Wiener, Meir

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WIENER, MEIR

WIENER, MEIR (1893–1941), poet, novelist, and literary critic. Born in Cracow, Wiener received a traditional and secular education and was influenced by his tutor, Ben-Zion Rappaport. During World War i he studied at the universities of Basel and Zurich, later living in Vienna, Berlin, and Paris (1918–26). After immigrating to the Soviet Union in 1926, he became a Soviet citizen, living and working in Kharkov, Kiev, and, from 1933, Moscow. During World War ii he volunteered for the Soviet army and was killed near the city of Vyazma during the defense of Moscow. Until his departure for the Soviet Union he wrote mostly in German, including Messias ("Messiah," 1920), a collection of mystical meditative elegies; Die Lyrik der Kabbalah ("The Lyric of the Kabbalah," 1920), a selection of Hebrew religious poetry in free translation with introductory notes; Von den Symbolen ("On Symbols," 1924), an aesthetical-philosophical treatise; political articles, philosophical essays and book reviews, mostly on Jewish subjects, published in the periodicals Jerubbaal, Esra, Der Jude, Menorah, Wiener Morgenzeitung and others. Together with H. *Brody he published Mivḥar ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit ("Selection of Hebrew Lyric," 1922) from the Middle Ages, with his own Hebrew introduction. He began writing Yiddish poetry and fiction in the early 1920s, but was unable to find a publisher for his works outside the Soviet Union. His extensive literary activity up to 1926, which also includes the expressionistic Yiddish novel Ele Faleks Untergang ("Ele Falek's Downfall"; written in Berlin in 1923, published in Kharkov 1929), reflects his search for a mode of expression adapted to the conceptual and emotional struggle of the young Jewish intelligentsia between the world wars. He attempted to define Jewish identity and destiny while vacillating between spiritual Zionism and Martin *Buber's teaching on the one hand, and social political radicalism and expressionistic trends in art and literature on the other. He probed deeply into traditional Hebrew poetry and Jewish mysticism and their human and religious significance for modern people in general, and the Jews in particular. His personal and ideological disappointments, lack of a sense of mission, and absence of a place in the intellectual life in Western and Central Europe, as well as his contacts with leftist circles in Berlin and Vienna, including Soviet Yiddish authors Leyb *Kvitko and *Der Nister, caused him to immigrate to the Soviet Union, where he concentrated his energy and talents on Yiddish literature. His main work there was devoted to the research and publications of the Jewish scientific institutes in Kharkov, Kiev, and Moscow in the 1920s and 1930s, where he also played an important role as counselor, editor, and teacher. He headed the Department of Yiddish Language and Literature at Moscow State Pedagogical Institute (1934–38) and directed and participated in the editing of Yiddish literature ranging from folk-song collections and the anonymous comedy Di Genarte Velt, to the writings of Solomon *Ettinger, Israel *Axenfeld, Sholem Yankev *Abramovitsh, and *Sholem Aleichem. His editions have served as models ever since; his prefaces to these editions were collected along with additional articles and published in his book Tsu der Geshikhtefun der Yidisher Lite ratur in Nayntsentn Yorhundert (2 vols., 1945–62). Although this book had not been planned as a comprehensive study, it is, together with his later book, Vegn Sholem Aleichems Humor (1941), one of the most notable achievements of criticism and investigation of 19th-century Yiddish literature. Wiener's books evince penetrating knowledge of the subject against a broad literary and cultural background, but also show the author's dependence on Marxist conceptions and Soviet ideological trends predominant at the time. He also published works on Marxist literary theory, theoretical problems in folklore, and criticism of such contemporary Yiddish writers in Russia and abroad as H. Leyvick, David *Bergelson, Perez *Markish, Leib Kvitko, and Itzik *Kipnis. Despite his declared allegiance to Marxist criticism, he had to defend himself in 1932 against critics who accused him of "dangerous deviationism." Towards the end of the 1930s, the emphasis of his research shifted from the sociological aspects of literature towards the issues of style and psychology of literary characters. He continued to write fiction, including the story of Cracow Jews in the 17th century, Kolev Ashkenazi (1934, 19392) and the unfinished novel Baym Mitllendishn Yam ("At the Mediterranean Sea," 1936) set in Venice of the first half of the 17th century. Some of Wiener's works were published posthumously in *Sovetish Heymland: the story Los Khudios ("The Jews"; 10, 1968), and his fascinating memoirs which include vivid descriptions of his family and the Jewish Cracow of his childhood and youth (9, 10, 1969). But his major novel, tentatively titled Der Groyser Roman ("The Great Novel"), portraying the Jewish literary and artistic scene of Berlin of the early 1920s in which Wiener actively participated, remains unpublished.

bibliography:

lnyl, 3 (1960), 449–50; Ch. Shmeruk (ed.), Pirsumim Yehudiyyim bi-Verit ha-Mo'aẓot (1961), index; 466; G. Scholem, in: Der Jude, 6 (1921), 55–69; N. Mayzel, in: Yidishe Kultur, 1 (1965), 17–27; E. Rosenthal, in: Di Goldene Keyt, 66 (1969), 63–96. add. bibliography: E. Shulman, in: Pinkas far Forshung fun der Yidisher Literatur un Prese, 2 (1972), 77–144; M. Krutikov, in: R. Robertson and J. Sherman (eds.), The Yiddish Presence in European Literature: Inspiration and Interaction (2005), 73–86.

[Chone Shmeruk /

Mikhail Krutikov (2nd ed.)]