Thursday, 25 June 2015


YANKEV GORDON (April 14, 1902-January 1944)
            He was born in Vilna and came from a merchant household.  Over the years 1912-1915, he studied in the private high school of P. Cohen.  During the years of WWI, when the high school was forced to evacuate from Vilna, he studied with private tutors.  At the end of 1918, he began studying in the eighth class of the Vilna school for boys of the “Khevre mefitse haskole” (Society for the promotion of enlightenment [among the Jews of Russia]), and graduated in July 1919.  Over the years 1920-1926, he studied philosophy, history, and psychology at Hamburg University.  With the assistance of the Hermann Cohen Foundation at the Academy of the Science of Judaism, his doctoral dissertation, Der Ichbegriff bei Hegel, bei Cohen und in der suedwestdeutschen Schule hinsichtlich der Kategorienlehre untersucht (A study of the I-notion in Hegel, in Cohen, and in the southwest German school in terms of category theory), part 1: “Der Begriff des denkens bei Hegel und Cohen” (The concept of thought in Hegel and Cohel) was published (Hamburg, 1926).  This study attracted the attention of Professor Albert Einstein.  In 1927 he returned to Vilna.  He worked together with YIVO, 1929-1933, initially in the bibliographical section and later in the archives.  Over the years 1935-1939, he worked for the publishers “Rosenkranz and Schriftsezer.”  Together with Arn Mark and Y. Gezuntheyt, he edited (1934-1936) Etyudn (Studies), a periodical concerned with problems of culture and life.  With the discontinuation of Etyudn, he served as editor of the Vilna serial Kultur un problemen (Culture and issues).  Gordon published his work in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish in such serials as: Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw; Vilner tog (Vilna day); Moznaim (Scales) in Tel Aviv; Wiadomości literackie (Literary news) in Warsaw.  He contributed a treatise to Spinoza bukh, tsum drayhundertstn geboyrnyor fun benedictus de spinoza, 1632-1932 (Spinoza volume, toward the 300th anniversary of the birth of Benedict de Spinoza, 1832-1932), edited by Yankev Shatski (New York, 1932); it also appeared in Yivo-bleter (Leaves from YIVO) 5.3-5.  Among the important works that he published in various periodicals and journals were: “Der krizes fun der moderner filosofye” (The crisis in modern philosophy); “Filosofish-psikhologishe skitsn” (Philosophical-psychological sketches); “Der tsugang tsum bukh” (The approach to the book); “Klugshaft un kinstlerishe intuitsye” (Wisdom and artistic intuition); “Fremder un fremdkeyt” (Strangers and alienation); “Di problem fun geshikhte un der mekhanisher materyalizm” (The problem of history and mechanical materialism); “Denken, redn, shraybn” (Think, speak, write); “Fremdkeyt” (Alienation); “Fridrikh engels” (Friedrich Engels); “Der marksistisher bagrif fun der geshikhte” (The Marxist concept of history); “Der marksistisher bagrif fun yokhed un mase” (The Marxist concept of individual and masses); and “Fragn un misfarshteyenishn” (Questions and misunderstandings), among others.  All of these writings were published in the years 1934-1936.  He was also the translator of Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, which was typeset but not published because of the war.  During WWII, Gordon lived under German occupation in Vilna.  From June 1941 he was on the Vilna “Judenrat” (Jewish council).  Later, he was in Beutelager.  Although he lived in hunger and want, he continued his literary and scholarly work.  He later worked for YIVO.  He had to prepare a series of translations from Yiddish and Hebrew into German.  He submitted his work to the managing committee of the “Literary Association” in the Vilna ghetto, and it proposed to a representative from YIVO, Yankev Gens, to pay him 800 rubles to cover the cost for the printer’s sheet, so as to mitigate a bit his severe material privation.  In the ghetto he penned a work entitled “Vos iz taytsh di spetsifishkeyt fun der geshikhte? a. gezelshaft un perzon” (What is meant by the specificity of history? A. Society and the individual).  In 1943, one month before the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto, Gordon was deported to the Vaivara Camp in Estonia.  From hunger and dislocation, he became ill there with dysentery and died.  (According to other sources, he died in the camp at Klooga, Estonia.)  Many of his works remain in manuscript, among them a work concerning Friedrich Nietzsche, entitled “Der goen fun zelbstrefleksye” (The genius of self-reflexion).

Sources: Sh. Katsherginski, Khurbn vilne (The Holocaust in Vilna) (New York, 1947); written information from his widow Gite Gordon in Israel.

Zaynvil Diamant

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