Posts tagged ussr.


Attendees of the First Meeting of the Presidium of Soviet Jewish Writers, 1929. Photo by S. Shingaryov.

Standing (L-R): Shmuel-Nisn Godiner, Note Lurye, Moyshe Litvakov, M. Daniel, Arn Kushnirov, M. Kuhlbach. Sitting (L-R): I. Feder, Izi Kharik, Alexander Fadeyev (not Jewish, so obvious from the photo), Perets Markish, D. Bronstein.

See the reverse side of the photograph here.


Soviet soldier carrying the head of a statue of Hitler, Berlin 1945. Photograph by Soviet war photographer Yevgeny Khaldei.

more Yevgeny/Evgenii Khaldei

(via thesoviette)

"Some Were Poets, All Were Martyrs" ›

The 50th Anniversary of Stalin’s Murderous Assault on Jewish Culture

By Joshua Rubenstein
Forward, 08/09/2002

Fifty years ago, on August 12, 1952, Joseph Stalin’s henchmen executed the cream of the Soviet Jewish literary and intellectual world on trumped-up charges of espionage and sedition. The event is remembered in Jewish communities around the world as the Night of the Murdered Yiddish Poets, the culmination of Stalin’s murderous assault on Jewish culture and Yiddish literature.

But that is a myth. The truth is less poetic and far more grim. In reality, only a handful of those put to death that day were poets or writers. What the victims of this secret pogrom had in common was that they were all members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, the last national Jewish organization permitted to exist under Soviet communism. Their “crime” was that they attempted to speak for their people. Their death was the culmination of Stalin’s war against Jewish communal life.

When we understand that this was more than an assault against Yiddish literature, more than just another episode of murderous antisemitism in the Soviet Union, then we can begin to grasp the magnitude of this event in the history of the Soviet Union and its troubled relationship with its Jewish community.

  August 13, 2012 at 01:16pm

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)


In Memoriam: August 12th, 1952

Excerpted video accounts by Soviet-Yiddish writers, survivors of the historical events of 1952.

From original interviews by Boris Sandler, featuring: Joseph Kerler, Chaim Beider, and Misha Lev; poet Chaim Maltinski reads his work.

(via marxistswithattitude)

  August 12, 2012 at 02:45pm via

The Night of the Murdered Poets

I weep for you with all the letters of the alphabet
that made your hopeful songs.
— from Chaim Grade’s “Elegy for the Soviet Yiddish Writers” 

60 years ago on August 12, 1952, Stalin ordered the execution of 13 Soviet Jews, many of them Yiddish writers, poets, critics, and thinkers, on false charges of treason and espionage. The event is referred to as the Night of the Murdered Poets and regarded by some as the successful destruction of post-war Yiddish literature and culture in the Soviet Union.

The defendants:

  • Peretz Markish (1895–1952), Yiddish poet, co-founder the School of Writers, a Yiddish literary school in Soviet Russia
  • David Hofstein (1889–1952), Yiddish poet
  • Itzik Fefer (1900–1952), Yiddish poet, informer for the Ministry of Internal Affairs
  • Leib Kvitko (1890–1952), Yiddish poet and children’s writer
  • David Bergelson (1884–1952), distinguished novelist
  • Solomon Lozovsky (1878–1952), Director of Soviet Information Bureau, Deputy Commissar of Foreign Affairs, vigorously denounced accusations against himself and others
  • Boris Shimeliovich (1892–1952), Medical Director of the Botkin Clinical Hospital, Moscow
  • Benjamin Zuskin (1899–1952), assistant to and successor of Solomon Mikhoels as director of the Moscow State Jewish Theater
  • Joseph Yuzefovich (1890–1952), researcher at the Institute of History, Soviet Academy of Sciences, trade union leader
  • Leon Talmy (1893–1952), translator, journalist, former member of the Communist Party USA
  • Ilya Vatenberg (1887–1952), translator and editor of Eynikeyt, newspaper of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee; Labor Zionist leader in Austria and U.S. before returning to the USSR in 1933
  • Chaika Vatenburg-Ostrovskaya (1901–1952), wife of Ilya Vatenburg, translator at JAC.
  • Emilia Teumin (1905–1952), deputy editor of the Diplomatic Dictionary; editor, International Division, Soviet Information Bureau
  • Solomon Bregman (1895–1953), Deputy Commissar of Foreign Affairs. Fell into a coma after denouncing the trial and died in prison five months after the executions.
  • Lina Stern (or Shtern) (1875–1968), the first female academician in the USSR and is best known for her pioneering work on blood–brain barrier. She was the only survivor out of the fifteen defendants.

Some who were either directly or indirectly connected to the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee at the time were also arrested in the years surrounding the trial. Although Solomon Mikhoels was not arrested, his death was ordered by Stalin in 1948. Der Nister, another Yiddish writer, was arrested in 1949, and died in a labor camp in 1950. Literary critic Yitzhak Nusinov died in prison and journalists Shmuel Persov and Miriam Zheleznova were shot – all in 1950.

This weekend’s posts will commemorate the atrocities with history, photographs, poetry, audio recordings, and more.

  August 11, 2012 at 02:05pm



David Shterenberg - Aunt Sasha, 1922-23

“The root vegetables in the painting, such as beets and onions, are observed to be ingredients in the making of the Russian dish borshch or beet soup.” (via)

(via gotochelm)


The artist Isaak Brodsky standing beside a portrait of Vladimir Lenin painted for the Conference Hall at Smolny, 1927.

Isaak Izrailevich Brodsky (Russian: Исаак Израилевич Бродский, 6 January 1884 – August 14, 1939), was a Soviet painter whose work provided a blueprint for the art movement of socialist realism. He is known for his iconic portrayals of Lenin and idealized, carefully crafted paintings dedicated to the events of the Russian Civil War and Bolshevik Revolution.

Brodsky was born in the village of Sofiyevka in Ukraine, Russian Empire. He studied at Odessa Art Academy and the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg. In 1916 he joined the Jewish Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. When Brodsky asked Lenin to autograph his painting Lenin, he said: “I am signing to what I don’t agree with for the first time”.

He was an avid art collector who donated numerous first-class paintings to museums in his native Ukraine and elsewhere. His superb art collection included important works by Ilya RepinVasily SurikovValentin SerovIsaak LevitanMikhail Vrubel, and Boris Kustodiev. After his death Brodsky’s apartment on Arts Square in St. Petersburg was declared a national museum. His art collection is still on exhibit there.

(via Wikipedia)


Selma Hurtwitz, Who Is The Lord That I Should Listen To His Voice?

The peoples’ frustration, anguish, and disappointment are shown, as their way is blocked by the hands of the Soviet Government proclaiming, “Who is the Lord that I should listen to His voice?”. These are the words the Pharaoh said to Moses at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. 

This is a limited-edition original silkscreen print, based on a hadbakah original. (via Who is the Lord print by Selma Hurwitz)