Nationality: American (originally Polish: immigrated to the United States, 1910). Born: Kutno, 1 November 1880. Education: Studied in Hebrew schools; attended rabbinical college; studied with Isaac Leib Peretz in Warsaw. Married: Mathilde Shapiro. Career: Worked as a letter writer while in school in Wloclawek; moved to the United States; lived in Poland after World War I and also lived in France before returning to the United States; traveled frequently to Europe and Palestine; moved to Israel, 1954. Awards: Polish Republic's Polonia Restituta, 1932; Anisfeld-Wolf book award, 1947, for East River.Died: 10 August 1957.
Children of Abraham: The Short Stories of Sholem Asch. 1942.
Tales of My People. 1948.
From Many Countries; The Collected Short Stories of Sholem Asch. 1958.
A shtetl [The Village]. 1904.
Reb shloyme nogid: A poeme fun Yudishen leben (prose narrative). 1913.
Motke ganev. 1916; as Mottke, The Thief, 1935.
Der veg tsu zikh [The Way to Oneself]. 1917.
Amerike. Translated as America, 1918.
Kiddush ha-shem. 1919; as Kiddush ha-Shem: An Epic of 1648, 1926.
Di Muter. 1919; as The Mother, 1930.
Onkl Mozes. 1918; as Uncle Moses, 1920.
Dos bukh fun tsar. 1921.
Toyt urteyl [Death Sentence]. 1926.
Khaym Lederers Tsurikkumen. 1927; as Chaim Lederer's Return, in Three Novels, 1938.
Erets Yisroel. 1927.
Der mizbeyeh. 1928.
Himel un erd. 1928.
Tsvay veltn. 1928.
Gots gefangene [Prisoners of God]. 1933.
Farn mabul (trilogy). 1934; as Three Cities, 1934.
Peterburg [St. Petersburg]. 1934.
Warshe [Warsaw]. 1949.
Moskva [Moscow]. 1935.
Der thilim yid. 1934; as Salvation, 1934.
The War Goes On, 1936; as The Calf of Paper, 1936.
Dos gezang fun tol. 1938; as The Song of the Valley, 1939.
Three Novels (includes Uncle Moses ; Chaim Lederer's Return ;Judge Not ). 1938.
Der man fun Notseres. Translated as The Nazarene, 1939.
Der sheliekh. Translated as The Apostle, 1943.
Mary (translation). 1949.
Vos ikh gloyb. Translated as What I Believe, 1941; as My Personal Faith, 1942.
East River (translation). 1946.
Mosheh. 1951; as Moses, 1951.
Grosman un zun. Translated as A Passage in the Night, 1953.
Der novi. Translated as The Prophet, 1955.
Meshieh's tsaytn: A kholm fun mayn folk [The Time of the Messiah: A Dream of My People]. 1906.
Got fun nekomeh. 1907; as God of Vengeance, 1918.
Mitn shtrom [With the Stream]. 1909.
Amnon un Tamar. 1909.
Um Winter. 1910; as In Winter, translated in Six Plays of the Yiddish Theatre, edited by Isaac Goldberg, 1916.
Der Zindiger. 1910; as The Sinner, translated in Six Plays of the Yiddish Theatre, edited by Isaac Goldberg, 1916.
Der Landsman [The Compatriot]. 1911.
Ver iz der tate [Where Is Father] (produced 1918). Night (translation). 1920.
Di Kishufmakherin fun Kastilien [The Witch of Castile]. 1921.
Yosele [Joseph]. 1921.
Bilder un humoresken. 1925.
Shabsay tsevi (produced Romania, 1926); translated as Sabbatai Zevi, 1974.
Rebe Doktor Zilber (produced 1927). Koyln [Coals]. 1928.
Dramatishe shriftn: (Biblishe un historishe dramen). 1928.
Naye Dramen. 1930.
Dramatishe shriftn (includes Meshiehs tsaytn; Unzer gloybn; A shnirl perl; Der toyter mentsh ). 1931.
Fun eyn kval. 1927.
Naye ertseylungen. 1928.
Mayn rayze iber Shpanyen. 1926.
Mayseh'lekh fun Humesh (for children). Translated as In the Beginning; Stories from the Bible. 1935.
Catalog of Hebrew and Yiddish Manuscripts and Books from the Library of Sholem Asch, edited by Leon Nemoy. 1945.
