The Short Life of Soviet Yiddish Literature

This interdisciplinary cooperation »The Short Life of Soviet Yiddish Literature« 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 specialist cooperation partners are working on altogether five sub-projects in close collaboration with one another.


At the Dubnow Institute, these include

  • a collective biography of the five writers named above as well as
  • a case study of the 1943 world tour of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee.


At the Professorship for Slavic Jewish Studies at the University of Regensburg, these include

  • the preparation of a bilingual edition of key translated works by the authors murdered in 1952 and
  • an analysis of Perets Markish's literary engagements with violence against Jews.


At the Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (ZfL) in Berlin, these include

  • a study of changing understandings of Jewish national belongings and the history of Yiddish-speaking Soviet writers.


This research project is being funded for a period of three years by the funding program »Leibniz Cooperative Excellence« of the Leibniz Competition 2020.

Research Projects at the Dubnow Institute

Research Projects of the Cooperation Partners

Jiddische Literatur in der Sowjetunion: Dichtung und Prosa, 1917–1952 (Edition)
Prof. Dr. Sabine Koller, Dr. Aleksandra Polyan (UR)

Die Wiederkehr der Gewalt: Der Fall Perets Markish
Dr. Alexandra Polyan (UR)

Historische Narrative in den Werken sowjetisch-jiddischer Schriftsteller
Irina Kissin (ZfL)

Academic Advisory Board

Prof. Dr. Gennady Estraikh
New York University

Prof. Dr. Harriet Murav
University of Illinois

Prof. Dr. Karl Schlögel
Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder