Heimland, Literisher Sammelbuch (Literary Scrapbook), Yiddish, Moscow, 1943.

Heimland01Seventy Years ago, on Purim (1st March) 1953, Stalin was struck down with a stroke, leading to his death four days later.  It seems appropriate to write about my copy of Heimland, a literary scrapbook which includes contributions by many of Stalin’s Jewish literary victims.

Heimland02The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee was a group of Soviet Jewish intellectuals and artists created on the order of Stalin in 1942 to solicit money and support abroad for the Soviet war effort. In 1943 its leaders toured the United States, England, Canada and Mexico.  After the war, its chairman Solomon Mikhoels, the director of the Moscow State Jewish Theatre, was murdered by state security agents in Minsk.  Other members of the committee were soon arrested and executed, culminating in the “Night of the Murdered Poets” in 1952, when thirteen Yiddish writers and others were executed in a single night in Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka Prison. Stalin’s sudden death marked an end to this persecution.

Here below, from my book, are extracts by six of them, all, interestingly, born in Ukraine:

Heimland03Peretz Markish.  He was a major Russian Jewish playwright and poet who wrote primarily in Yiddish. He was born in Polonne, in Western Ukraine to a Sephardic Jewish family.  From 1918 he lived in Kiev, then in Warsaw before returning to the Soviet Union in 1926.  Peretz Markish was accused of being a “Jewish Nationalist”, arrested in 1949 and shot with other Jewish writers in August 1952.

Leib Kvitko.  He was a prominent Yiddish poet and an author of children’s poems.  He was born in the Ukraine, and attended a traditional Jewish religious school for boys.  He moved to Kiev in 1917, and lived in Germany between 1921 and 1925 when he returned to the Soviet Union.  He lived in Moscow from 1936, writing books and verses for children in a style of socialist realism.  He was arrested and shot with the other Jewish writers on August 12th, 1952.

Itzik Feffer.  He was born in Shpole in central Ukraine.  Originally a printer, he became a Yiddish poet and edited literary and art magazines. He was highly political and his prolific poetry supported socialism and soviet propaganda.  With the outbreak of World War II, Feffer changed his emphasis and wrote national Jewish songs lamenting the destruction of European Jewry. He enlisted in the Red Army and was given the rank of colonel.  He was the vice-chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee.  He was arrested in 1948 and accused of treason. Despite efforts to save him by such prominent personalities as Paul Robeson, he was shot with the others in August 1952.

Dovid Hofshteyn.  He was born in Korostyshiv, near Zhitomir in the Ukraine. A poet, he wrote in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian and Ukrainian.  After the October Revolution (which he welcomed) he only wrote in Yiddish.  For a while he lived in Germany and then Palestine, returning to Kiev in 1926.  He joined the Communist Party in 1939, and declared his support for the State of Israel in 1948.  When Stalin withdrew his support for the State of Israel, Hofshteyn was arrested and shot with the others in August 1952.

Shmuel Persoff was a journalist who was shot in 1950.

Der Nister (meaning ‘the hidden one’ ) was the pen-name of Pinchus Kahanovich, a Yiddish author, philosopher, translator and critic.  He was born in Berdichev in Ukraine, to a Chassidic family.  His best known work is  Di mishpokhe Mashber (“The Family Mashber”).  After Stalin changed policy to extermination of Jewish writers and the destruction of Jewish culture in the Soviet Union, in February 1949, Der Nister was one of the last of the Jewish writers arrested. The Soviet authorities officially reported Der Nister died on 4 June 1950 in an unknown Soviet prison hospital.


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