Papers of Shmuel Niger
Scope and Content Note
The Papers of Shmuel Niger comprise chiefly correspondence, manuscripts, typescripts, speeches, lectures, leaflets, minutes, reports, and press clippings. There are also personal documents, diaries and notebooks. These materials reflect Niger's life and work as a literary critic and historian. Papers dated after Niger's death are mostly condolences, obituaries or materials from his widow.
During his lifetime Shmuel Niger announced that he would bequeath his papers and library to YIVO (according to information from E. Lifschutz, former YIVO archivist). Following Niger’s death in 1955, YIVO delegated Leyzer Ran to arrange the archival materials in Niger's home. In 1956, a large part of the collection was presented to the YIVO Archives. Niger's widow subsequently transmitted the remainder of the papers, including his diary and notebooks, his personal correspondence and the correspondence of his brother Daniel Charney.
As a result of a published appeal for Niger’s correspondence in the News of YIVO in 1956 (no. 60), 302 letters were received from 35 donors in 1956-9. Some of their names were recorded in the YIVO newsletters, nos. 61, 63, 65, 66, and 71.
Leyzer Ran worked intermittently from 1956 to 1966 on a project to process Niger's collection. He arranged the correspondence with individuals and organizations and partially processed one of the series of printed matter on the subject of Jewishness Today. Later he again worked for a year in the home of Niger's widow to collect the remainder of Niger’s papers. During the course of 3-4 years he submitted Niger's manuscripts and notes for publication in the Tog daily. At first the original manuscripts were returned to him, but the manuscripts that were sent later were lost. He also continued to transmit packages of Niger's remaining papers to the YIVO Archives, where they remained unprocessed.
When Eleanor Mlotek began working on the papers, she found that except for the correspondence with individuals and organizations and the press clippings in the series Jewishness Today, all other materials remained unprocessed and the clippings were in a fragile condition, as they still are. No inventory had been prepared. She processed all the loose unsorted papers according to type and content. The unprocessed correspondence acquired later was incorporated into the series previously done.
Of special biographical interest are Niger's Diaries and Notebooks, written first in Russian and later in Yiddish, where he made philosophical observations and comments about writers and events in his life. Selections of the notebooks were published in 1973. Other biographical data are contained in the Family Correspondence and Biographical Materials series.
Niger was one of the pioneers of Yiddish literary criticism. As such, he was a teacher who developed the reader's critical taste for literature. He showed the reader how to distinguish a work of art from a tendentious propagandistic work. He sought the specifically Jewish and national motifs in Yiddish literature, and this is expressed in his monographs and countless essays about writers.
Although he appreciated the talent of a number of Soviet Yiddish writers in the early years of the Soviet regime and wrote extensively about them, Niger also pointed to their ideological and artistic weaknesses when they were compelled to submit to the Communist party and government directives. Niger was an adherent of Simon Dubnow's theory of cultural autonomy and Chaim Zhitlowsky's theory of Yiddishism, of Yiddish culture being the vehicle of Jewish creative life. Later, in the 1940's when Zhitlowsky was viciously attacked because of his left wing leanings, Niger, although he differed with Zhitlowsky's opinions, was the first to defend him publicly and in print (See particularly folders 2,333 and 2,376).
During and immediately following the end of World War II, Niger collected and wrote about the works of the writers who perished in the ghettos and concentration camps and about the writers for whom the Holocaust became a central theme of their writing. He was one of the first to compile and publish a compendium, Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of the Name) as a monument to the slain creative spirits of the Jewish martyrs of previous generations and of the decimated Eastern European Jews (Folder 1,389).
Every author hoped that Niger would write about him. A positive review was regarded as a form of ordination, entry into the realm of Yiddish literature. Not all writers, however, were in agreement with his opinions. He was frequently criticized and often satirically attacked, as evidenced by the cartoon clippings in the collection (Folder 2,593). But even among his opponents he was respected for his objective approach to literature.
