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......Born in Ponevezh on 14 October 1903, Fram received a traditional
education in his earliest years, supplementing his studies with
instruction from private tutors. At the outbreak of World War 1, when
the Jews were expelled by tsarist decree from the Pale of Settlement,
Fram and his family were cast adrift in Samara (now Kuibyshev) in
Russia. There he studied in the Russian gymnasium at Lomanosov, and at
the age of eighteen he published his first poem, in Russian, in a
student journal. Proleptically, in terms of what would become the
abiding emotional concerns of his later work, it was entitled "Zima"
(Winter). In 1921, having matriculated at a Soviet workers' school, he
returned to Ponevezh, but since the Lithuanian government refused to
recognise Soviet educational qualifications, he entered the Yiddish
gymnasium in Vilkomir in 1922. While studying there, he lived in the
house and under the tutelage of the great Yiddish linguist, Yudl Mark,
who exerted a profound literary influence on him. Pursuing his
determination to write, he had his work accepted in the literary
_Kiten_ (Blossoms) edited by David Kot, contributed regularly to
Yiddish newspapers, notably _Yidish shtime_, _Nayes_, _Dos lebn_, and
the prestigious Warsaw weekly _Literarishe bleter_. However, only with
the appearance of his long poem, "Reb Yoshe in zayn gortn" (Reb Yoshe
in his Garden), in New York's _Oyfkum_ in 1927 did Fram truly enter the
international world of Yiddish poetry. [2]

In 1926 the restlessness that was to characterise his whole life drove
Fram to France, where he joined his four sisters, all long-standing
members of the vibrant Yiddish-speaking community of Paris, in whose
midst writers and artists - Marc Chagall among them - flourished. To
further his studies, he enrolled at the agricultural college of the
University of Toulouse, but remained there only three months. He knew
little French, Toulouse was too small for him to fulfil his
he yearned for Paris . But even in the City of Lights he could find no
rest, and in 1927 an uncle in Johannesburg sent him a boat fare to join
him. Thus, almost by chance, Africa gained one of her greatest Yiddish

Heir to Lithuania's rich creative legacy, and possessed of a delicate
poetic sensibility, Fram was at first dislocated and jarred by the
contrasts of his new surroundings. Gold and sunshine, endless blue
skies, the disturbing and legislatively enforced discrimination between
the opportunities offered to whites and those withheld from blacks, all
reinforced his longing for the soft landscapes and gentle homeliness of
Lithuania. In the first poem he ever wrote in South Africa, "Vert den
gringer derfun?" ('Is there any relief?'), the poet expressed a pained
awareness of that brutal inequality between the races which
characterised life under white hegemony in South Africa:

vert den gringer amol, az gebentsht iz dos land
mit a zuniker gob - glaykh an ofener hant,
vos tseshenkt un tseteylt, un farteylt, un tseshit
mit a koyf, on a mos un fun keynem bahit?

un fun shefe un gob, fun tsekvolener erd
iz nisht alemen glaykh tsu genisn bashert,
un der, vos farzeyt un vos shaft un vos boyt -
iz bagrenetst in zun un ba'avelt in broyt .

iz den gringer derfun, az es tsaytikt di troyb,
un es gildert a shtral vu-nisht-vu oyf a shoyb? -
az oyf shoybn a sakh iz farloshn di zun,
vert den gringer derfun?

['Where lies the comfort which sorrow displaces,
To see how the sunlight teems through each day
And gifts with a glow the echoing spaces,
And calls to all nature to join in the play?
And wherever you glance you are filled with remorse -
Men give and men take and still more accrue,
And hands with abundance are swollen and coarse
But meagre the measure to those that it's due.

What balm for the heart if an earlier spring
Ripens vines or illumines some windowpanes
If to many a window no sunbeams cling?
What balm for the heart?...'] [3]

Fram longed for his birthplace, and mourned her in numerous poems.
One of them, later to provide the title of his last anthology,
recalled his vanished life on the farm of his childhood:

oyf mayn dakh hot amol nokh getsvitshert a shvalb,
un in shtub hot geshmekt mit tsufridenem broyt,
un in shtal hot der friling geboyrn a kalb,
un in kleyt hot gefoylt nokh faryoriker kroyt .

umetum, yeder trot, yeder eyntsiker shpan
hot gekvoln mit zun un geotemt mit freyd.
oyfn taykh iz gefaln farnakht a tuman,
un mit varemer erd hot fun felder geveyt.

['A swallow once twittered and chirped on my roof,
While the scent of contentment pervaded the house,
In the stable the springtime delivered a calf,
And last season's cabbage decayed in the barn.

Everywhere, every pace, every single footstep
Swelled out in the sun and breathed only with joy.
On the river the twilight was cloaked in a fog,
And the warm scent of earth blew direct from the fields.'] [4]

This preoccupation with times and places past and gone called forth
sharp rebukes from critics in South Africa, notably the strong-minded
Yiddishist Rakhmiel Feldman (1897-1968), who believed passionately that
new immigrants should immerse themselves totally in the life and values
of their new home, and become one with Africa and its challenges.
Though Fram cherished Lithuania and grieved that he had been driven
another kind of exile, his creative resilience showed itself capable,
when forced, of finding in every new environment in which he settled a
fresh source of creative inspiration, and he was soon able to respond
the challenge which critics like Feldman threw at him. He was to spend
the rest of his troubled life, artistically and socially, trying to
himself one with Africa.

As the poet was steadily drawn into his new milieu, the stark contrast
between the landscapes of Africa and those of his birthplace began to
move him. Songs of nostalgia were replaced by vigorous responses to
local stimuli, and Fram now earnestly began t o address himself to what
had now become his great ambition: "To enrich Yiddish literature," as
he told Meylekh Ravitch, "with an entire continent." [5]

His first anthology, _Lider un Poemes_ ('Songs and Poems') was
from funds collected by a committee in Johannesburg under the
of the Chief Rabbi, Dr J L Landau, [6] and was published in Vilna in
1931. From the first, two distinct poetic impulses could be detected
Fram's work. His natural talent was lyrical, but he felt a strong
inclination towards the epic mode, moved by a desire to cover the
possible canvas with philosophical and sociological speculation.
Perhaps he felt that the lyric was too narrow a compass for the strong
feelings which surged within him: before him, after all, lay always
towering example of Khayim Nakhman Bialik, with whom he
had briefly been in correspondence. This conflict of impulses, and the
concomitant search for proper poetic expression to which they
continually gave rise, dominated all of Fram's subsequent work, and
never resolved itself. For Meylekh Ravitsh, he was essentially
"a lyric poet in the fullest sense of t he word." [7] For another
critic, S. Zaramb, however, "he is essentially an epic poet . Fram has
undertaken the task of re-creating in poetry that which history has
ruined." [8]

Whatever the final judgment might be about which was truly Fram's
metier, he enriched both with his multi-faceted work, bringing Africa
whole and vibrant into Yiddish poetry for the first time.

His was a talent engendered of the times into which he was born, and
nurtured by his wanderlust. It was a talent that needed the constant
stimulation of others. In the 1930s he became a founder member of The
Unicorn, a society of young Johannesburg writers, painters and
sculptors who met every afternoon in the East African Pavilion, a
well-known upmarket cafe, to share ideas about starting their own
magazine and forming a club modelled on Moscow's famous Stoila Pegasa.
[9] Among the regulars at these gatherings were artists who were later
to gain considerable distinction in their different fields in South
Africa: poets like Vincent Swart and Uys Krige, and visual artists
Alexis Preller, Lippy Lipschitz and Irma Stern. Lipschitz sculpted
Fram's bust; Stern painted his portrait and corresponded with him for
some time.[10]

Fram enjoyed considerable success in his literary work in South Africa.
In addition to his poetry, he scored a minor triumph with two operettas
for which he wrote the book and lyrics; Hirsch Ichilchik and Francis
Boehr were responsible for the music of both: _A tsigayner fantasia_
('A Gypsy Fantasy') performed in Johannesburg in February 1932, and
Fordsburg biz Parktown_ ('From Fordsburg to Parktown'), a satire of
upward Jewish mobility, performed a year later in July 1933. Both
productions were sponsored jointly by Leon Behrman and Rakhmiel
and Fram himself made enough money out of them to settle in London a
years later. At this time, also, Fram became active as a Yiddish
journalist and editor. In July 1933 he was appointed Yiddish editor of
Boris Gershman's _Afrikaner Yidishe Tsaytung_ jointly with Arthur
Markowitz as English editor. This partnership lasted until August 1934
when Fram resigned to join Abel Shaban in the founding of a new Yiddish
newspaper, _Der Yidisher Ekspres_. This weekly, which appeared
regularly in Johannesburg between 1935-1937, was soon forced into
bankruptcy and closure, but bespoke the enthusiasm and vigour with
Fram plunged into the artistic and cultural life of South Africa.

His restlessness would not grant him zitsfleysh. He left Johannesburg
on his first visit to London in 1934, where one of his most interesting
jobs was doing research in the British Museum for Alexander Korda and
Carol Reed who were then working on their f ilm of _Jew Suess_.
before the outbreak of Hitler's War, Fram returned to South Africa,
where he passed the black days of the Holocaust. This terrifying
produced two of his finest poems, _Efsher_ ('Perhaps') and _Dos letste
kapitl_ ('The Last Chapter'), both published in London in 1947 by the
Jewish Journalists and Authors Association. _Efsher_ originates in
autobiography, charting that spiritual disquiet of which Fram's
wanderings had simply been the outward manifestations. Most of the
deals with South Africa, and describes the growth of white domination,
especially after the discovery of gold on the Reef. The very title of
the poem expresses the poet's grave doubts about the validity of all
accepted values. _Dos letste kapitl_, regarded by many as his finest
work, is Fram's sanctification of the martyrs of the Holocaust. A
lament for the destruction of Jewish life in Lithuania, it recalls an
harmonious - and largely mythic - time when Jew and Christian lived
peaceably in brotherhood. The reality proved itself shockingly

['O Lithuania, I had looked to you
To help the hunted Lithuanian Jew.
But joining the hunters, with upraised own hand,
You struck down the brother born in your own land.
You allied yourself with the bloody invader,
Transforming yourself into robber and raider.']

