The celebrated Yiddish writer Chava Rosenfarb visited London in 1949. And, thanks to the Yiddish cultural historian David Mazower and to Goldie Morgentaler, Chava’s daughter, we have photographs of a gathering of London-based Yiddish writers and journalists assembled in what is possibly a café, in March 1949 to hear her give a reading of her poetry.
But there is also a challenge to readers. Can you identify any of the people pictured? And do you know where the venue is?
David Mazower writes: “I reproduced one of them in a chapter I wrote for a Ben Uri exhibition catalogue ‘Ben Uri and Yiddish Culture’ but was only able to identify a few of the group shown. I sent a copy of that article to a friend of mine in Canada, Goldie Morgentaler. She’s the daughter of the Yiddish writer Chava Rosenfarb. She wrote back enclosing a similar photograph taken at the same event in a scrapbook that had belonged to her mother. Her photograph is taken from a different angle to mine and includes eight or nine different faces. Taken together, the two photographs form a comprehensive record of an unusually large gathering of London’s Yiddish intelligentsia. It occurred to me it would be nice to reproduce them together and invite readers to help identify some of the missing/unknown faces.”
Members of the audience at the reading. Some appear also in the first photograph. Can you identify any of them?
According to Goldie Morgentaler, who sent some more photographs from the evening, the reading was a major event in her mother’s life and features in some of her letters. But the only person she mentions by name is Moyshe (sometimes spelt Moshe or Moishe) Oved, who organised the event because he was publishing her first book of poetry. He is believed to be the man on his feet on the left in the first picture, maybe introducing the guest of honour.
Chava Rosenfarb later named one of the others present as Esther Kreitman, the novelist sister of the great writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, who lived in London and whom Chava Rosenfarb met for the first time at the event.
Goldie Morgentaler says: “The back of all the photos bears the stamp of the photographer, or more likely, the studio, but no names of the people pictured. Krongold seems to have been the name of the studio, the cameraman is listed as E. Wellin.”
Another view of the audience
She adds: “My mother's visit was in March 1949. From what she told me about it, I have always understood that it was an evening in her honour at which she was invited to give a reading from her poems. The reason I can be so specific about the date is that I have one of her letters to her best friend, the writer Zenia Larsson, who was then living in Sweden. This letter is dated, ‘London, 4 March, 1949’.
My mother was living at the time in Brussels. Her letter to Zenia was originally written in Polish, so what I am copying below is a translation made by a friend.
The great Yiddish writer Chava Rosenfarb photographed during her London visit
“‘For a week now I have been in London, at the invitation of my first publisher, Moishe Oved. He is a remarkable man. He owns a huge jeweller’s store and he is an antiquarian. A past master in his profession. In addition to this, he is a sculptor. I’ll send you photographs of his work. He is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. His shop is a magnificent shrine of beauty.
“‘I am seeing all the sights and meeting very interesting people, and I am prodigiously inspired. Brussels is too small for me and my soul is too cramped there; sometimes I feel that it will burst any moment.
“‘Over the last few days I have finally been able to breathe deeply. I feel marvellous. I like London a lot, it has unique character. I’ve been visiting all the museums and landmarks. I have also seen a wonderful opera, and yesterday I saw Antigone with Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. I have never before been to a play which was so well acted.’
Chava Rosenfarb's publisher Moyshe Oved, wearing what might be one of the flowing purple robes he wore in his shop
“As far as I know,” says Goldie Morgentaler, “she did not go back to London again until after she had been living in Canada for quite a few years. There is no more mention of London in her letters before 1950, which is when she and my father arrived in Montreal.”
Born in Poland in 1923, Chava Rosenfarb survived the German occupation of her country despite being held in the Lodz ghetto before being sent to Auschwitz and later to Bergen-Belsen, where she nearly died from typhus.
She began writing poetry at the age of eight. Her masterpiece is the Yiddish novel The Tree of Life (Der boim fun lebn), published in 1972 and based on her experiences in the Lodz ghetto.
Moyshe Oved, organiser of the gathering, was also Polish-born but came to London in 1903 and settled in the East End. Known also as Edward Good, he was a writer, sculptor and huge supporter of Yiddish culture, playing a big role in the Ben Uri Society and helping what would become the Ben Uri Gallery acquire important early works by the likes of David Bomberg and Simeon Solomon. His jewellery and antique shop in Museum Street included Queen Mary among its customers.
So, do any readers recognise any of the people in the photographs? Does anyone know what the venue was? We would love to hear from you.
Yiddish writer Itsik Manger, who lived in London for 11 years before emigrating to Israel.
Another Yiddish writer who was in London after the war was Itsik (or Itzik) Manger, born in 1901 in what was then Austria-Hungary and subsequently Romania and then Ukraine. Few photographs of his time in London exist. The one we show here is again from Goldie Morgentaler, from her mother’s album, and looks as though it was taken at much the same time as the others.
Goldie Morgentaler says the man second from the left is Hershel Himmelfarb, the Bundist leader. Does anyone know who the others are?
Postscript: Since this article and pictures appeared in The Cable an astute reader has identified one of the people pictured.
Derek Reid, Jewish folklorist, poet and storyteller, wrote to us:
I believe I can identify one individual in the pictures published on pages 10 and 12 of the new issue of the Cable.
I'm willing to be corrected, but I think I'm right.
The moustacheod gentleman sandwiched between the lady in the hat and the window looks very much like Ben-A Socochevesky,the Editor of the Yiddish Language Newspaper "The Jewish Voice". It was this gentleman who gave Avraham Stencl his first job in the country when Stencl was involved in establishing his magazine "Loshen and Laben/ Language and Life".
Ben - A was also the father of the artist Maurice Skye whose picture have been exhibited at The Ben Uri.
Regards to all.