The Modernists

Shriftn (Writings). New York: Winter, 1925–1926

Between 1907 and 1939, Yiddish modernism gave rise to constellations of avant-garde poets and writers in Berlin, Warsaw, Lodz, Kiev, Vilna and New York.

In New York, Di yunge (The Young Ones) promoted “art for art’s sake,” hoping to lead American Yiddish poetry beyond the so-called Sweatshop Poets, whom they denigrated as “the rhyme department of the Jewish labor movement.” Figures such as Mani Leib, Reuven Eisland and Zishe Landau established New York as a major address for Yiddish poetic innovation.  Shriftn, one of several journals, featured the latest Yiddish poetry as well as sophisticated criticism, graphic art and translations of American and world literature, from Walt Whitman to the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore.

The Inzikhistn (Introspectivists) arose in 1919 as a group of lyric poets who emphasized subjectivity, wordplay and free verse. The founding members were Aaron Glanz-Leyeles, N. B. Minkoff and Jacob Glatstein.

Another group of literary rebels emerged in response to the bloody upheavals of the Great War and the Bolshevik Revolution.  Inspired by German Expressionism and Russian Futurism, Melech Ravitch, Uri Zvi Greenberg and Peretz Markish were dubbed Di khalyastre (The Gang), a name they embraced with pride. They brought the experience of violent disruption to their work: “We measure the quality of our poetry not according to beauty, but rather by horror,” was one way they defined themselves. 


  Professor Ruth Wisse offers an analysis of several of Sutzkever’s poems, including “Sirius,” a poem about the first star. Wisse uses these poems to express the significance of poetry for Sutzkever. To learn more about Sutzkever and other Modernist writers, click here.  

In contrast to the efforts of Di yunge, the Inzikhistn and Di khalyastre to overthrow prevailing literary trends, the young writers of Vilna sought to reconcile the city’s commitment to literary tradition with the political challenges of the 1930s. Avrom Sutzkever, Chaim Grade and Leyzer Volf emerged as the leading voices of Yung Vilne (Young Vilna), the last of the interwar literary groups.

For further information about Modernist Yiddish writers and literature, watch our video interviews on this topic by clicking here.



This exhibition is made possible by a generous grant from the David Berg Foundation.