Yiddish teacher and community figure Symche Burstin was born in the Warsaw suburb of Ochota on the 30 August 1924, the grandson of a Rabbi and the son of working class tailors Shimen and Shifre. His primary education was at the socialist Yiddish Khmurner school. His secondary education concluded in 1938. From his earliest years Symche was an active member of SKIF attending meetings on a regular twice weekly basis. This experience was to remain with him for the rest of his life. From his earliest years, Symche showed a natural talent for languages. His first language was Yiddish but he was also proficient in Polish, later Russian, German, French, English and he even taught himself Esperanto.
When the German army occupied Warsaw in 1939 Symche escaped to Bialystok. In 1940 he was arrested by the Soviet occupiers and sent to a Siberian labour camp near Archangelsk. When Germany attacked Russia in 1941 he was set free. He then travelled to Buchara and Uzbekistan. He was a teacher in Uzbekistan teaching children the Uzbek language. After two years he was put in charge of work at an electric station. At the end of the war he was allowed to return to Poland. On his return he immediately began studying to become a teacher of Yiddish. He then taught Yiddish at the highest level at Walbrzich and Legnice. However continuing anti-Semitism and a repressive communist regime made Symche realize that he had no future in Poland. He escaped to Germany, later making his way to France. From there he obtained a visa to Australia and arrived in Melbourne on 23 February 1949.
While obtaining immediate employment at “Astor Radio” and later with various tailoring factories, in 1956 Symche returned to study. In 1962 he became an accountant and registered tax agent as well as a registered company auditor. But his love of Yiddish and his desire to teach it to the next generation had never left him. In April 1949 he secured a position as a Yiddish teacher at the I.L. Peretz School and the Sholem Aleichem Sunday school, a position he held for many years. His skill with the Yiddish language also saw him work as a proof reader at the Yiddishe Nayes and later as an improver of English at the Jewish News. Symche’s commitment to Yiddishkeit saw him become a member of the Kadimah four weeks after his arrival.
Continuing his commitment to the Bund youth group SKIF, he became its first leader (helfer) in Melbourne at its inaugural meeting on 21 May 1950. His active involvement with the organisation has spanned several decades. His commitment to Yiddish life in Melbourne continues to this day. He is still a member of the Kadimah and a regular volunteer in the library where he is often called upon to translate and explain various texts and to offer advice on Yiddish literature.
In January 1959 Symche married Helen Brotmacher. They have four children, Sefra (Shifre), Simon (Shimshon), Ena (Hinde) and David and seven grandchildren.
Source: Questionnaire completed by Symche Burstin.