Moshe Ajzenbud (1920-)

Moshe Ajzenbud
Moshe Ajzenbud

Yiddish writer, teacher and community leader, Moshe Ajzenbud was born in the Polish town of Niesvizsh in 1920. Moshe received his primary education in a Yiddish secular school in Niesvizsh followed by a secondary school education at a Yiddish technical college in Pinsk until 1939. Originally part of Byelorussia, the town of Niesvizsh was under Polish rule between 1919 and 1939. As part of the Molotov Ribbentrop pact, the town was occupied by the Russians from 1939 until 1941. When the German army invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, Moshe, together with his father and brother, made their escape deep into Central Asia. Once there, Moshe was sent to work in a labour camp in Siberia and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for organising a general strike in the iron ore quarry. He was freed during an amnesty in 1945. In the same year, he was reunited with and married Leah, a native of Lodz whom he had met in 1936 during his student days in Pinsk. They then travelled together to Poland. After the Kielce pogrom in 1946 they decided to leave. With assistance from the Brichah, a clandestine Jewish organisation that helped Holocaust survivors escape from Soviet-occupied territory to the British and American zones, they fled Poland to Germany. There they remained in a Displaced Persons camp for four  years. It was during his time there that he began to write stories in Yiddish.

As a skilled fitter and turner, Moshe secured passage to Australia as part of a government displaced persons program which sought skilled migrants to work under contract for two years. He and his wife arrived on 24 September 1950. They spent one month at the Bonegilla Commonwealth Immigration Centre in Albury before securing regular employment and lodgings in Melbourne.

Moshe wasted no time in becoming involved in Jewish communal life and in particular the Yiddish-speaking community. In April 1951 he entered the offices of the Jewish Post and offered his skills as a Yiddish writer to the editor Gedaliah Shaiak who later recalled that he was struck by Moshe’s “polished Yiddish” and “down to earth manner”. From then on he wrote for and contributed regular articles to the Yiddish press.  In the intervening years, Moshe has written a number of books in Yiddish. Some of them, while written as fiction, depict his own wartime experiences: Gelebt Hinter Kratn (Lived Behind Bars) (1956), Niesvizsh Yidn (Jews of Niesvizsh) (1965), a study of Yeshoshua Rapaport’s works entitled Yeshoshua Rapaport’s Style (1967), Alein in Gezeml (Lonely in a Crowd) (1970), Yugneleche Blondzenishn (Dilemmas of Youth) (1973) and The Commissar Took Charge (1986). He was founding editor in 1975 of Melbourne Bleter the Yiddish counterpart of the Melbourne Chronicle, and a contributor to the Bibliographical Dictionary of Modern Yiddish Literature. He still is the Yiddish editor of the Holocaust Museum magazine, Centre News. In 1996 the Jewish Labour Bund published Moshe’s history of the Bund in Melbourne entitled 60 Years of Bund in Melbourne 1928-1988. It was translated into English by Chana and Moishe Mrocki with archival material translated by Hinde Burstin. His latest work Pnina un andereh dertzeilungen (Pnina and other stories) was completed in 2006.

While pursuing his literary interests Moshe has also held a number of important communal roles. In 1958 he became a teacher of Yiddish at the Sholem Aleichem Sunday School, a position he held for some 20 years. He took on the role of Headmaster in 1984, the same year in which he became the inaugural Honorary Secretary of the Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre. He has held the office of Kadimah President from 1988-1992, Kadimah Honorary Secretary from 1979-80 and again in 1999-2002, and Chairman of the Kadimah Cultural Committee from 1993-98. In addition he has held the office of Honorary Secretary of the Bund. Moshe retired as a Yiddish presenter at 3ZZZ ethnic radio 25 years ago after having worked there for 15 years.

Moshe recently celebrated his 90th birthday at the Kadimah’s Wednesday Club.

Sources:  Article by Gedaliah Shaiak Melbourne Chronicle February/March 1983; interview with Miriam Munz 2008.