Untitled poem by Khayim Semyatitski. Untitled poem by Khayim Semyatitski. "Every evening / Death enters my house. . . ." Yiddish. RG 108, Manuscripts Collection, F58.12.3. (YIVO)

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Semyatitski, Khayim

(1908–1943), Yiddish poet. Born in Tykocin, Khayim Semyatitski was raised in a rabbinic family, and was educated at a heder and several yeshivas, among them the Yeshiva of Mir. He was ordained as a rabbi but chose not to assume an official position. In 1929, he settled in Warsaw and worked at intermittent jobs. He apparently began to write poetry a number of years before his first pieces were published in the daily Haynt in 1932. Thereafter and until the outbreak of World War II, he published poems, stories, and critical reviews in daily newspapers and literary journals in Warsaw, Vilna, Białystok, and New York.

As he was a religious Jew who was also a poet, Semyatitski was in an unusual position among his colleagues. Yiddish writers in Poland and abroad praised his original lyrical expressions, and his first anthology, Oysgeshtrekte hent (Outstretched Hands), was published in 1935. This collection was followed three years later by his second book, Tropns toy (Drops of Dew), a text that earned him the Y. L. Peretz Award of the PEN club of Yiddish writers in Warsaw. In accepting the award, Semyatitski stated, “I did not draw my poetry from foreign [cultures]; my characters are the same large ‘small’ characters one encounters every single moment of one’s life, and because they are so close and known to us, we don’t recognize them.” Semyatitski affirmed that every high-quality literary work is religious in essence, and claimed that the task of the creative artist is to polish the Creator’s work. The Yiddish critic Shmuel Niger, echoing these sentiments, considered Semiatitski’s religiosity to be lyrical, and his lyricism to be religious.

Following the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, Semyatitski fled to Białystok, which was then under Soviet rule. As an observant Jew, however, he did not fit into the Yiddish writers’ environment in that city. Prior to the German invasion of the Soviet Union, he moved to Vilna. In two years of ghetto life, he experienced a deep spiritual crisis, was conscripted into forced labor, and was finally murdered in Ponar during the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto in September 1943.

Suggested Reading

Moisheh Grosman, Heymishe geshtaltn (Tel Aviv, 1953), pp. 169–177; Samuel Niger, Bleter geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur (New York, 1959), pp. 368–369; “Semyatitski, Khayim,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 6, cols. 494–495 (New York, 1965).



Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen