In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Soviet Yiddish Literature

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Soviet Yiddish Plays and Drama
  • Journals
  • Non-academic Magazines and Newspapers

Jewish Studies Soviet Yiddish Literature
by
Roland Gruschka
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0237

Introduction

Being the mother tongue of more than two million Jews within the emerging Soviet Empire after the First World War, the Yiddish language was formally acknowledged by the Bolshevik regime as a minority language, and Yiddish-language cultural activities were supported by the state so long as they complied with the ideology and the political line of the Communist Party. Yiddish literature was produced in the Soviet Union and published on a large scale, and even within the institutional framework of a totalitarian state, a multifaceted Yiddish cultural life originated, encompassing various aesthetic and artistic literary trends. The project of a secular, “Proletarian” Soviet-Jewish national culture and literature attracted and appealed to many Yiddish writers who felt a resonance between the Soviet policy, on the one hand, and their own revolutionary hopes and radical literary modernism on the other, whereas the mélange of Socialist Utopianism and repressive dictatorial rule, not to mention state terror, polarized the Jewish intelligentsia outside the country. Over the years, however, the state policy gradually shifted toward a downsizing, downgrading, and finally a “liquidation” of Soviet Yiddish culture and its institutions, leading to a complete repression at the end of the 1940s, right after World War II and the atrocities of the Shoah (Holocaust). This tragedy culminated in the state-directed assassinations of the most eminent Soviet Yiddish writers in a secret trial against members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in 1952. After Stalin’s death, and after an unofficial “rehabilitation,” a limited space for a Soviet Yiddish literary culture was created anew in the form of the highbrow literary bi-monthly Sovetish heymland (“Soviet Homeland”) which existed until the collapse of the Soviet Union. For all this, it is hardly surprising that Soviet Yiddish literature continues to be a controversial subject in academia and beyond, even affecting questions of its definition. To this day, the field of Soviet Yiddish literature with its rich materials is still far from exhaustively researched. The main lines of its literary and historical development, however, have been treated at monograph length, and the majority of its leading figures and outstanding authors and their canonical major works have to some extent been analyzed in several studies. Many aspects of their works, however, still merit further research. The bibliography provided in this article in a way reflects this state of discussion, which also constitutes an outline of the concept of Soviet Yiddish literature and includes sections with detailed background information.

Conceptual Outlines

In the following sections, the outlines of a concept of Soviet Yiddish literature are developed, beginning with a summary of the long-term academic debate about the topic, followed by summaries of the general developments in the periods before and after the Second World War, leading to a pragmatic, “all-encompassing” definition of the topic, concluded by an overview of the leading writers’ groups and their aesthetic approaches that shaped Soviet Yiddish literature and had a lasting influence upon it.

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