A Writer in the Spa: Identifying Jacob Glatstein’s Protagonist

Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska


In his nov­el Ven Yash iz geku­men, Jacob Glat­stein wrote a Poland both famil­iar and strange, and peo­pled it with char­ac­ters based on the real-life lit­er­ary fig­ures and his­to­ri­ans he met in the spa town of Nałęczów. Moni­ka Adam­czyk-Gar­bows­ka tells the sto­ry of some of her inves­ti­ga­tion into Glat­stein’s his­tor­i­cal models. 

Read a trans­la­tion of Glat­stein’s arti­cle dis­cussed below, A Jew­ish His­to­ri­an from Lublin.”

I dedicate this essay to David Roskies and Ruth Wisse, my fellow-travelers in the world of Glatstein.

According to the famous dictum by Goethe, “Wer den Dichter will verstehen, muss in Dichters Lande gehen,” or “Whoever wishes to understand a poet must go into the poet’s land.” This is certainly true of Yiddish writers in general, and of Jacob Glatstein in particular.

I myself did not have to go far to explore Glatstein’s native land; like him I was born in Lublin, Poland, and I have resided there most of my life. But it wasn’t until I traveled to New York City in 1988 to work on my book about Isaac Bashevis Singer that I learned that Glatstein, who spent the last fifty-seven years of his life in America, was my landsman.

In the summer of 1934 Glatstein made a trip from New York to his native Poland (the reverse of the journey that awakened my interest in him) in order to see his dying mother in Lublin after a twenty-year-long absence. 1 1 Glatstein left his native Lublin at the age of eighteen in 1914 and settled down in New York. His mother Yite Rokhl Glatshteyn died on August 2, 1934 at the age of seventy. An obituary signed by her husband, sons, daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren was published in the Lubliner Tugblat, on August 3, 1934 , which was a Friday. We learn from the obituary that the funeral procession started at 1:00 p.m. at 14 Rynek (Market Square) in the heart of the Old Town, which is where Glatstein’s parents resided at that time. The literary results of this journey were two autobiographical novels, Ven Yash iz geforn (When Yash Set Out, 1938) and Ven Yash iz gekumen (When Yash Arrived, 1940). In the novels, Yash, Glatstein’s alter ego, describes the city of Lublin, the shtetl of Kuzmir (known in Polish as Kazimierz on the Vistula; in this essay I will use Kaizmierz and Kuzmir interchangeably), and an unnamed spa or sanatorium. The first novel ends with Yash’s arrival in Lublin, the city of his birth, while the other takes place in the spa and in Kuzmir. Although both works are fictionalized travelogues, and the second, on which this paper will focus, more so than the first, there are many historical and topographical details that give the action a concrete location and chronology. Although the narrator refers specifically to Lublin and Kuzmir, the spa remains unnamed. By obscuring its location, Glatstein seems to have used a similar strategy to that of the Polish Jewish writer Adolf Rudnicki, who in 1938 published Lato (Summer), a book of literary reportage. In Lato, Rudnicki does not name the location of the narrative, though it is obvious from his descriptions of landscape and various topographical details that the the first part of the book takes place in Kazimierz on the Vistula. 2 2 The second part of Rudnicki’s book takes place in Góra Kalwaria. Known in Yiddish as Ger, the town where the Ger dynasty originated is a very important location for Hasidim, and its name is stated explicitly. For more on this topic see Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, “Fiddles on Willow Trees: The Missing Polish Link in the Jewish Canon,” in Justin Cammy, Dara Horn, Alyssa Quint and Rachel Rubinstein, eds., Arguing the Modern Jewish Canon: Essays on Literature and Culture in Honor of Ruth R. Wisse (Cambridge, Mass.: Center for Jewish Studies, Harvard University, 2008), 627-643. However, Glatstein’s refusal to name the spa has misled some scholars, who locate the spa in Lublin itself 3 3 See e.g. Dafna Clifford, “Shtetl Kuzmir: The Reality of the Image,” in Gennady Estraikh and Mikhail Krutikov, eds., The Shtetl and Reality: Papers of the Second Mendel Friedman International Conference on Yiddish (Oxford: Legenda, 2000), 115–132; Leah Garrett, “The Self as Marrano in Jacob Glatstein’s Autobiographical Novel,” Prooftetxs, Vol.18 (1998): 207–223. or “somewhere in the middle of Poland.” 4 4 See Avraham Novershtern, “The Open Suitcases: Yankev Glatshteyn’s Ven Yash Iz Gekumen,” in Cammy, Horn, Quint and Rubinstein, eds., Arguing the Modern Jewish Canon..., 270. Jan Schwartz is more careful since he only states that the action takes place in “a Jewish resort hotel outside Lublin” (Jan Schwartz, Imagining Lives: Autobiographical Fiction of Yiddish Writers [The University of Wisconsin Press: Madison, 2005], 101, 114.) Nałeczów is mentioned only in Ruth Wisse’s introduction to the new edition of the Yash novels and this mention is a result of our cooperation (Ruth R. Wisse, “Introduction,” in Jacob Glatstein, The Glatstein Chronicles, ed. and with an introduction by Ruth Wisse, transl. by Maier Deshell and Norbert Guterman [Yale University Press: New Haven & London, 2010], xvi.) Earlier she located it at “a Jewish resort hotel that specializes in arteriosclerosis” (Ruth R. Wisse, The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey through Language and Culture [The Free Press: New York, 2000], 173.) In fact, the spa is Nałęczów, one of the oldest Polish health resorts, which Glatstein makes obvious to those readers with the context to understand. Kazimierz and Nałęczów are for inhabitants of Lublin as Concord and Walden Pond are for Bostonians, picturesque places of historical interest that locals visit during holidays or weekends; as a local, I have visited them hundreds of times. 5 5 My long time interest and attachment to Kazimierz resulted in an anthology of representations of the shtetl in Polish, Yiddish, Hebrew, and North American literature. See Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, ed. Kazimierz vel Kuzmir; Miasteczko różnych snów [Kazimierz vel Kuzmir; A Shtetl of Various Dreams] (Maria Curie-Skłodowska University Press: Lublin, 2006).

