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Helen Chatzkels


CHATZKELS, HELENE (1882–1973), pedagogue, writer, and translator. Born in Kovno, she attended the pedagogical institute at St. Petersburg. From 1905 to 1908, she was a member of the illegal Bund. During the period 1916 to 1918, she was one of the founders of the Yiddish school network in Lithuania, remaining one of its leaders throughout its existence. The author of numerous works on education, Yiddish textbooks, children's stories, and travelogues, she also compiled the first curriculum for the study of natural sciences and geography in Yiddish schools (1918). In 1925, when the Yiddish Kultur-Lige ("culture league") was disbanded by the Lithuanian authorities, Chatzkels, together with Samuel Levin, set up an illegal leadership for the educational institutions affiliated with the league, thereby saving them from extinction. Although she supported the Soviet Union, she was also on friendly terms with Siegfried *Lehmann and acted as adviser to the educational institutions he directed at Kovno and Ben Shemen (Ereẓ Israel), visiting the latter institution in 1929. In 1931 she published a pamphlet entitled Araber, in which she expressed great admiration for the Zionist pioneers and denounced the Arabs for the murderous riots against the yishuv. After World War II she struggled for the reestablishment of the Jewish school system in Soviet Lithuania and headed the last Jewish children's home and elementary school in Kovno, until it was finally closed down by the Soviets in 1949 and 1950. During the anti-Jewish "struggle against cosmopolitanism" she wrote letters to the press and to Stalin himself, protesting Soviet antisemitism.

She was given the honorary title of "meritorious teacher" in 1947, and awarded the Order of the Red Flag in 1955. Until 1966 she was a teacher of Russian literature at a Lithuanian secondary school in Kovno.

[Esther Rosenthal (Schneiderman)]

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