Herz Bergner (1907-1970)

Acclaimed Yiddish writer Herz Bergner was born in Radymno, eastern Galicia in 1907, the younger brother of Melech Ravitch. His family settled in Vienna during the Great War before returning to Poland.  Bergner then settled in Warsaw. From 1928 he wrote and published short stories in leading Yiddish periodicals in Europe, Israel, Australia and the USA. In Warsaw his first collection of short stories, Houses and Streets, was published in 1935. He was co-editor of Shriftn in 1936. As the storm clouds of war were gathering over Europe, Bergner decided to emigrate. He settled in Melbourne in 1938.

As a new immigrant, Bergner became interested in the problems of Jewish integration and the preservation of Jewish traditions. In 1941 he published The New House, a collection of short stories set both in Warsaw and Melbourne that reflected the experiences of Bergner’s immigrant readers and depicted the challenges they faced in adapting to a new life. In 1946 he wrote what many claim is his greatest novel, Tsvishn Himl un Vaser (Between Sky and Sea). In 1947, in a bid to reach a larger audience, Bergner had the book translated into English by Judah Waten and published by Dolphin. It went on to win the Gold Medal Award of the Australian Literature Society. It has been reprinted in 2010.

Licht un Shotn (Light and Shadow) was published in 1960 and the English translation in 1963. It won the Zvi Kessel prize and was acclaimed as one of the best Jewish books published in the world that year. Two other books, A Town in Poland and Warsaw Stories, were also translated into Hebrew and published in Israel. His short stories continued to be published in Yiddish magazines and newspapers throughout the world. His novels were syndicated by the world Jewish press. Bergner’s Australian short stories, especially his volume Vu der Emes Shteyt Ayn (Where the Truth Lies) 1966, realistically mirror various aspects in the life of Jewish immigrants in Melbourne.

Herz Bergner died in Melbourne in 1970 and was survived by his wife Miriam and son Ephraim.

Sources:  “Bergner Searched Humanity” Australian Jewish News, 6 February 1970; Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol 3 (2nd edition) Detroit 2007; Arnold Zable, “Between Hope and Damnation” The Age, 29 May 2010.