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Szymel, Maurycy

(1903–1942), Polish and Yiddish poet, prose writer, translator, critic, and publicist. Maurycy (Mosheh) Szymel was born into an Orthodox family in Lwów, where he graduated from high school. He made his literary debut in Chwila in 1925, initially writing poetry for children. From the beginning of the 1930s, he participated in Warsaw’s Jewish literary life, publishing a manifesto on Polish Jewish poetry in the weekly Opinia (1933) and writing for the Jewish press in Yiddish and Polish. In 1939 he returned to Lwów and published Yiddish works in Sovetish literatur. During the Nazi occupation, Szymel worked as a clerk for the Judenrat in Lwów. He died at the Janów labor camp.

Szymel’s Polish-language publications included Powrót do domu (The Return Home; 1931), Skrzypce przedmieścia (Suburban Violin; 1932), and Wieczór liryczny (Lyrical Evening; 1935); he also published the Yiddish volume Mir iz umetik (I’m Sad; 1936). His wartime poems were collected in Binem Heller’s anthology Dos lid iz geblibn (The Song Remains; 1951). Szymel’s translations from Yiddish included poetry and prose (e.g., works by Zusman Segałowicz and Lejb Małach).

In his manifesto, Szymel formulated a program of Polish Jewish literature rooted in East European Jewish folk culture. Showing both Polish and Jewish ideological and artistic influences, his poetry—with its mundane topics, prosaic language, and relatively traditional versification—is reminiscent of both Galician Yiddish poetry and the Polish group Skamander. Szymel represented the sentimental current in Polish Jewish poetry that drew inspiration from Jewish traditional culture, folklore, and topoi. He often paraphrased popular biblical and folkloric themes, as evidenced by his cycle Noce biblijne (Biblical Nights; 1931) and in poems inspired by stories and legends about the “fools of Chełm,” the Messiah, and the prophet Elijah.

Jewish provincial life in Eastern Europe, with descriptions of rituals and holidays, were also among Szymel’s favorite subjects, although he also took up current issues, including antisemitism. In the late 1930s, his writings acquired catastrophic overtones: an anxiety-laden atmosphere, ominous forebodings, and visions of death. Reflective lyric poetry occupied a distinct place in Szymel’s works, continuing the poetic style of Julian Tuwim.

Suggested Reading

Ryszard Loew, “Przedmowa,” in Ima ba-afelah: Ve-shirm aḥerim / Matka w mroku i inne wiersze, by Maurycy Szymel (Tel Aviv, 1995), in Hebrew and Polish; Chaim Löw, Smok w słowiczym gnieździe. Żydzi w poezji Odrodzonej Polski (Warsaw, 1934); Eugenia Prokop-Janiec, Polish-Jewish Literature in the Interwar Years, trans. Abe Shenitzer (Syracuse, N.Y., 2003).



Translated from Polish by Christina Manetti; revised by Magda Opalski