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Meyer Yelin (12.?. 1910 - 1.3.2000, Israel)

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

The prose writer Meyer Yelin (in Lithuanian: Meiras Jelinas) was born into a teacher's family in the Lithuanian town of Srednik (in Lithuanian: Seredžius). In 1915, after the outbreak of the First World War, the Jews were forcibly evicted by the Russian authorities from the frontline zone, and the Elin family ended up in Voronezh. They were able to return to Lithuania 6 years later and settled in Kovna (Kaunas).

Meyer’s father got a job of the head of the library in the Society of Knowledge Lovers, which was the center of the city's cultural activities. Meyer and his elder brother, Haim, served as their father’s assistants. Working in the library stimulated their literary creativity.

In 1928, Meyer graduated with honors from the Jewish Real Gymnasium and, as the best graduate, received the Edward M. Chase scholarship, which gave him the opportunity to continue his studies at the Technical School in Darmstadt, Germany. In 1933, Meyer received a diploma in civil engineering, but the war with Nazi Germany ruined all his plans. The attempt to leave the city failed, and the Yelins' family ended up in the ghetto.

Meyer participated in an underground movement led by his brother Haim. In April 1944, while organizing the escape of a resistance group to the partisans, Haim fell into the hands of the Gestapo and died. Meyer managed to escape from the ghetto.

After the liberation of Lithuania, Meyer returned to his profession. Among other things, he participated in the construction of an orphanage for Jewish children and a school in Kaunas. In 1973 Meyer Yelin and his family immigrated to Israel.

Yelin's literary career began in 1928 in the leading Yiddish newspaper in the city, “Di Yidishe Shtime” (The Jewish Voice). He also published his poems, stories and articles in the weekly "Di Tsayt" (The Time) and in the newspaper "Dos Vort" (The Word), of which he was a member of the editorial board.

Before World War II, Meyer Yelin was already pretty well known in the literary circles of Lithuania. His prose has appeared in annual Yiddish collections: “Toyern” (Gateway, 1937), “Bleter” (Pages, 1938), and “Naye Blater” (New Pages, 1940).

While in the ghetto, Elin went on creating stories and essays about the life there. He managed to save only a small part of what he wrote.

After the war, Meyer Yelin again devoted himself to literary activity. The main theme of his work was the resistance and heroism of the Jews during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania. Yelin took part in compiling the "Black Book" - a collection of documents and eyewitness accounts of crimes against Jews in the Nazi-occupied territories of the USSR and Poland, as well as the participation of Jews in the resistance to the Nazis. The compilers and editors of the "Black Book" were Ilya Ehrenburg and Vassily Grossman. Meyer Yelin is the author of four articles in the section "Forts of Death near Kaunas".

In 1948, the Moscow publishing house "Der Emes" published a documentary book "Partizaner fun Kovner geto" (Partisans of the Kaunas ghetto), written by M. Elin in collaboration with D. Halperin, one of the leaders of the anti-Nazi movement in Lithuania. The collection of stories about the ghetto "Zeyere blikn hobn zih bagegnt" (Their Eyes Met, 1972) was published in Moscow in the original and in Vilnius in translation into Lithuanian. In total, six Yelin’s books, translated into Russian, were published in Moscow.

In Israel, the World Council for the Preservation of Language and Culture in Yiddish published Yelin's book “Der prayz fun yenem broyt” (The Price of That Bread, Tel Aviv, 1977), which received the Zacharia Ganapolsky Prize in Paris. A year later, a collection of short stories "Blut un vofn" (Blood and Weapons) was published there.

The following books by the author were written in Israel and published in Tel Aviv: "Di mirazhn funem amok-loyfer Oscar Green" (The Mirages of Oscar Green Running Amok, 1981), "Borves iber shney" (Barefoot in the Snow, 1984), “Fayerrisn inem khoyshekh” (Fiery Bursts in the Darkness, 1988), “Bay di gli’endike koyln” (At the Scorching Coals, 1994).

In 1981, Meyer Yelin received the US Jewish PEN Club Prize for the best book in Yiddish.

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