.
Works in English translation
Siberia: A Poem, translated by Jacob Sonntag in 1961, part of the
UNESCO Collection of Representative Works.
Burnt Pearls : Ghetto Poems of Abraham Sutzkever, translated from
Yiddish by Seymour Mayne; introduction by Ruth R. Wisse. Oakville,
Ont.: Mosaic Press, 1981. ISBN 0-88962-142-X
The Fiddle Rose: Poems, 1970-1972, Abraham Sutzkever; selected and
translated by Ruth Whitman; drawings by Marc Chagall; introduction by
Ruth R. Wisse. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990.
A. Sutzkever: Selected
Poetry and Prose, translated from the Yiddish
by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav; with an introduction by Benjamin
Harshav. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
Laughter Beneath the Forest : Poems from Old and Recent
Manuscripts by Abraham Sutzkever; translated from the
Barnett Zumoff; with an introductory essay by Emanuel S. Goldsmith.
Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0-88125-555-6
Awards and recognition
In 1985, Sutzkever was awarded the
Israel Prize for Yiddish
literature. Sutkever's poems have been translated into 30
Hilda Bronstein, A Vogn Shikh, lyrics by Avrom Sutzkever, music by
Yiddish Songs Old and New, ARC Records
Karsten Troyke, Leg den Kopf auf meine Knie, lyrics by Selma
Itzik Manger and Abraham Sutzkever, music by
Abraham Sutzkever, The
Abraham Sutzkever (Vilno Poet): Read
in Yiddish, produced by Ruth Wise on Folkways Records
"The Twin-Sisters" - "Der Tsvilingl", music by Daniel Galay, text by
Avrum Sutzkever. Narrator (Yiddish) Michael Ben-Avraham, The Israeli
String Quartet for Contemporary Music (Violin, Viola, Cello),
percussion, piano. First performance: Tel-Aviv 2/10/2003 on the 90th
birthday of Avrum Sutzkever.
"The Seed of Dream", music by Lori Laitman, based on poems by
Abraham Sutzkever as translated by C.K. Williams and Leonard Wolf.
Commissioned by The Music of Remembrance organization in Seattle.
First performed in May 2005 at
Benaroya Hall in Seattle by baritone
Erich Parce, pianist Mina Miller, and cellist Amos Yang. Recent
performance on January 28, 2008, by the Chamber Music Society of
Southwest Florida by mezzo-soprano Janelle McCoy, cellist Adam
Satinsky and pianist Bella Gutshtein of the Russian Music Salon.
Israel Prize recipients
Poetry of Abraham Sutzkever: The Vilno poet, reading in
Yiddish" (product blurb for CD, Folkways Records). The
store. yiddishstore.com. Archived from the original on March 23,
^ Cohen, Arthur A. (17 June 1984). "God the Implausible Kinsman"
(review of David G. Roskies, Responses to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish
Culture). The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-02.
^ a b "YIVO Sutzkever, Avrom". www.yivoencyclopedia.org. Retrieved
^ a b c d e f "Avrom Sutzkever". Daily Telegraph (obituary).
telegraph.co.uk. February 16, 2010. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
^ "Abraham Sutzkever". Retrieved 2018-02-09.
^ "UC Press E-Books Collection, 1982-2004". Escholarship.org.
^ a b c d e f g "
Abraham Sutzkever Last great
Yiddish poet and a
defender of his language". The Guardian.
^ Berger, Joseph (January 23, 2010). "Abraham Sutzkever, 96, Jewish
Poet and Partisan, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved
^ "Poet and Partisan Avrom Sutzkever Dies". The Forward. January 20,
2010. Retrieved 2010-04-10.
^ a b Zucker, Sheva. "Avrom Sutzkever Israeli Writer".
www.britannica.com. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
^ Mer, Benny (January 22, 2010). "Abraham Sutzkever, 1913-2017".
Haaretz. haaretz.com. Retrieved 2017-02-12.
^ "Siberia: A Poem". Unesco.org. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
Israel Prize Official Site - Recipients in 1985 (in Hebrew)".
^ Sela, Maya (January 28, 2010). "An ambassador of the Yiddish
language". Haaretz. haaretz.com. Retrieved 2017-02-12.
^ "Chamber Music Society of Southwest Florida Presents Works by Lori
Laitman". Chamber Music Society of Southwest Florida. Archived from
the original on 2008-10-11.
^ "musicofremembrance.org". musicofremembrance.org. Retrieved
^ "chambersociety.org". chambersociety.org. Retrieved
^ Vertex Media. "janellemccoy.com". janellemccoy.com. Archived from
the original on 2013-06-09. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
^  Archived December 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
Dawidowicz, Lucy S. From that Place and Time: A Memoir 1938 - 1947.
New York: Norton, 1989. ISBN 0-393-02674-4
Kac, Daniel. Wilno Jerozolimą było. Rzecz o Abrahamie Sutzkeverze".
Sejny: Pogranicze, 2004. ISBN 83-86872-51-9
Szeintuch, Yehiel. "Abraham Sutzkever", in Encyclopaedia of the
Holocaust. New York: Macmillan Library Reference USA.
ISBN 9780028645278. vol. 4, pp. 1435–1436
Sutskever's work in English translation
Abraham Sutzkever among The Writers and Painters Group "Jung Vilna"
Catherine Madsen on Abraham Sutzkever's life
The Holocaust in Lithuania
Related articles by country
Adrian von Renteln
Rudolf Joachim Seck
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Jay M. Ipson
See also: Songs of the Vilna Ghetto
See also: List of Lithuanian Righteous Among the Nations
Lithuanian Security Police
Fareinigte Partizaner Organizacje
Kaunas June 1941
Kaunas 29 October 1941
Ninth Fort November 1941
HKP 562 forced labor camp
Kailis forced labor camp
Lithuania by Nazi Germany
History of the Jews in Lithuania
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