Winter Semester 2022/2023

Yiddish Literature in the Soviet Union, 1917–1952

Dr. Brett Winestock

Tuesday, 1.15 to 2.45 p.m.

Start: 11 October 2022

Dubnow Institute, Goldschmidtstr. 28, Leipzig

Seminar Language: English

What did it mean to be an ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority in the Soviet Union? Was it possible to be a Soviet patriot and a proud Jew? Could writers and artists use the Yiddish language to capture these new forms and ideas? Following the October Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union embraced Yiddish as the language of the Jewish proletariat and set to work promoting a secular, socialist culture in Yiddish. This involved a rapid expansion of book and newspaper publication in Yiddish, the founding of several Yiddish state theatres, as well as the establishment of a public education system run entirely in Yiddish. The cumulation of the policy was the proclamation of the Jewish Autonomous Region in the Soviet Far East and its capital Birobidzhan in 1928. Many Jewish writers were convinced that the Soviet nationalities policy offered the best hope forward for a modern Yiddish culture - but by the time five of the most prominent Yiddish writers were collectively executed at Stalin’s order in 1952, it was clear to not be the case. This class will read the works of several prominent Soviet authors writing in Yiddish as we try to understand their evolving self-conceptions as Soviets and Jews reacting to endless political, historical, and artistic upheaval.

Literature: Moyshe Kulbak, The Zelmenyaners: A Family Saga, trans. Hillel Halkin (Yale University Press, 2013);Yenta Masha, On the Landing, trans. Ellen Cassedy (Cornell University Press, 2018); Gennady Estraikh, In Harness: Yiddish Writers’ Romance with Communism (Syracuse University Press, 2005); Harriet Murav, Music from a Speeding Train: Jewish Literature in Post-Revolution Russia (Stanford University Press, 2011); David Shneer, Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture, 1918-1930 (Cambridge University Press, 2004); Stalin’s Secret Pogrom: The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Antifascist Committee, eds. Joshua Rubenstein and Vladimir P. Naumov (Yale University Press, 2001).

Open to mature age students: no
Participation is limited to 20 people.