One Destiny: An Epistle to the Christians (translation). 1945.*
Nine Yiddish Writers: Critical Appreciations by Harry Rogoff, 1931; The Christianity of Sholem Asch: An Appraisal from the Jewish Viewpoint by Hayim Lieberman, translated by Abraham Burstein, 1953; The Flowering of Yiddish Literature by Solomon Liptzin, 1963; The Controversial Sholem Asch: An Introduction to His Fiction by Ben Siegel, 1976; "The Jews of East River: Americans Yet Forever Jews" by Amy Alexander, in Studies in American Jewish Literature, 5, 1986, pp. 54-60; "The Foreskin of the Heart: Ecumenism in Sholem Asch's Christian Trilogy" by Goldie Morgentaler, in Prooftexts, 8(2), May 1988, pp. 219-44; "History and Martyrology Tragedy: The Jewish Experience in Sholem Asch and Andre Schwarz-Bart" by Stanley Brodwin, in Twentieth Century Literature, 40(1), Spring 1994, pp. 72-91; "Christianity As a Consistent Area of Investigation in Sholem Asch's Works Prior to The Nazarene, " in Yiddish, 9(2), 1994, pp. 58-76, " The Nazarene As a Jewish Novel," in Jewish Quarterly, 41(3), 155, Autumn 1994, pp. 36-39, "Our Secular Jewish Heritage: Sholem Asch Seen Anew," in Jewish Currents, 49(7), July 1995, p. 25, and "Abraham Cahan and Sholem Asch," in Yiddish, 11(1-2), 1998, pp. 1-17, all by Hannah Berliner Fischthal; "Peretz, Asch, and God of Vengeance " by Joseph C. Landis, in Yiddish, 10(1), 1995, pp. 5-17; "Novelizing Myth in Sholem Asch's Moses " by Vladimir Tumanov, in Yiddish, 11(1-2), 1998 pp. 162-84; "Jewish Anxiety in 'Days of Judgement': Community Conflict, Antisemitism, and the God of Vengeance Obscenity Case" by Harley Erdman, in Theatre Survey, 40(1), May 1999, pp. 51-74.* * *
One of the most popular and prolific Yiddish authors, Sholem Asch sought to use his work to teach that the deaths of victims of anti-Semitic violence were a confirmation of the Jewish mission to witness God's providence and of the need for Christians to free themselves of pagan anti-Judaism. In many respects a traditionalist understanding based on common Jewish responses to the pogroms of Eastern Europe, many of his first literary responses to the Nazi genocide nevertheless provoked outrage in the Jewish world by dint of the language that he used in order to sway his increasingly Christian readership.
In his earliest novels and plays, inspired by the work of Sholom Aleichem, Y.L. Peretz, Mendele Sforim, Maxim Gorky, and Boleslaw Prus, Asch paints a harmonious picture of relations between Jews and Christians in his native Poland. In the trilogy Three Cities (1933), for instance, he shows workers of both communities joining a common cause against their enemies, the corrupt and the intolerant. His treatment of what he saw as the common core of the two faiths led him out of the mainstream, prompting him to begin a career-long investigation of their troubled history together (In the Land of Israel , 1911). At the center of the conflicts between the two, Asch saw the hand of pagan anti-Judaism, a force that throughout history vainly sought to extinguish the faith of Jews in their God. In Kiddush Ha-Shem (1919; "The Sanctification of the Name"), the Hebrew term for "martyrdom," he hoped to give pogrom victims comfort by drawing parallels with the Jewish martyrs killed by Cossacks in 1648. As he would in his works on the Holocaust, Asch made liberal use of the psalms in evoking a heroic Jewish faith that would not be shaken by adversity or even martyrdom. The play was republished in 1942, when Asch heard the first accounts of the Holocaust to reach the Western public.
Asch built his reputation in the Jewish world on just such affirmations, but his attempt to reach non-Jewish audiences with the same message, immensely successful as it was, met with a barrage of criticism in Jewish communities from the United States to Palestine. When Asch hoped to encourage rapprochement between the Polish government and its Jews in the 1920s and 1930s, he was cast as a traitor and opportunist. When in the 1930s he decided the time had come to tackle the roots of the split between Jews and Christians, he was cast as naïve or, worse, a Christian convert and a missionary. Nevertheless, Salvation (Der Tehilim Yid , "The Psalm Jew"), written in the early days of Nazi rule in 1933, contrasted the religiosity of pogrom victims with the Christian leaders who sought their death or conversion. The War Goes On (1936) laid the blame for the plight of German Jewry on a Teutonic tendency in German society that was as anti-Christian as it was anti-Semitic. Asch then turned to the stories of Jesus, Paul, and Mary, writing The Nazarene (1939), The Apostle (1943), and Mary (1943) as a broadside against the anti-Judaism that he believed had robbed the two faith communities of their greatest prophet, the Jewish Jesus. Knowing how controversial this would be in both Jewish and Christian communities, Asch still believed it to be his most appropriate, constructive response to the evils of Nazism. In the light of this Christological trilogy, critics came to see even his earlier works as prologues to apostasy.
The bitter disappointment of many Jewish readers with The Nazarene and its sequels was heightened by a widespread expectation that Asch would write a novel for and about the victims of the Holocaust, as he had for survivors of the pogroms. Asch instead wrote a series of short stories and articles that transposed the themes of Kiddush Ha-Shem , Salvation, and The Nazarene onto the Holocaust (One Destiny , In the Valley of Death, Tales from the Shadow of Death /Tales of My People ). The victims still died with their faith in God intact (as in "Exalted and Hallowed," written in winter 1942 in response to the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto), heroically unassimilated in a world overrun by a pagan revolt. Distressed beyond words at the disappearance of the Polish-Jewish world he had come from, Asch sought comfort not from the leaders of Jewish community—rationalistic "Sadducees"—but from the hope that his speeches and novels could stir a new sense of "messianic" solidarity among the spiritually inclined of the Jewish and Christian worlds. His impact on the Christian West was enormous. In both style and content, however, his essays were designed to stir resentment amongst the Jewish communities that had once laid such great store in his work, and the Holocaust stories, though not seen as offensive, were never judged among his greatest work.
—George R. Wilkes
See the essay on One Destiny: An Epistle to the Christians.