A gathering of Jewish intellectuals in Kulautuva, Lithuania, 1920 or 1921. Those identified in the photograph include journalist Reuven Tsarfat (2, in fedora); Bal-Makhshoves (4, wearing white boater); Dovid Bergelson (6, on ground with his head on his neighbor’s knee), his wife (10, seated, second from left), and son (5, small child to Bergelson’s left); Zelig Kalmanovitch (7, with striped tie, center); Jakob Lestschinsky (8, to Kalmanovitch’s right); and Nokhem Shtif (9, to the left of Bergelson’s wife). (YIVO)

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Kalmanovitch, Zelig

(1881–1944), Yiddish linguist and translator. Born in Goldingen, Courland, Zelig Kalmanovitch (Yid., Kalmanovitsh) received a traditional education until the age of 15. In 1901, he passed the external examinations for a certificate of Russian secondary school education and subsequently studied humanities, primarily Semitic philology, in Germany. He was in Berlin from 1902 to 1905 and in Königsberg in 1909 and 1910. He then defended his doctorate in Petrograd in 1919.

Politically, Kalmanovitch underwent a series of transformations, following Labor Zionism, Territorialism, Folkism, and, finally, Zionism. He was active as a Yiddish translator from 1906. Apart from providing him with some income, translation was seen by Kalmanovitch as a way to enrich Yiddish with modern terminology. He was a friend of Boris Kletskin and worked as an editor in the latter’s publishing house, first in Vilna and then, during World War I, in Petrograd. In the 1920s and 1930s, Kletskin published many of Kalmanovitch’s translations. In Petrograd, Kalmanovitch was part of Simon Dubnow’s circle that later formed the Folkspartey.

From Zelig Kalmanovitch in Vilna to Elye Tsherikover, 5 July 1939, about his reactions to an article by Sh. Rapaport that Kalmanovitsh feels promotes assimilation. He also mentions delays in the printing of the "Encyclopedia" due to illness on the part of bindery workers and the publisher. Note: There is a note penciled in on top of first page: "Answered 1 September 1939" (day of outbreak of World War II). Yiddish. RG 107, Letters Collection. (YIVO)

Kalmanovitch’s first article on Yiddish linguistics, written under the pseudonym F. Kleyn (Klein), appeared in the Vilna journal Literarishe monatshriftn (Literary Monthly) in 1908. In the spring of 1921, he lectured on Yiddish grammar for teachers from Minsk. His lecture notes were published by the State Publishing House of Belorussia.

Kalmanovitch lived mainly in Lithuania and Latvia from 1922 to 1928, where he edited the Folkspartey’s daily Letste nayes (Latest News). He also taught in Riga at Yiddish schools and in Panevėžys (teaching Hebrew in the latter city).

From 1928, Kalmanovitch lived in Vilna, where he was a central figure in the YIVO Institute. There he collected material for his never-realized project of a Yiddish semantic dictionary, and also studied folklore as well as the Courland dialect of Yiddish and the linguistic peculiarities of Yosef Perl’s writings. At YIVO, in addition to editing the Institute’s journal, YIVO-bleter (YIVO Pages), he handled administration, teaching, and correspondence, particularly while Max Weinreich, the director, concentrated on educational and psychological studies. Despite his rather slim corpus of linguistic publications, Kalmanovitch played a significant role in shaping the YIVO standard of Yiddish.

Kalmanovitch remained in Vilna when it became the capital of Soviet Lithuania. During World War II, he and his wife were in that city’s ghetto, where he kept a diary in Hebrew. The diary was later found by Avrom Sutzkever and published in Israel by Kalmanovitch’s son, Shalom Luria, in the 1970s (YIVO issued it in 1951 in Yudl Mark’s Yiddish translation in YIVO-bleter, followed by an English version in 1953). During the war he also wrote “Y. L. Peretses kuk oyf der yidisher literatur” (Y. L. Peretz’s View on Yiddish Literature), published posthumously in YIVO-bleter in 1950. He was, however, chided by many Jewish literati for regarding religious and cultural activities as the most worthy acts of resistance. In September 1943 he was transported to Estonia, where he died in a concentration camp.

Suggested Reading

Zelig Kalmanovitch, “Der yidisher dialekt in Kurland,” Filologishe shriftn 1 (1926): 161–188; Zelig Kalmanovitch, “A Diary of the Nazi Ghetto in Vilna,” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Studies 8 (1953): 9–81; Yudl Mark, “Zelig Kalmanovitsh,” Di goldene keyt 93 (1977): 127–143.