Monday, September 12, 2005

RIP Majer Bogdanski

Majer Bogdanski has died.

Majer Bogdanski was so may things: a great East End character, one of the last of the East End's working class Jews, a living witness of the horrors of the twentieth century, a wonderful musician, a keeper of the flame of Yiddish culture and language as a living culture and language, and a keeper of the flame of ethical, democratic socialism. The Yiddishist Heather Valencia has a nice obituary in The Guardian today, concluding with these lovely words: "Majer Bogdanski, tailor, musician and folklorist, born July 14 1912; died September 4 2005."

Majer was involved in the pre-war Bundist movement in Poland, He fought in the war against fascism, in the Polish army and then in the British army in Italy. He spent nearly two years in Soviet labour camps, which honed the anti-Stalinism that he had already breathed in from the Bund. he came to London after the war, which had been the headquarters of some of the Bundists associated with the Polish government in exile, such as the martyred Shmuel Zygielbojm.

Following the Bundist principle of doykayt - hereness, a commitment to the here and now - he remained in the East End long after most Jews had departed, fighting against racism and for the Labour Party alongside Bengali comrades. And he was also a fixture in the Jewish scholarly scene, puncturing the pretensions of academics with his autodidact's wisdom - although often knodding off during more boring lectures in his later years. He was a guiding spirit in Fraynt fun Yidish, Friends of Yiddish, which continues to meet on shabes in Toynbee Hall - inheriting the mantle of the great poet Avrom Stencl and associating with the likes of Kafka's last love Dora Diamant.

He can be heard on some of the records of Oi-Va-Voi and Budowitz (click links for mp3s). He can be seen in the extraordinary film about photographer Sharon Chazan, Not Enough Distance. He had a walk-on part in some of the work of Rachel Lichtenstein and Iain Sinclair. He was a regular contributor to Jewish Socialist.

Mayer Bogdanski, Majer Bogdansky
Related links: Bill Fishman and Rudolf Rocker at Five Leaves Publishing, Joseph Leftwich at Wikipedia, Dia-pozytyw: Marek Edelman, The Musical Legacy of the Jewish Labor Bund
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