ERIK, MAX (pseudonym of Zalmen Merkin ; 1898–1937), Yiddish literary critic and literary historian. Born in Sosnowiec (Poland), Erik was educated privately (among his tutors was Ḥayyim Naḥman *Bialik) and in a traditional ḥeder. He later studied at a Russian-language high school and at a Polish officers' training school from which he graduated as a reserve officer. His uncle was Yitzkhak Peysekzon, a founder of the Jewish Labor Bund. In 1922 he settled in Vilna where he taught Yiddish and Polish literature in Yiddish-language high schools. Erik published his first essays in 1920 on neo-Romanism and Hugo Tsukerman in I.M. Weissenberg's Yudishe Zamelbikher and then contributed studies, essays, and critical articles to various Yiddish periodicals including Ringen, Literarishe Bleter, Bikher Velt, and the Vilner Tog. His first works on Yiddish literature were Konstruktsiye Shtudiyen: tsu der Konstruktsye fun der Goldene Keyt ("Construction Studies: On the Construction of the Golden Chain," 1924), an analysis of the variants of I.L. *Peretz's plays; Vegn Alt-Yidishn Roman un Novele – 14ter – 16ter Yorhundert ("On the Old Yiddish Novel – 14th–16th Centuries," 1926); and Di Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Literatur fun di Eltste Tsaytn biz der Haskole Tekufe ("History of Yiddish Literature – from the Beginning to the Haskalah Period," 1928). Erik's work helped found the field of Old Yiddish studies. He also formulated the long-dominant but now disproven theory of Yiddish shpilmener ("troubadours") who composed, or adapted from other languages, the extant Old Yiddish epics. In 1929 Erik settled in the Soviet Union. He lived in Minsk and Kiev and taught Yiddish literature at various Jewish institutions of higher learning. Increasingly, his works in this period were written from the official party-line point of view and include a study of Sholem *Asch (1931); Etyudn tsu der Geshikhte fun der Haskole ("Studies in the History of the Haskalah," 1934); and Di Yidishe Literatur in xix Yorhundert, vol. 1, coauthored with A. Rosenzweig ("A History of Yiddish Literature in the 19th century," 1935). He also edited Di Komedies fun der Berliner Ufklerung ("The Comedies of the Berlin Haskalah," 1933) and a selection of the works of Solomon *Ettinger (1935). Upon the liquidation of the Institute for Jewish Proletarian Culture of the Ukrainian Academy of Science in May 1936, Erik was arrested and exiled to the Vietlosian prison camp in Siberia, where he died.
Rejzen, Leksikon, 2 (1927), 815–8; J. Shatzky, in: J. Opatoshu and H. Leivick (eds.), Zamlbikher, 8 (1952), 41–54. add. bibliography: lnyl, 7 (1968), 37–41; A.A. Greenbaum, Jewish Scholarship and Scholarly Institutions in Soviet Russia, 1918 – 1953 (1978); C. Shmeruk, in: Studies in Yiddish Literature and Folklore, 7 (1986) 1–36.
[Elias Schulman /
Barry Trachtenberg (2nd ed.)]