Page 161 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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a record of his ultimately hopeless struggle to maintain Jewish
cultural activities in Poland until his departure.
Unlike Poland, Soviet Russia continued to keep its borders
closed to Jewish emigration. The Stalin purges, which escalated
in 1937 and reached a climax from 1948 until his death in 1953,
had decimated the Yiddish literary elite. The writers who sur­
vived the purges were either silent or, if they wished to publish
in Yiddish, could do so only under the auspices of the
Communist-controlled, anti-Israel monthly
Sovetish Heimland.
The situation changed in 1967. After the Six-Day War, Jewish
consciousness was intensified and the yearning for reunion with
Jewish kinsmen in the victorious Jewish homeland sought ful­
Joseph Kerler, who had fought as an officer on Russia’s bat­
tlefields against Nazi Germany and who had been rewarded
by years of imprisonment in Soviet Gulags, was most persistent,
after his rehabilitation, in badgering the government authorities
to let him go to Israel, the land of his heart’s desire. He finally
succeeded in 1971. In his first volume, published in Israel in
that year under the title
Dos Gezang Tsvishn Tseyn,
he was finally
able to include the lyrics he composed since 1950, the year in
which he, who was among the youngest, was also among the
last Yiddish writers to be caught in the Stalin dragnet. The dom­
inant tone is elegiac. He cannot find a glimmer of light in the
darkness that overwhelmed him and muted his people. He feels
that, even if he were to beat with despairing fists on the thick
gloom, he would be unheard. Penned in his cell year after year,
he can only rage and break his teeth on the iron bars. Nev­
ertheless, his incarceration will not break him. “Let them knead
me with bony fists. Though lying prone and gagged, I do not
give in to them. Though dogs scatter my limbs, my song will
live on.”
Kerler’s second volume of poems, entitled
Zeht Ihr Dokh,
peared in 1972. It still consisted largely of lyrics of his Soviet
years from his beginnings in 1941, but it ended with his hymn
to the mountains of Judea, a song dedicated to the poet Naftali
Herz Cohen, who had survived a quarter of a century in prisons