Jewish writers on the occasion of a visit by Yiddish writer H. Leyvik (front row, center), Moscow, 1925. Among those in the portrait are Izi Kharik and Zelik Akselrod (back row, first and third from left), Yehezkl Dobrushin, Borekh Glazman (also visiting from New York), Shmuel-Nisn Godiner, and Arn Kushnirov (front row, first, second, fourth, and fifth from left). Photo by B. Kapustinskii. (YIVO)

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Akselrod, Zelik

(1904–1941), Yiddish poet. Born in Molodechno, Belorussia, Zelik Akselrod was 11 years old when his family found themselves among the Jews expelled by the Russian army from the World War I theater of operation. From Tambov, where the family lived after the expulsion, they moved to Minsk, while Zelik went to Moscow to study at the Briusov Institute for Literature and Art (1922–1925). His brother Meyer (or Meer; 1902–1970) also studied in Moscow, becoming a noted artist. Zelik Akselrod was close to his fellow students Izi Kharik and Shmuel-Nisn Godiner, who were active in proletarian literary circles. Aesthetically, however, Akselrod was quite removed from the proletarian poets. His first poetry collection, Tsapl (Tremble; 1922), was published in Kiev by Kultur-lige. From 1925, he lived in Minsk, working at an orphanage and, later, at the State Publishing House.

Yiddish critics, such as Avrom Abtshuk of the proletarian school, accused Akselrod of imitating the “Epicureanism” of the Russian poet Sergei Esenin. In reality, Akselrod wrote about his generation’s drift to new moral norms. Thus he described the Komsomol girls’ haircutting as an initiation ritual: “to never return back / my sister had cropped her hair.” He saw around himself young men and women whose lives were divided between “day for work and night for revel . . . / when night and love sing their songs / the whole world may go to hell!” His poems were at that time published only in periodicals and miscellanies; no collection was issued in book form until 1932.

In the early 1930s, Akselrod conformed to mainstream topics hailing the achievements of the Communist regime. For being more pliant, he was promoted in 1932 to the editorial board of the Minsk journal Shtern, and his poetic collections began to be issued by the Minsk-based State Publishing House: Lider (Poems; 1932), Un vider lider (And Again Poems; 1935), Oyg af oyg (Tête-à-tête; 1937), and Lider (1938). A volume of his works in Russian translation, Stikhi (Poems), was published in Moscow in 1937.

Lider (Poems), by Ianka Kupala. Translation of poems by Kupala into Yiddish by Zelik Akselrod. (Minsk: Melukhe-farlag fun Vaysrusland, 1936). (YIVO)

With Izi Kharik, Moyshe Kulbak, Yashe Bronshteyn, Khatskl Dunets, and Ziskind Lev, Akselrod represented Belorussian Yiddish literati at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers (1934). Apart from Akselrod, none of them survived the purges of 1937 and 1938. Before his arrest on 30 May 1941 for alleged anti-Soviet activities, he was regarded as the Belorussian republic’s leading Yiddish poet. After the Soviet annexation of eastern Poland, Akselrod visited Vilna, Białystok, and other “liberated” towns. His wife, Pearl, a former Polish citizen, was the daughter of Itshe Meyer Vaysenberg (Weissenberg). Zelik Akselrod was executed on 26 June 1941 by the Soviet secret police.

Two Yiddish volumes of Akselrod’s poetry appeared posthumously under the same title, Lider, in New York (1961) and Moscow (1980). A volume of Russian translations, Utrennii svet (Morning Light), was published in Moscow in 1963. One of his Russian translators is his niece Elena Akselrod, the daughter of Meyer Akselrod and Rivke Rubin.

Suggested Reading

Esther Rosenthal-Shnaiderman, Oyf vegn un umvegn, vol. 3 (Tel Aviv, 1982), pp. 199–202; Chone Shmeruk, ed., A shpigl oyf a shteyn (Tel Aviv, 1964), pp. 767–770.