Lost in Translation
Here you may view a selection book covers of popular works of fiction and non-fiction published in Yiddish translation in Eastern Europe before 1930. The years between the wars found an explosion of interest in Yiddish literature amongst an audience of millions of Yiddish-speaking Jews across Eastern Europe, the United States, and around the world. A subset of this expanding market for original works written and published in Yiddish included works written in foreign languages and translated into Yiddish for the native speaking audience.
Several of the books in this essay were published by the Kultur-Lige, an umbrella organization that promoted secular Yiddish Culture through schools, publishing houses, journals, public events, theaters, and libraries, with chapters in towns and cities across Eastern Europe. Founded independently in Kiev in 1918, after 1925, amidst Soviet suppression and major financial difficulties, it became officially affiliated (in Poland, specifically) with the Bund, The General Union of Jewish Workers in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia.
Today, of course, only a small Yiddish-speaking community remains. These works in translation are nearly universally unread, existing now as artifacts of a civilization that worked, lived, and occasionally read Oscar Wilde in Yiddish.
These out-of-print works and literally hundreds and hundreds of others can be found in the library of the YIVO Institute, a Yiddish library, archives, and research institute founded in 1925 in Vilnius, and now located in New York City.
Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (trans. Itzik Kipnis), Kultur-Lige, Kiev, 1929
Arabian Nights, Farlag Yiddish, Warsaw, year unknown
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, Kultur-Lige, Kiev, 1925
Anatole France, Flowers (trans. M. Flakser), Kultur-Lige, Warsaw, 1921
Homer, Iliad and Odyssey (trans. Golde Patz), Farlag Gesher, Berlin, 1924
Rabindranath Tagore, Stories (trans. S. Gorelik), Wostok, Berlin, 1922
H.G. Wells, A Short History of the World (trans. Sarah Lerman), M. Yerukhmzon, Warsaw, 1927
Oscar Wilde, The Star Child (trans. Y.V.), Progress, Warsaw, 1911
Felix Salten, Bambi (trans. L. Hodes), Kultur-Lige, Warsaw, 1930
Jack London, The Call of the Wild, Kultur-Lige, Kiev, 1925