Confessions of a Yiddish Writer: Chava Rosenfarb

Resource Kit by
Goldie Morgentaler, Jennifer Young

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Chava Rosenfarb (1923-2011) was one of the most important Yiddish novelists of the post-War period. Born in Lodz, Poland, in 1923, she spent her high school years incarcerated with her family in the Lodz ghetto. It was here that she first became known as a writer. After the Lodz ghetto was liquidated, Rosenfarb survived both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, She spent several years as a Displaced Person in Brussels, where she began writing The Tree of Life, now her best-known work. In 1949, she married Heniek Morgentaler and the two emigrated to Canada, landing in Montreal in February 1950. There she gave birth to her first child, her daughter Goldie Morgentaler, who would later become a literature professor and a translator and champion of her mother’s work. Rosenfarb resumed her nascent literary career in Montreal, publishing volumes of poetry and a play, “The Bird of the Ghetto,” before writing a series of short stories exploring the afterlife of Holocaust survivors. These stories were primarily published in the Israeli literary journal, Di goldene keyt, between 1974-1995. In 1972, Rosenfarb published her three-volume epic, “The Tree of Life” (Der boym fun lebn). Her turn to prose attracted attention and accolades worldwide. In 1979, Rosenfarb was unanimously awarded one of Israel’s highest literary honors, the Manger Prize for 1979. 

In 1982, she followed with a two-volume prequel to that epic, entitled Bociany, the name of a Polish village. Rosenfarb’s work only began to be extensively translated and to receive critical attention in the year 2000, when Syracuse University Press, published Bociany as two separate novels Bociany and Of Lodz and Love. Chava Rosenfarb died January 30, 2011. Her archive can be found at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library of the University of Toronto.