The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish Culture on the Soviet Stage 0253337844, 9780253337849

This is the first book in English to trace the fascinating and tragic history of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, found

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The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish Culture on the Soviet Stage
 0253337844, 9780253337849

Table of contents :
Introduction: Soviet Jewish Culture or Soviet Culture in Yiddish?
1. “Let's Perform a Miracle”: The Creation of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater
2. Comrades from the Center: State, Party, and Stage
3. Wandering Stars: Tour and Reconstruction
4. The Court Is in Session: Judgment Postponed
5. Where Are the Maccabees? The Heroic Past
6. One Generation Passes Away: The Great Terror
7. Brother Jews: Mikhoels and the Jewish Anti- Fascist Committee
8. Our People Live: The Yiddish Theater during World War II
9. This Is a Bad Omen: The Last Act
Conclusion: The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

Citation preview


Jewish Literature and Culture

Series Editor, Alvin H. Rosenfeld Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies

Alexander Rabinowitch and William G. Rosenberg, general editors

BaRfi t; ixjSj .mu




Jeffrey Veidlinger

The muthor and the publisher with to acknowledge the generous support o f the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation.

This book is a publication of Indiana University Press 601 North Morton Street Bloomington, IN 47404-3797 USA

Telephone orders 800-842-6796 Fax orders 812-855-7931 Orders by e-m ail iuporder& © 2000 by Jeffrey Veidlinger All rights reserved No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses' Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibi­ tion. The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984. Manufactured in the United States of America Library o f Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Veidlinger, Jeffrey, date The Moscow State Yiddish Theater : Jewish culture on the Soviet stage / Jeffrey Veidlinger. p. cm. — (Jewish literature and culture) (Indiana-Michigan series in Russian and East European studies) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-253-33784-4 (cl : alk. paper) 1. Moskovskii gosudarstvennyi evreiskii teatr—History. 2. Theater, Yiddish—Russia (Federation)—Moscow—History—20th century. I. Title. II. Series. III. Series: Indiana-Michigan series in Russian and East European studies PN3035 .V45 2000 792'0947*31—dc21 00-035004 1 2 3 4 5 05 04 03 02 01 00

CONTENTS A cknowledgments

A N ote



T ransliteration and T ranslation


Introduction: Soviet Jewish Culture or Soviet Culture in Yiddish?


1. “L et’s Perform a M iracle”: The Creation o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater • 19 2. Comrades from the Center: State, Party, and Stage 3. W andering Stars: Tour and Reconstruction



4. The C ourt Is in Session: Judgm ent Postponed

5. W here Are the Maccabees?: The Heroic Past

6. One Generation Passes Away: The Great Terror

112 150 •


7. Brother Jews: M ikhoels and the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Committee 8. O ur People Live: The Yiddish Theater during W orld W ar II 9. This Is a Bad Omen: The Last Act


Conclusion: The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

N otes


B ibliography I ndex




• •

215 233

A cknowledgments

I am most grateful to all my colleagues, friends, and fam ily who have taken the time to support my work. First and foremost, I would like to thank Richard Stites, who inspired me to look at culture from a new perspective, and who saw this project through from its initial stage as a first-year graduate seminar paper to a dissertation and beyond. H is enviable ability to edit the m inutia of gram m ar while simultaneously envisioning and expanding the Big Picture has helped make me a better writer. I thank David Goldfrank, Catherine Evtuhov, Aviel Roshwald, and Andrzej Kaminski for being invaluable teachers and advisers at Georgetown; Abraham Ascher, Robert W einberg, Regine Robin, and Steven Usitalo for their careful reading and critique of the entire manuscript; A la Perelman-Zuskin and Nina and N atalia Vovsi-Mikhoels for their comments, for their assistance, and for generously providing many of the photographs included in this book; and Janet Rabinowitch and everybody at Indiana University Press for facilitating its publi­ cation. I also thank all those who have provided advice in numerous forms along the way: Lynn M ally, Zvi G itelm an, Karen Petrone, Vassili Schedrin, Joshua Rubenstein, Esther M arkish, Louis Greenspan, Randy Law, Karl Qualls, Katya Nizharadze, Larry Fields, Alvin Rosenfeld, and John Efron. I am grateful to Georgetown University, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation for providing generous financial support for this project. I am also indebted to those abroad who have helped me uncover the docu­ ments that inform this work. In Moscow, I thank the staffs of the Russian State Archive o f Art and Literature, the State Archive of the Russian Federation, the Russian Center for the Preservation and Study of M odern History, and the Bakh­ rushin State Theater Archive and M useum. In Jerusalem , I thank the staffs of the Israel Goor Theater Archives and M useum , the National Sound Archives, the C entral Archives for the H istory o f the Jew ish People, and the Center for Research and Documentation of East European Jewry. I am also indebted to everyone at M erkaz H a-M agshim im for cheap housing and great company. In Tel Aviv, I thank the staff of the Diaspora Research Institute. Back in the United States, the librarians of the Library of Congress, and particularly the Hebraic and Near Eastern Reading Room, merit special mention. Segments o f Chapters 1 and 2 were previously published as “L et’s Perform a VII

Acknow ledgm ents

M iracle: The Soviet Yiddish State Theater in the 1920s” in Slavic R eview 57, no. 2 (Sum mer 1998). I am grateful to the journal for permission to reprint these segments. Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Rebecca; my parents, Otto and M arilyn; my siblings, Daniel and Shira; and my uncles, aunts, and cousins for their unwa­ vering support. I hope, as w ell, that m y grandparents, Rabbi Abraham and Sophie Greenspan, Andrew Veidlinger, and M ary Vernon, all of whom grew up in East­ ern Europe during the age o f the Yiddish theater, would be proud. T heir values, erudition, and love o f Jewish culture profoundly influence this work. It is to their memory that this book is dedicated.


A N o te on T r a n s l it e r a t io n and

T r a n sl a t io n

For Russian, I have used the Library of Congress system o f transliteration without diacritical marks. For common personal names in the text, I have used spellings more fam iliar to American readers (Trotsky rather than Trotskii, for instance). In the notes and bibliography, however, I have adhered to the Library of Congress system. For Yiddish words, I have used the YIVO system of transliteration through­ out the text, except for names fam iliar to English speakers in a different form. Since the spelling of Yiddish was not standardized, some words were spelled differently on different occasions and in different places. For consistency, I have standardized the spelling of commonly used Yiddish words in the text. In the notes and bibliography, however, I have transliterated Yiddish words exactly as the authors wrote them. M any of the people mentioned in this book used different names in different languages (Abram in Russian, Avrom in Yiddish, and even Abraham in English). For consistency, I have used the name by which I believe they are most w idely known. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own.


Introduction: Soviet Jewish Culture or Soviet Culture in Yiddish?

E liezer : I have traveled the entire land

From border to border. I have also been in foreign lands where Jews live— There all is over: Many who never even dreamt o f war, Are now ready to take up swords.1

Bar K okhba : The time has come. Enough talk!

Because if not today, W h o knows if tomorrow will already be too late? The battle cry: the time has come To free ourselves from the Roman yoke.2

(A struggle. Bar Kokhba arrives armed and throws himselfdirectly into the melee. ... From all sides armedJews enter) Ba r K okhba : M y brothers! I look at you

Perhaps in numbers we are few Less men than the enemy, fewer arms we bear, Only with my head and right hand I swear And let us all in a single voice vow: W ith our arms, we will defeat him now.3

These words, written by the Soviet Yiddish playwright Shmuel Halkin and performed on the stage of the Soviet State Yiddish Theater of Moscow in 1938, were attributed to Bar Kokhba, the leader of a Jewish rebellion against Roman rule over Jerusalem in 132-135 C .E . W hen it was performed in Moscow with the support of the Soviet government, the Yiddish operatic play Bar Kokhba was already well known among Yiddish theatrical audiences. A previous version, per­ formed by Abraham Goldfadns troupe in 1882, had allegedly provoked Tsar A l­ exander III to ban all Yiddish theater in the Russian Empire the following year. T he tsar s M inistry of Internal Affairs regarded the play as a subversive call for resistance to contemporary authorities and as an endorsement for the nationalist principle that the Jewish nation can only be free in an armed state of its own. Yet in 1938, at the height of Stalins Great Terror, as Bolshevik zealots crusaded across

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

the Soviet Union to root out im aginary vestiges o f oppositional movements and autonomous institutions, official Communist newspapers praised the play as an affirmation of Soviet power and championed the Jew ish rebel hero as a Bolshevik prototype. No one, not even the notoriously intolerant Soviet censors, left any w ritten record expressing doubts that Bar Kokhba was anything but an exemplary defender o f the international working class. The present-day historian must ask how Bar Kokhba was transformed from a Jew ish nationalist into a Bolshevik pro­ totype, and how complete that metamorphosis really was. The juxtaposition o f national motifs and Bolshevik themes was integrally re­ lated to Soviet nationality policies. Prior to the Revolution, Vladim ir Lenin and Josef Stalin had fought against the Austrian M arxist and Jew ish Bundist policy of granting m inority nations broad cultural autonomy on the grounds that such “cultural-national autonom y. . . contradicts the internationalism of the proletar­ iat and is in accordance only with the ideals o f the nationalist petty-bourgeois.”4 Lenin believed that once the minority nations were freed from colonial oppres­ sion, their proletariat would assimilate with the proletariat o f the dominant na­ tion. Lenin did reserve for the minority nations the “right of self-determination,” which he narrowly defined as the right to secede. Upon seizing power, however, the Bolsheviks were forced to reconsider their earlier platforms. On one hand, the right to secede from the union threatened to further dismember the empire they were inheriting, and on the other hand, their opposition to cultural autonomy threatened to alienate the m inority nations on whose support the Revolution de­ pended. Thus, while m aintaining their earlier platforms in theory, the Bolsheviks began to reverse themselves in practice. In order to spread its message and create a base o f support among the nonRussian national minorities, the Party encouraged the communication of Com ­ munist ideals in local languages and discourses in a policy that became known as korenizatsiia (nativization). The origins of korenizatsiia began in November 1918 w ith the creation of the Com missariat o f N ationality Affairs (Narkomnats), headed by Stalin, which was in charge o f im plem enting Soviet policies toward the m inority nations. By A pril 1918 Stalin had already reversed his previous opposi­ tion to “cultural-national autonomy” by advocating cultural autonomy in the fields of education, the courts, and administration in Central A sia and the Caucasus as a means of raising the cultural level of the native inhabitants. These policies con­ tinued over the next several years and were finally enshrined by a resolution of the Tenth Party Congress in 1921. There, the Party promised to help the m inority nations “develop and strengthen their own Soviet statehood in a form correspond­ ing to the national conditions of the people” and to “develop press, schools, the­ aters, clubs and general cultural-educational institutions in native languages.”5 In the 1930s, this objective was formulized with the slogan “national in form, socialist in content.” Bolshevik thinkers hoped that with proper education, national aware­ ness would soon be replaced w ith class consciousness. M inority languages and national forms were expected to become thin veils, subtly concealing the proto­ typical New Soviet M an who would educate the masses from behind a visage fam iliar to his audience. 2


The recent breakup o f the Soviet Union into its national components has shown that these hopes ultim ately remained unfulfilled. Instead, artists took ad­ vantage of the opportunity to utilize their national myths and languages to re­ enact ancient battles for national independence, to revive long-forgotten heroes, and to recreate the halcyon days of the people’s glory in order to ignite their au­ dience’s nationalist yearnings. Thus official nationality policies aimed at national integration inadvertently stimulated national distinctions and fostered the devel­ opment o f some m inority nations.6 Stalin and the Bolshevik leadership realized this danger themselves at an early stage in the Revolution, prompting Stalin to temporarily reject the slogan "national self-determination” in favor o f the more lim ited slogan “the right of nations to secede.” Even so, by the Tenth Party Con­ gress Stalin was already fending off criticisms that the Party had artificially culti­ vated the emergence o f national awareness in Belorussia and Ukraine.7 Bolshevik propagandists failed to realize that national forms—languages, myths, archetypes, and symbols—were semiotic systems that aroused pre-exist­ ing emotions and expectations among audiences fam iliar w ith the codes. Despite all attempts to divorce the signifier from the signified—to assign contemporary meanings to ancient myths— residues o f the original sign remained intact w ithin the understandings of the interpreters. National forms are not translucent veils behind which any character can hide; they are more like the masks o f the commedia dell’arte, with recognized personalities that evoke common expectations among the audience, irrespective o f the function they are purported to perform. W hether the mask is Harlequin, Charlie C haplin’s Little Tramp, St. Patrick, or Bar Kokhba, audiences expect certain behavioral patterns from recognized heroes and inter­ pret their actions within this light. Chaplin’s difficulty in adapting to the sound film, for instance, is symptomatic of this phenomenon— many audiences could not help but picture the Little Tramp tripping over his shoelaces during Chaplin’s impassioned plea for peace at the end of The Great Dictator. Similarly, whether mouthing M arxist political platitudes or im parting consciousness to a proletarian uprising, Bar Kokhba retains certain preconceived character traits in any inter­ preter’s understanding. To some audiences he eternally remains a reckless adven­ turer who brought disaster upon his people, whereas others see him as a national hero who proved that his people cannot be vanquished without a fight. National discourses can not be made incidental to the nation from which they emerged. This book uses the example of the Soviet State Yiddish Theater of Moscow (hereafter Moscow State Yiddish Theater) to demonstrate how Jew ish writers and artists were able to promote their own national culture within the confines of So­ viet nationality policies during the period 1919 to 1949 .1 argue that while sharing many aspects of the state’s educational ideals and class-based worldview, the Y id­ dish theater successfully resisted all attempts to turn its stage into just another platform of Soviet propaganda. Soviet politics on the Yiddish stage retained a dis­ tinctly Jewish orientation not merely by dint o f being performed in w hat is almost exclusively a Jewish language, but also by virtue of overt and covert cultural con­ texts and signifiera. The theatrical personnel interpreted their assignments through their own national perspectives and conveyed meaning to their Jewish audiences 3

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

by referring to shared cultural assumptions. Under the guise o f conventional so­ cialist realism, the Yiddish theater brought to life shtetl fables, biblical heroes, Israelite lore, exilic laments, and contemporary conundrums. I argue that whether depicting proletarian workers in the Soviet state or Jew ish rebels in ancient Judaea, the Yiddish theater balanced its Communist aspirations w ith a distinct Jewish identity to varying degrees throughout its existence. The means by which this “Jewishness” was manifested, however, varied throughout the theater’s life. Chapter 1, which deals w ith the early history o f the theater, demonstrates that the theater initially greeted the Bolshevik Revolution w ith enthusiasm and confidence. Its plays during the first half of the 1920s ex­ tracted and radicalized the existing social satire o f pre-revolutionary Yiddish w rit­ ers, such as Sholem Aleichem , Abraham Goldfadn, and Sholem Asch, fusing the Yiddish culture o f the shtetl with a modernist framework. The second chapter argues that beginning in 1924, the theater’s director, Aleksandr Granovsky, grad­ ually became disenchanted with the progress o f the Revolution as bureaucratic and political hurdles impeded his artistic creativity. In 1927 Granovsky started expressing his frustrations on stage by surreptitiously inserting hidden protests into the theaters productions in the form of Jew ish symbols. Granovsky's frus­ trations came to the fore during the theater’s 1928 European tour, as Chapter 3 shows, prompting the director to defect to Germany. Chapter 4 deals w ith Solo­ mon M ikhoels’s first years as the theater’s director, during which time the corre­ sponding objectives of the state and the theater, both o f which sought to foster a new Soviet Jew ish culture, allowed for the promotion o f Yiddish writers such as David Bergelson and Peretz M arkish, who situated socialist story lines w ithin Jew ish contexts. The leftist leanings of these writers and the prevalence o f socialist themes in their works made them ideal candidates for the Soviet Yiddish canon. In several cases, M ikhoels also expanded upon Granovsky’s technique o f symbol­ ically alluding to Jewish national themes within otherwise orthodox socialist real­ ist productions. Chapter 5 shows that after a brief flirtation with translations of European classics in 1934-1935, the theater began to produce plays w ith more blatant national agendas in 1936.This new official tolerance toward expressions of national identity came on the heels of the 1934 Congress o f Soviet W riters, which unleashed a celebration of ethnic diversity within the Soviet Union. The theater, however, was hardly free from molestation, as Chapter 6 shows. The G reat Terror o f 1937-1939 threatened the theater and consumed several peripheral figures, but remarkably failed to engulf the theater as a whole. Chapter 7 follows M ikhoels’s activities as chair of the Jew ish Anti-Fascist Committee during W orld W ar II, showing how the Nazi threat ignited the national sentiments of many Soviet Jews, including M ikhoels himself. By the end of the war, as Chapter 8 shows, M ikhoels had allowed his Jew ish loyalties to emerge from behind his stage mask and m ani­ fest themselves in the public sphere. This provided Stalin with the occasion to build upon the wartime resurgence of Russian national chauvinism and channel those sentiments against the Jews, leading to the theater’s ultimate destruction and the emergence of state-directed anti-Sem itism , as discussed in Chapter 9.



