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Pomerantz, Berl

(1901–1942), Hebrew poet and translator. Berl Pomerantz was born in Odrizhin, a village near Pinsk. From his youth, he was an avid reader of Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian literature. After the Revolution of 1917, his family moved to Janów; later, Pomerantz went on his own to Vilna, where he was admitted to the Hebrew Teachers Seminary and to the conservatory. While in Vilna he became fluent in Polish; he then taught Hebrew and Bible at the Tarbut secondary school in Janów.

In the early 1930s, Pomerantz moved to Warsaw, where he struggled financially. In 1935, he married and published his first anthology, Bi-Sefatayim el ha-sela‘ (With Lips to the Rock). He corresponded with the poet Yitsḥak Lamdan, who published Pomerantz’s poems on a regular basis in the journal Gilyonot in Tel Aviv. In 1937, Pomerantz (with Malki’el Lusternik, and N. Eck) edited the Warsaw Hebrew journal Teḥumim, and a year after that he published a translation of Stanisław Wyspiański’s classic Polish play Wesele (The Wedding).

Despite persistent efforts, Pomerantz was unable to immigrate to Palestine. In 1939, his second anthology of poems, Ḥalon ba-ya‘ar (A Window in the Forest) appeared in Kraków, and was the last Hebrew book published in Poland before the Holocaust. Shortly before World War II, Pomerantz went to visit his mother in Janów and remained trapped there, separated from his wife and son. All his attempts to return to Warsaw failed, and in December 1942 he was shot to death by members of the SS in a forest near Janów.

Pomerantz was a modernist with a unique poetic style. Most of his work consists of lyrical poems of variable length (from 8 lines to several pages; about 110 poems in all); he also wrote long poems. The lexicon of his verse is close to colloquial speech, and yet it contains archaisms and neologisms; these two features imbue his works with a bold freshness in comparison with other poetry of the time. The autobiographical persona at the center of his poetry openly and constantly rejects the “active” expressionist viewpoint (especially that of Uri Tsevi Grinberg), and appeals for an unadorned reality and a tempered passion. Accordingly, most of the material for his poems is drawn from his immediate urban surroundings, and includes the minutest physical details: automobiles, electrical appliances, high-rise buildings, prostitutes, beggars, and the anonymous population.

The experiences that shaped Pomerantz’s poetry came from the formative period of his life when he was uprooted from the village landscape of his youth and replanted in the ugly and alienating modern metropolis, where he found nothing positive. Nonetheless, he does not depict the world of his childhood, or his village, in nostalgic or idealistic terms, and he does not conceal the terror and confusion that were a part of that life. The stark feelings that ring out from his poetry and that are characteristic of his general expressionistic weltanschauung are the depressions and anxieties both from his personal travails and from his conception of history; as a modern “cursed poet,” his heart reached out to others who suffered.

In the history of Hebrew poetry, Pomerantz’s name remains imprinted in the minds of many, not only because he was one of the greatest poets to have stayed in Poland, but also because he was part of the triangle that included David Vogel and Avraham ben Yitsḥak, who (collectively) might be designated passive expressionist poets, and who achieved popularity beginning in the 1960s.

Suggested Reading

Berl Pomerantz, Shirim, comp. Noah Peniel (Tel Aviv, 1966); David Weinfeld (Vinfeld), “Be-Ḥipus aḥar ha-otentiyut: ‘Al shirato shel Ber Pomerants,” in Ha-Shirah ha-‘ivrit be-Polin ben shete milḥamot ha-‘olam, pp. 82–109 (Jerusalem, 1997).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler