Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Children's Poet from Warsaw

A forgotten man of many deeds and wild imagination, who laid the foundation stone to Hebrew children's literature at the end of the 19th century.

Illustration from original work
-National Library of Israel

Aron Luboszycki (אהרן ליבושיצקי) was born in Ruzhany on August 22, 1874, the son of Dov-Eliezer and Hova Luboszycki. His father was a learned and respected man. After receiving a traditional Jewish education in the Cheder, Aron was sent off to high school in Slonim to widen his mind. By the age of fifteen the boy already showed extraordinary interest in literature and poetry and a talent for the written word. He had a special love for Hebrew, a language that had been dead for many centuries and used only for prayer. Great things were expected of Aron, but the life in Ruzhany did not bear particular promise. Although his father was an affluent man, Aron was well aware of what was happening around him:
"The situation in our town is dire. The springs of livelihood have run dry and barren... many of the townsfolk began feeling trapped here, and over a year ago about a hundred families gathered together... and turned to the great Baron Hirsch, describing their terrible need and begging him to take them under his wing and guide them to Argentina... at any rate, the starving poor cannot break the hunger in their homes with their hopes, and they suffer greatly"
-Aron Luboszycki, 1893

There was no future for young Aron in his birth town. After graduating and earning a teacher certification he moved away. He taught Hebrew in schools in Brest, Vawkavysk, Warsaw, Smolensk, Lodz and other towns. In 1894, Aron published his first collection of Hebrew poems for children. It was a first of its kind, preceded only by the poems of Zeev Yavetz which never reached many readers. Its success encouraged him to continue working, and in 1898 Warsaw saw a thin, pink booklet of his poems for children published by Tushi'ya publishing house. The name of the booklet was For my little siblings (למען אחי הקטנים) and it was a first in a series of fifteen. The following years saw many more of his works published, both original poems and translations of works by famous Polish and Russian poets. He also wrote original fairy tales and translated some of the finest youth literature, plays and textbooks of the period. He was, for example, the very first to translate The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish by Alexander Pushkin, Heart by Edmondo De Amicis and Wilhelm Busch's Max and Moritz into Hebrew. Almost every Hebrew newspaper published Luboszycki's poems, sometimes under the pen name A.Ben-Dov (א.בן-דוב), and he became quite known.

Aron Luboszycki
-Yad Vashem

שְׁכַב הֵרָדַם בֵּן לִי יָקִיר,
שְׁמַע אֲדַבֵּר שִׁיר,
בִּימֵי קֶדֶם בַּמֶּרְחַקִּים,
הָיֹה הָיְתָה עִיר.

,Lie and slumber, my dear son
,Hear my song if you would
In the days of old, afar,
Once a city stood.

אֲבוֹתֶיךָ הַקַּדְמוֹנִים
לְפָנִים גָּרוּ שָׁם,
אָז הֵם חָיוּ חַיֵּי אֹשֶׁר,
אָז הָיוּ לְעַם.

And your ancestors, the ancients,
Lived there in the distant past
Their lives were those of happiness
They were a nation unsurpassed 
- Two verses from Aron Luboszycki's most popular lullaby

Aron's strong belief in Zionism and the settlement of Palestine was expressed in many of his works, some of which were graced with acclaimed performances at ceremonies of the Zionist movement. An original collection of his Zionist poems was published in 1898. An elegy he wrote shortly after the death of Dr. Theodor Herzl was also quite popular.

In 1900 Aron was engaged with Judith Zeitlin, the daughter of author Shlomo Zeitlin and Lea Henni née Merlin from Gomel. She had earlier in 1896 been engaged with author Ezekiel Leavitt [21.05.1878-25.08.1945], but they never married. Shortly afterwards, a great tragedy befell the Zeitlin family when Judith's father disappeared. His dead body was discovered a few weeks later in a hotel room in New-York, having allegedly suffocated on gas in his sleep. His mysterious death overshadowed the couple's wedding in Rudnia in June 1900. A few months later, Judith gave birth to a prematurely born child. 
"... But always, always, my poor daughter, will I remember you! For when I can no longer stand the company of men, and their scorn and hypocrisy revolts me, I go to the garden to speak with the flowers and tell them the tales of my life. And as I kiss the white rose I love, I think: Perhaps it is the incarnation of my daughter's soul, this wonderful blooming rose! Or when I see the colorful bird in the garden, flying from flower to flower, fluttering its soft wings in the ocean of air surrounding it, I say to myself: Maybe it's the incarnation of my little girl's soul, this flying garden bird, for my tiny daughter too loved the freedom of the air in the short minutes of her life, the light and space, so much like this bird. And for her temerity, for breaking out prematurely, she died on the very day she was born"
-Luboszycki, May 1901 

Aron became the principal of Dr. Josef Luria's Ha-Chinuch school at Nowolipie street in Warsaw. He renamed it Ha-Ivri ("The Hebrew"), and focused the curriculum on the teaching of the Hebrew language, the history of the Jewish people and the values of Zionism. One of the teachers at his school was Itzhak Alterman [1881-1939], the father-to-be of Israeli poet Natan Alterman.
Aron continued writing in the newspapers. As an enthusiastic supporter of the revival of the Hebrew language, he published a series of articles condemning Yiddish in 1902 which caused quite a stir. He was attacked by many Yiddish authors and bought himself a few foes. The same year he also published the first Hebrew singing book for children, followed by another in 1904. He frequently wrote for children’s papers. Although his works were widely appreciated, he also received a large amount of criticism, not scarecly fueled by personal hate or political disputes. David Frischmann and Isaac Leib Peretz were among his biggest criticizers.

In 1906 Aron was arrested by the Czar's secret police as a suspect of "illegal activity", but he was quickly released. The next year he established, together with L. Zeitlin, a publishing house called Aviv in Warsaw. It printed several of his textbooks and his 1908 monthly pedagogical magazine, The Hebrew Teacher. His translation of Simon Dubnow's History of the Hebrews was very successful, and was printed in several editions despite criticism by religious figures. By 1909 this institution and his school were both moved to the Iron-Gate Square. He frequently dined at the "Zionist restaurant" in Zamenhof 13.

מִדֵּי לֵיל בְּבֵית-הָעוֹלָם שֶׁל הַיְּהוּדִים רוּחַ הוֹמָה
וּלְעֻמָּתָהּ מֵחָצֵר-מָוֶת לְקָתוֹלִים בַּת קוֹל עוֹנֶה,
וּמִתְלַחֲשׁוֹת שְׁתֵּי הָרוּחוֹת בֵּין הַתְּרָזוֹת, צַמְּרוֹת רוֹמָה,
וְאָגַדְתָּ נֶצַח זוֹ לָזוֹ בְּעֶצֶב דֻּמָה שׁוֹנֶה:

Every night at the house of eternity of the Jews a wind does sigh
And from the yard of death of the Catholics sounds a reply
And the two winds whisper between the birches, the trees of high
And retell each other this endless woeful tale with a cry
- The butcher's daughter by Aron Luboszycki, 1905

During the First World War Aron traveled in Russia. He became a frequent visitor to the Zionist synagogue of Ohel Yakov in Lodz, where he would often preach, and continued to work as a private tutor. Among his pupils was future Major General of the Israeli police Nahum Ziv-Av. Between 1923 and 1928 Aron was the publisher and editor of a youth paper called Ha-Kochav (The Star), where he provided an open platform for young aspiring writers and poets to publish their works. Another illustrated paper he published was called Ben Kochav (Son of the Star).
Aron's only son, Bezalel, was an engineer. He migrated to Palestine in the 1930's. Aron's works were also appreciated there, although poets Bialik and Tchernichovsky looked down upon him as an inferior artist. 
"If you confront me with the choice of either Weizmann or Jabotinsky, it is like asking me who is a greater poet; Bialik or Luboszycki"
-David Ben-Gurion, public speech 1931

Cover page of Ben Kochav
-National Library of Israel

With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the contact between Aron and his son Bezalel [-11.12.1988] living in Haifa was lost. All attempts to trace Aron were futile. It was only years later that Aron's fate was revealed. First, he was locked up in the ghetto of Lodz together with his younger brother Zvi Hirsch. He managed to get to Warsaw, where he continued teaching children. His acquaintance Dr. Natan Eck claimed that the "old Luboszycki was utterly unaware of what was really going on".
Aron Luboszycki was taken in the very first German aktion on the ghetto, sent by train to the death camp Treblinka and murdered there. His brother Zvi Hirsch [1881-14.02.1942], sister-in-law Brejna [1889-] and nephew Moshe also perished in the Holocaust. Judith died in Israel in 1959.

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