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Mieses, Matthias

(1885–1945), philologist and journalist. Born in Przemyśl, Galicia, to a maskil family, Matthias Mieses had studied 10 languages by the age of 18. He published a Hebrew poem in the weekly Ha-Magid at 15, followed by hundreds of articles dealing with science and politics; these appeared in the Hebrew, German, and Jewish Polish press.

As a philologist, Mieses devoted much of his attention to the Yiddish language, studying its sources and grammar. He published a number of books in the field, including Die Entstehungsursache der jüdischen Dialekte (The Reasons for the Emergence of Jewish Dialects; 1915) and Die Jiddische Sprache (The Yiddish Language; 1924). Mieses considered Yiddish to be a standard language. He attributed a supreme national-spiritual value to it and rejected the notion of rivalry between Yiddish and Hebrew. He believed Yiddish faced even greater challenges from the languages of countries in which Jews lived—and therefore he held the opinion that even those who on principle preferred Hebrew over Yiddish (as he did) must support the latter, as the alternative was a foreign language. In 1907, a literary debate ensued over this issue in the pages of Ha-‘Olam between Mieses and Naḥum Sokolow, the journal’s editor.

At the Czernowitz Conference of 1908, Mieses delivered an enthusiastic speech in defense of Yiddish, evoking the admiration of Y. L. Peretz. Later, Mieses published a vehement reaction to an article that Ahad Ha-Am had written denigrating the language. Mieses also dealt with Jewish history and relations between Jews and their neighbors, exploring the topic of antisemitism and its dissemination. Writing books in German, Polish, and Hebrew, he titled his texts Ha-Polanim veha-Yehudim (The Poles and the Jews; 1905); Ha-‘Amim ha-‘atikim ve-Yisra’el (The Ancient Nations and Israel; 1909); Zur Rassenfrage (Concerning the Issue of Race; 1919); Der Ursprung des Judenhasses (The Origin of Jew-Hatred; 1923); and Żydzi jako rolnicy w dawnej Polsce (Jews as Farmers in Polish History; 1938). In 1938, Mieses published two volumes in Polish of historical-sociological research, containing 315 biographies of people with Jewish backgrounds, titled Polacy-chrześcijanie pochodzenia żydowskiego (Christian Poles of Jewish Origin). This research evoked great interest, though it was attacked by many descendants of Jews included in the book.

When World War II began, Mieses was in Przemyśl. He continued his studies and planned to publish an encyclopedia of religion in 16 volumes, even while under Nazi occupation. Following the liquidation of the ghetto in the autumn of 1943, he was deported to the Szebnie labor camp. In February 1944, he was sent to the Plaszów camp, where he was put to work, along with other Jewish intellectuals, in cataloging books from Jewish libraries. On 18 January 1945, Mieses died of exhaustion during a death march to Gleiwitz (Gliwice) camp.

Suggested Reading

Me’ir Bosak, “Ḥodshe ḥayav ha-aḥaronim shel Matityahu Mizes,” Davar (Tel Aviv) (25 September 1950): 6; Getzel Kressel, “Matisyahu Mizes un di polemik vegn yidish,” Di goldene keyt 28 (1957): 143–163; Zalman Reisen (Rejzen), “Mizes (Mizish) Matisyahu,” in Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese, un filologye, vol. 2, cols. 375–379 (Vilna, 1927).



Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen