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A leading American Zionist and observer of international Jewish life, Marie Syrkin died at 89 on this date in 1989. Syrkin was the daughter of Nachman Syrkin, a leading theoretician of Socialist Zionism, and Bassya Osnos Syrkin, a revolutionary, and led a peripatetic life through most of her childhood. She was a founder of Jewish Frontier, a labor Zionist publication, in 1934, and its editor-in-chief from 1948 to 1973. Syrkin’s 1947 book, Blessed Is the Match, was the first scholarly book on Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. She also published the first exposé of Stalin’s Moscow Trials of 1937 (in Jewish Frontier) and wrote the first editorial in the American press to make clear that “a policy of systematic murder of innocent [Jewish] civilians” was underway in lands under Nazi domination, “which in its ferocity, its dimensions and its organization is unique in the history of mankind . . .” Always an independent thinker, Syrkin both defended the state of Israel from calumny and signed Peace Now’s first statement. She was Brandeis University’s first female professor of an academic subject (English) and developed there the first U.S. university course about literature of the Holocaust. Among her three husbands was the poet Charles Reznikoff, who predeceased her by thirteen years; Syrkin was herself a poet who published Gleanings: A Diary in Verse at the age of 80.
“Her life touched almost every significant aspect of Jewish life in America and Europe in the twentieth century with the exception of the religious. She is among the most important American Jewish women of the twentieth century, a peer of Golda Meir and Henrietta Szold.” —Carole Kessner, Syrkin’s biographer, at the Jewish Women’s Archive