Shney-tants (Snow Dance), by Moyshe Broderzon (Łódź: Yung-yidish, 1921). Illustrated by the author. (YIVO)

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Broderzon, Moyshe

(1890–1956), Yiddish poet and playwright. The son of a well-to-do businessman, Moscow-born Moyshe Broderzon and his family were among the Jews expelled from that city in 1891. His father moved to Łódź but Broderzon’s mother and the children went to Nesivizh (Pol., Nieśwież), her native town in Belorussia. In 1900, the family was reunited in Łódź. Broderzon studied accounting at a business school there and worked in that field for several years after 1907. He also wrote poems in Russian, though these pieces were not printed. In 1908, he began to write in Yiddish and published humorous skits in the Lodzer tageblat, under the pseudonym Broder Zinger.

Broderzon published his first collection of poems, Shvartse fliterlekh (Black Spangles), in 1913; Yiddish writer Avrom Reyzen praised the book. Broderzon left Łódź in 1914 when the German army occupied the city; he moved to Moscow and associated with other Jewish artists and writers. With the visual artists Yoysef Tshaykov (Iosif Chaikov), Yisakhar Rybak, and El Lissitzky, he created the Krayzl fun Yidish Natsyonaler Estetik (Circle for Jewish National Aesthetic). In 1917, after the tsarist regime fell, he published the epic poem Sikhes khulin (Idle Chatter), which El Lissitzky illustrated. The work was a radical, modernist adaptation of Mayse yerushalmi, a major piece from old Yiddish literature dating from the sixteenth century. The edition is now considered a key representation of avant-garde Jewish art.

That same year, Broderzon published Temerl (Little Tamar), a children’s story illustrated by Tshaykov. In early 1918, Broderzon, El Lissitzky, and the Yiddish writers Daniel Tsharni and Menashe Halperin founded the Moscow Circle of Jewish Writers and Artists. With Tsharni, Halperin, and Gershon Broyde, he published a collection of poems titled Zalbefert (All Four), reminiscent of the futurist collection The Three published in Russian in 1913 by Viktor Khlebnikov, Aleksei Kruchenykh, and Elena Guro. In July 1918, Broderzon published a Yiddish translation of Aleksandr Blok’s The Twelve, and in 1919 Broderzon’s collection of poems titled Toy (Dew) was printed in Moscow. Consisting of 100 tankas, a Japanese poetic form, the work reflected his aim of enriching Yiddish poetry with new forms.

Poem by Moyshe Broderzon, “Tsvey tsufelige sonetn: Hu-ha” (Two Accidental Sonnets: Hoo-ha), n.d. "The earth sweats off the evaporating snow / And a moist lightness hovers over the face of the earth. . . ." According to an accompanying note from the donor of this manuscript, Mendel Singer, this poem was submitted to the Yiddish journal Di tsayt in Vienna in 1924, but Singer does not recall if it was actually published. Yiddish. RG 108, Manuscripts Collection, F11.4.1. (YIVO)

In December 1918, Broderzon returned to Łódź, where his extravagant appearance quickly made an impression on the Yiddish cultural circles organized around the tutelary figure of the Yiddish and Hebrew writer Yitsḥak Katzenelson. Broderzon had long, thick black hair, Pushkin-style sideburns, and a black shirt characteristic of a Russian worker. He was the only poet in Łódź to wear amber and coral necklaces, and rings on his fingers. With the artist Yankl Adler, who had been part of the expressionist group Das Junge Rheinland in Düsseldorf, and Marek Szwarc, who from 1910 to 1914 was part of the Montparnasse circle of artists in Paris, he founded the group of writers and artists called Yung-yidish. In 1919, three issues of the review of the same name were published, and in 1920 and 1921 nine works appeared, including seven by Broderzon: the poetry collection Perl oyfn bruk (Pearls on the Cobblestones; 1920); Tkhiyes-hameysim (The Resurrection of the Dead; 1921), a dramatic poem whose form was inspired by medieval mystery plays; the long poem Shvarts-shabes (Black Sabbath; 1921); the puppet show Tsungenlungen (Tongues-lungs; 1921); as well as three short plays for which Broderzon created the neologism Dramolet: the titles were A khasnke (Nuptials; 1920), Di malke Shvo (The Queen of Sheba; 1921), and Shney-tants (Snow Dance; 1921). In these years, Broderzon also published the poetry collections Bagaysterung (Enthusiasm; 1920) and Ibergang (Passage; 1921), and the short play Mandragorn (Mandrakes) in issues 7–9 of the review Ringen (1921).

In 1922, Perets Markish, Uri Tsevi Grinberg, and Israel Joshua Singer founded the group Khalyastre (The Band), but Broderzon’s involvement was rejected, especially by Markish, as his writing was considered to be insufficiently avant-garde and too attached to rhyme. Nonetheless, a stanza of his poem “Tsu di shtern” (To the Stars) was featured as an epigraph in the first issue of the review Khalyastre (1922).

In the period between the wars, despite the deteriorating economic and political situation, and some vague thoughts of emigration, Broderzon resolutely remained in Łódź where he felt intimately linked with the network of Yiddish culture in Poland. He had left Moscow in 1918 partly to seek a Jewish public, and the same reason kept him in Łódź. To do so, he launched himself into popular theater. In 1922, he and writer Yekhezkl-Moyshe Nayman, visual artist Yitskhok Broyner, and composer Henekh Kon founded the puppet theater Khad-gadye. In 1924, Broderzon was the librettist for the first Yiddish opera performed in Warsaw, Dovid un Basheve (David and Bathsheba), with music by Kon. In 1926, he wrote texts for Warsaw’s Azazel, the first Yiddish theater café in Poland. But his major achievement in this period was the founding with his acting students of the cabaret theater Ararat (acronym for Artistisher Revolutsyonerer Revi-Teatr [Artistic Revolutionary Revue-Theater]) in Łódź in 1927. During the 1930s, it was one of the most popular and creative venues for Yiddish theater touring in Poland and Western Europe, providing comedians Shimen Dzigan, Yisroel Shumacher, and Yoysef Tunkel among others with a base from which they forged international reputations.

“Ararat. Artistic Director: Moyshe Broderzon. Short skits by the famous Kleynkunst [cabaret] theater!” Polish/Yiddish poster, artwork by Kultura, printed by M. Kon, Łódź, ca. 1930s. (YIVO)

In the interwar years, Broderzon devoted most of his energy to theater. Most of the sketches he wrote for Ararat have disappeared, except for a few that were published in newspapers and magazines. In 1936, he published Forshtelungen (Performances), 12 one-act plays, very few of which were produced. With the rise of Nazism in Germany and the intensification of antisemitism in Poland, most of the plays were about the dangers of being Jewish in a non-Jewish environment, represented dramatically by historical figures such as Yehudah Halevi, Benedict Spinoza, and Heinrich Heine. Broderzon’s last major published work was Yud (1939), a poem with 50 sections; here the despair expressed in Forshtelungen reached its fullest expression and anticipated the Holocaust.

Broderzon fled Łódź in September 1939 and went to Białystok, where he remained until the city was invaded by the German army in June 1941. He was evacuated to a small town in central Asia. In 1944, he was summoned to Moscow, where he taught at the drama school of the state Yiddish theater (GOSET). During Stalin’s postwar wave of terror against Jewish culture, however, Broderzon was arrested on 28 April 1950 and condemned to 10 years in a labor camp. In September 1955, he was rehabilitated and freed, and at the end of June 1956, he was permitted to return to Poland and planned to immigrate to Israel. He was warmly welcomed in Warsaw by the small Yiddish literary circle that had regrouped there after the war. But in despair at seeing a Poland that had become a Jewish cemetery and weakened by years in a labor camp, he died of a heart attack in Warsaw on 17 August 1956. A portion of his writings from the war and postwar years was published in Tel Aviv as Dos letste lid (The Last Poem; 1974).

Considered a “master of rhyme,” Moyshe Broderzon left his mark on the literature of his age. Like Y. L. Peretz, he enriched Yiddish literature with new forms. As a poet and especially as a dramatist, he was considered an avant-garde artist who saw art as a single entity. On the modest stage of the cabaret theater, he tested the meeting of various arts: painting, music, poetry, drama, dance, and popular song.

Suggested Reading

Samuel Rollansky, “Moyshe Broderzon: Der shpilman fun Yung-yidish,” in Oysgeklibene shriftn, by Moyshe Broderzon, pp. 11–29 (Buenos Aires, 1959); Gilles Rozier, Moyshe Broderzon: Un écrivain yiddish d’avant-garde (St. Denis, Fr., 1999); Yefim Yeshurun, “Moyshe Broderzon: Bibliografye,” in Oysgeklibene shriftn, by Moyshe Broderzon, pp. 250–268 (Buenos Aires, 1959); Zalmen Zylbercweig (Zilberstvayg), “Broderzohn, Moyshe,” in Leksikon fun yidishn teater, vol. 1, cols. 215–216 (New York, 1931).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1,1, YIVO (Vilna): Administration, Records, 1925-1941; RG 26, Yidisher Artistn Fareyn (Warsaw), Records, 1919-1939; RG 602, Shalom Asch, Papers, .



Translated from French by Cecilia Grayson