(1883–1953), Soviet Yiddish literary author, critic, and scholar. Born in a village in Chernigov guberniia, Ukraine, to the family of a timber merchant, Yekhezkl Dobrushin received a private Jewish and Russian education at home. Between 1902 and 1909, he lived in Paris, where he studied law at the Sorbonne and was active in the socialist Zionist movement. After recovering from an illness that had confined him to bed for several years, he published his first collection of poetry and short plays, Benkende neshomes (Longing Souls) in 1912; other publications soon followed. In 1916, Dobrushin settled in Kiev and his articles and poetry appeared in various Hebrew and Yiddish periodicals. During the civil war, he edited and contributed to the publications of the Kultur-lige. In 1920, he moved to Moscow, where he coedited the magazine Shtrom and other Soviet Yiddish periodicals.
Jewish writers on the occasion of a visit by Yiddish writer H. Leyvik (front row, center), Moscow, 1925. Among those in the portrait are Izi Kharik and Zelik Akselrod (back row, first and third from left), Yehezkl Dobrushin, Borekh Glazman (also visiting from New York), Shmuel-Nisn Godiner, and Arn Kushnirov (front row, first, second, fourth, and fifth from left). Photo by B. Kapustinskii. (YIVO)
A prolific poet, playwright, and critic, Dobrushin enthusiastically responded to new developments in Jewish life in the Soviet Union. In the late 1920s, he was a regular visitor to Jewish agricultural settlements in Crimea, where he collected material for sketches and plays that were later produced on the Soviet Yiddish stage. As the chief literary consultant for the Moscow State Yiddish Theater (GOSET), Dobrushin adapted a number of works of Yiddish literature for the stage. In his capacity as a theater critic and historian, he published significant studies on the dramaturgy of Avrom Goldfadn, Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Sholem Aleichem, and Y. L. Peretz (collected under the title Di dramaturgye fun di klasiker [The Dramaturgy of the Classical Writers]; 1948), as well as on the Soviet Yiddish theater, including monographs about Yiddish actors Binyomin Zuskin (1939) and Solomon Mikhoels (1940). Dobrushin was the only critic and playwright among a group of six Soviet Yiddish writers who were awarded high Soviet decorations in 1939, and a village in Crimea was named after him.
Dobrushin’s literary criticism covered all of Soviet Yiddish literature from the 1920s to the 1940s. His collection Gedankengang (Train of Thoughts; 1922) was both the earliest critical overview of new Soviet Yiddish literature and a manifesto of a proactive position of the writer in accordance with the revolutionary spirit of the age: “The writer must stop describing and start building.” As a literary historian, Dobrushin paid special attention to Sholem Aleichem, particularly to elements of folklore in his works. Dobrushin’s book Dovid Bergelson (1947) contains, notwithstanding its dogmatic Marxist-Leninist methodology, many valuable insights, and remains the only monographic study of one of the greatest of Yiddish writers. Another major theme of Dobrushin’s research was Yiddish folklore. In one of his last articles published before his arrest in 1948, he called for the collection and study of folklore among the survivors of the Holocaust. He was active in the historical commission of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee from 1942.
Dobrushin was arrested in late 1948, tortured during the interrogation, and sent to a prison camp in the Arctic Circle, where he died in exile in 1953.
Gennady Estraikh, In Harness: Yiddish Writers’ Romance with Communism (Syracuse, N.Y., 2005); Jeffrey Veidlinger, The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish Culture on the Soviet Stage (Bloomington, Ind., 2000).