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Syrkin, Marie


SYRKIN, MARIE (1899–1989), U.S. writer, translator, educator, and Zionist activist. Syrkin was born in Berne, Switzerland, the only daughter of Nachman *Syrkin (1868–1924), theoretician of socialist Zionism, and Bassya Osnos, a feminist socialist Zionist who died in 1914. After sojourns in Germany, France, and Vilna, the Syrkin family immigrated to the United States in 1908. Marie Syrkin, who was fluent in five languages, attended public schools in New York City and received her B.A. and M.A. in English literature from Cornell University. She wrote poetry throughout her life; a collection, Gleanings: A Diary in Verse, was published in 1978. Her translations of Yiddish and Hebrew verse were widely anthologized. Twenty years of teaching high school in New York City led to her influential book, Your School, Your Children (1944), a study of the American public school system. Between 1937 and 1942, Syrkin reported on Nazi persecutions of Jews; in 1942 she wrote the first editorial in an American journal on Hitler's plans to annihilate European Jewry. After World War ii she turned her attention to Jewish resistance movements under the Nazis and wrote an evocative study, Blessed is the Match (1947). She also recruited young people in displaced-persons camps to come to the United States as Hillel scholars. Syrkin's authorized biography of her close friend Golda *Meir, Way of Valor, appeared in 1955 (revised as Golda Meir: Woman with a Cause, 1963; and Golda Meir: Israel's Leader, 1969); other works include Nachman Syrkin: Socialist Zionist (1961); an anthology of the writings of Ḥayyim Greenberg (1968); and Golda Meir Speaks Out (1973). Between 1948 and 1955, she edited the Labor Zionist monthly Jewish Frontier. Syrkin became a professor of English at Brandeis University in 1950; she was the first to teach a university course on Holocaust literature, publishing the first theoretical discussion of the subject, "The Holocaust in Literature," in Midstream (May 1966). Following retirement in 1966, Syrkin became editor of Herzl Press. She was a member of the Jewish Agency executive (1965–68) and an elected member of the World Zionist Executive. Syrkin received honorary degrees from Brandeis University and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the 1981 Solomon Bublick Prize from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Syrkin's first marriage to Maurice Samuel in 1917 was annulled and her second marriage to biochemist Aaron Bodansky ended in divorce. She married the poet Charles *Reznikoff in 1930. After his death in 1976, she spent the rest of her life in California. Her papers are located primarily in the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati.


C. Kessner, "Marie Syrkin: An Exemplary Life," in: C. Kessner (ed.), The "Other" New York Jewish Intellectuals (1994), 51–70; idem, "On Behalf of the Jewish People: Marie Syrkin at Ninety," in: Jewish Book Annual (1988–89), 46; Jewish Frontier (Jan/Feb. 1983), containing tributes from colleagues, students, and friends.

[Carole Kessner (2nd ed.)]

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