The papers in this collection relate chiefly to Niger's literary and communal activity during the fifty years in which he was prominent as a writer and communal leader. His writing reflects the period which included the Russian Revolution, World War I, the struggle for Jewish national consciousness and secularism, and the rise of the Zionist, Poale Zionist, Territorialist and Bundist (Socialist) movements. His writing is also a reflection of the rise of Jewish national culture in Yiddish and Hebrew and the inception of Hebraism and Yiddishism, a language conflict in the Jewish cultural world, the Holocaust of East European Jewry, the creation of Israel, and the liquidation of Yiddish culture in Soviet Russia.
The Shmuel Niger Papers constitute an important source for students and researchers of Yiddish literature, literary criticism and history. Topics like the history of Yiddish, of Hasidic literature, Yiddish literature in general and particularly in the United States and other countries are rich in a variety of materials. The researcher will discover much pertinent information on Jewish education, especially in this country, about changes that evolved in the national, religious and secular programs in American Jewish life, about communal life in America, and about the Holocaust and Displaced Persons. There are materials about practically every important Yiddish writer and significant occurrence in Yiddish literature and Jewish life. The letters and other documents of the collection are an important source of the beginnings and ascendancy of the modern Yiddish cultural movement.
- Majority of material found within 1920-1955
Language of Materials
The collection is in Yiddish and English with some Hebrew, German, Russian, Spanish, and French.
The collection is open to the public. Permission to publish part of parts of the collection must be obtained in writing from the YIO Archives.
There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:
YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011
Shmuel (Samuel) Niger, pen name of Samuel Charney (Niger is the Latin equivalent for the Polish word "czarny" meaning black), a major Yiddish literary critic and historian and leading communal leader, was born on June 15, 1883 (in his passports the erroneous date is 1885) in the town of Dukor, Minsk region, White Russia. His father, Zev-Wolf, a Lubavitch Hasid, who was a leather shopkeeper, died at a young age in 1889, and his mother Brokhe, nee Hurevitz, raised her six children alone, including Borukh-Nakhman, later B. Charney Vladeck, general manager of the Jewish Daily Forward and New York City alderman, and Donye, later Daniel Charney, Yiddish poet, writer and journalist.
Up to the age of 13, Niger studied in kheyder (religious Hebrew elementary school) and in the yeshiva (institution of higher Talmudic learning) of Berezin. In 1898 he went to Minsk and studied in the Tatar Synagogue and in the House of Study. He also studied among the Musernikes (adherents of a Jewish religious movement which stresses moral edification) in Kameroika, a suburb of Minsk, where he was regarded as “the prodigy of Dukor.” He was accredited to receive ordination as a rabbi, but became instead attracted to secular culture and Zionism. He joined the circle of the first Poale Zionists in Minsk, became active in the group and wrote propagandistic materials for it. In 1904-1905 he participated in the founding conference of the Zionist-Socialist party (S.S.) in Odessa, becoming one of its leaders. Due in part to these activities, he was arrested a number of times and was imprisoned in Minsk, Warsaw, Dvinsk (Daugavpils) and Odessa. From 1909-1911 he attended the Universities of Berlin and Berne, where he studied philosophy.
In 1912, an invitation from the publisher B. Kletskin brought him to Vilna where he edited the monthly magazine Di Yidishe Velt (The Jewish World). Following the 1915 edict of the Czarist government prohibiting the Yiddish press, he left Vilna and lived for a short time in Bobroisk. At the end of that year he was appointed a representative of the Relief Organization for Jewish War Refugees (EKOPO) in Saratov. In 1916 he moved to St. Petersburg, where he became involved in Jewish communal work and in the Jewish school movement. He also contributed articles and studies on literary, cultural and communal topics to the Russian Jewish magazines Voskhod (The Sunrise) and Novi Put (The New Road) and to the Hebrew collection Ha’avar (The Past). After the October Revolution, he left for Moscow and edited the weekly Kultur un Bildung (Culture and Education) published by the Jewish Commissariat in Moscow, 1918. At the end of 1918 he returned to Vilna, which was then occupied by the Bolshevik militia. Together with A. Vaiter (A.M. Devenishki), he edited the periodical Di Vokh (The Week). At the beginning of 1919 he was appointed Jewish literary editor of the Lithuanian-White Russian Soviet Republic. He was also editor of the monthly magazine Di Naye Velt (The New World) and the first chairman of the Cultural League.
