ASCH, SHOLEM


ASCH, SHOLEM
ASCH, SHOLEM (1880–1957), Yiddish novelist and dramatist. Born in Kutno, Poland, to parents from scholarly Orthodox families, he was educated in traditional Jewish schools until the age of 17. He began to learn German with the aid of Moses Mendelssohn's Hebrew-alphabet German translation of the Psalms, later learning the Roman alphabet and immersing himself in German classics and Hebrew Haskalah literature. His parents' subsequent suspicions of heresy led him to move to the home of relatives in a Polish village, where he taught the children Torah. He later earned his living by writing letters for illiterate people in the town of Włocławek. Influenced by Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, and German, Asch tried his hand at literary composition and, in 1900, took his first literary efforts (in Hebrew) to Warsaw where I.L. Peretz advised him to concentrate on Yiddish. His early work is pervaded with the experiences of his youth and the influence of A. Reisen and H.D. Nomberg , his Warsaw roommates. A turning point in his life was his meeting with the Polish-Jewish writer, M.M. Shapiro, whose daughter Mathilde he married in 1900. His material needs provided for, Asch's literary achievements flourished correspondingly. In 1900 he published a Yiddish story, "Moyshele," and three years later his first book, a collection of Yiddish sketches, In a Shlekhter Tsayt ("In an Evil Time," 1903). With A Shtetl ("A Town," published in Fraynd, 1904–5), Asch introduced a new tone into his own works and into Yiddish literature as a whole; the former gloomy portrayal of Jewish life gave way to an awareness of its warmth and geniality; the work was received enthusiastically by readers. From this period date Asch's first friendships with Polish writers, among them Eliza Orzeszkowa, Stefan Żeromski, Maria Dąbrowska, and above all Stanisław Witkiewicz. His first play Tsurikgekumen ("The Return," 1904. (also published as Mitn Shtrom, "With the Current," 1909) won him further recognition. The most important of his dramas was Got fun Nekome ("God of Vengeance," 1907). In his psychological and socio-nationalist dramas, Asch tried to liberate himself from the spell of the shtetl. The same tendency is felt in his first novel, Meri (Mary, 1913), depicting the 1905 Revolution from a Jewish perspective, and its sequel, Der Veg tsu Zikh ("The Way to Oneself," 1914), both of which deal with worldwide Jewish problems and which were written after Asch had traveled in Europe and made journeys to Palestine (1908, which resulted in a collection of sketches, Ereẓ Israel, 1911) and the United States (1910), about which he wrote Der Landsman ("The Countryman," 1911) and Amerike. In 1912 Asch moved to France, and in 1913 he published Reb Shloyme Nogid, reverting to the world of the shtetl while bringing to the topic a new maturity of outlook; no longer content with lyrical description, he now wished to make a positive statement about this society. The story became the artistic yardstick by which he measured all his subsequent works, few of which reached the required standard. The same year Asch published his biblical stories for children, Mayselekh fun Khumesh ("Tale from the Pentateuch," 1913). In 1914 Asch made his second trip to Palestine and moved to New York, where he wrote a play, Undzer gloybn ("Our Faith," 1905. and other narratives that appeared in the Forverts. In 1915 he helped to raise funds for Jewish war victims. During this creative period he also published the social novel Motke Ganev ("Motke the Thief," 1916), a tale of the underworld, and Onkl Mozes (1918), which displays greater narrative unity and coherence, the scene now being an Americanized version of the Polish shtetl which, no longer the theme for a patriarchal idyll, verges on comedy. He was still more successful with Kiddush ha-Shem ("Martyrdom," 1919), one of the earliest historical novels in modern Yiddish literature; it represents Jewish martyrdom in mid-17th-century Ukraine and Poland, although its immediate motivation was the Ukrainian pogroms of 1918–19. In the spring of 1919 he traveled in Europe for the American Jewish Relief Committee. In the following year he became an American citizen, and on the occasion of his 40th birthday, a committee headed by J.L. Magnes was founded in New York which published Asch's collected works in 12 volumes, with an introduction by S. Niger . Asch's second grand historical novel, the somewhat melodramatic Di Kishufmakhern fun Kastilyen ("The Witch of Castile," 1921), is in spirit a continuation of Kiddush ha-Shem, telling of a beautiful girl's resolute death for her faith, contrasting the everyday world of Jewish life with the elevated spirit of the Sabbath, and outer servitude with inner freedom. In 1924 Asch returned to Warsaw and wrote a social novel, Di muter ("The Mother," 1925), one part of which is about Polish Jewry, the other about the United States; Toyt Urteyl ("Death Sentence," 1924); and Khaym Lederers Tsurikkumen ("Chaim Lederer's Return," 1927), whose hero belongs to the typically Aschian characters who yearn for an ideal and search for faith. After the Polish coup d'état of 1926, Asch published in