KULBAK, MOYSHE (1896–1940), Yiddish poet, novelist, and dramatist. Kulbak was born in Smorgon near Vilna. He wrote first in Hebrew but soon changed to Yiddish and published his first book of poems Shirim ("Poems," 1920) while teaching in Vilna's Yiddish schools. His early poetry was under the influence of Neo-Romanticism and Symbolism. He spent the years 1920–23 in Berlin, where he was exposed to the latest literary trends, especially Expressionism, the influences of which were apparent in his poetry, in the messianic drama Yakov Frank (1923), and in the grotesque short novel Meshiekhben Efroyim (1924). In 1923 he returned to Vilna, taught modern Yiddish literature at the famous "Real-Gimnazye" and at the Yiddish Teachers' Seminary, and published the long poem "Vilna" (1926) and the apocalyptic novel Montog ("Monday," 1926), among other works. A collection of his works in three volumes appeared in 1929 in Vilna. Kulbak was interested in theater and with his students performed Yiddish plays. In 1928, disappointed with the literary atmosphere in Poland, he cast his lot with the Minsk Group of Soviet Yiddish writers. As a modernist, decadent, and pessimistic writer, it was hard for Kulbak to conform to the dictates of socialist-realism and Soviet utopianism. His major work from this period is Zelmenyaner (1931; Heb. 1940), a novel that narrates with lively colors and black humor the story of a Soviet-era Jewish family in Minsk. In his comic epic, Disner Tshayld Harold (1933; modeled after Lord Byron's work), his satiric barbs were directed against the decadent German bourgeoisie. In 1937, while he was at the height of his popularity and his last play, Boytre (1936), was being performed in Moscow, the secret police arrested him, forbidding further performances of his plays and all mention of his books. He was imprisoned as a slave laborer until his death in 1940. He was posthumously rehabilitated in 1956.
Rejzen, Leksikon, 3 (1960), 600–6; lnyl, 8 (1981), 164–7; M. Ravitch, Mayn Leksikon (1945), 227–9. I. Howe and E. Greenberg, A Treasury of Yiddish Stories (1953), 342–50. add. bibliography: Ch. Shmeruk et al. (eds.), A Shpigl oyf a Shteyn (1964), 515–66; Sh. Rozhanski (ed.), Oysgeklibene Shriftn (1976); I Howe et al. (eds.), The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse (1987), 379–411; A. Novershtern, in: Di Goldene Keyt, 126 (1989), 181–203; 127 (1989), 151–170; A. Novershtern, in: Kesem ha-Dimdumim (2003), 225–52.
[Sol Liptzin /
Itay B Zutra (2nd ed)]