When the Polish legions occupied Vilna in April, 1919, Niger, together with A. Vaiter and Leib Jaffe, was arrested. Vaiter was summarily shot and Niger and Jaffe were removed to a prison in Lida, now in Belarus. Thanks to the efforts of Jewish communal leaders in Vilna, who interceded on his behalf with Joseph Pilsudski, and of his brother B. Vladeck, as well as through the intervention of Nathan Straus in New York, Niger and Jaffe were rescued from death.
When the newspaper Der Tog (The Day) was founded in Vilna in May, 1919, Niger became its editor. In autumn 1919 he immigrated to the United States, where at first he joined the staff of the Jewish Daily Forward, and a few weeks later, of Der Tog (The Day), for which he worked until his death in 1955.
He married Basya (Bessie) Luria on October 11, 1919 and had two children, a daughter, Libe (Elizabeth) Shub, daughter-in-law of D. Shub, staff writer of the Jewish Daily Forward, and a son, Dr. Wolf (William) Charney, son-in-law of Dr. I.N. Steinberg, leader of the Territorialist movement.
Niger’s initial literary attempts were in Hebrew and in Russian. In 1902 he began to write for the illegal press of the Zionist-Socialists. His debut in the field of literary criticism was an article about Sholem Asch's Meshiakh's Tsaytn (Messiah's Era) in Dos Vort (The Word), Vilna, 1907. In 1908, together with A. Vaiter and S. Gorelik, he founded the periodical Literarishe Monatshshriftn (The Literary Monthly), which became one of the most prestigious magazines of modern Yiddish literature and culture. There Niger published his first critical essays about I.L. Peretz, Hersh David Nomberg, Abraham Reisen and other Yiddish writers, which placed him in the forefront of Yiddish literary criticism. In 1911 he became editor of the fiction literature section of A. Litvin's Lebn un Visnshaft (Life and Science), and in 1912 the editor of Di Yidishe Velt (The Jewish World). In 1913, with the cooperation of Ber Borochov, he edited and published the first scholarly publication in Yiddish: Der Pinkes, Dos Yorbukh far der Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Literatur un Shprakh, far Folklor, Critik un Biblyografye (The Record Book, Annual of the History of Yiddish Literature and Language, of Folklore, Criticism and Bibliography). He also edited the first volume of the Lexicon of New Yiddish Literature and Press, compiled by Zalman Reisen in 1914.
In the United States, Niger’s work on literary criticism, as well as his activities as a Jewish communal leader expanded. In addition to his weekly article on a literary topic and his weekly essay on current events in the Tog (Day), Niger contributed to Di Tsukunft (The Future), of which he was co-editor from 1941 to 1949. He was also editor of Kinder-Zhurnal (Children's Magazine), co-editor with Dr. Chaim Zhitlowsky, of the monthly for cultural and communal matters, Dos Naye Lebn (The New Life), 1922, editor of the literary section of the monthly magazine for theatre and literature, Tealit (Theatre-Literature), 1923-4, and co-editor and contributor to the YIVO publications Pinkes fun Amopteyl (Record Book of the American Branch of YIVO), 1928, and Yorbukh fun Amopteyl (Annual of the American Branch of YIVO), 1938. He was a member of the editorial board of the Algemeyne Entsiklopedye in Yidish (General Yiddish Encyclopedia) and editor of a number of other important publications, including: Dos Zhitlovski-Zamlbukh (The Zhitlowsky Collected Works), 1929; Ale Verk fun Y.L. Peretz (The Comprehensive works of I.L. Peretz), 1947; Peretz Hirschbein, 1941; Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of the Name), 1954, and co-editor of: the Vayter-Bukh (The Vaiter Book), 1920, and Finf un Zibetsik Yor Yidishe Prese in Amerike (Seventy-Five Years of Yiddish Press in America), 1945. In 1954, together with Dr. Jacob Shatzky, he commenced the editing of the Lexicon of New Yiddish Literature.
His publications in book form were: Vos iz azoyns der yidisher arbeter? (What is Such a Thing as the Jewish Worker?), Vilna, 1906; Vegn yidishe shrayber (Concerning Yiddish Writers), 2 volumes, 1912; Di yidishe literatur un di lezerin (Yiddish Literature and the Jewish Woman Reader), offprint of the Pinkes, 1919; Shmuesn vegn bikher (Conversations about Books), part I, 1922; Sholem Aleichem un zayn humor (Sholem Aleichem and His Humor), 1926; Lezer, dikhter, kritiker, mit a forvort fun doktor Chaim Zhitlovski (Readers, Poets, Critics, with an introduction by Dr. Chaim Zhitlowsky), 1928; Sholem Aleichem, zayne vikhtikste verk, zayn humor un zayn ort in der yidisher iteratur (Sholem Aleichem, His Most Important Works, His Humor and His Place in Yiddish Literature), 1928; Tsum tsentn yortsayt nokh Mendele Mokher Seforim (Upon the Tenth Anniversary of the Death of Mendele Mokher Seforim),1928; Mendele Mokher Seforim- zayn lebn, zayne gezelshaftlekhe un literarishe oyftuungen (Mendele Mokher Seforim- His Life, His Communal and Literary Accomplishments), 1936; In kamf far a nayer dertsiung - di Arbeter-ring-shuln, zeyer opshtam, antviklung, vuks un itstiker tsushtant, 1919-1939 (The Struggle for a New Education – the Workmen's Circle Schools, Their Origin, Development, Growth and Present Condition (1919-1939), 1940; Sholem Asch tsu zayn zekhtsikstn geboyrn-tog (Sholem Asch upon the Occasion of His 60th Birthday), 1940; Di tsveyshprakhikeyt fun undzer literatur (The Bilingualism of Our Literature), 1941; Dertseylers un romanistn (Short Story Writers and Novelists), 1946; Undzer rekht tsu hobn sfeykes: vegn dem kheyrem fun Agudas Harabonim oyf Rebbe Mordkhe Kaplan (Our Right to Entertain Doubts: Concerning the Ban of Excommunication Leveled by the Association of Rabbis against Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan), 1946; Yiddish in undzer lebn (Yiddish in Our Life), 1950; H. Leivick - zayn opshtam, zayne kinder-un yugnt-yorn, zayne lirishe un dramatishe verk, zayn dikhterisher gang, tsu zayn vern a ben-shishim (1888-1948) (H. Leivick His Parentage, His Childhood and Youth, His Lyrical and Dramatic Works, His Poetic Style, Upon His Reaching the Age of Sixty (1888-1948), 1951; Yisroel, folk un land dray redes (Israel, Peoplehood and Country, 3 addresses), 1952; Y.L. Peretz - zayn lebn, zayn firndike perzenlekhkeyt, zayne hebreishe un yidishe shtrikhn, zayn virkung (I.L. Peretz - His Life, His Dominant Personality, His Hebrew and Yiddish Characteristics, His Influence), 1952 (also published in Hebrew, in S. Meltzer's translation, 1962); and Ayzik-Meyer Dik, geklibene verk, gekirtst un tsugegreyt tsum druk (Isaac Meir Dik, Selected Works, Abridged and Edited), 1954.
Niger had published a number of letters of important writers during his lifetime, among them: Letters from Ber Borochov, YIVO Bleter, Feb. 1934, and Gedank un Lebn (Thought and Life), 1948; David Bergelson, Zamlbikher 8 (Collected Works), 1952; and I. Tsinberg, Zamlbikher 5, Feb. 1943. After Niger’s death, E. Lifschutz published a selection of the Leivick-Niger correspondence in Pinkes far der forshung fun der yidisher literatur un prese 2 (Record Book for the Study of Yiddish Literature and Press), 1972; and Aaron Zeitlin's letters to Niger, Pinkes far der forshung fun der yidisher literatur un prese 3, 1975. No bibliography of the printed correspondence exists.
