Insignia of Boris Kletskin’s publishing house in Vilna. From Briv fun Ester-Rokhl Kaminski (Letters from Ester-Rokhl Kaminska; Vilna, 1927). (YIVO)

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Kletskin, Boris Arkadevich

(1875–1937), Yiddish publisher. Born in Horodishche (now in Belarus), Boris Kletskin and his family moved to Vilna, the city with which his name would thereafter be associated. An only child of wealthy parents, he received a traditional religious education and was also tutored in secular subjects.

In his younger years, Kletskin was a founder of the zhargonishe komitetn, which established libraries and disseminated Yiddish reading matter among Jewish workers. Active in the Bund especially before World War I, he helped set up that organization’s Di Velt (The World) publishing house and its official press organs, Der veker (The Alarm Clock) and Di folks-tsaytung (The People’s Newspaper). Kletskin’s own publishing company, the Vilner Farlag fun B. A. Kletskin, was established about 1910.

Kletskin was one of the first Yiddish publishers to pay authors generous advances and honoraria, and is considered “the first genuine publisher of modern Yiddish literature” (Melech Ravitch, 1947, p. 272). Before World War I, he issued the pioneering journals Der pinkes (The Record Book; 1913), Di yudishe velt (The Jewish World; 1913–1915), and Grininke beymelekh (Little Green Trees; 1914–1939), along with dozens of Yiddish books (original works and translations, fiction and nonfiction) for adults and children. Among the press’s editors were A. Vayter, Shmuel Niger, Nokhem Shtif, Zelig Kalmanovitsh, Dovid Bergelson, and Ber Borokhov; writers included Sholem Asch, Dovid Eynhorn, Hersh Dovid Nomberg, and Avrom Reyzen.

Cover of a volume from the set Ale verk fun Y. L. Perets (Collected Works of Y. L. Peretz), published in Vilna by Boris Kletskin in the 1920s. (YIVO)

Kletskin’s publishing activities were severely disrupted by the war. He left Vilna and did not return until 1919, and in 1925 transferred the company to Warsaw. Its list of authors during the interwar decades include the major Yiddish literary writers, both from the prewar period (including the collected works of Y. L. Peretz and Sholem Aleichem) and his contemporaries Perets Hirshbeyn, H. Leyvick, Moyshe Nadir, Yoysef Opatoshu, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Oyzer Varshavski. A high proportion of his offerings were translations of works from other languages into Yiddish; among these was the young Isaac Bashevis Singer’s translation of Knut Hamsun’s Pan. Children’s books and textbooks were a staple component of the output as well.

Kletskin also published the influential literary weekly Literarishe bleter (1924–1939), the theatrical journal Yidish teater (1927), and a revived version of Di yudishe velt (1928). Zalmen Reyzen’s lexicon of Yiddish authors (1926–1929) was also among the hundreds of titles.

Kletskin was a devoted patron of Vilna’s YIVO Institute. His publishing company produced YIVO’s Filologishe shriftn (Philological Writings; 1926–1938) and helped to distribute the institute’s newsletter. As a member of YIVO’s executive board, he also helped to purchase the land upon which YIVO built its headquarters.

Kletskin’s personal fortune was virtually exhausted during the Great Depression. Nevertheless, books continued to appear under the Kletskin imprint even after he himself succumbed to heart disease in Warsaw. As the writer and photographer Alter-Sholem Kacyzne claimed, “For a certain period he was able to control the entirety of modern Yiddish publishing. During that time, through his strenuous exertions, he pushed Yiddish literature to a higher level” (Literarishe bleter, 27 November 1936, p. 190). Boris Kletskin’s publishing house “not only enriched Yiddish literature . . . but it also helped to raise the prestige of Yiddish and modern Yiddish culture” (Zalmen Reyzen, in Literarishe bleter, 27 November 1936, p. 760).

Suggested Reading

“25 yor Vilner farlag fun B. Kletskin,” Literarishe bleter, vol. 13, no. 48 (27 November 1936), includes articles by Zelig Kalmanovitsh, Zalmen Reyzen, A. Fridkin, David Roykhl, Alter-Sholem Kacyzne, Nakhmen Mayzel, and M. Kitay; Melech Ravitch (Melekh Ravich), “Boris Arkadyevitsh Kletskin,” in Mayn leksikon, vol. 2, pp. 272–274 (Montreal, 1947); Zalman Rejzen (Zalmen Reyzen), “Kletskin Boris,” in Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese un filologye, vol. 3, cols. 698–703 (Vilna, 1929).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 602, Shalom Asch, Papers, .