Page 22 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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16
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
1941, he spent his later years in Soviet Russia: as a refugee in
Uzbekistan until 1945, as director of Yiddish plays in Kishinev
after World War II, as the most prominent Rumanian member
of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow until its liquid­
ation in 1948, as a prisoner in a Siberian Labor Camp until after
Stalin’s death in 1953, and as a respected contributor to Sovetish
Heimland after his rehabilitation. His poems were translated into
Russian in 1959. His critical articles of the 1960’s carried great
weight with the younger Soviet writers, while his memoirs resur­
rected for them the pre-Revolutionary period that by 1969 has
already become historic.
Moishe Altman, a townsman of Sternberg and born in the same
year, excelled in short stories with a moral undertone in the
1920’s. He also wrote two novels of Bessarabian Jewish life in
the 1930’s. The chronicler in both novels is Mottel Unruh, his
alter ego, who experiences many disappointments and little joy.
While most of Altman’s characters, including Mottel himself, are
but vaguely delineated, a few are so clearly etched that they cap­
tivate the imagination for a long time. There is the beautiful,
sophisticated, honey-voiced, sex-driven peasant girl Marianna,
whose body exudes fragrant magic like a tree in blossom. She is
prepared to outrage her family and marry the Jew Yosef if there
is no other way to satisfy her longing for him. There is her rival
and antipode, the dutiful, virtuous, silent, brooding Jewish
maiden Rita, whose calmness is ruffled when Yosef appears. And
there is Yosef himself, the emaciated, tubercular young Jew,
whose ascetic saintliness seeps like a poison into the veins of the
women about him. It inflames them, even while his own thoughts
and dreams still bear the scars of the pogrom which killed his
wife and child and drove him far from his native Ukrainian prov­
ince.
Altman’s love for Bessarabia’s earth and its toiling Jews and
rugged peasants led him to remain there when it was occupied
by Soviet forces in 1940. The following year, however, he was
forced to flee before the German invaders. After the war he re­
turned and resumed his writing of tales glorifying the tillers of
the soil. Despite his proletarian proclivities, he was not spared
years of hardship in a Siberian camp beginning in 1948. After
Stalin’s death he was rehabilitated and permitted to publish again,
but the only available periodical in the post-Stalin era was Sovet­
ish Heimland. In it appeared his story A Tale With a Name
(A Meisse Mit a Nomen, 1968), whose principal character is
again a restless Mottel who possesses many skills and is helpful
to his Jewish and non-Jewish fellow-men, but has learned to be
silent, undemanding and unobtrusive. Like his author who had
undergone many trials in the course of a difficult life, Mottel
has become an enigma to every person with whom he is in contact.