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Levin, Khane

(1900–1969), Yiddish poet. Born in Ekaterinoslav (mod. Ukr., Dnipropetrovs’k) to the family of an undertaker, Khane Levin was educated at a school for poor children. She worked as a seamstress and a sales assistant. Initially, Levin wrote poems in Russian, but under the influence of Leyb Naydus, who lived in Ekaterinoslav in 1915, she switched to Yiddish. While living in Kharkov, she made her literary debut in the almanac Kunst-ring (Art Circle) in 1917. The following year, her poems appeared in the Petrograd weekly Folksblat (People’s Paper), edited by Nokhem Shtif.

Levin served in the Red Army during the civil war. Her poems were included in the 1921 collection Trep (Steps), produced in Ekaterinoslav by Perets Markish. This collection also presented such beginning writers as I. J. Singer and Shmuel Halkin. In the 1920s, Levin studied at a pedagogical institute and worked as a Yiddish schoolteacher. Subsequently, from the mid-1920s, when Kharkov became a major center of Soviet Yiddish publishing, she worked at the editorial offices of local newspapers.

Levin was hailed as virtually the first female poetic voice in Soviet Yiddish literature. Her poems frequently appeared in newspapers, in the Minsk literary journal Shtern (Star), and the Kharkov literary journals Di royte velt (The Red World) and Prolit (Proletarian literature). In December 1928 she was among the founding members—including Itsik Fefer, Dovid Hofshteyn, and Khayim Gildin—of the Yiddish section of the All-Ukrainian Association of Proletarian Writers. Her first book, Tsushtayer (Contribution), was published in 1929.

Levin’s lyric heroines often relive the experiences of the poet or her peers, presenting the experiences of a miserable girlhood in pre-1917 Russia, the civil war, love, and years of studies. She wrote many of her poems in the style of folk songs, using colloquial registers of Yiddish. In the pre–World War II years, her poetic collections continued to appear in Kharkov, Kiev, and Moscow: Oyg oyf oyg (Vis-à-vis; 1933), Kleynikaytn (Trifles; 1933), Di yingere fun mir (Those Who Are Younger than Me; 1934), and Eygns (One’s Own; 1941). Between 1935 and 1940, she also wrote six books of poems and stories for children.

Levin studied at the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages in 1939 and 1940. A collection of her stories, Af shrit un trit (At Every Step), appeared in Moscow in 1943. After World War II she returned to Kharkov, where she was the only professional Yiddish writer. Her optimistic poem “Far mentshn-freyd” (For People’s Happiness; 1948), published in the third issue of the Kiev almanac Shtern, was characteristic of post-Holocaust Soviet Yiddish writings: “Years of war and struggle have hardened me, / Made me like steel of the highest quality, / I am full of courage and patience, / And my heart is full of happiness.”

Levin also wrote children’s poetry in Ukrainian. One of her Ukrainian books, Vesinni holosa (Spring Voices), was published in 1950, when Soviet Yiddish publishing was already in a state of ruin. She contributed from time to time to the Moscow journal Sovetish heymland (Soviet Homeland) but did not play any significant role in Yiddish literary life of the 1960s, remaining cut off from her colleagues who lived mainly in Moscow, Kiev, Chernivtsi, and Birobidzhan.

Suggested Reading

Nachman Mayzel (Meisel), Dos yidishe shafn un der yidisher shrayber in Sovetnfarband (New York, 1959).