Malki’el Lusternik in the resort town of Zakopane, Poland, ca. 1930s. (Asher Barash Gnazim Institute, Tel Aviv)

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Lusternik, Malki’el

(1912–1943), Hebrew poet, literary editor, and Zionist activist. Malki’el Lusternik was born in Łódź to an assimilated family. Lusternik received a Hebrew Zionist education in Łódź. As a student he was actively involved in Gordonia, the Labor Zionist pioneer youth movement founded in 1925. He wrote the words for the movement’s anthem and edited the movement’s journals in Polish, Hebrew, and Yiddish.

In 1932, with the poet Berl Pomerantz (1901–1942) and the writer Tsevi Zevulun Weinberg (1884–1971), Lusternik founded the literary journal Re’shit (1932–1934), hoping to marshal the talents of the last remaining Hebrew writers in Poland as a means of exposing the public to Zionism’s cultural legacy. In 1935, Resh’it Press published 47 of his poems under the title Sufat aviv (Spring Storm).

In 1937, with Pomerantz and Natan Eck (1896–1981), his teacher, Lusternik edited the journal Teḥumim, which produced only two editions. In 1938, the sole edition of Sefer ha-shanah le-yehude Polanyah (The Polish Jewry Yearbook) was published, featuring Lusternik’s final poems.

Immediately after the outbreak of World War II, Lusternik was in the Warsaw ghetto, where he played an active role in Tekumah, the Zionist underground movement. In 1941 he arrived in Opatów, and in 1942 was deported to the Strachovice labor camp. On his return to his hideout in the Warsaw ghetto he heard about the “Polski Hotel,” where the Nazis had purportedly assembled Jews who possessed false Latin American passports. He was subsequently lured into visiting this “hotel,” and in October 1943 was sent to Auschwitz.

Lusternik’s eclectic poetry in Sufat aviv contains strains from two very different modernist schools: Avraham Shlonsky’s (1900–1973) Palestinian-Hebrew modernism (which strived for pure symbolism that was disengaged from current affairs and encouraged rhyming and metered poetry) was featured side by side with the Kwadgyra group’s Polish modernism (which believed that poetry should reflect cold hard facts and depict the harsh reality of Polish life in the 1930s). Most of the Hebrew poets in Poland at that time tended to mimic the latter school. Their poetry, like some of Lusternik’s, contained harsh and grotesque depictions of famine, economic depression, war, and death. The situation of the ordinary person forced to live in a hostile urban environment is presented as normal and natural and without any political and ideological agenda.

Lusternik’s sole published book also contains other forms of verse. He wrote songs that praised the pioneering enterprise in the Land of Israel, and satirical ditties in the tradition of the Polish Jewish poet Julian Tuwim (1894–1953) and the Skamander group. This latter poetry is packed with humor and wordplay, reflecting the views of its antibourgeois narrator who refuses to be sentimental. Through these poems Lusternik is revealed as a talented poet of modernist rhyming verse, whose sensitive combination of formal and coarse language achieves amusing results. In his poems that appeared in the various journals during the late 1930s, formal structure gives way to harsh portrayals of reality. The poems are longer, they blend autobiographical details with current affairs, and they reflect utter desperation with a feeling of impending disaster. In the best parts of his oeuvre, Lusternik combined the stylistic and poetic components of both Hebrew and Polish modernism. In his less serious poems of Sufat aviv he presents a lively, antisentimental poetic mask as a response to the harsh reality of interwar Poland. His sensitive ear for Modern Hebrew speech made these poems full of innovation and poetic vigor.

Suggested Reading

Natan Cohen, “Ha-Sevivah ha-sifrutit ha-‘ivrit be-Polin (1920–1939) ve-kishreha ‘im ha-mimsad ha-sifruti ve-netsigav be-Erets Yisra’el,” Tarbiz 64.3 (1998): 379–395; Uzi Shavit, “Aḥarone ha-meshorerim ha-‘ivriyim be-Polin,” Mi-Bifnim 45.3–4 (1973): 311–317; David Weinfeld, Ha-Shirah ha-‘ivrit be-Polin ben shete milḥamot ha-‘olam (Jerusalem, 1997).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler