Page 57 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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ELIAS SCHULMAN
Soviet Yiddish Writing as Mirrored
in
Sovetish Heimland
D
u r in g
t h e
T
s a r i s t
p e r iod Russian Jew ry exp ressed itse lf
primarily in Hebrew and Yiddish. Both o f these literatures
emerged and developed mainly within the Russian Empire. By
the m iddle o f the 19th century Russian Jews had begun to write
and publish in Russian as well. While some Jewish writers dealt
with general themes and gradually en tered the mainstream o f
Russian literature , many wrote in Russian exclusively about Jew ­
ish themes, for a Jewish readersh ip . As early as 1902 Ahad H a’am
declared tha t they were not creating a Jewish literature, but
establishing a kind o f ghetto in Russian literature.
A fter the Communist seizure o f power, most Hebrew writers
left Russia. Some tried to continue their Hebrew writing bu t were
arrested and exiled fo r the ir pains. Many o f the Russian Jewish
writers left the country, continuing to write — in Russian — in
Berlin and Paris. Some, o f course, remained in Russia, pursu ing
the ir creative work in Russian; the NEP Period saw a few Jewish
scholarly works published. By the early thirties all Jewish work,
scholarly and non-scholarly, had ceased, concluding the chapter
o f Jewish writing in Russian in Russia.
A num ber o f Soviet Jewish writers in troduced Jewish char­
acters and themes into
belles-lettres
du ring the twenties and th ir­
ties. T he most impo rtan t was unquestionably Isaac Babel (1894-
1941), who described the Jewish milieu in his native Odessa. T he
prose writers Ilya Eh renbu rg and Lev Kassil and the poets
Eduard Bagritski and Joseph Utkin focused on Jewish themes in
the ir writing. Some non-Jewish writers as well portrayed Jewish
characters. Among these were Mikhail Sholokhov, Nikolai Os­
trovsky, and Valentin Kataev. Although Jewish characters were
portrayed and some aspects o f Jewish life were described in
fiction by both Jews and non-Jews, this was not,
sensu stricto,
a
Jewish litera tu re since the au tho rs did not write
as Jews.
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