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Lerer, Yekhiel

(1900 [1910 in some sources]–1942), poet. Born in Mrozy, Warsaw district, to a prominent Hasidic family, Yekhiel Lerer spent his childhood and adolescence in the shtetl of Żelechów, where he received traditional Jewish training and a general education from private tutors. In his adolescence (during the years of World War I), he became acquainted with modern Yiddish and Hebrew writings, and read Polish and German literature. Concurrently, he studied watchmaking and the fur business, but preferred to live in the He-Ḥaluts movement’s agricultural collective. When his hopes of leaving for Palestine fell through, he moved to Warsaw, apparently at the end of the 1920s.

In 1928, Itshe Meyer Vaysenberg published Lerer’s first poems, Tehilim gezangen (Songs of Psalms) in his journal Inzer hofenung (Our Hope). Thereafter, Lerer’s works appeared in many of Warsaw’s Yiddish newspapers and journals, as well as in New York’s Tsukunft, in which he published his long poem Holtshekers (Lumberjacks) in 1935. In 1931, Lerer’s first book, Shoel un Dovid (Saul and David), was published in Warsaw, a biblical poem that revealed his command of the scriptures and his descriptive and lyrical capabilities. He then published two other books: Shtilkayt un shturem (Silence and Storm; 1932), which included poems and prose; and Brunems in feld (Wells in the Field; 1933), a collection of poetry.

Lerer’s major literary acclaim followed the Warsaw publication of his fourth book, a lengthy poem titled Mayn heym: Durkh nakht tsum baginen (My Home: Through Night to the Dawn; 1937) for which he received a literary award. According to the critic Shmuel Zaromb, the poem is faulty in artistic design; however, this issue does not minimize the poem’s originality and the value of its contents. It is an autobiographical poem that describes the Polish environment and the Jewish shtetl, presenting the generational gap between parents and their children but showing how a truce is maintained within a family. The poem depicts shtetl life in a positive light, and as such is not typical of most contemporary Yiddish descriptions of the “Old World.”

Lerer was confined to the Warsaw ghetto, but he continued to write. He aligned himself with the Dror movement, and contributed to its underground publications. A long poem by Lerer, “Oysgebenkter friling” (Longed-for Spring), which is to some extent a continuation of “Mayn heym,” was found in Emanuel Ringelblum’s Oyneg Shabes archives. Lerer remained in contact with his literary colleagues and was among the members of the underground Yidishe Kultur Organizatsye (Yiddish Cultural Organization). He was murdered in Treblinka.

Suggested Reading

Rachel Auerbach (Rokhl Oyerbakh), Varshever tsavoes: Bagegenish, aktivitetn . . . , 1933–1943 (Tel Aviv, 1974), pp. 308–313; Khayim-Leyb Fuks, “Lerer, Yekhiel,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 5, cols. 370–372 (New York, 1963); Moyshe Grosman, Heymishe geshtaltn (Tel Aviv, 1953), pp. 158–164; Shmuel Zaromb, “Durkh nakht tsum baginen,” Literarishe bleter 9 (1938): 153–154.



Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen