The Short Life of Soviet Yiddish Literature

This interdisciplinary cooperation researches Yiddish literature in the Soviet Union between 1917 and the 1970s. The focus lies on poets and writers who were engaged both personally and artistically in the tensions between tradition and modernity, Jewish belonging and the affirmation of the creation of a »new« Soviet human. Their life stories and works are here explored against the backdrop of revolution, civil war, and emigration, as well as the experience of Stalinism and the Holocaust. Questions of belonging, attempts at social homogenization, and the relationship between universalism and particularism promise new insights not just into Eastern European history and its Jewries, but also into present-day challenges regarding globalized diaspora and migratory experiences.

The project's point of departure is the secret trial that was held against the leading members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. In the so-called »Night of the Murdered Poets« on the eve of 13 August 1952, the writers Perets Markish (1895–1952), Dovid Hofshteyn (1889–1952), Itsik Fefer (1900–1952), Leyb Kvitko (1890?–1952), and Dovid Bergelson (1884–1952) were executed by firing squad. These men represented some of the most prominent exponents of Yiddish literature in the Soviet Union, who were initially supported but from the late 1920s onward were regarded with increasing skepticism.

This project analyzes the complex conditions of the emergence and trajectories of development of Yiddish literature in the Soviet Union through an interdisciplinary and multi-perspectival approach.

The project is a cooperation between Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow, the ZfL, and der the Professorship for Slavic Jewish Studies at the University of Regensburg in the Leibniz Collaborative Excellence funding program.

Leibniz Collaborative Excellence 2020–2024
Project Manager: Yfaat Weiss (DI)
Scholarly Responsibility: Yfaat Weiss, Jan Gerber (both DI), Sabine Koller (University of Regensburg), Matthias Schwartz (ZfL)



Historical Narratives in Soviet Yiddish Literature

Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (ZfL) 2020–2023

Associate researcher: Irina Kissin

Copiously funded by the state, a new Yiddish literature emerged in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, one which was to be fundamentally different from pre-revolutionary literature. Instead of traditional ethnic-religious affiliations, an atheist Jewish identity was to be created on the basis of the Yiddish language, which, in the sense of Stalin’s later slogan, was “national in form, communist in content.” In their works, writers were expected to give this new national literature concrete form and persuasive power.

This dissertation project explores the question of how, against the background of the political and cultural upheavals throughout the 20th century, the understanding of Jewish history and belonging changed in the works of Yiddish-Soviet writers. The project examines how pre-revolutionary Jewish history was told in the face of the epochal break that was the October Revolution. Did the historical narratives—in the Marxist sense—consistently showcase the radical break with the past, or did theyfocus on continuities and coexistences? Did the fact that many authors were strongly influenced in their childhood by the traditional Eastern European Jewish world, its worldview, and its view of history, feature in their work? And in what form can these influences be found?

The project focuses on literary and journalistic texts written in response to the striking historical upheavals of the 20th century. The term “historical” refers bothto narratives situated in the past and to historical concepts and descriptions of the Soviet present. These readings could contain various things: official political as well as archetypal explanatory models, a messianic expectation of salvation, or even deeply rooted memories of one’s own history of persecution. Often, they formed the prism through which authors viewed striking events: the fall of the Shtetl world, the inevitable assimilation, the October Revolution, which was initially perceived as liberation (by most), the pogroms and the Holocaust, and the hope for spatial and linguistic autonomy in Birobidzhan, the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.

The World Tour of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. A Case Study of the Notion of Jewish Unity

Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow (DI)

Associate researcher: Jakob Stürmann

Website of the project at the DI

The Murdered Poets: A Collective Biography

Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow (DI)

Associate researcher: Brett Winestock

Website of the project at the DI

Jiddische Literatur in der Sowjetunion: Dichtung und Prosa, 1917–1952 (edition)

Professorship for Slavic Jewish Studies at the University of Regensburg

Associate researchers: Sabine Koller, Alexandra Polyan

The Return of Violence: The Case of Perets Markish

Professorship for Slavic Jewish Studies at the University of Regensburg

Associate researcher: Alexandra Polyan


27 Sep 2023 – 29 Sep 2023 · 1.30 pm

Yiddish and Translation: Linguistic, Cultural and Political Aspects (the Soviet Case and Beyond)

Universität Regensburg, Sedanstraße 1, 93055 Regensburg, Seminarraum 041

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22 Sep 2022 · 5.00 pm

Irina Kissin: Das sephardische Narrativ im historischen Roman Nathan Zabaras “Das Rad dreht sich”

Seminar für Slavistik / Lotman-Institut für Russische Kultur, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, 44780 Bochum

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14 Aug 2022 · 2.00 pm

Symposium on the 70th Anniversary of the Night of Murdered Poets

W. M. Blumenthal Akademie, Klaus Mangold Auditorium, Fromet-und-Moses-Mendelssohn-Platz 1, 10969 Berlin

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Annual conference of the “The Short Life of Soviet Yiddish Literature”
27 Jun 2022 – 29 Jun 2022

“What is on Trial Here is the Yiddish Language”: The Making and Unmaking of Soviet Yiddish Literature

Leibniz-Institut für jüdische Geschichte und Kultur – Simon Dubnow, Goldschmidtstraße 28, 04103 Leipzig

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