Nałęczów was a well-known resort for Poles going back to the early nineteenth century, and the spa town was frequented by Jewish visitors, especially from Lublin and Warsaw, in the period between the two World Wars. Spa culture was very popular among members of the Jewish middle class, both secular and Orthodox, 6 6 For more on this topic, see the excellent study by Mirjam Zadoff, Next Year in Marienbad: The Lost Worlds of Jewish Spa Culture, translated by William Templer (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012). and Nałęczów is one of the oldest and still operational spas in Poland, specializing in cardiovascular diseases. It was not as chic as Karlsbad, Marienbad, or Krynica in the Tatry mountains, but still very popular among Jews. For example, Lublin native Nechama Tec, in her Holocaust memoir Dry Tears, mentions going to Nałęczów three summers in a row in the late 1930s with her sister and grandparents, while her parents traveled to more fashionable spas farther away. 7 7 Nechama Tec, Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 53.

It is difficult to say whether Glatstein wanted to obscure the identity of the spa town in his novel in order to give it a more universal character, or whether he wanted to keep the place unnamed because he referred to people who were still alive. 8 8 For example, in Ven Yash iz gekumen Glatstein gives a very critical depiction of some members of the Jewish community in Lublin who, perceiving him as a wealthy American, charged him extra for his mother’s burial. In either case, the location must have been obvious for a Jewish reader from Poland at the time the book was written, and even for contemporary Polish readers, the book contains many topographical and cultural details that make the place easy to identify.

