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Moshe Kulbak

Birthdate: (41)
Birthplace: Smarhoń, Hrodna Province, Belarus
Death: October 29, 1937 (41)
Minsk, Minsk Province, Belarus (Shot)
Immediate Family:

Son of Solomon Kulbak and Sima Kulback
Husband of Zelda Kulbak
Father of Ilya Kulbak and Private
Brother of William Wolf Kullback; Louis Harry Leybl Kullback; Ilya Kulbak; Iser Kulbak; Tonia Krol and 1 other

Occupation: Poet
Managed by: (No Name)
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Moshe Kulbak

To start, two dates. The first, March 20, 1896: A hundred years since the birth of the Jewish poet, writer, and playwright Moshe (Moiseju) Kulbak. The second date, October 29, 1937: sixty years ago since Moshe was executed, shot, died. With life under a totalitarian regime being all that it is, the life of Kulbak lasted only forty-one years. The boy who would later die by execution began his studies in Volozhin Yeshive, learning of the Jewish olden times, of the wisdom of the Torah, and of other sacred studies. During the senior classes of the Yeshiva, he studied Russian and read works of Russian and Jewish literature. In 1914 he moved to Minsk, and his first poem "Shterndl" (Asterisk) subsequently become a national song. By the time he moved to Vilnius, the poem had been published in 1916 in "Literarishe peftn" (Literary writing-books). One of his best books was the collection “Shirim,” published by the Jewish writers union and the journalists in Vilnius in 1920 in a printing house of the brothers Rosenta. (A duplicate edition of this book was distributed by Fund Sarry and Manfred Frenkel in Antwerp in 1991). In his mid-twenties, Kulbak started writing prose, novels like Mashiah ben-yoaei (Monday), and drama plays like Jaakov Franc. In his thirties, having returned to Minsk, he published the well-known story "Zelmenjane,” a satirical poem called "Chajld Harold from Diena,” and the three-act drama poem "Robber Bojtre" (1936) which was recently performed under the direction ofS.Mihoelsom (the role of Bojtre was superbly executed by V. Zuskin). “Bojtre” was performed in Israel, on a stage at the Chamber Theatre.During M. Kulbak's Minsk period he contributed to the magazine "Der shtern,” worked at the Academy of Sciences BSSR, translated on Yiddish verses of Belarus poets Janki Kupaly and Jakuba Kolasa "Auditor" Gogol. Beyond his work at the Academy of Sciences, he also engaged in literary activity. He had been ready to do much more, but with the year 1937 came tragedy.

According to documents on Moshe Kulbaka at the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, he had two children (whose names do not appear in business materials; Kulbak probably decided to not refer to them by name in order to keep them safe). "For my brother and I,” the daughter of the poet recollects, “this saved our lives since children of persecuted parents suffered greatly.” As for the children of Moshe Kulbaka, his son Ilya Kulbak was killed by German fascists in 1942 in Lapichi of the Mogilyov area BSSR. It is possible to learn about the last months of his life and the death of the parents of M. Kulbaka through Inna Vojnovoj's memoirs (They had earlier been published in translation into Yiddish in a magazine called “Sovetish Gejmland,” N 8, 1990). His daughter Raya Kulbak has lived in Tel Aviv since 1990. The daughter of the poet found out about Moshe (Moiseja) Kulbaka from the answer of KGB BSSR to an inquiry of the Academy of Sciences. (The actual transcript is stored in the archives of the Academy.) According to this information, Moshe Kulbak was arrested on September 11, 1937. More than twenty people were also arrested – all representatives of the Jewish creative intelligencia. Among the arrested people were the poet Izi Harik, literary critic Jacob Bronstein and others. All of them were accused of actions directed against the Soviet authorities. The courts gave them all guilty verdicts and with rare exception, gave all of them identical sentences: death. Reconsideration of the conviction and execution of Moshe Kulbak was initiated by his wife Zeldy Kulbak.Moshe Kulbak had been exonerated, but the date of his death was never specified. Raya Kulbak says, “My mother Kulbak Zelda (Evgenie) was also arrested and sentenced to ten years solely for being his wife.” For a year she was left there. After her imprisonment, she had been forbidden from living in large cities.Mother had been released in 1956. Her attempt in 1957 to establish the date of death of my father and his place of burial has revealed no results.On this question, the military board of the Supreme Court of USSR said that the exact dates of the death so unreasonably condemned were not available. She asked whether the date of death of her husband - on July, 17th, 1940 had been arranged and she was given some information on the death.Mum handed over this information to the Registry Office in Minsk and on this basis, she received a death certificate of Moshe Kulbaka in which the dates of birth and death were wrong. (His true date of birth was March 20, 1896 and his date of death was October 29, 1937.) Mum died on October 20, 1973.When at last during reorganization I was allowed to correct the date of death, I addressed the military board of the Supreme Court of USSR with a request to amend the circumstances, date and place of a burial of my father. Specifically, I noted that the wrong date of a birth appeared on Moshe Kulbaka’s documents and that his place of burial was not specified.

