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Uri Zvi Greenberg's "Albatros" / ה"אלבאטראס" של אורי צבי גרינברג

יוחנן ארנון and Yohanan Arnon
Kesher / קשר
No. 14 (נובמבר 1993), pp. 88-101
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23911206
Page Count: 14
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Abstract

Albatros, a short-lived avant-garde Yiddish periodical (1922-23) edited in Warsaw and Berlin by Uri Zvi Greenberg, the Hebrew and Yiddish poet, was one of the vehicles for the outburst of Yiddish expressionist poetry following the horror of World War I and the accompanying pogroms against the Jews. Other periodicals in a similar vein were edited by poets Peretz Markish, Melekh Ravitch and Michael Weichert. The importance of the new literary genre created by Greenberg and his colleagues — Yiddish expressionism — lies is the linguistic innovations they introduced, which drastically changed literary Yiddish from that of such previous writers as Peretz and Mendele. A statement of purpose in the first issue of Albatros in September 1922 referred to the exterritoriality of the Jewish people, the wounds of an entire generation and the terrible suffering as accounting for the cruelty of the poetry and of the illustrations contained in the magazine. Greenberg, in an opening piece, criticized negative aspects of modern Yiddish poetry — banality, absurdity, alien, borrowed elements, an absence of talent — but hastened to reassure the reader that criticism was not the purpose of the magazine, and that cultural deficiency stemmed from the absence of a Jewish home and the ejection of the population from the shtetl to the sterile cities. The first issue of the magazine contained four chapters from his poem "World in Decline" (other chapters appeared in Markish's Khaliastre and in other magazines), a pessimistic work on the hopelessness of the world in general and the fate of the Jew specifically, with repeated references to Christianity and the crucifixion. All is naked — the world, humanity, religion. Poetry, therefore, is naked too. Of the ten pieces in the second issue, which appeared in November 1922, five were by Greenberg, beginning with his prose poem "Man Cries Out," an expressionist protest that suggests Edvard Munch's contemporary painting "Scream" and other contemporary art. In another prose poem, Greenberg addressed Jesus as his brother, declaring that although they were not crucified on a cross together, they were united as one entity. Greenberg's identification with Jesus, as well as with other rebels such as Shlomo Molkho and Shabtai Zvi, was ongoing, and was reflected in his later Hebrew poetry as well. In a similar vein, Ber Horowitz's "From the Book of Jesus the Nazarene" portrayed a vision of the end of days in which all messiahs would be released from their crosses, and the long-awaited last messiah, son of David, would await them beneath the Arch of Titus, whereupon the other messiahs would set up an endless forest of crosses and mankind would come to a gruesome end. Greenberg, in a poem titled "The Cry of the Land" (one of two he wrote by that title), depicted a sorrowful landscape of barren women and men coming to the marriage alter but begetting no children, only snakes and owls, just as Jesus was begotten from the holy ghost. Another poem by him, "Red Apples From Trees of Sorrow," was written under a pseudonym — Mustafa Zahib — testimony to an initially romantic view that he, as many other Europeans, held of the East and its inhabitatnts, which was to change as a result of the hostile attitude of the Arabs to Zionism and the State of Israel. This work, written in a colorful style reminiscent of Isaac Babel's, was filled with allusions to Christianity as well. "Holy mother, are you a Bethlehemite? And perhaps my name is Jesus." And: "Why do they still carry Mother Mary of gold in the middle of the procession...and white snow covers the ground. Why do lamps still burn and candles illuminate the wakening eyes of my naked brothers, the Galileeans? Ha ha...." Describing a soldier coming to a house, and to a woman, he wrote: "Receive my seed for the sake of the existence of the world, woman! Jesus will be born, don't be frightened, Jesus will be born.... Someone else will sleep with my wife at home, probably some priest with a bald pate (priests don't go to war)." This provocative material elicited confiscation of the issue of the magazine and notice of a judicial suit against the editors by the Polish censor. Greenberg did not wait for the suit to be initiated, and left Warsaw for Berlin, a more enlightened and liberal literary center, where he used the name Ure Hirsch (a translation of "Zvi")-Landmann (his mother's maiden name). There he came into contact with other immigrant writers from Galicia and Warsaw, as well as with major German writers and poets such as Else Lasker-Schueler, who had a great influence on him and introduced him to leading literary and artistic personalities. It was a period of unprecedented runaway inflation. In November 1923 Hitler staged his putsch in Munich, for which he was jailed. The final issue of Albatros (No. 3-4), launched in this agitated environment, contained 30 pages rather than the previous 20, and was more esthetic as well, with ten illustrations. Greenberg may have managed to acquire contributions for his literary effort from his colleagues in Berlin. Max Erich, lamenting the loss of indigenous Jewish culture in "A Letter to Uri Zvi Greenberg," described Greenberg as a wandering Jewish Mephisto who had acquired alien metaphors, an alien language and even the figure with the cross. Greenberg's "In the Kingdom of the Cross," which subsequently became famous, appeared in this issue as well. A long work of 425 columns divided into 19 chapters, it contains graphic, surrealistic depictions of the destruction of Europe. The tone is set at the beginning with images of a dark forest, valleys of sorrow and terror, and corpses hanging from trees with wounds still bleeding. Greenberg identifies himself as an owl, bird of elegy in the European forest of sorrow, prophesying "a black prophecy: You will not know the terror in your flesh when the poisonous gases come to end all...." Despite his ties with cosmopolitan and even communist circles, Greenberg reached the conclusion that leaving Europe was the only possible step for the Jewish people. In the closing piece of the magazine, "The House of Sorrow on Slavic Land," he acknowledged the difficulty of leaving home — even a house of sorrow — and setting out for a far place, yet the "house of sorrow on Slavic land vomits up its Jewish inhabitants." Most go to America, he wrote, but a small convoy, himself included, makes its way toward the sun. He confesses that he wants to live in Europe, where he was born, but that this is impossible. Perhaps, he says, the East will take him back.... A year later, Greenberg immigrated to Eretz Yisrael.

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