Avraham Novershtern states correctly that locating a novel in a spa is “atypical” for Yiddish literature, 9 9 Novershtern, “The Open Suitcases,” 292. and obviously the most typical locations are the shtetl and the city, but there are some Yiddish works located in spas—the best known being Sholem Aleichem’s epistolary novel Marienbad—or with references to them. For example, in the opening scene of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Family Moskat, Reb Meshulah Moskat, the head of the clan, returns from Karlsbad where he had gone “to take the waters” and where he had met and married his third wife. 10 10 Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Family Moskat, translated from the Yiddish by A.H. Gross (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1973), 3. In Hirsh Matz’s valuable book Kurortn un turistik in Poyln (Spas and Tourism in Poland), published in Warsaw in 1935, we find entries on both Nałęczów and Kazimierz, illustrated with photographs. 11 11 Hirsh Matz, Kurortn un turistik in Poyln (Farlag „TOZ”: Warsaw, 1935), 100-102 and 122-124, respectively. The first is presented as a bad-kurort (spa) and the other as zumer-ort (summer resort). Nałęczów is described as a place with mild refreshing air, little rain, and water-absorbent soil. It is recommended for the treatment of such ailments as rheumatism, arthritis, neurosis, sciatica, heart diseases, anemia, physical and mental exhaustion, and chronic poisoning with alcohol, morphine, and cocaine. No wonder that Steinman, the main protagonist of Ven Yash iz gekumen, comes there every summer to cure his multiple ailments and talks ironically about people undergoing treatment there as farkalikhte (lit. calcified) in senses both physical (because of their hardened arteries) and figurative (in that they suffered from various mental problems).

Matz’s guidebook lists various mineral waters available in Nałęczów, as well as baths, 12 12 Steinman takes these, too, and feels fed up with all this treatment.
and among local attractions he mentions a band, dancing evenings, concerts, theatrical performances, tennis, cricket, billiard, boats, library, reading room, walks through woods to Stefan Żeromski’s house, and trips in the vicinity—to Wojciechów with its Arian tower, to Puławy with its Czartoryski palace, and obviously to Kazimierz (Kuzmir). It seems that Glatstein’s narrator Yash and other guests in the Buchlerner’s hotel take advantage of most of these opportunities.

Steinman, an elderly Jewish intellectual whom Yash meets in the hotel, explains that this is “the seventh year” he has

“come to this resort for treatment . . . The people who first came here did actually suffer from hardening of the arteries, but gradually the news got around that place was good for the nerves, and real mental cases began to come. Only the quiet kind, of course, not the violent ones.” 13 13 Jacob Glatstein, “Homecoming at Twilight,” trans. Norbert Guterman, in idem, The Glatstein Chronicles, ed. and with an introduction by Ruth Wisse (Yale University Press: New Haven & London, 2010), 195. Henceforth quoted parenthetically according to this edition.

Nowadays Nałęczów, apart from being a health resort recommended for people convalescing from heart diseases, has become popular for cosmetic surgeries and for beauty and rejuvenating treatments. The town itself is known for its characteristic traditional wooden architecture patterned on the Zakopane style from the Tatry mountains. A number of villas were built in this style, and Glatstein’s narrator resides in such a building; the hotel is a three-story house, with a large porch that “runs around the building” and “a low trellised gate” (190). A narrow walk leads to the street and from there goes straight to the park.

It is possible that, in 1934, Glatstein stayed at the villa “Osłoda” (a Polish word meaning sweetening, or, figuratively, consolation), built in 1897 by the Tanenbaum family, or at one of the villas owned by someone called Einstein. In the Lubliner Tugblat we often find advertisements for Einstein’s “pensyonat” (pension, or boarding-house), which had existed in Nałęczów since 1908. Perhaps the owner, Einstein, having a name suggesting learnedness, is the prototype of Glatstein’s character Buchlerner, whose name means “studying books.” “Come here, Mr. Buchlerner, and give us your opinion,” the man in the skull cap [Steinman] repeated. “You have an intelligent-sounding name.” (185)

The hotel where Yash stays is located at the bottom of a hill on which there is a little wood. It is close to the park with a pond. “People were wandering around the little lake and all over the park . . . Around the little lake, more like a pond, were elaborate flower beds, severely patterned with respect to both color and shape.” (192) There is an outdoor café and a bandstand. In the opening chapter the band plays “Blue Danube Waltz,” a standard of spa repertoires. Nearby, a side path leads to a little bridge. “Under it couples were scooping up water in tin cups and drinking. ‘This is the Fountain of Love,’ Steinman said.” (193)

The spring under the bridge, which in the Yiddish original is also called by its Polish name “Źródło Miłości,” 14 14 Glatstein uses quite a few Polish words and expressions in his novels to render the speech of his characters. Most of them were not retained in the English translations.
is still a popular landmark; the spa is known for the spring’s mineral waters, which are exported abroad. Other identifying topographical details include the mausoleum of Adaś (Adam) Żeromski, Stefan Żeromski’s beloved son who died of tuberculosis in 1918 at the age of nineteen; and the Poniatowski Hill, named after both Prince Józef Poniatowski who supposedly fought there in 1809 and his brother Stanisław August Poniatowski, the last king of Poland. In the second half of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century, Nałęczów was popular among Polish writers; the spa is especially associated with novelists Bolesław Prus (1847-1912) and Stefan Żeromski (1864-1925) who spent a good deal of time there.

No wonder Glatstein’s narrator meets all kinds of interesting people in the hotel, and even more in the park; most notable among them are a group of wealthy Hasidim. Before World War II, Nałęczów was visited by Hasidic rebbes, and in the local archives one can find photographs of the Gerer Rebbe with his entourage in the spa town. In fact, scenes presented in the book might have been inspired by various historical events, some of them widely publicized. For instance, Steinman describes in detail a lavish Hasidic wedding that he attended a few years earlier, which might be a reference to the widely publicized wedding of Nechama Golda, the daughter of the Bobover rebbe Ben-Tsiyon Halberstam, to Moshe Stempel from Kraków on March 10, 1931:

“I’ll be brief, but you must have read about it in all the newspapers. Fifteen thousand Hasidim carried on for days on end in an outdoor celebration. They were lodged like gypsies in tents, there were theatrical performances every day, the masters of ceremony cracked jokes and made up funny poems. [ . . . ] This went on for all of two weeks. I myself attended the wedding – and, well, I’ve seen quite a lot, a lot of things during my lifetime, but I’ve never seen anything like that.” (197)

In a number of scenes one can fairly easily identify certain historical figures. For instance, in Chapter 5 Steinman points out a woman passing by:

“Do you know who is? She is a famous Polish Jewish historian. Several of her monographs caused a stir among Polish historians. Shall I tell you how I made her acquaintance? One day I was strolling around in the old Jewish cemetery—yes, the one in Lublin—copying inscriptions from old tombs. Suddenly I saw this woman lying there next to a grave, but in highly unhistorical circumstances. She was not lying there alone, but with a young man, and in a very intimate pose at that. [ . . . ] If I’m not mistaken, she married the same young man. As a matter of fact he is excessively thin—a real skeleton, while she herself is ugly as sin.” (328)

While reading this scene I immediately thought of Bella Mandelsberg-Schildkraut (Szyldkraut), the author of a number of studies devoted to the history of Jewish Lublin whose works were published in the interwar period in various academic journals and the popular press. She was deported to the Bełżec death camp in March or April 1942, and in 1965 a selection of her works was published in Hebrew translation by a circle of her friends, the well-known historians Nachman Blumental, Raphael Mahler, and Nachman Korn. 15 15 See Bella Mandelsberg-Schildkraut, Mekharim le-toldot Yehude Lublin (Tel Aviv: Circle of Friends of the Late Bella Mandelsberg-Schildkraut, 1965). I wondered: Is it possible that Glatstein actually met her?

Also in Kazimierz, to which Yash goes unexpectedly after being awoken early in the morning by a coachman who mistakes him for someone else and convinces him that he should take the trip regardless, he meets some people who are more or less clear references to historical figures. For instance, the narrator visits a shoemaker who is also an amateur painter, which is a particularly explicit reference to Shmuel Wodnicki. Yash mentions that the shoemaker became a celebrity; Wodnicki, born in 1901 in Kuzmir, indeed attracted much attention. His work was exhibited in his native shtetl, in Lublin, and in Kraków, and he was written about in both the Polish and Yiddish presses. In 1934, soon after Glatstein’s visit, Wodnicki left for Palestine; he continued to paint pictures of Kuzmir with inscriptions in Yiddish until his death in 1972. 16 16 For instance, the popular Polish magazine Świat (The World) in the issue of May 16, 1931, devoted a full page article to Wodnicki, illustrated with photographs of his works.

Critics have noted the eclectic character of Glatstein’s second book, which was discussed variously as a fictionalized autobiographical novel, a travelogue, a chronicle, and modernistic Jewish encyclopedia. But for a reader familiar with the Lublin area, the novel is primarily a roman à clef. If World War II had not broken out and the book had reached Jewish readers in Poland, it would likely have created a stir, especially in Lublin. While some of the locals portrayed in the novel might have felt flattered to find their portraits there, others would likely have been offended.

But of all the characters in Ven Yash iz gekumen who have their origins in real people, 17 17 I am currently working on a richly annotated Polish translation of the novel. the figure which has intrigued scholars most is Mr. Steinman, a Jewish intellectual and writer whom the narrator meets in the sanatorium. A number of scholars have suggested that this character resembles Y. L. Peretz, either as a caricature or as a serious representation. 18 18 This statement was made by Dan Miron, and later repeated by Leah Garrett, Avraham Novershtern, and Ruth Wisse, who writes that “Steinman’s magnetic personality and his ideas about the holistic Jewish people are reminiscent of the Yiddish luminary Y.L. Peretz, whom Glatstein had met as a boy” in her introduction to The Glatstein Chronicles (2010). For me this suggestion was never convincing; why would Glatstein refer to Peretz, who died in 1915, in such an extensive way in the 1930s? Besides, very little was shared by the two in either biographical or personal terms. But if not Peretz, then who could be the prototype of Steinman? I considered some Yiddish writers who would have been at an advanced age in 1934, but none seemed to fit. Besides, Steinman, who covers Hasidic courts for the newspapers, claims he is not really a literary writer, though he boasts that he knows various Hasidic dynasties better than they know themselves.

Seeking a possible model for Steinman, I reread Zusman Segalovitch’s memoir Tlomatskie 13 in order to find some clues. In the book, Segalovitch mentions Shmuel Fainkind, a journalist who covered Hasidic courts for sensational press outlets, but when I checked Feinkind’s biography in Der Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, it did not fit. Shmuel Feinkind was born in 1891, only five years earlier than Glatstein, and he died in 1942. The Leksikon also indicates that Shmuel was the son of Moshe Fainkind and the brother of Natan Fainkind, both writers as well. I glanced at their entries out of curiosity, not really expecting to find anything useful. Yet my attention was attracted by the dates of the senior Feinkind’s birth and death (1864–1935), and the mentions in his biography of the cities of Kalisz and Berlin, as well as Hildesheimer’s Rabbinical Seminary, all of which are cited by Steinman in his conversations with the narrator.

Moshe Feinkind was born in the town of Turek, in the Kalisz district of Poland, to a Hasidic family. He had rich ancestry going back on his mother’s side to Avrum Avli Gombiner, author of “The Shield of Abraham,” 19 19 “On my father’s side I descend from Maharam Tiktin, on my mother’s from Magen Abraham,” states Steinman (218). a commentary on the Shulkhan arukh, and his grandfather participated in the Kościuszko uprising of 1794. Moshe got his early education in Brzeziny near Piotrków Trybunalski, and later wrote a book on the town. As a young man Moshe studied philosophy, history, and literature in Berlin, but because of his political activities he was expelled from the city. Moshe then went to Łódź where he worked as a private teacher of Hebrew and German before returning to Berlin to study at Hildesheimer’s Rabbinical Seminary. Soon he was translating German classical texts into Hebrew, even preparing German translations of materials on the history of Jews in Poland and Russia for Heinrich (Tzvi Hirsh) Graetz, one of the first Jewish historians of Jewish history. Moshe also wrote for Hebrew, Yiddish, and German newspapers, helped to establish the M. Krinski Hebrew School in Warsaw which Glatstein mentions in his first book, and got involved in Zionist activities. 20 20 Kh.L.F., “Moshe Feinkind,” Der leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur (New York: Alveltlekhn Yidishn Kultur-Kongres, 1956-1981), vol. 3, col. 357-358. Many details from Moshe Feinkind’s life seemed to fit Glatstein’s description of Steinman.

I wondered what Moshe Feinkind looked like, and where I might be able to find his picture. Perhaps in the Yizkor Book of Piotrków? In the novel Steinman is described by Glatstein as strikingly handsome, admired by ladies: “His thick gray hair was mussed, but as he walked, the breeze blew it back into place. He held his head proudly, setting off his well-groomed silvery beard . . . With the women following him, he looked like a sultan.” (190) But what if a picture of a bald ascetic man accompanied Feinkind’s information? Or a plump man without a beard? Yet when I checked the Yizkor Book I saw . . . Steinman. Later I also looked in Zalman Reisen’s Leksikon, which contrary to the new lexicon contains some photographs, and there was “Steinman” again, alongside Moshe Feinkind’s name. 21 21 Zalman Reisen, Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese, un filologye (Vilna: 1926-1929), vol. 3, col. 65-67. Apart from supplying biographical data on Moshe Feinkind, the Piotrków Yizkor Book states that he was “a good conversationalist, noted for his sense of humor and his knowledge of Jewish folklore, and he had an encyclopedic mind. He was also a man of charming appearance, who enchanted all who met him.” 22 22 “Personalities: Moshe Feinkind (1865-1935),” in A Tale of One City: Piotrków Trybunalski, ed. Ban Giladi (Shengold Publishers, Inc. in cooperation with the Piotrków Trybunalski Relief Association in New York: New York, 1991), 81.

In Der leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur I also learned that after Feinkind’s death a few of his books were published on the initiative of his children, including Froyen-rabeim un berimte perzenlekhkeyten in Poyln (Rebbetzins and Famous Figures in Poland), Gute Yidn in Poyln (Tzaddikim in Poland), Yidn fun amol un haynt (Jews of Long Ago and Today) and Der poylisher Yid (The Polish Jew), all of which are available at the National Library in Warsaw.

The facts seemed to fit, but how could I prove that Feinkind was Steinman? Was it possible that I was deluding myself? Looking at the bibliography of the entry in the new Leksikon, I found something that I hoped would solve the puzzle: a reference to an article by Glatstein in Der Tog-Morgn Zhurnal of November 12, 1965, without any title given. I wondered what the article might contain: Why would Glatstein write about Feinkind in 1965? Was it possible that this article was related to the thirtieth anniversary of Moshe Feinkind’s death? I needed a Dr. Watson who would help me to solve this puzzle, as Der Tog-Morgn Zhurnal is not fully available on the web. My friend Ellen Kellman, a professor of Yiddish at Brandeis University, agreed to play this role for me, and when I received a scan of the article from her I could hardly believe my eyes. This was the key I was looking for.

Glatstein’s article is mainly devoted, not to Feinkind, but to the Lublin historian Bella Mandelsberg-Schildkraut, on the occasion of the above-mentioned publication of her selected works. Titled “A yidishe historikerin fun Lublin,” the article consists of three parts. In the first, untitled section, Glatstein writes about historical research on his home city of Lublin, complaining that it has not inspired enough interest on the part of Jewish historians “vos aza shtot hot badarft aroysrufen” (“as such a city should have received”). But among the most important scholars of the city Glatstein mentions Majer Bałaban, who published a monograph on Jewish Lublin, and Shloyme Borukh Nisenboym, who sold Yiddish and Hebrew books at his shop, which was patronized by Jewish youth craving knowledge and education. As Glatstein rightly observes, Nisenboym was the first Lublin-born historian who devoted some of his work to his native city. He published a booklet with photographs of the old Jewish cemetery and a history of Jewish Lublin in Hebrew, Lekorot he-Yehudim b’Lublin (History of the Jews of Lublin), when he was only twenty-four.

The next part of the article, and most important for my investigation, is entitled “An ongeneme iberrashung” (“A Pleasant Surprise”). In it, Glatstein describes his stay in Nałęczów in 1934 and the experience of meeting there “a yung inteligent yidish meydel” (“an intelligent young Jewish woman”), a historian born in Lublin and interested in the history of the Jewish community of the city. How did Glatstein get acquainted with the young woman? He explains:

אין נאַלענטשעװ האָט זיך דעמאָלט אױך געפֿונען דער עלטערער היסטאָריקער ר׳ משה פֿײַנקינד, אַ ייִד, װאָס עס איז געװען אַ מחיה מיט אים צו פֿאַרברענגען. אים בין איך שולדיק אַן אײביקן דאַנק פֿאַר מײַן בוך „װען יאַש איז געקומען“. רעדנדיק מיט אים, האָט זיך אין מיר אָנגעהױבן װעבן דער פֿאָדעם פֿון מײַן צװײטן טײל „יאַש“. ער, ר׳ משה פֿײַנקינד, איז טאַקע געװאָרן דער װײַטער קרובֿ פֿון מײַן בעלעטריסטיש פֿאַרװאַנדלט הױפּטגעשטאַלט פֿון בוך – שטײנמאַן.

ר׳ משה פֿײַנקינד האָט מיך טאַקע באַקענט מיט דער יונגער היסטאָריקערין – בעלאַ מאַנדעלסבערג.

At the time, the older historian Reb Moshe Feinkind also happened to be in Nałęczów, and it was a delight to spend time with him. I am forever grateful and indebted to him for my book, Ven Yash iz gekumen. For, while speaking with him, I began to weave together the thread of an idea for the second part of Yash. He even became the distant relative of my adapted fictional protagonist, Steinman.

It was Reb Moshe Feinkind who actually introduced me to the young historian, Bella Mandelsberg.

Then Glatstein gives some biographical information about Mandelsberg, who graduated from the history department at Warsaw University, became a teacher at Jewish high schools (gymnasia) in Lublin, was active in Poalei Zion Left, and engaged in historical research. He presents her as a very modest and quiet young woman who did not like talking about herself. It was Feinkind who, in spite of his critical mind and strict opinions on various subjects, was full of praise about her and considered her a rising star in the field of Jewish history.

Glatstein recalls with nostalgia the time spent in the spa:

די טעג אין נאַלענטשעװ, די שפּאַצירגענג מיט דעם עלטערן היסטאָריקער פֿײַנקינד און דער יונגער, טיף־נאַציאָנאַלער ייִדישער טאָכטער, בעלאַ מאַנדעלסבערג, זענען פֿאַרבליבן אין מײַן זכּרון. איך האָב עס באַטראַכט פֿאַר אַ מזל־זאַך, װאָס מיר איז באַשערט געװען צו פֿאַרברענגען אַזױ ייִדישלעך־לעבעדיק אין דעם הײלאָרט, װאָס האָט צוגעצױגן גאָר אַ סך סקלעראָז־חולאָים, װאָס זענען שױן געװען, װי מען האָט זײ דאָרט גערופֿן – אַ קאַפּעטשקע „פֿאַרקאַלכט“ אױפֿן מוח.

The days in Nałęczów—the strolls with the elderly historian Feinkind and the deeply-nationalist Bella Mandelsberg—have remained in my memory. I considered it a stroke of luck that I had been fated to enjoy such lively Jewish company in a sanatorium that attracted so many sclerotic patients—many of whose brains were, as it was there described, a wee-bit “calcified.”

