"Khvolke"/"Reading Faces" by Avrom Sutzkever
Avrom Sutzkever אַבֿרהם סוצקעווער
Avrom Sutzkever (1913–2010)
Born in Smorgon (in modern day Belarus) Sutzkever was arguable the greatest Yiddish poet of the 20th century. During the first world war his family fled to Siberia where Sutzkever spent his early childhood before moving back to Vilne (modern day Vilnius, lithuania) in 1921. He was a member of the modernist literary movement Yung Vilne during the early thirties. Intered in the ghetto during World War II, he was assigned to a group of prisoners whose job was to sort through the cultural artefacts looted by the Nazis. Instead, they managed to hide the most valuable manuscripts by burying them, while at the same time smuggling weapons into the ghetto. He escaped the ghetto before it was liquidated, joining a group of Jewish partisans fighting in the nearby forests.
After the war, Sutzkever testified as a witness during the Nuremberg trials. He spent some time in Paris before eventually settling in Tel-Aviv. Between 1949-1995 he edited Di Goldene Keyt, the most important Yiddish-language literary journal of the second half of the twentieth century.
Although he was more famous as a poet, Sutzkever also wrote some pieces which could be described as prose-poetry or poetic prose. Most notably the collection "Green Aquarium".
For our first issue of Sprachbund we are delighted to present two short pieces of Sutzkever's poetic prose: "Khvolke" and "Reading Faces" translated by Daniel Kennedy.
To whet your appetite we recommend the following works of Sutzkever available in English translation.
For prose-poetry check out Zackary Sholem Berger's translations of selections from "Green Aquarium"...
"A Funeral in the Rain" in In Geveb
For poetry check out Maia Evrona's translations...
"Ten Poems" in Intranslation-Brooklyn Rail
"Four Poems" in Asymptote Blog
Also check out this video where Sutzkever discusses how being a partisan influenced his poetry (Yiddish with English subtitles)