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Godiner, Shmuel-Nisn

(1892 [or 1893]–1942), Yiddish writer. Born in Telekhan, Belarus, in 1908 Shmuel-Nisn Godiner moved to Warsaw, where he was employed as a metalworker. Self-taught, he could read Russian, Polish, and German, and joined the circle of Jewish culture enthusiasts lead by Y. L. Peretz, who encouraged him to write in Yiddish. Drafted to the Russian army in 1912, Godiner was wounded during World War I and taken prisoner by the Austrians, but managed to escape.

Godiner welcomed the Bolshevik Revolution and served in the Red Army during the civil war. He moved to Moscow in 1921 and studied at the Briusov Institute for Literature and Art for two years. After publishing several stories, he was considered to be a promising prose writer with a penchant for symbolism. Shmuel Niger regarded him as a writer trying to find his own style while imitating his colleagues’ devices, such as Der Nister’s anthropomorphism.

Godiner was part of the group associated with the journal Der shtrom (The Stream), and was elected to the board of the Moscow Association of Yiddish Writers and Artists in 1924. Soon he was attracted by the ideas of proletarian mass culture and joined the Yiddish section of the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers. His novel Der mentsh mit der biks (The Man with the Rifle; pt. 1, 1928; pt. 2, 1933; Russian translations 1929 and 1933), on the civil war, was hailed as one of the most significant Soviet Yiddish prose works.

Godiner’s other main writing topic concerned the Sovietization of the Jewish population. In one of his best-crafted stories, “A Shklover levone af Arbat” (A Shklov Moon over the Arbat), written in the late 1920s, he created a typical déclassé figure: a formerly prosperous accountant from Shklov who lost everything and ended up as a street trader in Moscow, whose wife walked out on him after becoming an active member of Soviet society. Symptomatically, the character, formerly a rather secularized semi-intellectual, then becomes a follower of the Lubavitcher rebbe.

In 1934, Godiner coedited the miscellany Sovetish (Soviet). His story “Muterland” (Motherland), included in this publication, was devoted to purges, which he presents as an important part of Soviet social engineering. During such purges, special commissions interrogated members of the party and Komsomol, deciding whether to renew or cancel their membership. “Motherland” depicts a young Jewish woman whom the commission advised to write an account of her suffering in pre-1917 Russia.

When Jewish collective farmers from a Jewish national district in Ukraine won a competition with Cossacks from the village of Tsymla in 1936, their success inspired Godiner to write a documentary account titled “Der yontev fun frayndshaft” (The Festival of Friendship; 1939). In particular, Godiner stressed how similar the Cossacks and the Jewish collective farmers had become. “If you forget that she is Jewish, you take her for a real Cossack girl,” he wrote about a Jewish milkmaid. His Russian pamphlet on the same subject, Vstrecha v Tsymle (An Encounter in Tsymla) was published in 1936.

Godiner volunteered for the Red Army in 1941 and was killed in action. A collection of his stories, Povesti i rasskazy (Long and Short Stories), translated into Russian by Moyshe Teyf, was published in Moscow in 1961.

Suggested Reading

Shmuel Godiner, Verk (Moscow, 1933); Shmuel Godiner, Zaveler trakt (New York, 1950); Sh. Sekuler, ed., Telekhan (Los Angeles, 1963).