The thousands of press clippings in this collection are an indication of Niger's prolific writing (he submitted two articles weekly to the Tog (Day) as well as to many periodicals throughout the world) and of his vast array of interests. A selection of Niger's press clippings utilized by researchers, in lieu of his lost manuscripts, was reprinted in posthumous volumes and magazines. Whenever possible, the source of the reprinted article is indicated.
Posthumous publications were: Yidishe shrayber in sovet-rusland (Yiddish Writers in Soviet Russia), 1958; Kritik un Kritiker (Criticism and Critics), 1959; Bleter geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur (pages of History of Yiddish Literature), 1959; Sholem Asch, zayn lebn un zayne verk (Sholem Asch, His Life and Works), 1960; Mendele Mokher-Seforim, zayn lebn, zayne gezelshaftlekhe un literarishe oyftuungen, mit an araynfir fun Aaron Tsaytlin (Mendele Mokher Seforim, His Life, His Communal and Literary Accomplishments, with an Introduction by Aaron Zeitlin), 1970; Yidishe shrayber fun tsvantsikstn yorhundert, tsunoyfgeshtelt fun Kh. Bez, Y. Zilberberg un Azriel Naks (Yiddish writers of the Twentieth Century, compiled by H. Bass, I. Silberberg and Ezriel Knox), Vol. I, 1972, II, 1973; and Fun mayn togbukh, mit an aranfir fun Khayim Bez (From My Diary, with an introduction by H. Bass), 1973.
In 1957-8 YIVO published a Samuel Niger volume edited by Dr. Shlomo Bikel and Leibush Lehrer, which was incorporated into the 41st volume of YIVO Bleter (YIVO Leaves), 1958, and in 1968 the Sholem Aleichem Folk Institute published an annual dedicated to Niger.
Niger was said to represent a synthesis: He was a secular Jew, who never relinquished his religious Hasidic roots. He was a Yiddishist who advocated bilingual, Yiddish and Hebrew, literature (see particularly the correspondence of the Louis Lamed Fund). He was a modernist who was rooted in traditionalism. He was a staunch advocate of Jewish ethnicity, of a Jewish creative and cultural life for Jews in America.
Niger was also an active cultural and communal leader, serving, among others, as president of the Sholem Aleichem Folk Institute, 1921-1947 and member of the YIVO Executive Committee, Board of Directors and Research Commission, of which he was chairman 1950-1952. He was a founder and president of the Louis Lamed Fund for Jewish Literature in Yiddish and Hebrew, co-founder of the World Congress of Jewish Culture and chairman of its World Board, chairman of the Main Committee of the Comprehensive Yiddish Dictionary, teacher of Yiddish literature in the Jewish Teachers' Seminary, and a lecturer in a large number of cities and countries. He was also an active member in other Jewish institutions such as the Central Yiddish Culture Organization (CYCO), Jewish Book Council, Yiddish Writers' Union, Jewish PEN Club, American Jewish Tercentenary Committee, and the Jewish Publication Society of America, among others. Shmuel Niger died in New York City on December 24, 1955, returning from a YIVO Executive Committee meeting.
60 Linear Feet
This collection contains the personal and professional papers of Shmuel Niger, including correspondence with many important literary figures, as well as manuscripts by Niger, writings about Niger written by others, Niger’s speeches and lectures, selections from his published writings, and biographical materials. These materials serve to illustrate Niger’s great importance to Yiddish literary criticism and Jewish historical writing as well as his role as a writer on contemporary themes, a teacher and lecturer, editor and communal leader.
Arranged by Eleanor Mlotek, 1981. The inventory of the Papers of Shmuel Niger was originally written in Yiddish, and the record series arranged according to the Hebrew alphabet. The abridged English version of the inventory prepared by Eleanor Mlotek in 1982 rearranged several of the folder lists to correspond to the Latin alphabet, rather than the Hebrew alphabet, and this has been continued with the fully translated finding aid, done in 2008. Wherever the series were arranged according to the Hebrew alphabet, the folder lists have been rearranged into Latin alphabetical order. The papers are generally arranged according to type.
