Page 51 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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HOFFMAN / JEWISH SAMIZDAT
45
against Jew ish intellectuals as “ rootless co smopolitan s,” the arre st
and exterm ination o f lead ing Yiddish cultural figu re s in 1952
and Stalin’s final thru st against the Jew s, the contrived “ Doctor’s
Plot” in 1953. A lthough the birth o f the State o f Israel stirred the
emotions o f Soviet Jew ry , it p roduced only a few illegal p am ­
phlets.
Krushchev ’s “Th aw ” in 1956 created favorable conditions for
the development o f Jew ish sam izdat. In the more liberal atmo­
sphere , the general popu lace was less a fra id o f organ ized u no f f i­
cial activity. At the sam e time, however, Jew ish intellectuals
realized that the “Th aw ” was severely limited: Th e Stalinist policy
o f promoting Russian nationalism to the exclusion o f other na­
tional strivings continued . Jew ish national consciousness, reviv­
ing under the influence o f the Holocaust and the establishment o f
the State o f Israel, had to seek illegal means o f expression —
secret organizations and underground literature.
SOURCE OF INFORMATION
Many Soviet Jew s thirsted for the most elementary knowledge
about Jew ish culture , history or religion. Jew ish sam izdat met
their needs by supp ly ing pre-Soviet works such as Simon Dub-
now’s history o f the Jew s or V ladim ir Jabotin sky ’s Feuilletons,
Russian versions o f lyrical poetry by Bialik and Simon F rug , and
Israeli periodicals intended for Western readers, such as Ariel and
Shalom. Tran s lat ion s o f Western fiction were the most popu lar
items. Number one was Leon U r is ’ Exodus, followed by Howard
Fast ’s All My Glorious Brothers and Andre Schwarz-Bart’s The Last
of theJu s t . Reaching the U SSR haphazardly — often via Western
tourists — these books testified to the Jew ish nation’s tenacious
ability to survive and presen ted Jew ish history and Jew ish nation­
alism as a source o f pride.
Exodus insp ired several sam izdat versions. Avraham Shifrin
p rep ared one translation in the harrow ing conditions o f a forced
labor camp in the fifties. Leah Slovin p roduced a shortened
edition in Riga. Avraam Mamistvalov took leave from his jo b to
work day and night on translating the book into Georgian .
Despite these hasty, clumsy translations, Exodus had an elec­
trifying effect on Soviet Jewry. Many Soviet Jew s now in Israel
state that U r is ’ book initiated their aliya. In contrast to the schem­
ing, flabby Jew ish villains p re sen ted by Soviet p ro p ag an d a ,