Postcard from Zalmen Vendrof to Lazar Kahan, 1913. From Zalmen Vendrof in Warsaw to Lazar Kahan in Łódź, 29 December, 1913. He agrees with Kahan that a performance is possible but, candidly speaking, it will be impossible to find an appropriate writer in Warsaw: they are all either incapable of reading in front of an audience or are unpresentable in other ways. A singer, and maybe a spoken word performer (deklamator) would be better options, along with Vendrof and Menakhem Kipnis. Yiddish. Yiddish, Polish, and Russian letterhead: Haynt, Warsaw, Chłodna 8. RG 422, Lazar Kahan Papers, F Vendrof. (YIVO)

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Vendrof, Zalmen

(1877–1971), Yiddish writer. Born in Slutsk, Belorussia, into a family of a ritual slaughterer, Zalmen Vendrof (commonly rendered Zalman Wendroff) received a traditional Talmudic education and studied with private teachers, but ultimately failed his secondary school examinations. From the age of 16, he lived in Łódź, where he worked at a factory. From the early 1900s, Vendrof traveled the world, trying different jobs such as peddling, teaching, and typesetting. His peripatetic youth included a stint in England (1901–1905), a brief spell in Moscow as an English teacher (1905), and another period as a Yiddish journalist in America. In London, he became a friend of anarchist leader Rudolf Rocker and wrote for anarchist Yiddish periodicals.

In 1908 Vendrof returned to Russia, where he replaced Philip Krantz (Yakov Rombro; 1858–1922) as Warsaw correspondent for Morgen-zhurnal (Morning Journal), the second-largest New York Yiddish daily. He lived in Warsaw until 1915, contributing to the Yiddish newspapers Haynt (Today) and Idishes tageblat (Jewish Daily). He became one of the best-selling Yiddish prose writers, and a number of his works were translated into Russian. His 14 titles, many of them from the cycle Pravozhitelstvo (Right of Residence), were published in Warsaw and Vilna in 1912 and 1913. His critical portrayals of life in the Pale of Jewish Settlement had a strong, if short-lived, resonance among Jewish and Russian readers and were quoted in the Russian Duma’s polemics.

Vendrof was the Moscow correspondent of the New York Yiddish Forverts (Forward) from 1917 to 1929. In 1919 he began working as a journalist and editor for the Soviet government’s Jewish Commissariat. Shortly thereafter, the Moscow-based Lebn publishing house issued Vendrof’s collection of stories, Arbet un noyt (Work and Need; 1919). However, Communist vigilantes soon accused him of counterrevolutionary and Zionist activities, including collaboration with the Moscow Hebrew theater Habimah, where he had briefly worked as an administrator. Apparently, Soviet Jewish functionaries could not forgive Vendrof his pro-Habimah speech during a public discussion in March 1920.

In January 1921, Vendrof wrote a sharp letter arguing that he had never belonged to any party. Moreover, he added, he had had nothing to do with any party, Zionist or Communist. As a proof of his non-Zionism, he adduced his 10 articles written from Palestine, none of which contained a line about Jews. Nevertheless, it was difficult for Vendrof to find a place in Soviet Yiddish literary circles. Moyshe Litvakov harshly criticized him for taking the path of least resistance and becoming a pure imitator of Sholem Aleichem. Vendrof’s next book, the collection of autobiographical stories Afn shvel fun lebn (On the Threshold of Life), did not appear until 1941. Meanwhile, he translated into Yiddish such authors as Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, Jack London, and Mark Twain. During World War II, he worked for the Moscow foreign-language radio service.

Vendrof was arrested in 1950 and after months of severe interrogations received a 10-year sentence for his ostensible collaboration with foreign intelligence services. Liberated in 1956, he returned to Moscow, where he became the doyen of the surviving Soviet Yiddish literary circles. Characteristically, during the 1957 Moscow Youth Festival, he chaired the meeting of a group of Yiddish writers with foreign guests. He welcomed the appearance of the Moscow journal Sovetish heymland (Soviet Homeland) in 1961. A collection of his stories, translated into Polish by Stanisław Wygodzki, was published in Warsaw in 1962. Vendrof’s last Yiddish book, Undzer gas (Our Street), appeared in Moscow in 1967.

Suggested Reading

Gennady Estraikh, “Yiddish Literary Life in Soviet Moscow, 1918–1924,” Jews in Eastern Europe, 42 [2] (2000): 25–55; Zalman Wendroff, When It Comes to Living: Selected Stories, trans. Irene Jerison (McKinleyville, Calif., 2004).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1,1, YIVO (Vilna): Administration, Records, 1925-1941; RG 26, Yidisher Artistn Fareyn (Warsaw), Records, 1919-1939; RG 26, Yidisher Artistn Fareyn (Warsaw), Records, 1919-1939; RG 422, Lazar Kahan, Papers, 1908-1940s; RG 532, Michael Weichert, Papers, 1908-1967; RG 610, Leib Olitzky, Papers, 1940s-1960s.