An arrangement was decided upon, which would take into account the different nature of each subseries: retaining in chronological order clippings from Niger's regular columns in the newspaper, arranging the clippings of reviews, articles and notes about topics, authors and works alphabetically; retaining Niger's arrangement of articles concerning Jewishness Today and articles and impressions written during his 1935 lecture tour of South and Central America; and keeping his Russian articles separate. There is a subseries of clippings of others concerning Niger; and another concerning other writers and topics, which Niger had collected but had not written himself. Most of the materials have been arranged alphabetically.
The articles concerning Jewishness Today Niger had planned to issue as a separate publication and had left notes as to their classification. Although his notes with his specifications were not found in the collection, the typed list which Leyzer Ran had made was preserved, according to which Eleanor Mlotek was able to complete the arrangement. The collection has been divided into eleven series, some of which have been further divided into subseries.
- Series I: Family Correspondence, 1909-1960, undated
- Series II: Correspondence with Individuals, 1907-1962, undated
- Series III: Correspondence with Readers, 1914-1955, undated
- Series IV: Correspondence with Organizations, 1905-1958
- Subseries 1: Yiddish and Hebrew Organizations, 1905-1958
- Subseries 2: Non-Yiddish Organizations, 1911-1957
- Series V: Manuscripts and Typescripts, 1921-1956, undated
- Series VI: Bibliographical Materials, undated
- Series VII: Speeches and Lectures, 1913-1955, undated
- Subseries 1: Themes for Speeches and Lecture, 1921-1955, undated
- Subseries 2: Leaflets, Posters and Clippings on Niger's Visits and Lectures, 1913-1955, undated
- Series VIII: Manuscripts and Typescripts by Other Authors, undated
- Series IX: Press Clippings, 1903-1955, undated
- Subseries 1: From Niger’s Regular Columns, 1920-1955, undated
- Subseries 2: Writers and Themes, undated
- Subseries 3: Jewishness Today, undated
- Subseries 4: Niger’s Trip to Latin America, 1935
- Subseries 5: Niger's Russian Articles, undated
- Subseries 6: Niger's Speeches, undated
- Subseries 7: Miscellaneous Clippings of Niger's Articles, undated
- Subseries 8: Articles, Reviews and Notices by Other Writers about Niger, undated
- Subseries 9: Articles by and Concerning Other Writers and Topics, 1943-1957, undated
- Series X: Biographical Materials, 1907-1957
- Series XI: Miscellanea, 1933, 1953, undated
A majority of the materials came directly to YIVO from Niger’s wife after Niger’s death. YIVO received 302 letters from 35 donors in 1956-9, after publishing an appeal for Niger’s correspondence.
There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.
The collection was partially processed intermittently by Leyzer Ran from approximately 1956 to 1966. The processing was completed in 1981 by Eleanor Mlotek as part of the Finding Aids Project supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The papers were arranged according to the Hebrew alphabet, except for the non-Yiddish (or Hebrew) organizations and the inventory was written in Yiddish. An abridged version of the inventory in English was prepared to enable the utilization of this collection by non-Yiddish readers in 1982. The full Yiddish finding aid was translated into English in 2008. The inventory lists for many of the series has been rearranged according to the Latin alphabet, although the folder organization has not been changed. Personal names have been transliterated, journal titles and organization names have been transliterated and translated, and the titles of speeches and writings have been translated.
- Asch, Sholem, 1880-1957
- Buenos Aires (Argentina)
- Charney, Daniel, 1888-1959
- Clippings (information artifacts)
- Der Tog (New York)
- Dick, Isaac Meir, 1814-1893
- Forṿerṭs (New York, N.Y.)
- Jews -- History
- Leivick, H., 1888-1962
- Literary criticism and cultural theory
- Manuscripts (documents)
- New York (N.Y.)
- Niger, Samuel, 1883-1955
- Peretz, Isaac Leib, 1851 or 1852-1915
- Sholem Aleichem, 1859-1916
- Vladeck, B. (Baruch), 1886-1938
- YIVO Archives
- Yiddish literature -- 20th century
- Yiddish literature--19th century--History and criticism
- Guide to the Papers of Shmuel Niger (1883-1955) 1903-1962 RG 360
- Processed by Leyzer Ran and Eleanor Mlotek. Additional processing by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.