Staff of Der moment, Warsaw, 1920s. (Back row, left to right) Mordkhe Spektor, A. Almi, Yoysef Tunkel, Moyshe Bunem Yustman, Tsevi Pryłucki, D. Druk,  Sh. Janowski, Yisroel Khayim Zagorodski (front), Bentsion Chilinowicz, Yisroel Khayim Zagorodski, and Hillel Zeitlin. (YIVO)

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Yustman, Moyshe Bunem

(1889–1942), journalist, wit, and public affairs writer. Born in Warsaw to a Hasidic family, Moyshe Bunem Yustman (known also as Ba‘al Ye’ush [master of despair]) identified with Orthodox Jewry all his life. He began writing at an early age; his first articles were published in Hebrew in David Frishman’s paper Ha-Boker (1906). He also adopted the pen names B. Yeushzon (Son of Despair), Itshele, and Lorente.

Between 1906 and 1910, Yustman contributed to most of the Jewish newspapers published in Warsaw. He wrote a regular column on current affairs in Haynt, titled Varshever lebnsbildlekh (Little Pictures of Life in Warsaw), and even published his own humorous publication, Der kohol sheygets (The Communal Prankster; 1907). When the daily paper Der moment was founded in 1910, Yustman joined its editorial board and contributed regularly, publishing reports, stories, and feuilletons. He also wrote a weekly column on current affairs, titled Politishe brive (Political Letters). His views were always expressed in a humorous, accessible manner and generated much interest. At the same time, his articles expressed clear and reasoned opinions. Khayim Finkelshteyn, a fellow writer for Haynt, said: “Their impact upon his opponents was stronger than the lash of a sword” (Finkelstein, 1978, p. 146).

The Bundist journalist Borekh Shefner wrote the following about Yustman: “On board the trains, in the public gardens, and even at the yeshivas, we could always hear how Polish Jews spoke for hours on end about their ‘Itshele’. . . . His statements about England, or about his local political opponents, were quoted by one and all, from one end of Poland to the other” (Shefner, 1942, p. 2). Yustman’s unique prose style motivated editors outside Poland to invite him to write for their journals. In Warsaw, the very significant presence of a representative of Orthodox Jewry in a secular newspaper won him an audience that he would not have had under different circumstances.

Yustman tried his hand at playwriting as well. One play, Mitn koyekh fun dibuk (With the Strength of the Dybbuk; 1921), a parody of S. An-ski’s The Dybbuk, was dramatized in cooperation with Menaḥem Kipnis and was very successful.

In 1925, following a dispute with his employers, Yustman left Der moment and went back to write for its competitor, Haynt. This transition brought many new readers to Haynt and enhanced its popularity. As of 1929, in addition to his regular reports, he began writing a weekly column, Fun undzer altn oytser (From Our Old Treasure), which presented commentary and homiletic interpretations of the weekly portion of the Bible. These texts were subsequently compiled and published in eight volumes in Warsaw (1932). Subsequently, additional editions were printed and the collection was translated into Hebrew.

In his articles and reports, Yustman focused his attention primarily on internal Jewish affairs in Poland. The Land of Israel was close to his heart and, in this matter, he did not spare his criticism, even from his ideological colleagues in the various branches of the Zionist movement. His most radical ideological opponents included supporters of the Bund, on the one hand, and members of Agudas Yisroel, on the other hand. In their bulletins, Yustman was one of the most frequently attacked public figures.

The policy of the Polish government regarding the Jewish inhabitants of Poland was another issue Yustman addressed quite often, attempting to provide a solution to the increase in antisemitism. When the Nazis rose to power in Germany, Yustman focused his attention on the developments in that country, generally, and on the persecution of the Jews, in particular.

In 1937, Yustman traveled to Palestine, following in the footsteps of his son, to prepare for his family to move there. The German invasion of Poland interrupted his plans. He fled from Warsaw with a group of Jewish journalists on the night of 5–6 September 1939. At the end of a long and arduous journey, he reached Vilna and subsequently reached Palestine. Once there, the plight of the Jews of Poland and the fact that his relatives had remained in Warsaw sorely troubled him. His physical and mental health deteriorated quickly and he died in early 1942, at the age of 53.

Suggested Reading

Chaim Finkelstein, Haynt: A tsaytung bay Yidn, 1908–1939 (Tel Aviv, 1978), pp. 146–152; Borekh Shefner, “B. Ye’ushzon iz geven der populerster shrayber in der yidisher prese in Poyln,” Forverts (14 March 1942): 2; Yehoshu‘a Yustman, “Mayn tate,” in Nekhtn, by B. Ye’ushzon (Moshe Bunem Justman), pp. 14–46 (Ramat Gan, Israel, 1988).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann