Yiddish literary and cultural weekly periodical, published between April 1924 and June or July 1939. Literarishe bleter was the leading Yiddish literary publication in interwar Poland. With Warsaw suddenly bereft of Yiddish cultural periodicals and the appearance of a new Polish weekly, Wiadomości Literackie (which soon became Poland’s leading literary publication), a group of young Warsaw writers created the Yiddish weekly Literarishe bleter.
Melech Ravitch, Perets Markish, I. J. Singer, and Nakhmen Mayzel edited and published the new periodical at their own expense. Initially, about 2,000 copies were issued, but within a year its circulation doubled. As a publication without an explicit ideology, Literarishe bleter attracted contributors from Poland and abroad. Its success motivated its publishers to organize lectures in various places and to invite readers to be involved in the periodical’s affairs.
Despite success, the editorial board did not last more than one year. In March 1925, Literarishe bleter became a part of the Boris Kletskin publishing house that had moved from Vilna to Warsaw, with Mayzel serving as the paper’s editor in chief. To increase circulation, he contacted the YIVO Institute in Vilna and the Warsaw chapter of the Yiddish PEN club; until the early 1930s, he published their bulletins in conjunction with his own weekly.
Each issue of Literarishe bleter consisted of 16 pages with illustrations and photographs. Articles dealt with literature, art, theater, motion pictures, and education. While its emphasis was on Yiddish culture, the paper also published pieces on contemporary European literature and included interviews with local and visiting authors. Its editorials covered issues pertaining to Yiddish culture, such as the struggle of young authors for recognition and their denunciation of the literary establishment, the ongoing war against noncanonical literature known as shund (“trash”), manifestations of antisemitism among Polish authors, the growing trend of linguistic assimilation into Polish, and the deteriorating economic situation of Yiddish writers. Each issue allocated space to literary works (some of them serialized), to critical reviews, and to coverage of new books, recently dramatized theatrical plays, and brief reports on recent events relevant to literature.
Throughout its existence, Literarishe bleter provided a platform to encourage its audience to read and purchase Yiddish books. For a number of years, it published reports on behalf of the Bibliotekn Tsenter, the association of Jewish libraries throughout Poland. Publishing houses regularly advertised current offerings, and most new books published in Poland were promptly introduced or reviewed. Supplementary pamphlets of translations from world literature were often distributed with the weekly. These gave readers access to such authors as Gorky, Tolstoy, Remarque, Hamsun, and others.
As political affiliation within the Jewish literary world in Poland grew during the late 1930s, Literarishe bleter also took sides on issues, showing opposition to the Bund and sometimes to communism. Within the Jewish community Kletskin and Mayzel themselves were considered procommunist (despite Mayzel’s regular work for the Zionist Haynt); consequently, the Bund and its institutions viewed them as political enemies. Under these circumstances a substantial audience was alienated from the journal, and this situation may also have prevented cooperation between the Literarishe bleter and other major cultural institutions affiliated with the Bund.
Despite the fact that it was a unique publication with a regular readership of about 20,000 (five times its official circulation), Literarishe bleter faced closure many times over the years. Mayzel placed his efforts into expanding the subscription base, finding sponsors, and obtaining loans from the Yiddish-speaking world. Financial difficulties notwithstanding, Literarishe bleter evolved into a crucial cultural institution. Perusing its 750 issues provides a broad, multifaceted picture of Jewish cultural life in independent Poland.
Natan Cohen, Sefer, sofer ve-‘iton: Merkaz ha-tarbut ha-Yehudit be-Varshah, 1918–1942 (Jerusalem, 2003).
Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann