Page 90 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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8 2
words the young revolutionary spoke to his accusers are familiar
to every reader of Yiddish literature. “I do not wish to defend
myself. I do not want to deny anything. I am a member of the
Jewish revolutionary party, the Bund. I do everything I can to
overthrow the self-appointed Czarist regime of bloody hangmen
together with you.”
Leivick later looked on his years in prison and in Siberia as pro­
viding his fundamental training in compassion and human
values. Here he was witness to frightful pain, suffering and deg­
radation, but here, too, he saw magnificent displays of compas­
sion and empathy. “I saw hangings in the prison courtyard. . . . I
stood on the abyss of human suffering, but I saw the victim’s
ecstasy as well as pain. . . . In suffering I also felt exaltation.”3
Leivick’s suffering did not cease when he escaped to America
in 1913. For most of his life he earned his livelihood as a
paperhanger in New York.
We went to look for work
Holding each other’s hands.
It was still dark. The city slept.
Street lamps burned.
We searched everywhere,
Knocked on so many doors.
Others arrived before us
And took the work themselves.
We returned home
Ashamed to enter the house.
So we wandered through the streets
Holding each other’s hands.
(Arbet Zukhn)
Leivick contracted tuberculosis and spent several years in sanato­
ria in Denver and in Liberty, New York. The experience in
Denver provided the basis for “The Ballad of the Denver Sanato­
rium,” one of his most haunting longer poems.
2 Quoted in J. Pat,
Shmuesn mit Yidishe Shrayber,
New York, 1954, p. 147.
p. 147f.