Der Nister (1884 in Berdichev, Ukraine – 1950 the Soviet Gulag) was the penname of Pinchas Kahanovich, a Yiddish author, philosopher, translator, and critic.
Der Nister was born in Berdichev to a Hasidic family of merchants. He received a traditional religious education, but was drawn through his reading to secular and Enlightenment ideas, as well as to Zionism. Forced to avoid the military draft to the Imperial Russian Army, he hid in Zhitomir, where he earned a modest living as a tutor at an orphanage for Jewish boys orphaned by anti-Semitic pogroms. Even in his earliest works, he was drawn to the arcane teachings of the Kabbalah and to the intense use of symbols in his writings. This is reflected in the pseudonym he adopted, ‘’Der Nister” (in English, “The Hidden One”).
In 1921, in the wake of the Russian Revolution, Der Nister left Russia and settled in Germany. While living in Berlin, he published his first two collections of stories. In 1927, he returned to the Soviet Union, where his symbol-laden work, rich in Jewish themes, was declared reactionary by the Soviet regime and its literary critics. As a result, he stopped publishing his original works and earned a living as a journalist.
During World War II, the Soviet government briefly adopted a more liberal approach to writings that it considered to promote Jewish nationalism. Der Nister began writing again, describing the persecution and destruction of the Jewish communities in Europe under the Nazi regime, and hinting at Soviet persecution as well. He was arrested in 1949 and sent to a prison camp, where he got ill and died the following year.