In the village of Kuropaty, which is now the suburb of Minsk, archeologists unearthed the mass graves of executed prisoners from the Stalin period. Before my departure to Israel, I visited them. I felt that the last minutes of my father’s life were spent here, in Kuropatah. I have seen that same sky that my father saw during his last moments.

About the destruction of the relatives of M. Kulbaka

(From Inna Vojnovoj's memoirs, born in 1931, the senior scientific employee of the Scientific Research Institute, now a pensioner)


I, Voinova Inna Viktorovna, was born in 1931 in Minsk. My father and mother were subjected to persecution; my father in December of 1936 and my Mum in November of 1937. My father last worked as the editor of the Republican bulletin BelTA (the Belarus branch of TASS), and my mum worked at Belgos Universitete (a senior lecturer and the secretary of a Communist Party organization at the university). Tonja, the sister of the poet Moiseja from Toni Kulbak's family, was a close girlfriend of my mum. In December 1936, they arrested my father and then Mum was sent to prison in November 1937. They wanted to send me to the children's home, but I started to cry since I had been afraid to go there. Mum called Tone Kulbak, and she took me to her house, where I lived for a while with Aunt Toni. She had a daughter named Matusja (Matilda), who was a year older then I. The brother of Aunt Toni, poet Moisej Kulbak, and his wife had been arrested at the same time. Their children, Raya and Ilya, had been taken away and sent to different children's homes. Tonja worked hard to look for them and found her nephews in Ukraine. Both were rescued from children's homes and thus, the family was once again numerous with her husband, four children and their servant Katya who traveled with them from the Far East. Tonja was a person with a big heart. She and her husband were equally concerned with all the children and nobody got any less love. As I now realize, they had little to call their own, but they gave all that they had to the four children. It was necessary to dress and feed them all, but Tonja never complained of difficulties. She and her family lived in two rooms of the general apartment, and in the third lived their neighbor Gita Galper. Her husband too has been arrested. Up to the beginning of the war (June 1941), Matusja, Ale, and I went to school and Raya went to a kindergarten. In the summer of 1941 the kindergarten that Raya attended had taken the kids to a summer camp in Ratomku, while Matusja and I were to go in July to pioneer camp in Talc. When the war began, Minsk was bombed first and all the land around us burned. It was necessary to leave the city. Tonja raced to Ratomku to take Raya from the summer camp, but the kindergarten had already evacuated. So we left Minsk on June 26 of 1941. Tonja took with us her old parents who also lived in Minsk on Starovilenskoj Street and also two young brothers of Aunt Marry (wives of M. Kulbaka). We left the city on foot on the highway Mogilevskrmu, which went through the settlements of Smilovichi, CHerven, etc. We usually traveled twenty to twenty-five kilometers per day. We could not go more quickly, since the parents of Toni were very old. Here and there it was possible to seat them on a supply truck, but basically they went on foot like the rest of us. Therefore we were not on time for any of the evacuation trains that left for the east. Each time we reached any railway station, we were told that the last train for refugees had left yesterday. By the time we got to Klicheva, we learned by radio that the Germans had already overtaken us. They were already beyond Dnepr though we did not yet see them since Klichev was distant from the basic roads that the Germans traveled upon. Here in Klicheve, in an unfinished house, we lived for ten to twelve days. To go forward would make no sense, so we decided to return to Minsk. In a few days, we arrived at Lapichi of the Osipovichskogo area. Here, we heard rumors that Germans had organized a ghetto in Minsk where they forced in all the Jews.