Soviet Anti-Semitism Thanks to the untiring efforts o f interested foreign scholars who over the course o f four decades have compiled testimonies and statistics on Soviet perse­ cution o f Jews, W estern observers during the Cold W ar have been alert to the deplorable fate o f post-W orld W ar II Soviet Jewry.8 Activists in Am erica, Europe, and Israel encouraged massive letter-w riting campaigns to Leonid Brezhnev im ­ ploring him to free Natan Sharansky and other prominent Jew ish refusniks, think tanks were dedicated to the dissemination of aid to Soviet Jewry, and Jew ish schoolchildren around the world were encouraged to express solidarity with their persecuted co-religionists by wearing “Soviet Jew elry” (bracelets engraved w ith the names o f Soviet refitsniks). The pressure these groups exerted on the American adm inistration probably contributed to the insistence of Ronald Reagan at his 1986 Reykjavik Sum m it w ith M ikhail Gorbachev that arms control be linked to human rights and to the subsequent release of Sharansky and other refitsniks. In their efforts to raise public awareness of the post-war Soviet regime’s per­ secution o f Jew s, however, many o f these scholars have overemphasized Jewish victimhood under the pre-war Bolsheviks. Jews certainly suffered during this pe­ riod, but they did so as a result of residual popular anti-Sem itism and Soviet per­ secution of religious institutions and alternative centers of power in general rather than as a result o f any preconceived plan by the authorities to target Jews in partic­ ular. Synagogues were forcibly closed along with mosques, churches, and Buddhist datsans; former members o f the Jew ish socialist party, the Bund, were arrested along w ith former M ensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, and members o f the Po­ lish Socialist Party; rabbis were hum iliated along w ith priests, imams, and village elders; the Yiddish language was purged of “Hebraisms” just as Uzbek and Tatar were purged of “Arabisms and Farsisms”; and “suspect” Jewish writers were si­ lenced along with their Arm enian, Russian, and Ukrainian colleagues. To be sure, many non-Jews blamed their woes on the “Jew ish problem" and treated their Jew ­ ish neighbors accordingly. But on the whole, there is little evidence to suggest that prior to W orld W ar II the regime singled out Jews for punishment merely for be­ ing Jews. In tandem with these anti-religious and anti-nationalist campaigns, a flou­ rishing of secular Jew ish cultural life emerged in the Soviet Union that has large­ ly been ignored by foreign observers. Although official Soviet nationality policy initially denied the Jews national status on the grounds that they lacked a territo­ rial homeland, the Jews were accorded many o f the same rights as the official m inority nations, including the right to use one of their own languages—Yiddish. As a result, during this period Jew ish writers and poets composed epic works that were published by one o f the world s largest Yiddish-language printing presses;9 Yiddish folk singers and klezmer bands toured the country and released phono­ graphic recordings;10 ethnomusicologists recorded, arranged, and published the tunes of the Jew ish shtetls;11Jewish research institutions, libraries, and museums were established in Kiev, M insk, Odessa, Leningrad, Moscow, Georgia, Biro­


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

bidzhan and Sam arkand;12 hundreds of thousands of Jew ish students attended Yiddish-language schools13; and seven State Yiddish Theaters entertained audi­ ences nightly. In an effort to solve the Jew s’ longing for a territorial homeland and to secure for the Jews the territorial underpinnings o f nationhood, the Soviet Union even established a Jewish Autonomous Region in Birobidzhan in 1934, where Yiddish was promoted as an official language.14 A ll this changed drastically in the early morning of January 13,1948, when Solomon M ikhoels, the director of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater and chair­ man o f the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, was killed in a truck accident near M insk. Few suspected that the accident had been orchestrated by the Secret Police and that M ikhoels was the first victim of w hat was to become Stalins final purge — this time directed against the Jewish cultural community. W ith the murder of M ikhoels, the Soviet state adopted an official policy of anti-Sem itism . W ith in the next two years, a group of prominent Yiddish writers and other public figures were arrested, Yiddish papers ceased publication, and the Yiddish printing press and all the Yiddish theaters were closed. T his was followed by the 1952 execution of thirteen prominent Jew ish activists, including several who had been involved with the Yiddish theater, and by the infamous Doctor s Plot the following year, in which a group of predominantly Jewish doctors were accused o f attem pting to poison leading Kremlin officials. UI would have liked the Moscow State Yiddish Theater and its actors to be remembered not only in light of the tragic events which beset them, but princi­ pally for their artistic work,” wrote A la Perelman-Zuskin, the daughter of the ac­ tor Benjamin Zuskin.15 Unfortunately, the tragic deaths o f M ikhoels, Zuskin, and other members of the theater have overshadowed their life achievements. M ikhoels has come to be associated almost exclusively with the beginning of Stalins purge o f Jewish cultural figures and the onset of official anti-Sem itism rather than with the theater to which he dedicated most of his life.16 Aside from representing the beginning o f a new era o f oppression, however, M ikhoels s mur­ der also represents the finale of an era of achievement and creative experimenta­ tion. D uring the thirty-year existence of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, M ikhoels and the theater helped transform the Soviet capital into one o f the most productive centers of Yiddish culture in the world. Yet it has been maintained that throughout its existence the Soviet state— often personified in the figures of Stalin and Lenin or viewed as an outgrowth o f M arxist ideologies—aspired to destroy Jewish culture. M any scholars have adopted an intentionalist argument, reasoning that from its inception the Bolshe­ vik Party considered the liquidation o f Jewish culture to be a theoretical and strategic imperative.17Chone Shmeruk, for instance, declared to the W orld Jewish Congress in 1973 that the political and ideological doctrine o f the Bolsheviks did not recognize the existence o f the Jewish people as self-evident and cast doubt on the existence o f a specific Jewish culture. . . . Stage by stage, it reduced the various spheres o f Jewish culture inherited from the pre-revolutionary period, denying the very



awareness o f its existence at times both in theory and practice, at other times in practice only.18

