“What is on Trial Here is the Yiddish Language”: The Making and Unmaking of Soviet Yiddish Literature
2022 marks 70 years since the 1952 trial and execution of members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the Soviet Union in what has come to be known as the “Night of the Murdered Poets.” Those poets, and other figures who were executed, had enjoyed state support in the 1920s and survived the Stalinist terror of the 1930s, but the changes in nationalities policy in a Soviet Union which was becoming increasingly Russocentric resulted in a number of anti-Jewish purges after the war. Many of the trumped-up charges at the trial included “promoting nationalism” by simply looking out for Jewish interests in the Soviet Union, or merely by continuing to write in Yiddish—to the point where one of the defendants, Solomon Lozovsky, ultimately concluded that “what is on trial here is the Yiddish language.”
It is not surprising that the most famous defendants were writers, as literature had played an outsized role in the forming of Soviet Yiddish culture and society. Taking the events of 1952 as a starting point, the Dubnow Institute will host a conference in Leipzig, Germany from the 27th to the 29th of June 2022 to probe some of the tensions which characterized Soviet Yiddish literature, including questions of belonging and the relationship between universalism and particularism. The conference is based on the work of The Short Life of Soviet Yiddish Literature research group, an interdisciplinary partnership between scholars of the Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow (DI), the Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (ZfL), and the Professorship for Slavic Jewish Studies at the University of Regensburg (UR), which is funded for a period of three years by the Leibniz Collaborative Excellence program of the Leibniz Competition 2020.
The projects of the research group focus on poets, writers, and cultural figures who were engaged both personally and artistically in the tensions between tradition and modernity, between Jewish affiliation and the affirmation of the creation of a “new” Soviet human. Their life stories and works are explored against the backdrop of revolution, civil war, and emigration, as well as the experience of Stalinism, World War II, and the Holocaust. The presentations will touch directly on the events and protagonists of the trial itself, along with those which deal with the prior emergence and construction of Soviet Yiddish literature and culture since the October Revolution, as well as with its “afterlife”—the survival and continuation of Soviet Yiddish literature in the years after 1952.
With a keynote lecture by Harriet Murav (University of Illinois).