Weissman, Baruch Mordecai

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WEISSMAN, BARUCH MORDECAI (1887–1966), Russian Yiddish and Hebrew writer. Weissman was born in Slovechno, Ukraine, where his father was a poor farmer. Before and during World War i he taught Hebrew in Jewish religious schools in Bessarabia, but in 1917 he lived in Odessa where he became friendly with Ḥayyim Naḥman *Bialik and Ahad *Ha-Am. He abandoned an attempt to leave secretly for Ereẓ Israel via Romania in 1919, fearing that the authorities might not let his family join him, and in the mid-1920s he moved to Kiev where he taught in Jewish schools. Having become an ardent advocate of the Soviet regime, he published articles in Soviet periodicals in Yiddish, mainly condemning the Jewish religion. In 1933 he went with his family to Birobidzhan, where he taught at a secondary pedagogical school and also contributed to the local Birobidzhaner Shtern, but returned to Kiev in the late 1930s. Under the influence of the state-inspired antisemitism of the Stalin regime in 1937–38, the Holocaust, and especially after the establishment of the State of Israel, however, Weissman came to terms with the Jewish religion again. In 1952 he began writing a diary in Hebrew, which he continued until September 1956. Some of the entries are in the form of letters to the future reader. Toward the end of 1955 they started reaching Israel by devious ways and were published in the newspaper Davar under the title El Aḥi bi-Medinat Yisrael ("To my Brother in the State of Israel") and were also broadcast. In 1957 a limited edition of a book with the same title was published containing extracts from the diary "by an anonymous Soviet Jew," without the author's name, and his authorship was revealed only after his death. He was nevertheless arrested in 1957 and sentenced to five years imprisonment in labor camps on charges of Zionist activity. In 1960 he was released on account of old age and poor health, and settled in Boyarka, near Kiev. A posthumous edition of Weissman's diary, which included only part of the 1,300 manuscript pages, was published in 1973 under the title Yoman Maḥteret Ivri ("Hebrew Underground Diary"). The diary is further evidence of the continuing tradition of the literary activities in Hebrew in the U.S.S.R., decades after it was forced underground by Soviet authorities. Simple and unsophisticated in form, written in the Hebrew style of the beginning of the 20th century, the diary is a moving human document full of sorrow for the cultural traditions of the Jewish people, ruthlessly persecuted in the U.S.S.R., imbued with indignation and sarcasm directed against those responsible for the state antisemitism in the U.S.S.R., and filled with a profound love for Israel which he saw as the sole assurance of Jewish survival.

[Michael Zand (2nd ed.)]