Page 58 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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Soviet litera tu re became almost
du r in g the last decade
o f Stalin’s reign. Later, fo r a sho rt period , some Jewish figures
and topics reappea red in Russian-language stories and novels;
then again they d isappeared fo r a long time. Th is is one reason
why Anatoly Rybakov’s novel,
Heavy Sand,
which appeared in
1978 in the Moscow jou rn a l ,
created such a sensation.
Dealing with Jewish life in Russia du r ing the Nazi-occupation,
Rybakov describes a rebellion in a ghetto and its b ru ta l supp res­
sion which cost thousands o f Jewish lives. A few h u n d red escaped,
jo ined the partisans, and con tinued the ir struggle against the
Heavy Sand
is a striking exception to the regnan t pa t­
tern ; the re is little chance tha t Russian-Jewish writing will be
revived in the Soviet Union. T he only Jewish litera tu re curren tly
recognized, approved , and sponsored — to a limited ex ten t — is
tha t w ritten in Yiddish, since, according to the Kremlin language
is sometimes the determ in ing criterion o f nationality and culture.
How many Jews speak, read o r understand Yiddish? According
to the official Soviet census o f 1970 there were in Russia about
2,150,000 Jews. On the basis o f the latest unofficial estimate the re
are now in Russia 2,678,000 Jews .1 However, in a booklet,
Jews: Fact and Fiction,
published by the Novosti Press Agency,
Moscow (no year given, bu t issued a round 1970), it is stated:
“According to the 1959 census, there were 2,268,000 Jews in the
country. By now there are abou t th ree million” (p. 18). This seems
to be the correct figure — although there are some who estimate
the num be r o f Jews in Russia to be higher. According to the same
study the Jews were concen tra ted in large cities; thus the re are
large Jewish populations in Moscow, Leningrad , Kiev, Minsk,
Vilno, Kishinev, Riga, Chernovits, and Gomel. Jews still inhabit
many small towns
in the Ukraine. A lthough not all Jews
speak o r unders tand Yiddish, these concen tra ted communities
still form some base fo r Yiddish literature .2
According to the 1970 census, more than ha lf a million Jews
declared Yiddish as the ir first or second language. T h e few Yid­
dish concerts and thea tre performances tha t are perm itted in
American Jewish Year Book,
vol. 79, New York, 1979, p. 292.
2 Elias Schulman, “Yiddish Literature in the Soviet Union,”
Jewish Spectator,
September 1970.