Campus Life

Morgentaler brings Rosenfarb's work to surface

After discovering unpublished poetry translations of her own poems by her late mother - internationally recognized Yiddish novelist and Holocaust survivor Chava Rosenfarb - University of Lethbridge professor Dr. Goldie Morgentaler is sharing these poems, along with previously published poems, in a new book entitled Exile at Last.

In her lifetime, Chava Rosenfarb was recognized internationally for novels, poems and plays about the Holocaust, including The Tree of Life: A Trilogy of Life in the Lodz Ghetto, one of the seminal works on the Holocaust. Her international awards include the Prize of the Congress for Jewish Culture, the Sholem Aleichem Prize, the Atran Prize, the John Glassco Prize for Literary Translation and the Manger Prize - Israel's highest award for Yiddish literature.

Included with the poems is an introduction Rosenfarb had written for a poetry collection she was planning to publish in the early 1970s. For unknown reasons this collection was never published.

"My mother began her writing career as a poet. She published three books of poetry in Yiddish during her lifetime. She had always wanted this poetry to be available to English readers as well, which is why she translated most of the poems into English," says Morgentaler. "It is not clear to me why she never published these translations, but now that she is gone, I feel it is important for me to complete the job for her."

Rosenfarb was 16 when she and her family were interned in the Lodz ghetto after the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. When the ghetto was liquidated, she was deported to Auschwitz and later Bergen Belsen, before being liberated by British forces in 1945. After spending many homeless years in Europe, she moved to Canada in 1950, settling in Montreal.

As a child, Rosenfarb's father encouraged her to write about her experiences. Considering the impact of the years she spent in occupied Poland and in concentration camps, these themes became central to her life's works.

Exile at Last contains poems from all three of Rosenfarb's poetry books, including Di balade fun nekhtikn vald (The Ballad of Yesterday's Forest), Rosenfarb's first published collection of poems, composed when Rosenfarb was incarcerated in the Lodz ghetto. The book also contains more personal poems from Rosenfarb's last collection of poetry, Aroys fun gan eydn (Out of Paradise]. The poems are arranged to follow the chronological order of the events of Rosenfarb's life.

"My mother and I were more than mother and daughter. We were a team, a translating team. She did the writing in Yiddish and then we worked closely together on the translations," says Morgentaler. "I feel that I owe her a debt and that debt can only be repaid by publishing her work in English – something she clearly wanted, despite her love of and fidelity to Yiddish, the language of her lost, annihilated home."

Morgentaler is a Professor of English at the U of L where she teaches 19th Century British and American literature, as well as Jewish literature. She is the translator of much of Rosenfarb's work including the play The Bird of the Ghetto, which was staged by the Threshold Theatre of Toronto in the fall of 2012. She was the translator in collaboration with the author of the three volumes of Rosenfarb's The Tree of Life: A Trilogy of Life in the Lodz Ghetto. Her translation of Rosenfarb's book of short stories, Survivors: Seven Short Stories, won the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award in 2005 and the Modern Language Association's Fenia and Yaakov Leviant Memorial Prize in Yiddish Studies in 2006.

The book, published by Guernica Editions, is now on sale at Chapters and at the U of L bookstore, and can be ordered from amazon and directly from the publisher at:

NOTE: Chava Rosenfarb was recognized by the University of Lethbridge in 2006 when she was presented with an honorary degree. Rosenfarb delivered an incredibly powerful address which can be viewed by following this link.