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Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History
Vilniaus Gaono Žydų Istorijos Muziejus



Published: 2024-04-02
The exhibited sketch of the portrait of the prose writer Moyshe Levin, a member of the group of avant-garde Yiddish writers and artists Yung Vilne (Yiddish – Young Vilnius, 1929–1941), serves as a connection between two prominent figures of Lithuanian Jewish culture –  artist Benzion Mikhtom and prose writer Moyshe Levin.
Moyshe Levin, Acc. No. VŽM 7854-72 
Moyshe Levin (born in 1908 in Vilnius, murdered in 1942 in Minskas) was a prose writer and a member of the Yung Vilne group. The subject matter of his short stories was determined by his keen eye and his analysis of the everyday life of the poor Jews of Vilnius. The writer himself lived totally immersed in this mundane life. The problem of social exclusion and protest was highly topical in Levin's works.
In 1937, in Vilnius he published a collection of short and humorous stories Friling in kelershtub (Yiddish – Spring in the Basement), representing the movement of realistic social criticism and naturalism among the writers of Yung Vilne. The prototypes of Levin's characters were coachmen, glassmakers, tailors, labourers, and poor young people. All the characters were taken from his home environment, and more than once the readers of Levin's short stories recognized themselves being part of the plot created by the writer.
Benzion Mikhtom (born in 1908 in Vilnius, murdered in 1941 in Vilnius) was a painter, graphic artist, and theatre artist. He studied art at Stephen Bathory University, Faculty of Fine Arts in Vilnius.
Benzion Mikhtom, Acc. No. VŽM 7854-69
From 1926 to 1929, as an unattached university student, he was a member of the Yung Vilne group and a member of the Vilnius Jewish Artists' Society. From 1929 to 1940 Mikhtom took part in exhibitions, and created the emblems of the Yung Vilne group and the Maidim Jewish Puppet Theatre of Vilnius.
Benzion Mikhtom was shot to death between 31 August and 2 September 1941 during the so-called Great Provocation, and even before the establishment of the Vilna Ghetto. The works of Benzion Mikhtom survived thanks to Jewish cultural workers who hid and preserved them in the Vilna Ghetto.
Although many other artists such as Rachel Sutzkever, Sheina Efron, and Rafael Chwoles, also were members of the Yung Vilne group, the Yung Vilne almanacs and the collections published by the writers of the group were mostly illustrated by Mikhtom.
Several works by Benzion Mikhtom are exhibited at the Museum of Culture and Identity of Lithuanian Jews, which is a branch of the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History. There are plans to hold an exhaustive virtual exhibition of Mikhtom's works on the Museum’s website.
Benzion Mikhtom. Portrait of the novelist Moyshe Levin. Sketch, paper, graphite pencil. 1930s. Signed in the lower right corner Acc. No. VŽM 861 
Prepared by Ilona Murauskaitė, Head of the Collections Department
© Photo of Benzion Mikhtom's sketch courtesy of Paulius Račiūnas
© From the collections of VGMJH
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