“Vandere-glik” by Shmuel Yankev Imber, n.d. Poem by Shmuel Yankev Imber, “Vandere-glik” (Vagabond luck), n.d. "To Yoysef A. . . . My young friend—You laugh . . . you laugh . . . / My young friend . . . / Your teeth are like pearls— / My young friend. . . ." Yiddish. RG 108, Manuscripts Collection, F5.5.5. (YIVO)

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Imber, Shmuel Yankev

(1889–1942?), Yiddish and Polish author and critic. Shmuel Yankev Imber was born in the provincial town of Jezierna in eastern Galicia; his father was Shemaryahu Imber, a maskil Zionist author and nephew of Naftali Herz Imber (who wrote “Hatikvah”). In addition to obtaining a traditional Jewish education, Imber also studied at Polish gymnasiums in Zloczów and Tarnopol. He traveled briefly to Palestine in 1912 and began studying German and Oriental studies at the university in Lwów. In 1915, he was recruited into the Imperial Austro-Hungarian Army and was therefore unable to graduate.

Authors and critics Shloyme Bikl and Zalmen Reyzen regarded Imber as the spiritual father of modern Yiddish poetry in Galicia and as a trailblazer who made the major intellectual center in Warsaw aware of that poetry, thereby redeeming it from an inferior provincial status. In 1905, Imber’s Yiddish poems were published for the first time, in the Tshernovitser vokhenblat. His earliest literary attempts in Polish were translations of poetry from Yiddish and other languages. In 1907, he published his own poems in Polish under a pseudonym. In 1909, his first collection of poems was published in Lwów under the title Vos ikh zing un zog (What I Sing and Say). By 1921, he had published six additional books of his poetry in Yiddish. After a pogrom was launched against the Jews of Lwów in 1918, he traveled to Vienna, where he joined a group of Jewish authors and continued to write and edit. In 1921, Imber traveled to the United States for several months. He then returned to Poland and settled in Lwów. He subsequently moved to Kraków, where he completed his academic studies and earned a doctorate degree.

Imber wrote frequently for the Polish Jewish press (Opinia and Chwila), seeking to improve the image of Jews in the eyes of their Polish neighbors. This matter was a major concern for him, evident in his literary work since its beginnings, most notably in the poem Esterke (1911). Esterke is regarded as one of the high points of Imber’s creative work in terms of both its artistic value and its political message, which called for the harmonious coexistence of Jews and Poles. When antisemitism intensified in Poland in the 1930s, Imber published a collection of articles in Polish, titled Asy czystej rasy (Purebred Aces; 1934), in which he defended the right of Jewish writers to create Polish literature. He later published a periodical called Oko w oko (Eye to Eye), of which 10 issues appeared in the years 1936–1937 with Imber as the predominant contributor. Here, too, he aspired to present the Jewish public to the Polish intelligentsia in a positive light, to counteract the ways in which Jews were portrayed by the Polish press and the growing nationalist circles.

Imber also published Tsvishn vintmiln (Between Windmills; 1931), a Yiddish journal of opinion that saw just two issues. In addition to writing in Polish, he continued to publish literary works, translations, and publicity articles in the Yiddish daily and periodic press, mainly in Warsaw’s Haynt and Lwów’s Togblat. Imber remained in Lwów when it was annexed by the Soviet Union. No information is available about his circumstances during the German occupation; he did not survive the war.

Suggested Reading

Shlomo Bickel (Bikl), “Shmuel-Yankev Imber un Ber Horovits,” Zamlbikher 7 (1948): 346–353; Yekhezkl Keytelman, “Imber, Shmuel-Yankev,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 1, cols. 80–82 (New York, 1956); Mendl Naygreshl, “Di moderne yidishe literatur in Galitsye,” in Fun noentn over, vol. 1, pp. 271–292 (New York, 1955); Eugenia Prokop-Janiec, Polish-Jewish Literature in the Interwar Years (Syracuse, N.Y., 2003), pp. 99–105; Zalman Reisen (Rejzen), “Imber Shmuel-Yankev,” in Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese un filologye, vol. 1, cols. 87–90 (Vilna, 1926); Chone Shmeruk, The Esterke Story in Yiddish and Polish Literature (Jerusalem, 1985), pp. 78–82.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 205, Kalman Marmor, Papers, 1880s-1950s.



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann