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Papers of Abraham Liessin (1872-1938)

 Collection
Identifier: RG 201

Scope and Content Note

The collection relates primarily to Liessin’s work as editor of Di Tsukunft, a position he held from 1913 until his death in 1938. It contains correspondence with over 1000 individuals including Richard Beer-Hofmann, Eduard Bernstein, Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Boris Dov Brutzkus, Marc Chagall, Eugene Debs, Simon Dubnow, David Einhorn, Saul Ginsburg, Jacob Glatstein, David Hofstein, Isaac Katzenelson, Moshe Kulbak, Leib Kvitko, H. Leivick, Jacob Lestschinsky, Judah Magnes, Itzik Manger, Mani Leib, Louis Marshall, Moshe Nadir, Der Nister, Shmuel Niger, Hersh David Nomberg, David Pinski, Abraham Reisen, Zalman Reisen, Zalman Shneour, Nahum Shtif, Elias Tcherikower, Baruch Charney Vladeck, Max Weinreich, Morris Winchevsky, Hillel Zeitlin, and Chaim Zhitlowsky. There are also manuscripts of Liessin’s own articles, poems and galley sheets, manuscripts submitted by about 620 authors to Liessin as editor of Di Tsukunft, clippings of poems and articles by Liessin from the Jewish Daily Forward and Di Tsukunft, and clippings of articles about Liessin from a variety of publications. Other materials include personal papers, invitations, programs relating to anniversary celebrations, clippings relating to Liessin’s family, and clippings and other information about Liessin’s death.

The professional correspondence and the manuscripts would be particularly helpful for those interested in Yiddish literature in the 1920s and 1930s, particularly Eastern European Yiddish writers, such as Hayyim Nahman Bialik, I.L. Peretz, Jacob Glatstein, David Hofstein, Itzik Manger, Mani Leib, Shmuel Niger, Der Nister, Hillel Zeitlin, and Leib Kvitko. There is also correspondence from some leading Jewish intellectuals, artists and political figures, such as Dr. Semyon Bernfeld, Eduard Bernstein, Saul Ginsburg, Simon Dubnow, Alexander Harkavy, Jacob Lestschinsky, Marc Chagall, I.N. Steinberg, Nahum Shtif, and Isaac Schiper. Among the writers whose works are contained in the collection are David Einhorn, Moshe Altman, David Hofstein, Leib Naidus, Melech Ravitch, Morris Rosenfeld, and Jacob Sternberg, among many more. The materials in this collection do not, in general, cover Liessin’s years in Eastern Europe or his earliest years in America. The collection focuses more on Liessin’s important role in Yiddish literature, both as a poet and as the editor who raised Di Tsukunft to the height of the Yiddish literary world.

Dates

  • 1894-1948

Language of Materials

The collection is in Yiddish, Russian, German, English, Hebrew, and French.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public. Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained in writing from the YIVO Archives.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

YIVO Archives, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

email: archives@yivo.cjh.org

Biographical / Historical

Abraham Liessin (the pen name of Abraham Walt), the Yiddish poet, editor and journalist, was born into a rabbinical family in Minsk, Belarus on May 19, 1872. He received a traditional kheyder education and then attended the yeshivas in Wilkomir, Slobodka and Volozhin. After leaving the yeshiva, Liessin traveled to Vilna, where he studied philosophy, Haskalah literature and Socialist reform with local scholars. He also found a teacher, M.M. Rosenbaum, to instruct him in Russian and mathematics, and tried to educate himself about European culture. He soon returned to Minsk. He continued to write Socialist revolutionary Yiddish poetry and social satire, which helped him to make a name for himself with the Russian Jewish workers and various Socialist leaders in Eastern Europe, but also made him known to the authorities. His first collection, Moderne Lider (Modern Poems), was published illegally in 1897 in Minsk.

In 1896, Liessin’s Socialist activities forced him to immigrate to New York, where he began writing for and editing the newly-founded Jewish Daily Forward, particularly political articles, for which he became quite well-known. He also wrote editorials when he served as the Forward’s editor during the brief time when Abe Cahan was not at the newspaper. When Cahan rejected one of Liessin’s articles criticizing Zionism, Liessin left the newspaper. However, he soon came back, albeit briefly, due to popular demand. Around the same time, Liessin joined the Social Democratic faction in a bitter fight against Daniel De Leon and his followers in the Socialist Labor Party. He was also an active and prominent member of the Jewish Labor Bund from its inception in 1897, although he later fought against what he saw as the Bund’s neutrality toward Jewish nationalism and demanded of the Bund a more positive approach to Jewish nationalism and Jewish values and culture. Although not a Zionist, Liessin was an ardent Jewish nationalist.

Liessin married Liba Ginsburg, a fellow Socialist agitator, in 1901. She died in 1912. In 1913 Liessin began a 25-year career as editor of Di Tsukunft (The Future), a Socialist monthly Yiddish literary and cultural journal which became, under his editorship, one of the most important literary political journals in America, and certainly the leading Yiddish literary and cultural monthly. In only the first eight months of Liessin’s time as editor, the monthly circulation rose from between 3,000-4,000 to over 20,000. Di Tsukunft published the works of the most important Yiddish writers in the United States and Europe. Liessin’s status as a poet and editor brought many of the best Yiddish writers and intellectuals to Di Tsukunft, and helped Liessin to become a central figure in American Yiddish literature and his home in New York to become a meeting place for many important Yiddish writers.

Liessin continued to publish poems in New York and, after 1913, almost all of them were originally published in Di Tsukunft. His main poetic themes were Jewish history, Jewish heroes, Jewish martyrdom, and the revolt against social injustice. Many of his poems reference Jewish religious and national heroes of the past and of his own time, such as Judah Maccabee, Bar Kochba, Solomon Molcho, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, and Hirsch Lekert, among others. His complete poetry was published in three volumes with line drawings by Marc Chagall in New York in 1938 as Lider un Poemen, (Songs and Poems). His prose includes a posthumously published collection entitled Zikhroynes un Bilder (Memoirs and Images, 1954). Abraham Liessin died in New York on November 5, 1938.

Extent

15.5 Linear Feet

Abstract

This collection contains the personal and professional papers of Abraham Liessin, including correspondence with many important literary figures, manuscripts of essays and poems by Liessin from Di Tsukunft(The Future) and from his published works, clippings, receipts, invitations, and other materials relating to Liessin’s family. This collection shows how Di Tsukunft became one of the leading Yiddish literary journsl during hte 25 years of Liessin's editorship.

Arrangement

The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent according to the Hebrew alphabet, including those correspondents who wrote in Russian, English, French, and German. Personal names of correspondents have been transliterated, journal titles have been transliterated and translated, and the titles of writings have been transliterated and translated. Yiddish names have been transliterated according to YIVO standards except when the individual is known in English by another spelling. Additionally, if the name appeared in Latin letters anywhere within the folder, that spelling was used rather than a standard transliteration. Alternate forms of names, including pseudonyms, are in parentheses following the name. The correspondence is mainly in Yiddish. When the correspondence is not in Yiddish, or not only in Yiddish, the language is indicated in parentheses following the listing of the materials.

The manuscripts of Liessin’s essays and articles are in rough alphabetical order. The newspaper clippings are in chronological order. Any inconsistencies in the arrangement have been maintained to correspond with the microfilm. The page numbers sometimes refer to the number of sheets and sometimes, for double-sided documents, to the number of sides.

The collection is divided into 6 series, some of which have been further divided into subseries.
  1. Series I: General Correspondence, 1904-1942
  2. Series II: Family Correspondence, 1898-1948
  3. Series III: Manuscripts by Liessin, 1897-1898, undated
  4. Subseries 1: Essays and Articles, undated
  5. Subseries 2: Poems, 1897-1898, undated
  6. Series IV: Di Tsukunft Manuscripts, 1913-1937, undated
  7. Series V: Clippings, 1897-1938
  8. Subseries 1: Articles by Liessin from the Forward, Tsukunft, and Zeitgeist, 1897-1938
  9. Subseries 2: Articles about Liessin, 1915-1936
  10. Series VI: Miscellaneous, 1903-1948

Acquisition Information

The Central Yiddish Culture Organization (CYCO) took over the publishing of Di Tsukunft in 1941 and donated the majority of Liessin’s professional materials directly to the YIVO Archives at that time. Liessin’s family later donated additional personal materials at some time in the 1950s.

Microfilm

The collection has been microfilmed (MK 509).

Related Material

Manuscripts sent to the Di Tsukunft after Liessin’s death are part of the Records of Di Tsukunft, RG 362 and Di Tsukunft Monthly, RG 1457. The article about the collection by E. Lifschitz from Di Goldene Keyt issue 103 is available in the YIVO Library. The YIVO Library also has several of Liessin’s written works, including poetry and prose materials. Liessin’s correspondence is further represented in the Papers of Shalom Asch, RG 602, Shmuel Niger, RG 360, H. Leivick, RG 315, and Max Weinreich, RG 584, among many others.

Separated Material

There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.

Processing information

Ezekiel Lifschitz made a preliminary organization of the collection and a preliminary inventory of the correspondence in the 1960s. Zalman Rabinowitz completed a full organization and inventory in 1982. Itzik Gottesman wrote the collection description in 1983. The full Yiddish finding aid was translated into English and additional processing was completed in 2012.
Title
Guide to the Papers of Abraham Liessin (1872-1938) 1894-1948 RG 201
Status
In Progress
Author
Processed by Zalman Rabinowitz and Itzik Gottesman. Additional processing by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.
Date
©2012
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States