Peretz Davidovich Markish
7 December 1895 (25 November OS)
|Died||12 August 1952|
Peretz Markish was born in 1895 in Polonne, the Russian Empire (now Ukraine) to a Sephardi Jewish family. As a child he attended a cheder and sang in the choir of the local synagogue. He served as a private in the Russian Imperial Army during World War I. He was discharged from the army after the Russian Revolution, and settled in Ekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk), Ukraine. In 1918, he relocated to Kiev.
Markish's first poetry collection, Shveln ("Thresholds"), published in Kiev in 1919, established his reputation. His poetry cycle Di kupe ("The Heap"; 1921) was written in response to the Ukrainian pogroms of 1919-20.
In the early 1920s, he was a member of the Kiev group of Yiddish poets that included David Hofstein and Leib Kvitko. After a series of pogroms took place in Ukraine, he moved to Warsaw and in Western Europe. While in Warsaw, he co-edited with I. J. Singer the expressionist literary anthology Khalyastre ("Gang"; 1922). Uri Zvi Grinberg and Melech Ravitch edited other literary publications. A second and final volume of Khalyastre, edited with Oser Varshawski, appeared in Paris in 1924 with a cover illustration by Marc Chagall. In 1924 he was a co-founder and editor of the Literarishe bleter in Warsaw.
In 1926, Markish returned to the Soviet Union. There he published a number of optimistic poems glorifying the communist regime, including Mayn dor ("My Generation"; 1927) and the epic Brider ("Brothers"; 1929). His novel Dor oys, dor ayn ("Generation After Generation"; 1929), about the genesis of revolution in a small Jewish town, was condemned for "Jewish chauvinism." As a co-founder of the Soviet School of Writers he was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1939.
Markish joined the Soviet Communist party in early 1942 when he took a job at the International Division of Sovietinformburo, while a colleague Teumin was the press agent. The bureau head Lozovsky banned them from any further contact with JAC; effectively cutting them off from the international socialist element altogether. The monitors started looking through their post, investigating the articles they wrote. In April 1942, Stalin had ordered the formation of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee designed to influence international public opinion and organize political and material support for the Soviet fight against Nazi Germany, particularly from the West. Solomon Mikhoels, a popular actor and director of the Moscow State Jewish Theater, was appointed its chairman. Other members included Der Nister, Itzik Feffer and Samuel Halkin. They wrote texts and petitions almost as cries for help against the Nazi pogroms; among other countries the texts were printed in U.S. newspapers. The JAC also raised funds. In 1946, he was awarded the Stalin Prize, and wrote several paeans to Joseph Stalin, including a 20,000-line epic poem Milkhome ("War") in 1948.
However, Stalin soon changed policy towards the liquidation of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and against the remnants of official Jewish cultural activity in the Soviet Union. Solomon Mikhoels was murdered by the secret police in January 1948, to avoid a show trial. Other writers were accused of treason, and other "crimes", and arrested. Markish was accused of being a "Jewish nationalist", and arrested in January 1949, and shot with other Jewish writers during the Night of the Murdered Poets in August 1952.
After Stalin's death, Markish's widow Esther and his sons, literary scholar Shimon Markish and prose writer David Markish, actively set out to redeem his memory. Following Markish's official rehabilitation in November 1955, several comprehensive editions of his poems, translated into Russian by Anna Akhmatova, were published in 1957. His oldest child, daughter Olga Rapay-Markish by his first wife, Zinaida Joffe, was a renowned Ukrainian ceramicist.
Markish wrote a number of poems and plays, as well as several novels.