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Motl (Matvey) Grubian (June 12, 1909 – February 8, 1972)

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

12. 06. 1909—08. 02. 1972, Moscow

The poet Motl Grubian was born in the shtetl of Sokolivka, Ukraine into a teacher's family. At the age of 13 he began to work. He took up any job wherever he could to help the family.

His first printed poems in Yiddish appeared in the Kharkov young pioneer newspaper "Zay Greyt" (Be Ready) in 1930. Five years later, a collection of Grubian’s poems was issued as a book under a pronounced politically-oriented title "Fun keler af der zun" (From the Basement Up to the Sun).

In 1938, Grubian graduated from the literary faculty at the Minsk Pedagogical Institute. Before WWII, he also studied at the Moscow Literary Institute.

In the summer of 1941 Grubian volunteered for the front, and in 1943 he was seriously wounded. After demobilization, he came to Moscow to work as an editor for the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC). His entire family died in the Minsk ghetto.

Critics noted that "in his poetry Grubian actively developed an unexpected theme: over and over again he described the revival of Jewish shtetls burned down by the war, and the construction of new houses by Jews who were inheriting their ancestors’ trades”.

On February 19, 1949, shortly after the publication of his first post-war collection "Gezang vegn mut" (Song about Courage), Grubian was arrested in the JAC case.

The Hebrew writer Zvi Preygerzon, in his memoirs about the Karaganda camp, where he sat and met Grubian, noted in his memoires: “We all were unhappy in the camp, but we tried not to reveal it. Grubian was unable to do that. Before his arrest, he loved to enjoy the life, to drink, to make merry. But in the camp he turned into an unloved doctor. At all seasons he would carry a bag with a Red Cross. "

Released in 1956, Grubian went to Minsk, where the Jewish actress Khana Blushchinskaya lived. After graduating from the theater studio with S. Mikhoels in Moscow, she worked in the Belarusian Jewish theater until its closure in 1949. Khana's daughter, Larisa, recalled: “Matvey came to Minsk and took us to Moscow. There he received a tiny room in Novokuznetskaya Street.”

In 1970 the Moscow publishing house "Sovetsky Pisatel” (Soviet Writer) released the last Grubian’s Yiddish book "Umru’iker vint" (The Restless Wind).

Grubian’s poetic style was featured by folk pictures and phantasmagorias derived by the war horrors. The main genre of his creature was a lyrical miniature which reflected both actual problems of the epoch and his deeply personal experiences.

His last verse says: "I will not grow any more upwards, nor will I spread sideways; but I pray to God for strength to carry my own burden to the last."

Motl Grubian passed away in Moscow in 1972. He is buried at the Vostryakovskoye cemetery.


My first song I wrote down

On a pane of snow.

The sun wiped out my song,

Each letter in a row.

My second song I pinned

On the white wings of a dove.

A fire drove away the dove,

Robbing its nest and roof.

My third song I inscribed

On walls of stone anew.

The first song then returned, too,

And I remained alive.

Translated from Yiddish by J. Sonntag

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