Warsaw Stories: Reading Resources

As a widely respected writer and activist, Hersh Dovid Nomberg is the subject of many short biographies, literary readings, and tributes. Some of the most valuable are as follows:

The door opened and a tiny man entered—extremely thin, just skin and bones. He wore a light-colored suit, a colorful tie, yellow shoes, a straw hat. He looked ill. One eye was large, the other small, half-shut, and it looked like a glass eye. I knew him: the well-known writer and journalist H. D. Nomberg.

He glanced at the table where my brother sat with Markish and immediately turned his head away. Nomberg couldn't stand the modernists. He called them graphomaniacs.

He cast a questioning look at me and raised his thin shoulders. His feet seemed leaden and he dragged them rather than walked on them. He trudged to the stage, where there was a piano. On it was a gramophone of the type called a patiphone. I watched him place a record on the turntable and start turning the handle. Immediately, instrumental and vocal music was heard. If I recall correctly, it was a tango. That an elderly and ill Yiddish writer should be interested in this sort of thing seemed to me—very strange. But I had heard strange stories about Nomberg. The weaker and sicker he became—he was actually critically ill—the more of a hedonist and pleasure-seeker he became in his last years. He abandoned all ideals and came to the conclusion that so long as man breathed, he must grab as much enjoyment as he could. Nomberg learned to dance the modern dances—the tango, the shimmy, the foxtrot, the Charleston. He danced often at the Writers' Association House. I saw that he was looking about for someone—a dancing partner. One of the young women sitting at a table with a young man got up, smiled and gestured to the young man and approached Nomberg. If he was exceptionally short, she was unusually tall. He lifted his small head to her with its remnants of blond and gray hair, barely managing to put his small hand on her shoulder, and they began to dance. Markish's eyes filled with laughter.

A sickly and sensitive bachelor, he resembled those Hebrew and Russian fin-de-siècle writers who seem forever poised on the point of expiry, hence attentive to detail in the way of people who are in no hurry to get anywhere. His prose is moody, turned in on itself, as resistant to ideology as Sholem Aleichem's humor, but at the other end of the emotional scale.

  • In his prize-winning book Literary Passports, Shachar Pinsker analyzes two of Nomberg's stories, translated by Kennedy in Warsaw Stories as “Don’t Say a Word!” and “Higher Education.” Pinsker focuses on Nomberg’s portrayal of Jewish women, and he writes: 

A number of critics have noted what seems to be a sharp contrast between Nomberg’s passive and ineffectual male figures (like Fligelman and Yitzhak Toybkof) and his portrayal of spirited, aggressive, and erotically passionate female characters. Indeed, the story Mitoch shi‘amum ve-ga‘aguim [translated as “Higher Education”] presents us with the psychic world of Lyova Fidler—an independent, politically active, and passionate New Jewish Woman situated within the urban environment of Jewish Warsaw. However, Fidler’s eroticism, independence, and political activism are also presented as a potential threat that arouses deep anxieties in modern Jewish male figures like Dr. Weinstein. In this sense, she is no different from the female characters in [major Hebrew writers of the period] Brenner, Gnessin, Agnon, Arieli, and Shofman. Moreover, Fidler’s eroticism and independence is presented in the story as an impasse, an impossible predicament of a woman caught between indeterminate, conflicting gender roles and images. 

  • ​​In his Yiddish essay “Af der grenits fun toyt un lebn” (“On the Border between Death and Life”), published in Warsaw in 1912, Shmuel Charney explores Nomberg’s stories, offering a stylistic, psychological, ethical, and philosophical analysis of the characters and themes. The essay was originally published in the journal Vegn yidishe shrayber: kritishe artiklen (On Jewish/Yiddish Writers: Critical Articles), volume 2.

In addition to his writing, Nomberg was deeply involved with a variety of institutions, movements, and groups. The following sources introduce some of these connections:  

  • The YIVO Encyclopedia’s entry about the Vilner Trupe mentions that they performed work by Nomberg and includes a photograph of Nomberg with Vilner Trupe actor Chaim Sznejer.
  • David Mazower’s article “Peretz’s Worlds: Separating the Man from the Myth” describes Nomberg as a regular visitor of Peretz’s. Mazower notes, “Peretz, Nomberg wrote in an affectionate memoir, was ‘free as a bird’ in the world of ideas and had no interest in founding a literary school; rather he acted as a foter fun a literarisher mishpokhe—a father of a literary family—and a literarisher rebbe—a teacher to his young disciples.”
  • The YIVO Encyclopedia’s entry about the Folkists, a political party founded in the wake of the 1905 Russian Revolution, describes Nomberg’s role as an organizer, Sejm (lower house of Polish parliament) member, and Vilna Democratic Folksparty leader.
  • The YIVO Encyclopedia’s entry about the Czernowitz Conference describes Nomberg’s participation in that important gathering of Jewish intellectuals, noting that the description of Yiddish as "a national language of the Jewish people," which was adopted at the conference, was initially formulated by Nomberg. The entry also includes an iconic photograph of Nomberg with other famous Yiddish writers.
  • Tamar Lewinsky's article "Eastern Europe in Argentina: Yiddish Travelogues and the Exploration of Jewish Diaspora," published in 2016, explores the series of travel articles Nomberg wrote during a trip to Argentina in 1922 and 1923, later collected as Argentinishe rayze (Argentine Journey) with a collection of Nomberg's feuilletons published in 1924.

Additional resources on Nomberg at the Yiddish Book Center and other archives: 

Josh Lambert and Jessica Parker