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Dolgopolski, Tsadok

(1879–1959), Yiddish writer. Born into a poor family in Horodok, near Vitebsk, Tsadok Dolgopolski began working at a factory in Nevel while still young. In the late 1890s, he became an active member of the Bund and was imprisoned in Białystok. Self-taught, he passed the qualifying examinations for teachers and organized a school for Jewish children in his hometown. By 1898, he was writing short articles on labor issues for illegal and legal Yiddish periodicals.

In 1914, Boris Kletskin’s Vilna publishing house issued a collection of Dolgopolski’s works, mainly plays, called Bilder fun shtetl (Portraits of the Shtetl). In 1919, Evkom, the Jewish Commissariat, printed among its first publications Dolgopolski’s play for children Dem zeydns klole (The Grandfather’s Curse), illustrated by El Lissitzky. After the 1917 Revolution, Dolgopolski lived in Minsk, writing for periodicals and publishing stories, poems, novels, and plays. He belonged to the so-called proletarian writers, who in targeting Jewish masses rejected “pure art” and committed themselves to easily understandable, realistic literature. Ber Orshanski, the historian of Yiddish literary life in Belorussia, praised Dolgopolski’s depictions of contemporary life.

Dolgopolski’s first novel, Ba geefnte toyern (At Open Gates; 1928), described the early years after the Bolshevik Revolution. On 7 November 1929, the twelfth anniversary of the revolution, his play Mashinen-gerangl (Struggle of Machines) premiered at the Minsk State Yiddish Theater. He often wrote satiric poems under the pseudonym Horodoker, criticizing deviations from what was regarded as normal Soviet conventions. In particular, he ridiculed religious traditions; at the same time, he hailed Jews for taking on such occupations as pig breeding, when, as he wrote in his collection Mit mayn pen in hant (With My Pen in Hand; 1932), “pigs represent for us a new problem, / ‘pigs’ (particularly of the Yorkshire breed) / is a new word, / introduced only last year.”

Dolgopolski sought to show the social transformation of Soviet Jews in both urban and rural settings. Rural settings represented safer topics, and were less subjected to criticism than shtetl-related literature, which was often branded as petty-bourgeois and nationalist. “It is wrong and harmful to dream about a shtetl Jewish environment,” lectured a character in his Zayd (Silk; 1933), an industrial novel based on Dolgopolski’s experience as a “house writer” at the construction site of a silk factory in Mogilev in the early 1930s. In the novel, a Belorussian shtetl merges with a growing industrial town, and the shtetl dwellers become industrial workers—members of multinational proletarian collectives.

Yet Dolgopolski also “dreamed” about Jewish peasants. A few of his books, including Af sovetisher erd (On Soviet Land; 1931), portrayed Soviet Jewish agricultural colonies. His last Yiddish book, Geklibene noveln (Selected Novellas), appeared in 1936. Shortly thereafter he was arrested during the purge of “Jewish nationalists” among Belorussian Jewish writers. The only survivor among the Yiddish intellectuals imprisoned in Minsk between 1936 and 1937, Dolgopolski lived in Vitebsk into the 1950s, when some of his works were published in Russian translation.

Suggested Reading

Zalman Kahan, “Tsodek Dolgopolski,” Sovetish heymland 11 (1971): 158–160; Ber Orshanski, Di yidishe literatur in Vaysrusland nokh der revolutsye (Minsk, 1931), p. 207; Grigorii Reles, V kraiu svetlykh berez (Minsk, 1997), pp. 317–330.