The poet, horrified at the destruction of his dream, is torn between
love for the land in which he was born, and the fearful realisation
its native inhabitants - the very Lithuanian Christians he had longed
call "brothers" - were enemies of the Jews as implacable as the
Germans, as hateful, treacherous, and murderous. Now the poet is cut
off from the past to float in a present limbo of eternal pain:

['Of the friends of my childhood, the men I once knew,
Is not left alive one Lithuanian Jew.
What have I there now without Jewish young,
Without Jewish song, without Jewish tongue,
Without Jewish scholars, without Jewish lore,
With no Jewish heart and no Jewish door?
Of my Lithuania there is left to me
Only a desolate vast cemetery.'] [11]

By contrast with the inner turmoil of his troubled spirit, in his
life Fram always appeared closely in touch with day-to-day realities.
The advent to power in South Africa of the Afrikaner National Party
under D.F. Malan in 1948 understandably caused the greatest
consternation among South African Jews, because of the violently
anti-Semitic pronouncements before and during the war of Afrikaner
Nationalist leaders, formerly outspoken supporters of Hitler and the
Nazi Party, who now became members of the Cabinet. When the Afrikaans
poet and journalist Ignatius Mocke wrote to the South African Jewish
Times on 16 July 1948, contending that the Nationalist Afrikaner was
anti-Semitic, and that South African Jews had nothing to fear from the
country' s new government, Fram responded in a strong letter, which

"We Jews have nothing against pure nationalism. When nationalism,
however, gets out of bounds and begins to mix with ugly chauvinism,
racialism, with self-aggrandisement and empty pride, then it becomes a
danger not only to the Nationalist Party itself, and not only to the
suffering victims of ugly chauvinism, but to the country and the people
as a whole." [12]

These two letters generated a vigorous debate, the issues of which,
considerably oversimplified and sentimentalised in his own typical
spirit of hoping against hope, were summarised by the gifted writer
Herman Charles Bosman, then working as a journalist on the South
Jewish Times:

"...what I regard as of particular significance is the fact that it is
couple of poets, Mocke and Fram, who have initiated this discussion and
who have displayed a deeper sense of realism (because their approach to
the question has been romantic) than almost any of the Jewish and
Afrikaner politicians have revealed to date. The artist when he acts
accordance with his emotions gets pretty near, I believe, in this way,
to the fundamental verities." [13]

The upshot was that from November 1948, Fram was invited by Mocke to
edit an English section of his apolitical Afrikaans journal _Horison_
which, founded in 1942 with a substantial readership of 22 000, had as
its expressed aim "the ideal of racial tolerance and goodwill" carrying
"articles on the literary and artistic achievement of all South
peoples - aimed at mutual enlightenment." Despite the devastatingly
disillusioning experience of Lithuania, Fram retained his idealistic
belief in the possibility of cultural tolerance between Jews and
Gentiles. In an interview published in the influential Afrikaans Cape
daily, _Die Burger_, on Friday 22 October 1948, he made the comparison,
so often noted by other South African Yiddish writers, between the
struggle for survival of both Afrikaans and Yiddish:

"Afrikaans culture [like that of Yiddish] has a greater attraction for
me than the present culture of any language that I know . In both cases
[in our struggle for cultural survival] we are surrounded by a greater
and stronger culture against which we fight."

But, like so much in South Africa, this ideal was never realised. Lack
of funds prevented the journal _Horison_ from continuing, and
political developments in South Africa widened, rather than closed that
gap between English- and Afrikaans- speaking whites in South Africa,
the creation of which had from the outset been the avowed policy of the
National Party, which had long detested J.C. Smuts's policies of
conciliation, and militantly enforced an ideology of Afrikaner

Fram continued to write, but his life was as restless as ever. He
in diamonds and Persian carpets during the war years, enterprises which
made him wealthy for a while and enabled him to become a farmer in the
Hekpoort district of what was then the Transvaal province. For a time
it seemed as if he might take root there, for Hekpoort provided an
environment nostalgically reminiscent of his grandfather the farmer,
whose life he had celebrated in his long idyll, "Baym zeydn" ('At
Grandfather's').[14] I n a poem of rarely expressed hope, he gladly
exchanged city for country life in an exhausted quest for

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