WARSAW, Poland — The daughters of a Yiddish writer persecuted under communism reclaimed copies of his works on Tuesday following a prolonged legal fight with a Polish archive to establish their ownership.
The letters, newspaper articles and poems by Naftali Herts Kon, whose real name was Jakub Serf, were deposited with the City of Warsaw Archives by communist authorities after he was sentenced to prison on fabricated charges, in 1963. After 15 months in confinement, Kon left for Israel where he died in 1971.
On Tuesday, his daughters received the papers – in 15 cream-colored file folders – from archives director Janina Gregorowicz, in the first such case ever for the archives.
"It is a bittersweet moment, a fantastic feeling," said Ina Lancman. "I can imagine my father is smiling now."
In a room at the archives, Lancman, her sister Vita Serf and their lawyer laboriously went through all the papers to make sure everything was there. Some documents were handwritten, but most were typed, with later handwritten edits, in Yiddish.
Born in what is now Ukraine, Kon spent time in Soviet labor camps for criticizing communism in his writings. In 1959 he came to Poland with his wife Lisa and daughters and worked as a journalist, reporting from there and Romania about the persecution of political opponents and Jews.
He was arrested in December 1960 on fabricated charges of spying for Israel, which were later downgraded to hostile propaganda. All his works were confiscated in a home search, though a court had never authorized their seizure.
"When I look at these papers, I can see him writing. He was very disorganized, he wrote on everything, on serviettes, on slips of paper," Serf said.
"It is all coming back to me now. The day of the arrest. How they searched through his papers in his room. They could not read Yiddish so they packed everything away. It was all so full of aggression," she said.
It took them two years of fighting, but in October, a Warsaw court ruled that the writings lawfully belonged to Kon's family and should be returned.
Lancman, a retired chemist and her sister, a retired textile industry engineer, want to have Kon's writings translated into English and published, to make their father's work better known.