Lenin’s theoretical w ritings, especially his 1903 polemic against the Bund, have often lent credence to the intentionalist argument. The Bolshevik founder’s off­ hand remarks in favor of the total assimilation o f the Jews have helped scholars trace a direct line from the formation of the Bolshevik Party as an alternative to the “Jew ish M ensheviks” and the Bund to the pinnacle o f Soviet anti-Sem itism in the 1970s.1’ Others m aintain that “Lenin was an implacable foe of anti-Sem itism throughout his political career.”20The roots o f anti-Sem itism , they argue, must be found in the policies o f Lenin’s successor. Indeed, Stalins famous definition of a nation as a “historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture”21 clearly excluded the Jew s, who, until the 1934 foundation o f Birobidzhan, lacked a territorial unit o f their own. M any scholars have seen in Stalins definition a theoretical pretext for his campaign against “root­ less cosmopolitans” that would decapitate Soviet Jew ry forty years later.22 Others have subscribed to a “great man” theory o f history by arguing that the roots of official anti-Sem itism can be found in Stalins psychological profile, that antiSem itism was an integral component o f Stalin’s Weltanschauung. These studies point to Stalin’s seminary education, his lim ited contact with Jews during his childhood, his feelings of inadequacy when confronted with a group o f Jewish revolutionary intellectuals during his youth, and his alleged paranoia as the factors that fostered the dictator’s anti-Sem itic tendencies.23 The spread o f Soviet antiSem itism is thus seen as an intentional process surreptitiously planned by Stalin and gradually implemented according to some type of preconceived blueprint. Although the view that Stalin was deliberately anti-Sem itic has permeated much Soviet Jewish history, more general histories o f Stalin’s Russia as a whole have de-emphasized this aspect of his character. Robert Conquest, for instance, who could hardly be called an apologist, notes that Stalin’s “view of hum anity was cynical, and if he too turned to anti-Sem itism it was as a matter o f policy rather than dogma----- The ‘anti-Sem itism ,’ thus disguised, was in accord with Stalin’s general exploitation o f prejudices, and o f the gullibility and pliability o f men in general.”24

Totalitarian Culture In the years after W orld W ar II, the Soviet state began to deliberately dis­ criminate against its Jewish population and to single out Jews and Jewish insti­ tutions for persecution. Although many Yiddish schools, courts, newspapers, and other institutions had been closed during the late 1930s as part of a general discrimination against all national minorities and religions, after W orld W ar II discrimination against Jews took on more specifically anti-Sem itic dimensions. Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda was framed within an anti-Sem itic discourse, quotas were placed on Jew ish enrollment in institutions of higher learning, and 7

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

thousands o f Jews were persecuted as refusniks for requesting permission to em i­ grate. United in opposition to contemporary Soviet policies toward its Jews, Jew ­ ish intellectuals around the world began painting a picture o f a totalitarian state founded on the principles o f anti-Sem itism . The totalitarian paradigm is by no means unique to scholars of Jew ish history; some historians and political scien­ tists, often influenced by Cold W ar hostility, have maintained to varying degrees that the Soviet polity was a nearly static entity controlled by a tight-knit Party dominated by a relatively uncontested ruler who sought to impose his own w ill upon the populace.2S Others have shown that the Party itself was plagued by in­ ternal dissent (at least throughout its first decade in power) and was forced to com­ pete w ith a plurality of voices from the populace as a whole.26 M ost o f the discussion has centered on the interplay between politics and ideology. However, the Bolshevik Party from its earliest days was equally con­ cerned w ith the cultural front. Even Leon Trotsky, the commander of the Red Army, found time during the C ivil W ar to w rite articles instructing the New Sovi­ et M an on proper etiquette. C learly Bolshevik leaders were concerned with creat­ ing a truly new and revolutionary social and cultural discourse. Despite a plethora o f opinions, Soviet ideologists agreed on the fundamental premise that culture must serve a social function, but few agreed on the means o f reconciling educa­ tion with entertainment and channeling artistic creativity into social utility.27 A c­ cording to some advocates o f the totalitarian schema, the reigning Party should have had little difficulty reforming the social habits o f its subjects. Yet Peter Kenez has shown that despite their attempts to impose a new social discourse on the population, the Bolsheviks were plagued by financial limitations and a dearth of resources that often rendered their extensive network o f propaganda largely inef­ fective.28 The Party was ultim ately unable to mold the masses at w ill. Yet by the early 1920s the cultural sphere truly had been revolutionized as the people at­ tempted to perform and realize their own “revolutionary dreams.” Artists, scien­ tists, workers, peasants, professionals, women, Jews, and other ordinary citizens all expressed their enthusiasm and uncertainties about their future in their own way.29 Despite Lenin’s apprehensions, experiments in futurism, constructivism, Suprematism, acmeism, Taylorism, and formalism proliferated in this explosion of the avant-garde. One of the major sites o f conflict was the theatrical stage, where a myriad of voices competed to design the ultimate proletarian set.30 Some drama theorists, under the influence of Richard W agner and Friedrich Nietzsche, sought a return to the mass spectacles o f the Hellenic age by infusing religious content into the­ ater. Others directed their attention toward the proletariat by constructing scenes derived from the factory floor—the milieu o f urban workers—or they encouraged factory workers to form amateur theaters, thereby advocating a culture in which the people would be performers as w ell as spectators. Commissar o f Enlighten­ ment Anatolii Lunacharskii declared in 1925 a “return to [Aleksandr] Ostrovskii,” indicating a preference for the realism o f the nineteenth century. Others believed, simply, that ticket prices should be reduced to make theater affordable to the lower



classes. In short, voices in the cultural sphere were no less fragmented than the voices in the political sphere.

The Jewish Avant-Garde Recently some scholars have begun to look at the Jew ish cultural front as w ell. In his influential work on the Jewish Section of the Communist Party in the 1920s, Zvi G itelm an noted that the iconoclasm of the “revolution on the Jew ish street" was coupled w ith a constructive force, in which the Jew ish Section at­ tempted to modernize the shtetl through Yiddish courts, Party cells, and trade unions.31 Others have shown that much of the creative experimentation that char­ acterized Russian culture in general during the revolutionary era resonated w ithin both Hebrew and Yiddish theater, film, art, and literature.32 The Hebrew theater H abim a produced one of the most memorable theatrical productions o f the de­ cade w ith its rendition of Solomon Ansky s Dybbuk in 1922, M arc C hagall fused avant-garde aesthetics with the Jew ish heritage on canvas until his departure from the Soviet Union in 1922, and the writers o f the K ultur-Lige brought Yiddish poetry in a modernist framework to the Jews of the former Pale of Settlement. The vibrant Jew ish culture depicted in these works calls for a re-evaluation o f the state s relation to Jew ish artists and entertainers during the 1920s. Even Shmeruk noted that “we can see the period from the 1920s until 1941, the year o f the German invasion o f Soviet Russia, as the period when Soviet Yiddish literature flourished.”33 Perhaps, therefore, the obliteration of Jewish culture should be pushed back at least to coincide with Stalins C ultural Revolution or, to use his own term ,“Great Break” of 1928-1931.34 Indeed, it has long been contended among left-leaning circles that Soviet aspirations toward total power began only with Stalin’s “betrayal of the Revolution,” or “great retreat.”35 Subsequent explorations by Sheila Fitz­ patrick and others into social life after the C ultural Revolution have revealed a less static and homogenized portrait o f the Soviet 1930s. Revisionist historians have convincingly demonstrated that a deep chasm emerged between the state s am bi­ tions toward totality and the implementation of its policies.36 The study of Soviet cultural life in the 1930s, and particularly of the statemandated style of socialist realism, has also challenged totalitarian paradigms. W hereas most W estern observers once regarded socialist realist art as a perversion o f realism devoid of aesthetic merit, the methodologies of post-structuralist criti­ cism, with their appreciation of popular culture and audience tastes, have encour­ aged critics to search for popular and fam iliar themes in socialist realist culture. This methodology helped scholars construct a narratology of socialist realist fiction that revealed polyphonic voices within the aesthetic, political infighting among its trustees and continuities between the avant-garde experiments o f the 1920s and the artistic products of the 1930s.37 Others have observed in the culture of the 1930s a diverse subculture, or popular culture, which entertained the people in their daily lives.38 W ith few exceptions, these approaches have yet to be applied to


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

Jewish culture o f the period after the New Economic Policy (NEP), or to the culture o f the other m inority nations.39 Régine Robin, who has done work on both Russian and Yiddish socialist realism, is one of the few scholars who has appreci­ ated the “richness o f Jewish civil society in the Yiddish language until late in the 1930s.”40 Even among Yiddish specialists, the myth that socialist realist doctrines obliterated Judaic motifs from Yiddish culture has remained relatively unchal­ lenged. Thus many scholars continue to equate the rise o f socialist realism and its correlative slogan, “national in form, socialist in content,” with the decline of Jewish cultural expression. M ichael Stanislawski, for example, argues in a colorful essay that “beginning in 1930 and 1931, all attempts at creating a Soviet Jewish culture were all but smothered in the general obliteration of artistic and cultural creativity throughout the Soviet U nion.”41 Sim ilarly, in his decoding o f D er Nister’s 1929 “Under a Fence: A Revue,” David Roskies writes that the story “marked the end ofjew ish fantasy, and for all intents and purposes Jewish messianic dreams, in the vast Soviet empire.”42 Lester Samuel Eckman anachronistically argues that during the late 1930s, “the petty trader, the speculator, the luftmentsh, became a common stereotype of the Jews, at the same time that Jewish professors, doctors, teachers and others were contributing much to the development and moderniza­ tion of Russia.”43 Yet it was precisely during the 1930s that the characters of the petty trader, speculator, and luftmentsh were abolished from Soviet Yiddish litera­ ture to be replaced w ith workers, collective farmers, and Red A rm y soldiers. And the luftmentsh wzs not an invention of Soviet propagandists— rather he was a stock character o f pre-revolutionary Yiddish literature, folk tales, and songs. O ther historians have chosen 1937 as the turning point, interpreting the Great Terror as either a patently anti-Sem itic act or, at the very least, one that emphasized Jewish victimhood. “D uring the Great Terror,"writes Louis Rapoport, “Stalinist agitators had stirred up anti-Sem itic prejudice and brought it to a cli­ max.”44 Similarly, Eckman writes: “At first, by dark hints and allusions, Stalins agents stirred up anti-Sem itic prejudice and brought it nearer the surface until it reached its climax during the period o f the great purges in 1937-1939.”45 Others have seen a complete annihilation of Jew ish culture during the purges: “It may be said without exaggeration that after the purge of the thirties not a single person with any authority whatsoever was left at liberty in Soviet Jewish journalism , cul­ ture, or even science.”46 It has been contended that Jewish culture was gradually curtailed until “toward the end of the 30s nothing was left of it,”47 allowing Stalin to revel in the “total suppression of Jewish cultural life” as “fear and terror filled the hearts of every Jew in Russia, from the humblest citizen to the ranking Commu­ nist Party leader.”48 The notion that Stalin and his agents deliberately provoked anti-Sem itic discrimination as part of the Terror is not shared by most specialists on the purges. Indeed, despite acrimonious contentions over the periodization, motivations, pro­ cesses, and scale of the purges, none of the specialists on the period argue that the Terror was specifically anti-Sem itic in nature— that it singled out Jews for being Jew s.49 If Jews suffered disproportionately during the purges o f the 1930s, it can 10


