(Bottom) Membership card from 1932 belonging to Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, from the Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists in Warsaw, with (top) Singer’s press card as a reporter for Undzer ekspres from the same period. (YIVO)

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Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists in Warsaw

(1916–1939; Yid., Fareyn fun Yidishe Literatn un Zhurnalistn in Varshe; Pol., Związek Literatów i Dziennikarzy Żydowskich w Warszawie), a trade union, advocacy group, and social meeting venue for writers. In March 1916—less then a year after Y. L. Peretz’s death—60 Jewish writers and journalists gathered at Hazomir Hall in Warsaw to establish a trade union. The first chair of the group was the Yiddish writer Yankev Dinezon and its initial location was at 13 Tłomackie Street, an address associated with the Jewish secular cultural movement. The premises functioned as a social meeting place not only for members, but also for actors, artists, teachers, guests from abroad, and others who were interested in Jewish secular culture. In addition, the association offered a large variety of literary and other activities, both for its members and for the general public.

In the early 1920s, young modernistic Yiddish poets, writers, and artists settled in Warsaw (for example, Melech Ravitch, Uri Tsevi Grinberg, Perets Markish, and I. J. Singer) and used the association’s podium to express their new, revolutionary style of writing Yiddish literature. These writers, as well as other young authors, used the association as a platform to express their frustration over the condescending attitude of the Yiddish literary establishment toward them. Stormy debates over the current and future character of modern Yiddish literature took place in the association’s headquarters, a lively cultural arena during the 1920s and 1930s.

In the early 1930s, the association was challenged by the continuing decline of the Yiddish book market. Formerly an apolitical institution, it gradually became identified with radical leftist Yiddishist parties (the Bund and the Communists), a factor that reduced its prestige as an organization that had put its members’ needs ahead of any political agenda.

As a trade union, the main goal of the Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists was to establish and improve its members’ socioeconomic status by regulating royalties and copyrights, and by demanding standards for relations between journalists and their employers. In conjunction with other Jewish organizations in Poland and abroad, it helped to raise special funds for young writers and unemployed members. Otherwise, the association’s achievements in these spheres were quite limited.

In 1926, Jewish journalists established an autonomous section of the association, recognized by the authorities as the Jewish section of the Polish Journalists Syndicate. In the following year, thanks to the organization’s efforts, Yiddish was accepted as a member language within the international writer’s association, PEN, with branches in Warsaw, Vilna, and New York. Arn Zeitlin served as chair of the Yiddish PEN club and Sholem Asch was its honorary president.

Many efforts were made by the association to support Yiddish literature in Poland, to combat the proliferation of shund (trash) literature, to cooperate with the Yiddishist educational network, and to bring to the attention of writers in the democratic world the ongoing crisis of their Jewish colleagues in Nazi Germany and Poland. Within a few weeks after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Association’s new office at 11 Graniczna Street was bombed and it ceased to function.

Suggested Reading

Nathan Cohen, Sefer, sofer ve-‘iton: Merkaz ha-tarbut ha-Yehudit be-Varshah, 1918–1942 (Jerusalem, 2003).