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Finkelshteyn, Leo

(1895–1950), journalist, publicist, and Yiddish activist involved in socialism. Leo Finkelshteyn (Finkelstein) was born in Radom, where he received a general education and later studied philosophy at Jagiellonian University in Kraków. In 1923, he moved to Warsaw and became a member of the Folkist Party, serving as its representative on the executive committee of the Warsaw Jewish community from 1927 to 1937.


Finkelshteyn was noted for defending the rights of the poor and underprivileged. He actively supported secular cultural organizations, particularly theaters, and fought for the economic welfare of the Yiddishist schools of TSYSHO, the Central Yiddish School Organization. In 1935, following the collapse of the various organizations of the Folkist Party, he joined the Bund and resumed public activities through that organization.


Finkelshteyn’s literary and cultural activities began in 1916, when he wrote two plays in Polish, which were subsequently staged. In 1919, he began writing for the Yiddish press, initially for the Folkist newspapers Moment and Dos folk and subsequently for the Bundist paper Naye folks-tsaytung. He also wrote for the Bund’s literary publications, on one of which (Faroys; 1937) he was a member of the editorial board. Additionally, he wrote for Literarishe bleter and the Polish Jewish paper Nasz Przegląd.


What distinguished Finkelshteyn’s writings were the numerous eclectic subjects about which he wrote with authority: philosophy (he was interested in Spinoza, Marx, and Engels), literary theory, and criticism of contemporary Polish, European, and Jewish literature. Finkelshteyn also lectured on these subjects, notably at the Kultur-lige, with which he was closely associated. In September 1932, he represented the Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists in Warsaw at an international conference on Spinoza that took place in the Hague, where he presented his paper in Yiddish. In the same year, he published a book in Polish: Hegel, Marx, Spinoza: Proba syntezy (Hegel, Marx, Spinoza: A Synthesis Attempt). One of his major works in Yiddish was Grunt shtrikhn fun der yidisher filosofye (Fundamental Features of Jewish Philosophy; 1937), a history and analysis of Jewish philosophy beginning with Philo and Maimonides and proceeding through Moses Mendelssohn and Khaim Zhitlovsky.


In 1936, Finkelshteyn was elected to the management board of the Warsaw Yiddish PEN club, where, despite profound political differences, he worked in close cooperation with the chapter’s chair, Arn Zeitlin, to spread and promote knowledge about Yiddish literature throughout the world.


After the Germans captured Warsaw, Finkelshteyn joined the stream of refugees leaving the city and arrived in Białystok, where the Soviet local authorities persecuted him for his Bundist past and subsequently exiled him to Astrakhan. Probably because of his poor health, he was allowed to go to Moscow in 1941, where he remained until 1946. He then returned to Poland and joined a group of Jewish authors and journalists who settled in Łódź and attempted to revive the literary center that had been destroyed during the war. Here he became involved in cultural activity and contributed to Jewish publications that appeared periodically in Poland. He was elected to chair the Association of Jewish Writers, Journalists, and Artists in Poland (Yid., Fareyn fun Yidishe Literatn, Zhurnalistn un Artistn in Poyln; Pol., Związek Literatów, Dziennikarzy i Artystów Żydowskich w Polsce), but he did not hold that office for long. By 1947 he had left Poland and immigrated to New York, where he died in 1950.

Suggested Reading

“Finkelshteyn, Leo,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 7, cols. 384–386 (New York, 1968); Melech Ravitch (Melekh Ravitsh), “Leo Finkelshteyn,” in Mayn leksikon, vol. 2, pp. 60–62 (Montreal, 1947).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1400, Bund Archives, Collection, ca. 1870-1992.

Author

Translation

Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann