WOLPE, DAVID E.


WOLPE, DAVID E. (1908– ), Yiddish writer. Born in 1908 in Keidan in Kovno province (Lithuania), Wolpe was educated in both the traditional ḥeder and in the Tarbut Hebrew high school. Fired early with socialist ideals, he joined the Zionist-socialist youth movement Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir at 16 and became the founding editor of its Hebrew journal, Ha-Nesher. In 1930 he immigrated to Palestine as a pioneer of the organization's kibbutz, today Kibbutz Bet Zera, one of the oldest and most prosperous kibbutzim in the Jordan valley. He also worked in the orange groves and vineyards of the Jewish settlements Binyaminah and Petaḥ Tikvah, before leaving the kibbutz in 1933 to become a building laborer in Tel Aviv. Returning to Europe in 1936, Wolpe joined the Lithuanian army, but from 1941 was interned in the Kovno ghetto, from which, in 1944, he was transported to Dachau. In 1945 he was among the survivors liberated by the U.S. army. Sent to recover in the St. Ottilien Hospital in Bavaria, he met and married there an 18-year-old Jewish refugee and fellow patient. In 1951 Wolpe immigrated to South Africa, where he immediately plunged into the Yiddish literary life of Johannesburg, becoming a prolific contributor to all the local Yiddish and Hebrew journals and serving as editor of South Africa's only Yiddish monthly, Dorem Afrike (1954–70). He serialized his memoirs, A Yid in der Litvisher Armey ("A Jew in the Lithuanian Army") in South Africa's only Yiddish newspaper, the Afrikaner Yidishe Tsaytung (1959–60).

Wolpe's first love was poetry, and in 1978 he published his collected verse, written over a period of some 30 years, in the substantial volume, A Volkn un a Veg ("A Cloud and a Way"). Much praised when it first appeared, this anthology was awarded the prestigious Itsik Manger Prize in Israel in 1983. He also published a volume of literary essays, A Vort in Zayn Tsayt ("A Word in Its Time," 1984); a critical study of the work of Abraham *Sutzkever, Mit Avrom Sutskever iber Zayn Lidervelt ("The Poetic World of Abraham Sutzkever," 1985); a collection of short stories, Heymen, Khaloymes, Koshmarn ("Homes, Dreams, Nightmares," 1987); two further volumes of poems and essays, Krikveg ("The Way Back," 1991) and Iber Mayne Vegn ("Along My Roads," 2002); and a two-volume autobiography, Ikh un Mayn Velt ("I and My World," 1997–99). In his nineties Wolpe continued to write from his home in Johannesburg. His abiding contribution to Yiddish literature was well summed up in the citation for the Manger Prize: "He is full of poetic paradox: his ever-present unrest and doubt are an expression of emotional creative nature."

[Joseph Sherman (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.