Chaim Grade, Dead at 72

Private funeral services were held yesterday for Chaim Grade, a Yiddish novelist and poet on the Holocaust, who died of a heart attack in Montefiore Hospital here at 72.

The novelist-poet, whose writings have become more widely available in English only in recent years, died Saturday, survived only by his second wife, Inna Hecker Grade. He wrote deeply moving poems on the loss to the Nazis of the civilization in which he grew up in his native Vilna, often called “the Jerusalem of Lithuania,” because of its international Jewish reputation as a center of piety and intellectual life.

In 1967, Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor whose writing on the Nazi genocide brought him fame, paid tribute to Grade in a review of the Grade novel, “The Aguna.” Wiesel wrote that “the work of Chaim Grade, by its vision and scope, establishes him at the age of 64 as one of the great — if not the greatest — of Yiddish novelists. Surely, he is the most authentic.

Grade published, in English, in the late 1970s, a two-volume novel, “The Yeshiva.” It told the story of a religious Jew, form between adherence to his unrelenting faith and to his ties to his own feelings. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. said it will publish in November “Rabbis and Wives,” three Grade novellas, and “My Mother’s Sabbath Days” at a later date.

Critics said his poetry had a poignancy and power which made him a leading poet on the Holocaust, a seeker for meaning in an event of massive human evil which destroyed a third of his people.

BORN IN LITHUANIA

Raised an Orthodox Jew in Vilna, he turned to a secular life and the start of his writing career in the early 1930s. When the Nazis smashed into Lithuania in 1941, Grade fled to the Soviet Union at the insistence of his mother and his first wife. When he returned to Vilna after the war, he found that the Nazis had murdered both of them, along with his ancestral civilization.

He told friends that, at that point, he felt compelled to change his secular, skeptical outlook for an urgent effort to keep alive the memory of what the Nazis had wiped out. He emigrated to France. In 1948, he came to the United States, to settle with his second wife in the Bronx, and continued writing frequently in Yiddish for Yiddish newspapers, ultimately the Jewish Daily Forward.

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