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This report is taken from PN Review 181, Volume 34 Number 5, May - June 2008.

The Last Singer of the Ghetto Daniel Weissbort

Honoured recently for services to literary translation, I had prepared a thank-you speech; 'I don't know how...' Came a voice: 'Why not just say, Thank you!' Thank you, Five Leaves, for publishing a book devoted to A.N. [Avrom-Nokhem] Stencl (1897- 1983).

On the cover is a bird's-eye view of the Romanische Café in Berlin which Stencl patronised during his Berlin period, having quit Poland. From Berlin, he fled to England in 1936, living in the (then) Jewish East End of London and continuing to write in Yiddish, the vernacular of much of the district's immigrant population. I worked in the East End while Stencl was still living there, but I was unaware of the intellectual life of fellow Jews, not identifying with them but rather with the North West London escapees. However, my father, born in Silesia in the same year and place as Stencl, mentioned the poet's name and I found in his library a numbered pamphlet of one of Stencl's Yiddish poetry collections, London Sonnets, which father presumably bought from the author himself, perhaps outside the Yiddish Theatre in the Commercial Road where Stencl often sold copies of his books. I worked for a while in the family textile business, further along the Commercial Road, before going up to Cambridge and into England, and never returned to what I had not been a part of anyway - typical enough, of course; Stencl's life, decades before, was also typical enough. ...


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