Posts tagged Shlomo Mikhoels.

Soviet Yiddish writer Itsik Fefer, singer/actor/activist Paul Robeson, and the legendary Soviet Yiddish actor Solomon Mikhoels at the Soviet Consulate, 1943. (via Milken Archive)

The American concert singer and actor Paul Robeson met Feffer on July 8, 1943 in New York during a Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee event chaired by Albert Einstein, one of the largest pro-Soviet rallies ever held in the United States. After the rally, Paul Robeson and his wife Eslanda Robeson, befriended Feffer and Mikhoels.

Six years later, in June 1949, during the 150th anniversary celebration of the birth of Alexander Pushkin, Robeson visited the Soviet Union to sing in concert. According to David Horowitz,

"In America, the question ‘What happened to Itzhak Feffer?’ entered the currency of political debate. There was talk in intellectual circles that Jews were being killed in a new Soviet purge and that Feffer was one of them. It was to quell such rumors that Robeson asked to see his old friend, but he was told by Soviet officials that he would have to wait. Eventually, he was informed that the poet was vacationing in the Crimea and would see him as soon as he returned. The reality was that Feffer had already been in prison for three years, and his Soviet captors did not want to bring him to Robeson immediately because he had become emaciated for lack of food. While Robeson waited in Moscow, Stalin’s police brought Feffer out of prison, put him the care of doctors, and began fattening him up for the interview. When he looked sufficiently healthy, he was brought to Moscow. The two men met in a room that was under secret surveillance. Feffer knew he could not speak freely. When Robeson asked how he was, he drew his finger nervously across his throat and motioned with his eyes and lips to his American comrade. They’re going to kill us, he said. When you return to America you must speak out and save us.

During his concert in Tchaikovsky Hall on June 14 - which was broadcast across the entire country - Robeson publicly paid tribute to Feffer and the late Mikhoels, singing the Vilna Partisan song “Zog Nit Keynmol" in both Russian and Yiddish. Recordings of the concert survived but Robeson’s spoken words are lost.

(via Wikipedia)

Itsik Fefer and Shlomo Mikhoels meet with Albert Einstein. Princeton, 1943. (via YIVO Archives)

Itsik Fefer (1900–1952), Yiddish poet. Born in Shpola, Ukraine, Itsik Fefer was 12 years old when he began to work at a printing shop. In 1917 he joined the Bund and became a trade union activist. A Communist from 1919, he served in the Red Army. He began writing poems in 1918, and in 1922 joined Vidervuks (New Growth) in Kiev, a group of young Yiddish literati whose mentor was Dovid Hofshteyn.

Fefer was known for his literary credo of proste reyd (simple speech), a concept he formulated in 1922. In the early 1920s, poetry, particularly avant-garde poetry, swamped the literary pages of Soviet Yiddish periodicals. This phenomenon worried editors and critics, who were wary of the fact that Yiddish readers usually could not identify with this style of literature. All Yiddish readers, by contrast, could understand Fefer’s proste reyd.

Fefer published his poetic cycle Bliendike mistn (Manure in Bloom) in 1929, which he presented as a travelogue of a trip he took back to Shpola. He believed that the shtetl could be revitalized as a center of Jewish life and culture and could be the grounds for a new Soviet Jewish nation. Yet his poetic eye did not overlook general industrialization projects, and he was happy to see young Jewish men and women among the romantic builders of Communist society. In the 1930s, Fefer also concentrated on the Birobidzhan nation-building project; his book Birobidzhaner lider (Birobidzhan Poems) was published in 1939. At the same time, he wrote many lyrical poems, some of which were set to music.

During World War II, Fefer was an agent of the secret police on the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC). In 1943, he and Solomon Mikhoels, the committee’s chair, visited the United States, Canada, Mexico, and England, successfully mobilizing pro-Soviet support. National pride runs through his poetry of that period. The poem “Ikh bin a Yid” (I Am a Jew) is the best-known sample of such Soviet Jewish patriotism. Fefer includes in his Soviet Jewish genealogy such figures as Bar Kokhba, King Solomon, Baruch Spinoza, Isaak LevitanIakov Sverdlov, and Lazar Kaganovich. In his 1948 poem “A vending tsu Peretsn” (An Address to Peretz), Fefer declares a pedigree of Soviet Yiddish literature. He crowns Y. L. Peretz as the genius of Yiddish literature, whereas Sholem Aleichem, the central figure in the Soviet Yiddish literary canon, appears only as part of Peretz’s entourage, which also includes Ḥayim Naḥman BialikDovid Bergelson, and Der Nister.

As did many Soviet Jews, Fefer enthusiastically welcomed the establishment of the State of Israel. He argued that the new state was the concern of the entire Jewish people and that the heroism of Soviet people contributed more to its creation than American Zionism. In the late 1940s, however, Stalin’s regime had no use for Communists who cherished Jewish national hopes. Fefer was arrested in 1948, together with other members of the JAC. He was executed on 12 August 1952.

In the 1990s, the publication of archival materials dealt a blow to the posthumous reputation of Fefer: during the persecution of the JAC, his testimony was central to the prosecution’s case.

(via YIVO)