(1894–1942), poet and journalist. Born in Ostrołęka, Białystok district, Yisroel Shtern grew up in an economically deprived family. His father, a melamed, died young, leaving his mother—who sold homemade baked goods—and grandfather to support the family. Shtern studied in a heder and continued his religious education in the prestigious yeshivas of Slobodka and Łomża. At the outbreak of World War I, Shtern was living in Vienna, where he was imprisoned as a Russian national. During this period, he became acquainted with contemporary European literature and philosophy.
At the end of the war, Shtern returned to Poland and settled in Warsaw, where he was connected with study groups affiliated with the Musar movement. In that city, he interacted with both Lithuanian Talmudic scholars (khevre Shas), and Bratslav Hasidim. In his private life, Shtern was solitary, seldom seeking the company of other writers.
Shtern’s first poems were published in 1919 in the Folkist weekly periodical Dos folk and later in the literary journal Der sne, edited by Hillel Zeitlin, whom he greatly admired and whose home he frequented. In the years 1921–1922, Shtern contributed to the modernist publications Ringen (Links) and Khalyastre (Gang). His fame came as a result of a long poem he published in the anthology Varshever almanakh (Warsaw Almanac; 1923), titled Shpitol lider (Hospital Poems), describing Shtern’s own lengthy illness. In the period before World War II, he contributed to many newspapers and periodicals, including those maintaining a clear political orientation such as the Bundist Naye folks-tsaytung and Foroys and the Zionist Haynt. The majority of his poems reflect existential distress and the suffering of Jews who collapsed under the economic burden of their daily existence. Apparently it was for this reason that his poems were deemed worthy of publication in Bund newspapers, even though they were written by an observant Jew.
Shtern also published literary criticism and public affairs articles in literary periodicals. He attempted to analyze the essence of contemporary Yiddish literature and expose its faults, mainly related to the trend of shund (“trash” literature). His writings were first collected in book form in 1955, at the initiative of Menakhem Flakser and H. Leyvik.
In October 1939, Shtern attempted unsuccessfully to cross the border of occupied Poland into the Soviet Union. He returned to Warsaw and shared the fate of the rest of the city’s Jews. In the beginning of 1942, he almost died of hunger, but was saved by his writer colleagues Rokhl Oyerbakh and Yosef Kirman, who placed him in a refugee hospice. Despite ill health, Shtern continued reading and writing poetry in the ghetto; however, these poems were apparently lost. According to the testimony of Oyerbakh, Shtern received a worker’s permit at the beginning of the deportation of Warsaw Jewry, a factor that temporarily prolonged his life until September 1942, when he was deported to the Treblinka death camp.
Rachel Auerbach, Varshever tsavoes: Bagegenishn, aktivitetn, goyroles, 1933–1943 (Tel Aviv, 1974), pp. 314–323); Menakhem Flakser, “Shtrikhn tsu der biografye fun Yisroel Shtern,” in Lider un esayen, by Israel Stern (Yisroel Shtern), pp. 7–12 (New York, 1955); Melech Ravitch, “Yisroel Shtern,” in Mayn leksikon, pp. 255–257 (Montreal, 1945).
Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen