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Alter Brody, Preparing New Anthology of Yiddish Work, Sees Epoch Art at an End

January 18, 1934
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The creation of a mounumental and definitive anthology of Yiddish literature in English translation beginning with the "grandfather" of Yiddish literature Mendele Mocher Sforim, and continuing to the present day is the task that Alter Brody, well-known creative writer and translator of Yiddish has set for himself.

Mr. Brody, who will spend at least one year on the project and posibly two, will himself translate all the material to go into the anthology. The anthology will include prose, poetry and belles lettres. While. most of the work will be done here in New York, Mr. Brody is planning to spend part of the time in Poland and the Soviet Union in order to acquaint himself more thoroughly with the latest work of contemporary Yiddish writers in those countries.

In an interview with the Jewish Daily Bulletin, Mr. Brody declared: "An epoch in Yiddish literature is coming to an end. It is time for us to pause and take stock. An anthology such as I propose to do is necessary. We have reached the point where a generation has grown up which knows no Yiddish, but is willing to read the work in translation.

"I propose, in this anthology, to pay particular attention to the work of American Yiddish writers and to that of the Soviet Yiddish writers, where Yiddish literature has experienced a renaissance and where there is a real future for the Yiddish language thanks to the Soviet policy of encouraging the various nationalities.


"In order to make this work more effective, I propose to consult from time to time such distinguished Yiddish critics as Hillel Rogoff of the Jewish Daily Forward, S. Niger of the Day, M. J. Olgin, editor of the Freiheit and a group of distinguished critics in Poland and the Soviet Union."

Mr. Brody, a short, stocky, nearsighted individual, erudite and scholarly in speech, grew vehement as he discussed the present status of Yiddish literature in English translation.

"I have always been interested in Yiddish dialogue and in recreating its nuances and catching the primitive rhythms in English translation. I have always tried to recreate the living spirit of this essential folk tongue in translation.

"But most of the translations with a few notable exceptions have merely been literal translations, and have succeeded in nothing save giving Yiddish a comic leer. For instance, in the vaudeville theatres, an audience including many Americanized Jews will snicker whenever a Yiddish phrase is spoken, as though there was something basically funny in the language.

"A whole school of this type of writers has grown up, who use this superficial type of Yiddish translation, and treat Yiddish literature and Yiddish types just as superficially.


"They forget that the true Jewish types of the last hundred years and the true Jewish life of the period is to be found in Yiddish literature also that the original Yiddish literature in translation is more true than English literature dealing with Jewish life superficially.

"In 60 or 70 years," Mr. Brody pointed out, "Yiddish literature has gone through a concentrated period of development that is unequalled in any other literary history, archaic, classic and decadent. Why in one of the East Side cafes where the Yiddish writers gather you can literally see 600 years of Yiddish literary history sitting together at one table.

"After all, conscious literary production in Yiddish only started with Mendele Mocher Sforim. True Yiddish was used from the Middle Ages on, but most of the early work was only translation of Hebrew and other work, primarily religious; there was no native work. The Jews had not yet become intergrated in the life of the countries where they lived.


"Historically the growth of Yiddish coincided with the growth of Mittel Europa, an economic entity from the Baltic to the Black Sea, with the Jews as the middle class. Yiddish Literature flowered in this Mittel Europa with a continuity of towns with large groups of Jews all the way from the Baltic to the South.

"Politically, this Mittlel Europa fell apart, but Yiddish literature flowered. In the vast Russian Empire, the miserable position of the Jews, pogroms and persecutions, turned the Jewish writers curiously enough to the revolutionary movement and to writing in Yiddish. This was the only way they could reach the Jewish masses."

Why was he ignoring Hebrew in his anthology, Mr. Brody was asked. "Simply because Hebrew is a political and not a cultural problem," he replied. "Hebrew was never rooted in the Jewish masses. Even in the days of the Ghetto, the Jewish masses knew little or no Hebrew. Yiddish was their medium and their history, especially their literary history, must be written in terms of Yiddish."

Mr. Brody, who was born in Russia, was educated in the public schools of New York City. In 1915, he began to contribute to the Outlook, Atlantic Monthly, Seven Arts and the Dial. In 1918, his first volume of poetry, "Family Album", was published. Many of the poems were later included in various anthologies and praised highly. In the First Caravan, an anthology of American writers, Mr. Brody, was represented by a play on a Jewish subject. In 1928, he published a volume, "Lamentations," dealing with Jewish subjects. Mr. Brody is also a frequent contributor to the Nation, New Republic and the American Mercury, writing mainly on critical and Jewish subjects.

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