Yiddish Writer Sholem Asch Dies
Sholem Asch. Photo: US Library of Congress

July 10, 1957

Yiddish novelist and playwright Sholem Asch dies at age 76 in London.

Asch was born in Kutno in Russian-controlled Poland in 1880 as the youngest of 10 children in a Hasidic family. He received a formal Jewish education until he became interested in secular studies and moved to Wloclawek, where he wrote letters for illiterate townspeople. He moved to Warsaw in 1900. Influenced by European writers and the Jewish Enlightenment, Asch wrote in Hebrew until Yiddish author I.L. Peretz persuaded him to write in Yiddish. Asch’s early Yiddish works reflected the poverty he experienced in Warsaw.

His marriage in 1903 brought him some financial security and enabled him to focus on his writing, which brought him to prominence among Jewish writers. Asch wrote about traditional Jewish ways of life at a time of increasing change. His play “God of Vengeance” in 1907 was among many controversial works. He first visited Palestine in 1908 and wrote about the Jewish connection to the land. Visits to the United States in 1909 and 1910 expanded his worldview, and he began to write about the distinctions between the Jewish elite and impoverished Jewish workers. Asch moved to the United States at the outbreak of World War I, then returned to Europe, where he wrote about pogroms in Poland and Ukraine. His work was internationally famous by 1920.

He traveled frequently, including visits to Palestine, through the 1920s and 1930s. He spent World War II in the United States, where he wrote for the Yiddish newspaper Forverts, and stayed until 1953. Asch set trends in Yiddish writing and covered topics that affected Jews and non-Jews. The dichotomy of Judaism and Christianity fascinated him, and he spent years writing about the origins of Christianity before returning to Jewish themes and settings in the final 10 years of his life. His New Testament-inspired trilogy of “The Nazarene,” “The Apostle” and “Mary” angered Christians and Jews.

He lived in Bat Yam near Tel Aviv for his last two years. His Bat Yam house is a museum in his memory.