Glatstein ends this part of the article on a tragic note, writing about Bella Mandelsberg’s death in a Nazi camp. He states that although she had an opportunity to save her own life, she did not want to abandon her sick sister, and so they both perished.

The last part of the article, entitled “Poylish-yidishe geshikhte,” (“Polish-Jewish History”) is devoted to Mandelsberg-Schildkraut’s book, published posthumously in Tel Aviv by her friends, and contains more biographical information on Mandelsberg, some of it wrong. For instance, Glatstein claims that she perished in Majdanek in 1943, when in fact she was taken to the Belżec death camp in 1942.

At the very end of the article, Glatstein mentions a photograph included in Mandelsberg-Schildkraut’s book that depicts himself, Moshe Feinkind, Bella Mandelsberg-Schildkraut; and Glatstein’s sister-in-law who also perished during the Holocaust, the first wife of his brother Mordkhe. He corrects the error: 23 23 See the glossy insert after p. 48 in Mandelsberg-Schildkraut, Mekharim le-toldot Yehude Lublin (the image is also at the beginning of this essay).

אין בוך װערט געגעבן אַ פֿאָטאָגראַפֿיש בילד פֿון מיר, ר׳ משה פֿײַנקינד, בעלאַ מאַנדעלסבערג און מײַן ברודער מרדכיס ערשטער פֿרױ, װאָס איז אומגעבראַכט געװאָרן פֿון די דײַטשן. אונטערן בילד איז אונטערגעשריבן די דאַטע 1926 מיט אַ פֿראַגע־צײכן. די פֿאָטאָגראַפֿיע איז גענומען געװאָרן מיט אַכט יאָר שפּעטער, אין זומער 1934.

In the book there is a photograph of me, Reb Moshe Feinkind, Bella Mandelsberg, and my brother Mordkhe’s first wife, who was murdered by the Germans. Under the photograph the date is stated as 1926 with a question mark. The photograph was actually taken eight years later, in the summer of 1934.

This beautiful photograph that supplies us with a visual record of the writer’s stay in Nałęczów captures a serene moment from that memorable summer. In the park, Moshe Feinkind, with his striking face, sits on the left side of a bench under a tree with a stick in his hand. His overcoat looks exactly like Steinman’s. Glatstein sits on the right side of the bench. Bella Mandelsberg is in the middle, and Glatstein’s sister-in-law stands behind the trio.

On my own previous visits to Nałęczów I used to imagine Glatstein strolling by himself down to the park from one of the villas. Now I see him not alone, but walking in the company of “the elderly historian Moshe Feinkind” and “the young Jewish woman” Bella Mandelsberg: Feinkind in the middle, with his coat “thrown over his shoulder like a cape” (190), as Steinman wore it, Bella on one side, and Glatstein on the other. Glatstein is listening to Feinkind and the idea for the book is sprouting in his mind.

At the beginning of the novel, during their first walk in the park, Steinman says to the narrator: “If I were Rothschild, do you know what I’d do? . . . I’d arrange for the entire Jewish people to spend a month or two in this atmosphere. This is just what our people needs to restore its shattered nerves.” (193) I think all Yiddish scholars who deal with Glatstein should go to Nałęczów, too, after visiting Lublin and before going to Kuzmir. As Neifeld, who Yash meets on his unexpected trip to Kuzmir, says, “A man has to visit Kazimierz sooner or later, so what difference does it make when you go? When you come back, we’ll talk about the place for three days and three nights running.” (337) Whether that place is Kazimierz, Lublin, or Nałęczów, there is still much to discuss about Glatstein’s visit to Poland in the summer of 1934.

Adamczyk-Garbowska, Monika. “A Writer in the Spa: Identifying Jacob Glatstein’s Protagonist.” In geveb, January 2017:
Adamczyk-Garbowska, Monika. “A Writer in the Spa: Identifying Jacob Glatstein’s Protagonist.” In geveb (January 2017): Accessed Apr 22, 2024.


Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska

Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska is Professor of American and Comparative Literature at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin, Poland.