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  • Writer's pictureCorbin Allardice

Moyshe Varshe: A biographical forward

Moyshe Varshe was born in the small Lithuanian shtetl Antopol.* When he was a child, his parents moved to Plotsk. It was in that quiet, Polish city that Varshe lived out his childhood. He was a sickly child, who avoided people and loved solitude, isolation. He walked around in a perpetual state of daydream; his nickname was well deserved: der fargyapter, the boy with the empty eyes.**

Social movements, however, attracted Varshe at an early age. He was briefly under the sway of Zionism, but he quickly moved over to the Bund.*** He agitated, propagandized, and organized. He was arrested a few times, imprisoned in Warsaw, Plotsk, and Kalish. For the sake of his fearful parents, he left for America in 1906, as a boy of nineteen years. There he was a factory worker, a paperboy, a translator, and, for the last few months, a house watchman. A physically weak man, he performed the hardest labors, and was content to. He lived an ascetic life, was kind to his friends, and fiercely loved the Yiddish word--but he thought often about himself, and about salvation. The more worn his soul and psyche became, the more he avoided people, friend and stranger alike. He punished himself for sins real--and imagined; he suffered from nightmares, physical and mental illness, yet he always tried to raise himself up, to make himself truthful, pious, and good.

To no avail. “By necessity,” Moyshe Varshe had long lived as a man already condemned.

He walked amongst the living like a stranger, terrifying them, he himself terrified, and on the night of April 22, 1912, he left us entirely. He left quietly, without speech, not saying “good-bye” nor a few last words, perhaps afraid that he would lie even in his last word. So was fulfilled Moyshe Varshe’s old and only desire: free and freed, tranquilly to go toward “the good, white angel of death.” Or perhaps, terrified, he threw himself into the arms of black death? Was this some blind and foolish chance, or perhaps a miracle came: a soul attained the honor of liberating itself from law and flesh, and from dust there came reality?

In publishing these papers, we are honoring no duty to the dead. We are thinking only of those who need to hear his words. Those are the souls, like him, who struggle. He was tempted, he fell--perhaps all his discourse of punishment will be, for them, a friendly greeting, a warning, or a weapon?

Pages dripping with the blood of a soul who wanted to live in truth eross over into the public sphere. Are they for everyone? No, they are for his people, those who want to hear, those who can yet hear. The rest--the strangers--whatever they may hear, they will not understand. Just one more thing: his soul has built a dwelling place upon its grave--it is not for the living. But we say: it is for the living, for every living human is in danger, and someone can, somehow, help them. Moyshe Varshe condemned himself. Whether his sentence was correct or not--in the depths of the heart, good eyes, bloodshot and tired, will accompany you as friends on the heavy path to truth.

Many thanks to the relatives and friends who made the publication of this book possible. This book--this collection of diary, scraps, verses, sayings, and words of his own and others’--which terrified, consoled, and nourished Moyshe Varshe.****

By Kolye Tepper and Zishe Landau

Translated by Corbin Allardice

*- Antopol is located in present-day Belarus. In fact, I have been there. The usage of “Lithuania” denotes the Jewish region “di Lite” which extends beyond the borders of modern Lithuania.

**- The Yiddish reads “der fergapeter,” presumably a variant of fargyapn, to stare vacantly.

***- On one foot, the Bund was the Jewish labor movement.

****- What I gloss as nourished is literally “strengthened.”

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