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Osherovitsh, Hirsh

(1908–1994), Yiddish poet. Hirsh Osherovitsh was born in Ponevezh (Panevėžys, Lith.). Together with thousands of other Jews who lived in the Russian border region, his family was exiled at the outbreak of World War I to the Donbass in eastern Ukraine. In 1921, the family returned to Ponevezh, and in 1928 Osherovitsh graduated from the local Hebrew high school. He studied law at Kaunas (Kovno) University, graduating in 1933. Osherovitsh began to write poetry at a very young age, and began publishing in 1934, when he worked for various newspapers, in particular Kaunas’s Di yidishe shtime.

Osherovitsh published his earliest collection of poetry, Baginen (Dawn), in Vilna in June 1941, but its entire print run was lost with the outbreak of World War II. He managed to flee to the Soviet interior and spent most of the war years in Alma-Ata (present-day Almaty), Kazakhstan. Soon after the liberation of Vilna by the Red Army, he returned to that city. A collection of Osherovitsh’s Yiddish poetry, Fun klem aroys (Out of the Abyss) was published in Moscow in 1947. This book, however, was attacked in the Yiddish periodical Der shtern, which condemned its “bourgeois nationalism,” particularly in the poems “Af Ponar” (In Ponar) and “Yidn” (Jews). Osherovitsh was arrested two years later and sentenced to 10 years in a labor camp for “anti-Soviet, nationalistic activity.”

Upon his release in 1956, Osherovitsh returned to Vilna and resumed literary work. Although he became one of the most widely recognized Soviet Yiddish poets, his poems were issued only in Russian and Lithuanian translations. One volume, translated by Arsenii Tarkovskii, appeared in Russian in 1962, and two were published in Lithuanian in 1964 and 1968. Osherovitsh’s lyrical verse and some long epic poems were translated by several of Lithuania’s most illustrious poets, including Eduardas Mieželaitis, Justinas Marcinkevičius, and Algimantas Baltakis. In 1969, a large collection, Zunengang (Sun Walk) was published in Moscow in the original Yiddish, a rare treat for the many Soviet Yiddish authors of his generation. In 1968, Osherovitsh’s play, Men and Supermen, premiered in Vilna.

The most representative anthology of postwar Soviet Yiddish poetry, Horizontn (Horizons; 1965), arranged alphabetically by poets’ surnames, begins with Osherovitsh’s poem “Ruf mikh nit” (Don’t Call Me). In its lines, he declares emphatically that he would refuse to leave his native Lithuania for Israel. Nevertheless, Osherovitsh immigrated to Israel in 1971. In 1972, he was awarded the Ya‘akov Fichmann Prize, an honor that was followed by an illustrious array of awards and accolades, including the Itzik Manger Prize and the Prime Minister’s Prize for Yiddish Literature. A number of his poems were put to music by Abelis Klenitskis, Ethel Kovenski, Sha’ul Blekherovitz, Lev Kogan, and Mayer Bogdanski.

In Israel, Osherovitsh published nine volumes in Yiddish and one in Hebrew translation, the latter titled Oḥez ha-lel sakin keḥulah (Night Holding a Blue Knife; 1976). Most of the pieces that he published in Israel had been written before he had left the USSR. His first book in Israel, Tsvishn blits un duner (Between Lightening and Thunder; 1973) is a retrospective collection including many poems that would have been rejected by Soviet presses, even in the more liberal 1960s. In 1974, his long and evocative epic poem Mayn Ponevezh (My Ponevezh) was published, with a Hebrew translation by Avraham Shlonsky. A collection of lyrical and longer meditative poems, In land fun akeydes (In the Land of Sacrifices) appeared in 1975, and another, Gezang in labirint (Labyrinth Singing), was published in 1977. Osherovitsh’s acclaimed Tanakh poemes (Biblical Sagas; 1979) contains 5 short and 13 long epic and dramatic poems, all composed in Vilna from the 1940s through the 1960s. Other collections of his lyrical poetry include Bloye bumerangen (Blue Boomerangs; 1979) and Bam ets-hadas (At the Tree of Knowledge; 1981). While an occasional work written in Israel was included in these earlier collections, it is his last two books, Vundiker bitokhn (Faith in Wounds; 1987) and A liderheym (Poetry Home; 1990), that truly represent his Israeli oeuvre. A Russian translation of his long biblical poem Molekh (Moloch) appeared in 2004.

An acclaimed master of short lyrical poems as well as long narrative and meditative works, Osherovitsh is widely regarded as a highly intellectual poet consumed with ethical and philosophical issues. His linguistic and poetic virtuosity ranks with that of some of the best postwar Yiddish poets. The weight of his chosen themes and subjects did not allow for much lighthearted irony or humor. Osherovitsh’s subject matter, drawn often from biblical narratives and the Western classical heritage, is juxtaposed with representations of the devastation of twentieth-century tragedies.

Suggested Reading

Mishe Lev, “Hirsh Osherovitsh fun der noent,” Toplpunkt [Tel Aviv] 9 (2005): 110–115; Shulamit Shalit, “Girsh Osherovich (1908–1994),” Zametki po evreiskoi istorii 44 (2004), available at; Yankev Shternberg, “Hirsh Osherovitsh a liriker un an epiker,” Yidishe kultur [New York] 30.10 (1968), and 31.1 (1969); Yitskhok Yanasovitsh, “A dikhter mit an aleyn-gashafener mos,” Di goldene keyt [Tel Aviv] 82 (1974): 180–184.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 991, Hirsh Osherowitch, Papers, 1960s-1980s.