Anniversaries & holidays
8.11.2020

100th Anniversary of Sh. An-ski’s Passing

Czarno-białe zdjęcie mężczyzny (Szymon An-ski). Siedzi, opiera łokieć na biurku z notatkami. Na dłoni podpiera głowę. Ubrany w ciemny garnitur.
Szymon An-ski, fot. domena publiczna

Few people have never heard of "The Dybbuk", one of the most popular plays ever staged in Jewish theatres. The play (its original title: "Tsvishn tsvey veltn" [Between Two Worlds]) was written by Sh. An-ski, one of the most fascinating figures among the secular Jewish intelligentsia of the turn of the 20th century.

Sh. An-ski [real name: Shloyme Zangvil Rapoport] was born in 1863 into a traditional Jewish family. Like many Jews from his generation, he underwent a difficult and complex transformation from the traditional world of East European Jews to the secular Jewish-Russian intelligentsia.

Sh. An-ski was an extraordinary man. He was free-thinking and broad-minded, open to the challenges the modern world had to offer. At the same time, he showed great respect and understanding for traditional Jewish culture. He was a writer (in Russian and in Yiddish), teacher, father of the ethnography of East European Jews, and also a politician, explorer, social activist and even a miner. His extensive life experience, endless energy and contacts with the most prominent minds within the milieu of Russian-Jewish intelligentsia gave An-ski the sense of mission and responsibility for the future of the community of East European Jews. Aside from his literary endeavours, An-ski actively engaged in the preservation of the Jewish cultural heritage by organizing a famed folklore expedition to Podolia and Volhynia in 1911. The material collected during the expedition was to serve as the collection of the future Jewish museum in Russia.

An-ski was also an active member of a number of Jewish scientific societies which aimed at consolidating Jewish communities and helping understand both the position of Jews in contemporary world and the preservation of the Jewish heritage from the past.

Following a few years spent on forced emigration caused by his political association with the Russian "narodniks", An-ski returned to Russia in 1905 and became actively involved in revolutionary activity. Even though he avoided affiliations with any political parties, he did write "Di shvue" [The Oath], the Bund’s anthem.

During World War One, An-ski demonstrated a deep social concern and an intense public-spirited instinct. His engagement in rescue committees resulted in-aside from the real, humane dimension of the aid he provided - a number of important texts, including his diary. Published in several languages under the title “The Destruction of Galicia”, the diary offered a gruesome description of the tragedy brought about the war and the extent of human suffering it caused.

An-ski did not feel at home in post-Revolution Russia. Already suffering from frail health, he moved to Warsaw. He did not live long enough to attend the Warsaw premiere of "Der Dibek" in December 1920 - he passed away on 8 November 1920. He was buried at the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street in Warsaw. Today, An-ski shares a mausoleum there with two other Yiddish writers, Y. L. Peretz and Y. Dinezon.

The title of An-ski’s most famous text, "Between Two Worlds", perfectly symbolizes his own life—stretched between the Jewish and non-Jewish realms, between the modern secular identity of a Russian Jew and the world of Jewish tradition, religion and folk culture.