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Ber Halpern (1902, Darsūniškis, Lithuania - 1984, Vilnius)

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

The prose writer Ber Halpern was born into a teacher's family and spent his childhood in a small shtetl Darsūniškis (in Yiddish named Darshunishok).

As a student at the construction institute in Kovno (Kaunas), Ber got involved in the communist movement and after the fascist coup in Lithuania was forced to leave the country. He settled in Paris, where he continued his studies at the university, and was also active within the left circles of Jewish youth.

In the French capital, Halpern made his debut as a publicist: his socially-oriented articles appeared in the Yiddish newspaper “Arbeter shtime” (The Worker’s Voice).

In 1929, having received a degree in civil engineering, he left Paris for Uruguay, where his family lived. In 1934, with the money received from the Soviet embassy, Halpern founded in Montevideo a newspaper "Undzer Fraynd" (Our Friend).

Two years later, the Uruguayan government broke off diplomatic relations with the USSR, and Halpern, again for political reasons, had to leave that country. Now Halpern arrived in Stalin's Russia, of which he had dreamed since his youth.

At that time the Soviet Union saw cruel repressions and a bloody purge of personnel. The devoted communist and fighter for communist ideals in the West, Ber Halpern also suffered from them. He was arrested and exiled to northern camps for 16 years. GULAG needed specialists, thus the technological profession helped the writer survive.

After rehabilitation Halpern settled in Vilnius in 1956. There he continued his construction engineering career. When the magazine "Sovetish Heymland" began to appear in Moscow, he became one of its active contributors. His stories were also published in the newspapers “Folks-shtime” (The People’s Voice, Warsaw) and “Naye Prese” (New Press, Paris).

Most Halpern's creation was thematically connected with the Jewish history, with its prominent scholars, Talmudists, philosophers. His stories are collected in the books: "Mayn ikhes" (My Ancestry, Moscow, 1978), "Khezhbn-hanefesh" (Introspective Summing Up, Moscow, 1984), and the last one, published posthumously "Alts blaybt iber dem menchn" (All remains for the man, Moscow, 1985).

Ber Halpern also worked fruitfully as a translator. In particular, he translated Grigory Kanovich's novel "And there is no paradise for slaves" from Russian into Yiddish.

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