Yiddish poet Rokhl Korn (née Rachel Herring), was born in 1898 in a small Galician village. She was raised in an affluent family on an expansive rural estate, in the company of many books and diverse languages. Korn published her first stories and poems in Polish until 1919 when, dismayed by the destruction of Jewish life during World War I, she switched to Yiddish. She was immediately recognized for her distinctly passionate style and her ease in transitioning from Jewish to non-Jewish content, and from poetry about nature to poetry about love.
In the 1920s Korn became deeply involved in the movement to preserve Yiddish literary culture within an overwhelmingly Polish-speaking intellectual majority. She contributed to a journal edited by the poet Melech Ravitch, with whom she would later re-connect in Montreal, and published several well-received volumes of Yiddish poetry, including Dorf (Village, 1928) and Royter mon (Red Poppies, 1937).
In 1941, Korn fled Poland for the Soviet Union, where she remained until after the war. Then, through a Swedish royal contact, Korn won visas for herself and other Yiddish writers to move to Stockholm. In 1948, she permanently relocated to Montreal, which at that time was one of the most dynamic Yiddish intellectual centres in the world. Her passage was sponsored by the Yiddish poet, Ida Maze. Korn arrived in Montreal a literary celebrity, and continued publishing books for more than three decades.
Though Korn occasionally wrote on Canadian themes, her later poetry remained preoccupied with her past life in Europe and all that had been lost. Her first book of verse published after this move was revealingly titled Heym un heymlozikayt (Home and Homelessness, 1948), in the beginning of which she wrote, “This book is dedicated to all my dead.” As her fellow Montreal Yiddish poet Chava Rosenfarb wrote, “For [Korn], being in Canada meant being at home within the immeasurable expanse of her loneliness.” By the 1960s, Korn had begun to employ Canadian and even Zionist themes her poetry, though usually in the context of the wider theme of loneliness.
During her lifetime, Korn’s work was translated into a number of languages and continues to be read around the world. She died in Montreal in 1982.
Compiled by Richard Kreitner
Anctil, Pierre, Norman Ravvin and Sherry Simon. New Readings of Yiddish Montreal. Ottawa: Ottawa University Press, 2007.
Frank, Esther. “Rokhl Korn.”YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. 19 Aug. 2010.
Korn, Rachel H., et al. Generations: Selected Poems. Oakville: Mosaic/Valley Editions, 1982.
Levitan, Seymour. Paper Roses: Selected Poems of Rokhl Korn. Toronto: Aya Press, 1985.
Rosenfarb, Chava. Yiddish Poets in Canada. Toronto: Benben Publications, 1993.
*Images courtesy of Jewish Public Library - Archives.