(1863–1924), writer, journalist, and historian. Azriel Natan (Nosn) Frenk was a seminal figure in early Hebrew- and Yiddish-language journalism and literature in Warsaw. Renowned for translating the Zohar, Hasidic legends, and Polish literature, he also wrote numerous popular works on the history of Polish Jews.
Frenk hailed from a wealthy family of merchants in Wodzisław in what was then the province of Kielce. Despite his Hasidic background and upbringing, in 1886 he began to associate with educated and intellectual circles in Warsaw, where he further developed his intellectual skills through self-study. Frenk sympathized early with social revolutionary groups and later with the Zionist movement. He was a part of the Hebrew and Yiddish-language literary scene in Warsaw, which was greatly influenced by the presence of immigrant authors from Russia, including Yisra’el Ḥayim Zagorodski (1864–1931) and Sha’ul Pinḥas Rabbinowitz (1845–1910).
Frenk published regularly in the Varshever yudisher familyen-kalendar, the first important Jewish literary periodical in Warsaw. As a journalist and a columnist, he was a frequent contributor to the Warsaw-based Ha-Tsefirah as well as to Saint Petersburg’s Ha-Melits. From 1911, he was on the editorial board of Ha-Tsefirah, although he lost this position after World War I. Frenk’s Yiddish-language works appeared in Literatur un lebn and Yontev bletlakh, both of which were published by Yitskhok Leybush Peretz; in Mordkhe Spektor’s Der hoyz-fraynd; in the Warsaw daily newspaper Haynt; and in a large number of other Yiddish-language periodicals.
Again and again, the worlds of Hasidism and mysticism provided the backdrop for Frenk’s works, as is evident in his collected legends (Yitsḥak Me’ir be-yalduto [Yitsḥak Me’ir in His Youth]; 1904); Mivḥar agadot ha-ḥasidim [Legends of the Hasidim; 1923]; Agadot ha-Zohar [Legends of the Zohar]; 1923) or popular-historical treatments such as Me-Ḥaye ha-ḥasidim be Polin (From the Life of the Hasidim in Poland; 1896). He translated works of contemporary Polish authors into Hebrew and Yiddish, including Eliza Orzeszkowa, the Nobel laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz, and Bolesław Prus.
Frenk distinguished himself particularly as the author of historical works, both scholarly and popular. The former include his history of Jewish life in Poland, Vnutrenniaia zhizn’ evreev v Pol’she i na Litve 17 and 18 vekov (The Inner Life of Jews in Poland and Lithuania in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries; published in Istoriia Evreiskogo Naroda [History of the Jewish People, vol. 11; 1914]); and Ha-‘Ironim veha-Yehudim be-Polin (The Burghers and the Jews in Poland; 1921). His popular accounts exposed specific episodes or aspects of this history, as in Di geshikhte fun Yidn in Poyln (History of the Jews in Poland; 1907); Der Alfonsen pogrom in Varsha (The Alfonsen Pogrom in Warsaw; 1908); and Meshumodim in Poyln in 19-ten yohr-hundert (Apostates in Poland in the Nineteenth Century; 1923). Characterized by a realistic yet empathetic treatment of their subject matter, Frenk’s works utilized internal Jewish source materials, including the minute book of the Jewish community of Opatów and the records of the Warsaw Jewish community.
Israel M. Biderman, “Frenk, Azriel-Nosn,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 7, cols. 516–520 (New York, 1968); Jacob Shatzky, Geshikhte fun yidn in Varshe, vol. 3 (New York, 1953).
Translated from German by Deborah Cohen