Warsaw's Haynt an open letter to Marshal Józef Piłsudski, which stirred controversy in Jewish circles. In the monumental trilogy, Farn Mabl ("Before the Flood," transl. as Three Cities): Peterburg ("St. Petersburg," 1929), Varshe ("Warsaw," 1930), and Moskve ("Moscow," 1931), he provides a broad panorama of Jewish life in Russia before and during the Revolution. In 1932 Asch moved to Nice and in the following year was elected honorary president of the Yiddish PEN Club. In the same year, he was awarded the medal Polonia Restituta by the Polish government and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature. After the monumental Farn Mabl, Asch published the less ambitious Gots Gefangene ("God's Captives," 1933),   Der Tilim Yid (1934, trans. as Salvation), Bam Opgrunt ("The Precipice," 1937), a novel about the years of rampant inflation in Germany before Hitler's rise to power, and Dos Gezang fun Tol ("The Song of the Valley," 1938), a poetic depiction of settlers' lives in Palestine. In 1937 Asch again toured the United States to raise funds for European Jews and received an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary. After 1938 he again made his home in the U.S. His next group of books comprises his christological trilogy, which deal with the founders of Christianity: Der Man fun Notseres (1939, trans. as The Nazarene), The Apostle (1943), and Mary (1949) (the last two published only in English). In their psychological content, they develop directly from Der Tilim Yid, while the subject matter is connected with that of some of Asch's early stories. They were enthusiastically received by the English, but not by the Yiddish, press. The Forverts, to which Asch had hitherto contributed regularly, not only refused to publish the work, but openly attacked the author for encouraging heresy and conversion by preaching Christianity. Only a very few critics discussed the literary merits of the books, most of the Jewish press following the Forverts' lead in attacking Asch. The result was an estrangement between Asch and Yiddish literature and Jewish social life. His critics claimed to discern the missionary element in all the writing of the subsequent dozen or so years: his American-Jewish novel Ist River ("East River," 1946), his collection of ghetto stories about the Nazi period, Der Brenendiker Dorn ("The Burning Bush," 1946), and Moyshe ("Moses," 1951). In 1954 Grosman un Zun (trans. as Passage in the Night) appeared, and in 1955 Asch turned to the prophet Isaiah in Der Novi ("The Prophet"). As all his works, they reveal a first-rate storyteller who clothed romantic idealism in a realistic style. He stressed the individuality of his characters as well as their national and social environment, their moral deliberations, and their religious strivings. Controversial, aggressive, and tireless in his search for new horizons, Asch, who began as the poet of the shtetl, nevertheless liberated Yiddish literature from these narrow confines. Deeply attached to the legacy of the Jewish past, which he enshrined in novels and dramas of aesthetic beauty and moral grandeur, he connected the Yiddish world to the mainstream of European and American culture, becoming the first Yiddish writer to enjoy a truly international vogue. In 1956, Asch settled in Tel Aviv, and in the following year he suffered a fatal stroke while in London. In accordance with Asch's request, his house in Bat Yam was converted into a Sholem Asch Museum. Of his notable collections of Jewish art objects, the accumulation of a lifetime, a valuable part is in Los Angeles, while the bulk of his library, containing rare Yiddish books and manuscripts, including the originals of some of his own works, is at Yale University. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: E.H. Jeshurin, Sholem Ash Bibliografye (1958); A. Cahan, Sholem Ashs Nayer Veg (1941); S. Niger, Dertseylers un Romanistn, 1 (1946), 320–530; H. Lieberman, The Christianity of Sholem Asch (1953); LNYL, 1 (1956), 183–92; I. Paner, Sholem Ash in Zayn Letster Heym (1958); S. Rosenberg, Sholem Ash fun der Noent (1958); S. Niger, Sholem Ash, Zayn Lebn, Zayne Verk (1960); L. Nemoy, Catalogue of Hebrew and Yiddish Manuscripts and Books from the Library of Sholem Asch (1945); C. Madison, Yiddish Literature (1968), 221–61; Waxman, Literature, 4 (1960), 526–43; S. Liptzin, Flowering of Yiddish Literature (1963), 178–89; N. Asch, in: Commentary, 39/1 (1965), 55–64. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Asch, My Personal Faith (1942); Y. Turkov-Grudberg, Sholem Ashs Derekh in der Yidisher Eybikeyt. Monografye (1967); B. Siegel, The Controversial Sholem Asch. An Introduction to His Fiction (1976); M. Tsanin (ed.), Briv fun Sholem Ash (1980); S. Liptzin, A History of Yiddish Literature (1985), 145–55; American National Biography (1999), 664; N. Stahl (ed.), Sholem Asch Reconsidered (2004). (Shemuel Niger (Charney) / Magdalena Sitarz (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Asch,Sholem — Asch (ăsh), Sholem or Shalom 1880 1957. Polish born American Yiddish writer who sought to reconcile Judaism and Christianity in his controversial novels, such as The Nazarene (1939). * * * …   Universalium

  • Asch, Sholem — born Nov. 1, 1880, Kutno, Pol., Russian Empire died July 10, 1957, London, Eng. Polish born U.S. novelist and playwright. Much of his writing concerns the experience of Jews in eastern European villages or as immigrants in the U.S. (to which he… …   Universalium

  • Asch, Sholem — (1880–1957)    Yiddish novelist. Born in Kutno, Poland, Asch was the first Yiddish writer of international reputation. In achieving this he liberated Yiddish literature from its narrow confines and made it part of general Western culture.    The… …   Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament

  • Asch, Sholem — (1880 1957)    Polish Yiddish author. He lived in the US, France and Israel. In short stories, novels and plays he depicted shtetl life in eastern Europe, as well as the American Jewish experience. His later novels deal with the Jewish Christian… …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

  • Asch, Sholem — (1 nov. 1880, Kutno, Polonia, Imperio ruso–10 jul. 1957, Londres, Inglaterra). Novelista y dramaturgo estadounidense nacido en Polonia. La mayoría de sus escritos tratan sobre la experiencia de los judíos en los pueblos de la Europa oriental o… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Asch, Sholem —  (1880–1957) Polish born American novelist …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

  • Sholem Asch — (en yiddish שלום אש) ou Shalom Asch (1880 1957) est un écrivain et journaliste yiddish, né en Pologne dans une famille juive traditionnelle. Il s’affranchit de la tradition et voyage dans le monde, devenant l’un des plus grands écrivains yiddish …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Sholem Asch — born Szulim Asz ( yi. שלום אש), also written Shalom Asch(1 November, 1880, Kutno July 10, 1957, London) was a Polish born American novelist, dramatist, and essayist in the Yiddish language.Asch was born in Kutno, Poland, of Jewish heritage. He… …   Wikipedia

  • Sholem — (as used in expressions) Asch Sholem Sholem Aleichem Sholem Yakov Rabinowitz Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh * * * …   Universalium

  • Sholem — (as used in expressions) Asch, Sholem Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh Sholem Aleichem Sholem Yakov Rabinowitz …   Enciclopedia Universal


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