David Frishman (right) with Hebrew poets (left) Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik and (center) Zusman Segalovitsh. Postcard published by Verlag Jehudia, Warsaw. (YIVO)

Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Segalovitsh, Zusman

(1884–1949), writer and poet. Born in Białystok, where his father was an unsuccessful merchant and the family frequently suffered deprivation, Zusman Segalovitsh received his education in heder and from private tutors. Between 1903 and 1905, he was a member of Bundist underground circles, an affiliation that led to his imprisonment. Following a pogrom in Białystok in 1906, Segalovitsh’s family moved to Łódź.

In 1903, Segalovitsh published his first Russian poem in a local newspaper, and in July 1904 Der fraynd in Saint Petersburg printed his first Yiddish piece. In 1909, his collection of poetry, Shtile troymen (Quiet Dreams), appeared in Warsaw, and in 1912, his lengthy poem In Kazimierz was produced in a number of editions; the latter portrayed a failed love story of a young Jewish girl with a clear allusion to the love story between King Casimir and the Jewish woman Ester.

In 1914–1915, Segalovitsh lived variously in Odessa, Crimea, and Caucasia. Conscripted into the Russian army in 1916, he served for one year. He then settled first in Kiev and later in Moscow, and produced the short-story collection A legende vebt zikh (A Legend Takes Shape; 1918) as well as the long dramatic poem Di vant (The Wall; 1918) which had come out in a censored version in 1915. In addition to the motifs in Segalovitsh’s early poetry—silence, loneliness, tranquility, and nature’s military features—power, death, and destruction were incorporated in his writings following World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution.

Disappointed with the revolution, Segalovitsh returned to Warsaw in 1919. He became a member of the editorial board of that city’s daily Haynt, and also wrote for other papers in Poland and abroad. In 1929, he transferred to the competing newspaper Der moment, in which he wrote installments of novels as well as journalistic essays.

Segalovitsh was a prominent figure in Jewish Warsaw’s writing circles, and the meeting hall of the Professional Association of Writers and Journalists at 13 Tłomackie Street was his second home. He served on the association’s board of directors and was elected to lead the Warsaw branch of the PEN club of Yiddish writers from 1928 to 1930. His experiences are recounted in his memoir Tlomatske 13 (1946).

Segalovitsh also published 33 books and brochures during the interwar years, only 5 of which were poetry. Within this genre, his ballad “Reyzele dem shoykhets” (Reyzele the Butcher’s Wife; 1921) was praised. Among his many books of prose, a significant number were popular and are representative of his style of writing. Romantishe yorn (Romantic Years; 1924) is a sentimental autobiographical novel describing the atmosphere in Białystok at the start of the twentieth century; its major character is an imprisoned revolutionary hero. In the collection Mayses fun der rusisher kazarma (Stories from the Russian Barracks; 1926), Segalovitsh wrote about his army experiences. Another autobiographical novel that brought him wide acclaim was Undzer froy (Our Wife; 1926), a novel about love, betrayal, and disappointment. His Di vilde Tsilke (The Wild Tsilke; 1922) describes a liberated young woman who gives up material comforts to live outside the city in nature among quiet and peaceful people. A different atmosphere is depicted in Di brider Nemzar (The Nemzar Brothers; 1929), about a capitalist merchant character in the natural environment of a forest.

Two volumes of Segalovitsh’s stories, Ikh zi un er (Me She and He; 1926) and Shmendrikes (Scoundrels; 1930), present a gallery of characters, mainly women protagonists representing bourgeois Jews. In both volumes, Segalovitsh describes the growing tendency among middle-class men and women toward acculturation into the Polish environment; he presents “vulgar” characters in a mocking and ironic light. Segalovitsh’s novels were widely read in Poland, despite the worsening crisis of the Yiddish book market. He—though politically neutral and considered a representative of the older and conservative generation—attracted criticism from the new generation, which was aligned with the radical left. Critics identifying with the Bund or with Communists saw his middlebrow writings as lacking a social message and corrupting readers’ tastes, bordering on shund (“trash” literature). Leo Finkelshteyn preferred the early poetry and viewed Segalovitsh’s later prose as a recycling of earlier motifs. Segalovitsh often described the tension between the sexes with an exaggerated focus on the first person in his stories, and his concentration on this theme, critics said, made his works superficial and banal. Finkelshteyn considered Segalovitsh’s novels more successful in artistic terms, even though he felt that they too were sentimental and lacked depth.

In September 1939, Segalovitsh fled Warsaw, and following a journey through Lithuania, Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Syria, arrived in Tel Aviv in 1941. There the focus of his writings was directed at commemorating Polish Jewry. From the time of his departure from Poland, he followed the laws of mourning and avoided going to the cinema or theater. At the end of 1947, he visited a number of countries in Western Europe, and from there traveled to the United States where he was warmly received. He died suddenly in New York and was buried there.

Suggested Reading

Leo Finkelshteyn, “Z. Segalovitsh,” Bikher velt (Warsaw) 4 (1928): 31–37; Ḥayim Solomon Kazdan, ed., Zusman Segalovitsh (New York, 1979); Yehoshu‘a Rotenberg, “Zusman Segalovitsh: Ha-Ish ve-yetsirato ha-sifrutit,” in Ben shete milḥamot ‘olam: Perakim me-ḥaye ha-tarbut shel yehude Polin li-leshonotehem, ed. Samuel Werses and Chone Shmeruk, pp. 219–246 (Jerusalem, 1997).



Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen