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Sfard, Dovid

(1905–1981), Yiddish writer. Born in Trisk (Turiysk), Ukraine, Dovid Sfard spent his childhood in Ozeryany, where his father was a rabbi. Having received a traditional Jewish education, Sfard studied in Kovel’ at secondary schools that taught Hebrew and Polish; he then attended school in Luts’k from 1919 to 1926. After publishing some Hebrew poems in a periodical produced by young Hebraists in the latter city, he decided to devote himself to literature.

From 1926 to 1928, Sfard lived in Warsaw, where he studied philosophy and was part of the circle of the charismatic Yiddish writer Itshe Meyer Vaysenberg. He cofounded a short-lived journal for young literati, Shprotsungen (Sprouts), and published his first poetry collection, Shtaplen (Steps; 1929). In 1928 he continued his studies in Nancy, France, also joining the leftist group Funk (Spark). He defended his doctoral dissertation on Hegel in 1931. Upon returning to Warsaw in 1932, Sfard became actively involved in leftist Yiddish literary activities. The following year, he joined the illegal Polish Communist Party and published his second book, Vegn tsegeyen zikh (On Breaking Up)—a story portraying ideological struggle and the formation of various political groups in a small town.

A member of the Party’s Jewish Bureau, in 1934 and 1935 Sfard was its representative at the Warsaw Yiddish daily Fraynd, which was registered as a non-Communist democratic newspaper, published by Boris Kletskin and edited by Alter Kacyzne. Subsequently, from 1939 to 1946, Sfard lived in the Soviet Union, serving as deputy chair of the Białystok branch of the Soviet Writers Union (1939–1941) and later living in Central Asia and Moscow. From his personal experience, he came to distinguish two parallel lines in Soviet policies toward national minorities: the central authorities aimed to minimize a national culture’s influence on its corresponding national group, but at the same time such authorities stimulated further development of the culture proper.

From 1946, Sfard was a central figure in the Polish Jewish community, particularly in its cultural institutions such as the publishing house Yidish-bukh and the journal Yidishe shriftn. In his book Shrayber un bikher (Writers and Books; 1949) he attempted to find a place for Yiddish literature in the post-Holocaust world, apparently believing that Polish Jewish Communists should secure a full-blooded Yiddish cultural life rather than follow the Soviet model blindly. In the mid-1950s, he rejected the criticism of certain Soviet Yiddish writers (among them, Motl Grubyan and Hersh Bloshteyn) who attacked the “pessimism” that found expression in continued mourning for victims of the Holocaust. This discussion mirrored the difference between two approaches to the Holocaust: while Polish Jews were allowed to mourn and discuss it, Soviet Jews were not permitted to grieve separately from other Soviet peoples.

During his literary career, Sfard translated from French, Russian, and Polish, and wrote about Yiddish writers. Following the anti-Jewish campaign in Poland in 1968, he moved to Israel, where in addition to two collections of poems, stories, memoirs, and articles—Brenendike bleter (Burning Pages; 1972) and Mit zikh un mit andere (With Myself and with Others; 1984)—he contributed to periodicals and almanacs.

Suggested Reading

David Sfard, Mit zikh un mit andere (Jerusalem, 1984).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 610, Leib Olitzky, Papers, 1940s-1960s.