Baym shvel (At the Threshold), by Shimen Horontshik. (Warsaw: Kinder-fraynd, 1936). (YIVO)

Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Horontshik, Shimen

(1889–1939), Yiddish author and novelist. Shimen Horontshik (Pol., Szymon Horonczyk) was born in Wieluń, in the Kalisz district of Poland. When Horontshik was 8 years old, his father died, and until he was 11, he lived with his grandfather, a Kotsk Hasid. Following the death of his grandfather, he returned to his mother’s home and received a traditional Jewish education. At 17, he worked as a production laborer at a lacework factory in Kalisz, where he lived until the town was captured by Germany in early August 1914. Horontshik then escaped to Łódź.

Chapter from a longer work by Shimen Horontshik. “Dem altns toyt” (The Old Man’s Death), 1930. Sent by the author in Włocławek, Poland, to the Yiddish literary journal Tsukunft in New York. Note: The manuscript is not in the author's own handwriting (as seen in the note on the last page) and was probably transcribed by a copyist. Yiddish. RG 108, Manuscripts Collection, F23.23. (YIVO)

Horontshik published his first literary piece in the Lodzer tageblat in 1916. Until 1921, he primarily wrote poetry, most of which was collected in his first book, Feldblume (Field Flowers; 1921). He also contributed to the many newspapers and literary periodicals published in Łódź and Warsaw, as well as to Yiddish publications overseas. He moved to Sompolno and then to Włocławek, where he and his wife ran a small store and where he wrote his first novel, Farplonterte vegn oder tsvishn di khurves fun yidishn lebn (Winding Roads, or Among the Ruins of Jewish Life; 1924). The novel bleakly describes the physical and spiritual ruin of Polish Jewry under German occupation during World War I. Publisher Itshe Meyer Vaysenberg liked Horontshik’s flowing, naturalist prose, but blatantly interfered with the contents of the novel by adding an introduction to settle his own personal scores with rival authors. This had an adverse effect on Horontshik’s literary status and he became extremely sensitive to criticism. When another novel of his received negative reviews, he attempted to take his own life.

At the end of the 1920s, Horontshik published two successive autobiographical novels: In geroysh fun mashinen (Amid the Noise of the Machines; 1928) and 1905 (1929). Both deal with Jewish life in Poland (and, more specifically, in Kalisz) in the turbulent years of the early twentieth century. They reflect the decline of the Old World and its values, the clashes felt by individuals amid economic competition, the exploitation of the working class, and the rise of new political movements. Both novels are written in a realistic style with many naturalistic descriptions. Critics received them favorably and two major Jewish daily newspapers, Moment and Di naye folks-tsaytung, published Horontshik’s work in serial form.

In the early 1930s, Horontshik lived in France and Belgium. By 1935, he had returned to Poland and settled in Warsaw. He published eight well-received books in Poland that decade. Among them is Baym shvel (At the Threshold; 1935/36), which, focusing on Horontshik’s childhood and youth, is the first in his trilogy of autobiographical novels. The novel presents a large variety of characters (Jews and non-Jews, family members and neighbors) and the conflict between Jews and Poles, traditional and modern society, and among the three languages of Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish as seen through the eyes of a young Jewish boy.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Horontshik fled toward Vilna. In Kałuszyn, he ran into German troops engaged in a pogrom. To avoid being slaughtered, Horontshik took his own life and was subsequently buried in the local Jewish cemetery.

Suggested Reading

“Horontshik, Shimen,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 3, cols. 70–72 (New York, 1960); Yosef Okrutni, “Shimen Horontshik: Der mentsh un der shrayber,” in In geroysh fun mashinen, by Simon Horontshik, pp. v–xxv (Buenos Aires, 1953); Yeḥiel Yeshaia Trunk, Di yidishe proze in Poyln in der tkufe tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes (Buenos Aires, 1949), pp. 47–56.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 277, David Einhorn, Papers, 1914-1940s; RG 3, Yiddish Literature and Language, Collection, 1870s-1941.



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann