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Persov, Shmuel

(1890–1950), Yiddish writer. Shmuel Persov was born in the shtetl of Pochep, Ukraine, to the family of a religious teacher. In addition to receiving a traditional Jewish education, he read secular books at a private library organized with the assistance of the Hebrew writer Uri Nisan Gnessin. Persov was a member of the Bund in 1905 and 1906. Later, he moved to the United States, where he published short stories in the anarchist newspaper Fraye arbeter shtime (Free Workers’ Voice).

Persov returned to Russia in 1910. He worked in Moscow as a clerk at various state institutions and wrote articles on economic issues. In 1922, he began publishing stories devoted to contemporary Soviet life. That January, he joined the first Yiddish proletarian literary group, formed in Moscow by Khayim Gildin and Moyshe Taytsh. Persov’s story “Sherblekh” (Broken Earthen Pot), about a merchant imprisoned by the Soviet authorities, appeared in Moscow as a pamphlet later that year. Persov also contributed to the first issue of the Kharkov journal Di royte velt (The Red World), which was issued in September 1924.

Persov’s prose of the 1920s was strongly influenced by Dovid Bergelson’s style. According to Yashe Bronshteyn, Persov freed himself from this influence only at the end of the 1920s, particularly in the novel Kontraktsye (Counteraction), published in 1931 as part of the Central Publishing House’s series Proletarishe literatur. The novel was also published in Russian with a preface by Ber Orshanski (Kontraktsiia; 1931). This schematic work with two-dimensional characters portrayed various types of Soviet functionaries involved in developing contractual forms (hence the title) of business relationships between authorities and peasants.

Fiction was not Persov’s real vocation, however, and he became better known as a writer of documentary stories, such as Mentshn fun metro (People of the [Moscow] Metro; 1935). During World War II, he was among the Yiddish writers working for the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC), one of the main functions of which was to produce journalistic material for foreign media. Among his numerous assignments was the preparation of materials about Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, for the American Jewish press—Americans wanted to know the details of her biography, daily routine, spheres of interests, and attitude toward the West. Persov was among the JAC’s leading journalists, traveling to various places and writing about Jewish heroes of the war: workers, soldiers, and prominent personalities, such as Semen Alekseevich Lavochkin, the son of a rabbi and the leading constructor of Soviet military planes, and Abram Isaevich Bykhovskii, director of a military plant. He also wrote a number of stories devoted to Jewish partisans, some of which were included in his 1944 book Dayn nomen iz folk (Your Name Is People).

After the war, Persov continued to write documentary stories about Jewish workers and leading personalities for publication in the Moscow Yiddish newspaper Eynikayt (Unity) and in foreign, primarily American, periodicals. During the repression of Jewish culture in the late 1940s, the Soviet secret police categorized Persov’s writings as reports for American and Zionist intelligence. He was arrested in 1949 and tried twice. After the second trial, he was sentenced to death on 22 November 1950. Volumes of his selected works in Russian translation appeared in Moscow in 1957, 1959, and 1968.

Suggested Reading

Yasha Bronshteyn, “Persov,” Literaturnaia entsiklopediia, vol. 8, p. 582 (Moscow, 1934); Gennadii Kostyrchenko, Tainaia politika Stalina: Vlast’ i antisemitizm (Moscow, 2001); Alexander Pomerantz, Di sovetishe haruge-malkhes: Tsu zeyer tsentn yortsayt; Vegn dem tragishn goyrl fun di yidishe shraybers (Buenos Aires, 1962).