We stayed in Lapichah. It was not a big place, but there were many Jewish families. Along with many other people who had not fled in time, we stayed with these families. I have only sad memories for August 18, 1941. Before the war, this day had marked Aviation Day. Rumors had been passed around that said that by Aviation Day, our armies would come to save us. Ironically, the opposite happened: on August 18, 1941, the place was surrounded with Germans and politsai who herded all the Jewish men to the nearby woods to have them shot. On this day the husband of Aunt Toni, Joseph Meerovich Krol, and both the brothers of Aunt Marry were lost. There remained only women, children and old men. We lived, certainly, in constant fear; every day we awoke to news that that more people had been executed, even women and children. In January of 1942, the politsai and Germans surrounded a part of the town and drove out the Jewish population in three houses. Everyone was sure that it is their end, but after two or three hours, the Germans suddenly declared that all of them could go home and that they were to pack warm winter garments. However, they left behind some old men and several teenagers. They then picked a place next to the village fence and shot these ten to twelve people. That day, the father of Aunt Toni and Ale (Ilya) Kulbak (son Moiseja Kulbaka) lost their lives. The women and children were still alive until April, 1942. In April (the exact date I do not remember), retaliatory groups from Osipovichej, politsai and Germans surrounded the village, collected all of the women, children, old men, and shot them all. I am only alive due to my lucky fate. When the Germans came to take everyone away, my Aunt Tonja told the German that there was a Russian girl whose parents had been arrested and that she lived in the house. The German ordered me to go to the other half of house, where a Russian family lived. And so I continued to live. The Germans had not allowed Jews and Russians to live together. It is obvious that destiny meant for things to happen this way so that I could live, for if in January the retaliatory group had arrived, I would have been lost with the rest. So Toni Kulbak's family was not lost in one day. Her husband Joseph Meerovich was lost in August 1941, while her father and Ale died in January 1942 and Toni's mum and her daughter Matusja in April 1942. Also all of them are buried in different tombs. Before the war ended, Ale Kulbak took a great interest in a photo. I do not remember much, save that it contained written verses.

Before the war ended, I lived in another village. When Belarus was liberated from Germans, I found Mother, through my relatives in Moscow. At that time, she had been in a camp in the Karaganda area. In 1946, I returned to Minsk, where I studied at an evening school and worked at a radio factory. Mum returned after the autumn of 1946 and found work in Borisov since it was not authorized to work in the capital. By 1947, I arrived in Boriss, where I continued to study at an evening school and worked at a piano factory. I left school in 1951 and acted in Belarus until 1956. In 1956, I worked in a scientific research institute (lab assistant and then as the senior scientist). In 1988, I retired. I married in 1956 and I had two sons with my husband, who is a doctor. My sons are already adults; the older, Victor, is a mathematician and programmer while younger, Leonid, is an engineer and electronician.

Inna Viktorovna VOJNOVA,

Minsk,

On January 19, 1990

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Moshe Kulbak's Timeline

1896
March 20, 1896
Smarhoń, Hrodna Province, Belarus
1926
1926
Age 29
Minsk, Belarus
1937
October 29, 1937
Age 41
Minsk, Minsk Province, Belarus