Frida Zak grew up with five siblings. She lost her grandmother during the Great Famine (Holodomor) in 1933. She attended a Yiddish school for ten years and then worked in a Jewish orphanage in Letychiv. During the war, she escaped to Miropol, where her family managed to get on the last local evacuation train to Central Asia. In evacuation, her father died of starvation in 1942. She returned to Polonne in 1944 and worked for two years in the same building, which became a Ukrainian orphanage during the war. Until her retirement in 1988, she worked in a library that she helped to set up.

Other Interviews:

With the Last Train

When Peretz Markish Came to Polonne

Polonne, Ukraine

Frida Zak reminisces about Peretz Markish's very soft hand. When she was about to graduate from Yiddish school, the well-known Yiddish writer came to visit his parents in Frida's hometown Polonne. She fondly remembers how students performed Peretz's poems and songs. According to Frida, everybody danced around the New Year tree until the early morning hours.

Peretz Markish, who was born in 1895 in Polonne, enjoyed a traditional Jewish education. He was drafted into the Russian army during World War I and moved to Ekaterinoslav after his discharge from the military in 1917. Markish initially wrote Russian poetry, before he published poems in Yiddish. Markish’s early poetry was infused with the declarative pathos and the apocalyptic mood. The acclaimed poet relocated several times, first to Kiev and then to Warsaw. In 1926 Markish returned to the Soviet Union, but had spent time in major European cities. He headed the Yiddish section of the Soviet Writers Union from 1939 to 1943. During the postwar Stalinist purges, Markish was arrested and sentenced to death. He was executed on August 12, 1952, along with other well-known Yiddish writers in Moscow. This particular execution ordered by Joseph Stalin, came to known as "Night of the Murdered Poets." Markish was posthumously cleared of all charges (“rehabilitated”) in 1955.

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His major works, beside lyrical poetry, comprise epic poems, stories, novels, and drama. These include Di kupe (The Heap, 1921); Tsu a yidisher tentserin (To a Jewish Female Dancer, 1940); Milkhome (War, two volumes, 1948); Trot fun doyres (The March of Generations, 1966), Der fertsikyeriker man (The Forty-Year Old Man, 1978). Markish was also the cofounder of the weekly journal Literarishe bleter in Warsaw in 1924.

Markish’s first book Shveln (Threshholds; see image below) was published in 1919 in Ukraine. Markish’s works can be found on the website of the Spielberg Yiddish Digital Library in the original Yiddish language. The Oyneg Shabes blog by the Yiddish Daily Forward reveals information on the commemoration of Markish’s life and work.

A distinguished group of scholars and admirers of the poet celebrated Peretz Markish's 120th birthday in 2015. For more information take a look at this Yiddish article from the newspaper Forverts.

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