Born in 1900 in what was then Austrian Poland, Deborah Vogel became a leading Yiddish poet between the world wars. She gave crucial encouragement to another Polish Jew—the writer and artist Bruno Schulz—when he was on the verge of giving up on his literary career, although she rejected his proposal of marriage. Vogel was murdered by the Nazis in 1942, along with her husband, mother, and baby son. Mersiha Bruncevic writes:
While her childhood was spent in a small-town milieu of the Galician provinces, the outbreak of World War I in her adolescence meant the family had to move. They relocated to Vienna where Vogel went to an Austrian school. Eventually, the family moved permanently to Lviv, [by then part of newly independent Poland]. But Vogel continued wandering, attending university in Cracow and traveling frequently to Paris, Berlin, and Stockholm, and establishing lasting correspondences with New York City’s vibrant community of Yiddish modernist artists and writers, contributing regularly with both poems and essays to the literary journals Inzikh and Bodn.
It is exceptional to come across a body of high-quality literary work fluently composed in several languages. Yet the sum of Vogel’s work, written in Polish, German, Hebrew, and Yiddish, shows exactly that. Her family was an intellectual, secular family and they spoke Polish at home. Both her mother and father were teachers of Hebrew, which was passed on to Vogel and she quickly became as proficient as her parents. Those educationally formative years spent in Vienna meant that she mastered the German language impeccably; her first poems were written in German. While her parents showed no interest in Yiddish for various reasons, it was when Vogel picked up Yiddish in her twenties that she found her truest tongue.
The unreal atmosphere and disproportion of her poetic universe was, at the time of publication, often interpreted as surrealism, a dominant artistic movement in the 1920s and 30s. Vogel refuted this, claiming that while seemingly unreal, her poems were not surreal. She compared them instead to the paintings of Marc Chagall, whom she had met in Paris. Her impressions of the painter and his work can be found in an essay called “Theme and Form in Chagall’s Work (an Aesthetic Critique).”