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Brokhes, Rokhl

(1880–1942), Yiddish prose writer. Rokhl Brokhes was born in Minsk. With the encouragement of her father, Volf Brokhes, a maskil, she learned Hebrew and could read modern literature in that language. Her father died when she was nine, and soon after his death, Brokhes went to work as a seamstress. Later she taught needleworking at the Minsk Jewish Vocational School for Girls.

Socialist Yiddish writers Avrom Reyzen and Abraham Liessin were among Brokhes’s admirers. Her first story, “Yankele,” written when she was 16, appeared in the Kraków newspaper Der yud in 1899. Later her stories were published in the Saint Petersburg daily Fraynd and the New York monthly Di tsukunft. The protagonists in her short realistic works are often young Jewish girls and women, struggling to find their place in modernized society. Her story “Untern-barg” (Rus., “Pod goroiu”; Downhill)—a tragic portrayal of a mismatch between a traditional young Jewish woman and her husband, a revolutionary proletarian—was included in the 1908 Al’manakhi molodoi evreiskoi literatury (Almanacs of Young Jewish Literature), published in Russian in Saint Petersburg.

Brokhes’s sketches help the modern reader to reconstruct some events in her little-documented life. It is known, for instance, that during World War I she, her husband, and their children lived in a village not far from the Russian city of Saratov, and that they returned to Minsk in 1920. “Untern-barg” occupied a central place in Brokhes’s 1922 collection of stories, produced in Vilna by the Kletzkin publishing house. This 96-page collection of seven stories remains her most significant book.

Brokhes’s Soviet-period books were essentially small pamphlets containing just a few stories, previously published in periodicals, most notably in the Minsk-based literary monthly journal Shtern and the daily Oktyabr. Between 1936 and 1940, four such editions of her stories were issued in Minsk and Moscow. Her stories are usually set in pre-1917 Russia and berate the social injustice of capitalist society. Thus, “Shpinen” (Spiders), written in the late 1930s, underscores the moral superiority of a Jewish beggar and the meanness of a rich Jewish woman.

Brokhes also wrote plays and children’s stories. “Gelke,” an example of the latter, describes an encounter of a poor 11-year-old Jewish girl, Gelke, with her rich relative. One of Brokhes’s last stories, “Avremelekh,” is about children of unmarried mothers abandoned to the care of an angry, poor old woman. Brokhes’s works include more than 200 stories and several plays. On the eve of World War II, the state publishing house of the Belorussian Republic was preparing an edition of Brokhes’s collected works. She died in the Minsk ghetto.

Suggested Reading

Rachel Broches (Rokhl Brokhes), A zamlung dertseylungen (Vilna, 1922); Rachel Broches, “Avremelekh/Little Abrahams,” trans. Ethel Raicus and Frieda Forman, Bridges: A Journal for Jewish Feminists and Our Friends 7.2 (1998): 49–67; Ethel Raicus, “Women’s Voices in the Stories of Yiddish Writer Rokhl Brokhes,” in From Memory to Transformation: Jewish Women’s Voices, ed. Sarah Silberstein Swartz and Margie Wolfe (Toronto, 1998): 25–34.