be attributed largely to their heavy representation among the groups that were hardest hit—intellectuals and Party members. T hat is not to say that anti-Sem i­ tism was absent during this period. In fact, as Robert C . Tucker notes, hostility toward Jews became increasingly noticeable during the Great Terror.50 Social hos­ tility, however, should not be equated w ith the type o f genocide im agined by Eckman and others. Students o f the Soviet Union’s other national minorities have held that ethnic persecution was a pervasive aspect of Soviet policies toward non-Rus­ sians in general. O nly recently have specialists on the Jew ish minority, such as Igor Krupnik, come to realize that “Jew ish policy was a fairly integrated component o f Soviet nationalities policy. Several other peoples were purged and promoted in roughly the same way, while a few had a far more tragic record of persecution by the communist state.”51 Although the C ultural Revolution, the advent o f socialist realism, and, later, the purges o f the 1930s certainly curtailed the breadth o f Jew ish cultural expres­ sion, it must not be forgotten that some of the greatest achievements o f Jewish culture in the Soviet Union were produced during this time, such as Der Nister’s epic novel Family M asbber (1939) and the folk music collections of M oshe Bere­ govskii, M oshe Khashchevatskii, and Yekhezkel Dobrushin.52

The Denationalization of Jewish Culture The paradox that Yiddish culture flourished in a state that allegedly sought to eradicate Jewish nationhood has often been reconciled by denying that these works can be considered “Jew ish.” It has been contended that under the dictates of socialist realism, Jewish artists rejected their Jew ish heritage by “de-nationalizing” their art and purging it of Jewish motifs, m aking “Yiddish literature for the most part national only in its language m edium.”53 Historian Benjam in Pinkus, for instance, writes of the 1920s that “the Soviet government planned to cut the Jews off from their past in order to de-nationalize them completely, and the means of doing this was to be a process of stifling Jewish culture.”54The notion that Jewish national expression in the Soviet Union was curtailed, or even liquidated, begin­ ning in the 1920s has been w idely repeated. W e are told that Jew ish writers, art­ ists, performers, and musicians were confronted w ith “the choice between reject­ ing the Jewish idiom or sinking into oblivion.”55 Although one could certainly write o f “Jews in Soviet C ulture,” “Jews in Soviet M usic,” or “Jews in Russian literature,” the notion o f Jews in Jewish culture was rejected.56 W ith in this paradigm, Jews who achieved success in the Soviet Union were often dismissed as defectors from the national cause. The most intense criticism, ironically, fell on those who wrote in Yiddish rather than Russian. They were regarded as the fifth column, betraying the “Jew ish cause” from within. W hile historians, literary critics, and others have searched for Jew ish motifs and influ­ ences in the works of the Jew ish writers Ilya Ehrenburg and Isaac Babel or the Jewish mass song composers Isaac Dunaevskii, M atvei Blanter, and D m itrii Pokrass, all of whom achieved their fame within the Russian linguistic m ilieu, Y id­ dish writers, composers, and actors were dismissed for neglecting Judaic values and 11

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

forsaking their heritage.57Thus Gregor Aronson could refer to M ikhoels as “a man who had never taken part in Jew ish civic affairs,” despite the fact that M ikhoels had led the Yiddish theater for two decades and the Jew ish A nti-Fascist C om m it­ tee for five years before being murdered for his Jew ish activities.58 Although most scholars have placed the blame for this “de-nationalization” o f Soviet Jewish culture firmly in Stalin’s hands, some, like Ruth W isse, have pre­ sented a more nuanced approach to the problem. She prefers to emphasize the role that Jews themselves played in attacking Judaism —what she calls “the voluntary anti-Jewishness o f Jewish artists and Jew ish commissars.”59 “O w ing to its theo­ retical internationalism,” she continues, “Communism offered modern Jews the unique opportunity of renouncing Judaism not through defection (conversion to another religion) or through assimilation (conversion to another nationality), but through gradual national self-transcendence.”60 By linking the decline of Jewish culture in the Soviet Union to the universal phenomenon o f the “self-hating Jew," W isse succeeds in refining the conundrum. Indeed, one need only think of Benny Goodman, Irving Berlin, and Louis B. M ayer to remember that Soviet Jews were not alone in trying their luck in a non-Jewish m ilieu. W isse, however, retains the charge that “the harsh reality o f totalitarianism notwithstanding, the Jew ish w rit­ ers and artists o f Russia were freely exercising their own w ill in their adaptation to Communism and in their abandonment of their own civilization.”61 Although W isse correctly highlights the voluntary nature o f Soviet Jew ish adaptations, she presents it as a stark choice between Communism and Jewish civilization, leaving no room for compromise or subtle shading. The argument that Soviet Yiddish writers had rejected their Jew ish heritage achieved predominance during the 1960s and 1970s. But it was first put forward in the 1930s by a group of Russian Jewish émigrés based in New York, who at­ tempted to reconcile the existence o f a Jew ish cultural life in the Soviet Union with what they perceived as an official denial of Jewish national distinctness. Yiddish literary critic Shmuel N iger (1883-1955), for instance, m aintained that the So­ viet state stifled the development o f a Jewish national culture by prohibiting Y id­ dish writers from expressing themselves as Jew s.62 He blamed socialist zealots (as w ell as Zionist activists) for rejecting a m illennia-old tradition of Jewish bilingual­ ism by promoting the exclusive use of one language. The essence of Jewish selfexpression, he believed, rested in the ability to traverse between two linguistic cultures—Aramaic and Hebrew, Arabic and Hebrew, or Yiddish and Hebrew (not to mention Ladino, Spanish, and other linguistic cultures to which the Jews have belonged). W h ile other peoples certainly possessed both a lingua franca and a vernacular, only among the Jews, he m aintained, did the two linguistic cultures coexist in an equilibrium. He believed that Soviet Yiddish culture, w ith its com­ plete rejection of the Hebraic tradition, was simply a crude translation of Soviet culture into the Yiddish language— there was no Soviet Jewish culture, only Soviet Yiddish culture. O nly during W orld W ar II, when the same writers whom N iger had earlier criticized for forsaking their heritage began to openly express them ­ selves as Jews did N iger reverse him self and come to see the Soviet Yiddish writers



as modem “M arianos” (Jew s forcibly converted to C hristianity during the Spanish Inquisition, but who remained Jews in secret). On the other hand, essayist Nakhman M ayzel (1887-1966) argued that a literary analysis of the works of many Soviet Yiddish writers reveals strong nation­ alist motifs and evokes nationalist sentiments.63 Indeed, M ayzel, who emigrated to the U nited States after participating in numerous Yiddish cultural organizations in Kiev during the 1910s and editing the Yiddish literary journal Literarishe bleter (L iterary Pages) in W arsaw in the 1920s, played a seminal role in popularizing the works of Soviet Yiddish writers in the W est. Later Irving Howe was to continue M ayzel’s mission by reintroducing Soviet Yiddish writers to a new generation o f the Am erican public. Howe, however, confined him self to the early works of these w riters, noting that “it has seemed pointless to waste space by printing w hat Y id­ dish writers had to compose during the worst years of the Stalinist period— these should be fam iliar enough to anyone who has read equivalents in other languages. A nd there are some things it is better to leave in the past.”64 A sim ilar policy was followed by Golda W erman, who has recendy presented English speakers with a welcome translation of David Bergelsons early writings. Yet, following Howe, she too dismisses Bergelson’s later works, which were w ritten in a period when, she w rites, “anything that touched on Jew ish culture and the Jewish past was con­ sidered separatist and nationalistic.”65Although Howe and W erman were pioneer­ ing in their identification o f Judaic motifs in early Soviet Yiddish writing, they missed the opportunity to extend their observations into the 1930s and 1940s.

Secular Jewish Culture The near-total eradication o f public Judaic religious worship in the Soviet Union has contributed to the general impression that Jew ish cultural life as a whole was wiped out. Because they equated the Judaic religious faith with the Jewish nation, many scholars believed that the obliteration o f the latter necessarily followed from the deterioration o f the former. The position that Jewish culture cannot exist in a secular framework—now largely rejected by all but the most O r­ thodox religious circles—was a fairly widespread belief in the early years of this century; it was shared by both the Orthodox, who believed that all Jew ish life lay within Scripture, and by the assimilationists, who believed that the only obstacle to becoming true Germans or Americans was the synagogue. Abraham Idelsohn, for instance, one o f the foremost scholars of Jew ish ethnomusicology, had w rit­ ten o f Jew ish folk music that “if, by folk-song, we understand words and tunes of war and drink, of carnality and frivolity, then the Jews have no folk-songs. Jewish folk-song, like Jew ish life in the last two thousand years, nestles in the shadow of religion and ethics.”66 There were others, of course, who chose to expand their definition o f Jew ish culture beyond the synagogue and into the marketplace. Ethnomusicologist Lazar Saminsky, for instance, argued that the folk musicians o f the shtetl can be considered “Jewish” despite their secular orientation: “T hey were brought up on [Jew ish] beliefs and customs, on [Jew ish] tunes and melodic gusto.


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

. . . T heir exploration and endeavors created a genuine foundation of Jewish mu­ sical culture.”67 Although religious symbols continued to play an important role in secular culture, they were often desanctified and reinterpreted as cultural rather than religious motifs. The thesis that Judaic religious practice defines Jew ish culture was violently thrown into question during W orld W ar 11, not only as a result o f H itler’s insis­ tence that a people be defined by race rather than by cultural affiliation but, more important, by the nationalist sentiments that the Holocaust aroused in even the most fervent Jew ish assimilationists. The subsequent founding, predominantly by secular labor Zionists, of the State o f Israel and the flourishing o f secular cultural life in the new state convinced the m ajority that Jew ish culture need not be tied to religious faith. There were some who replaced religion w ith language as the decisive factor. This view took a concrete form at the Czernowitz Conference o f 1908, at which a group o f European Jew ish intellectuals determined Yiddish to be “a Jew ish na­ tional language,” and at the Tenth Zionist Congress of 1911, the first to be held prim arily in Hebrew. Influenced by Herderian notions of collective culture, the participants o f both conferences believed that a Jewish Geist could only emerge in a Jew ish language. Both groups were united in their opposition to the German Jew ish maskilim (enlighteners) who followed Leopold Zunz in asserting that any work produced by a Jew ish author could be considered part of Jew ish culture.6" Others, like the literary critic Baal-M akhshoves (Isador Eliashev, 1873-1924), sought a middle way: “And what, in a nutshell, is the point?” he wrote in 1918. “It is that we have two languages and a dozen echoes from other foreign languages, but that we have only one literature.”69 Indeed, Baal-M akhshoves was one of the first critics to call for a more complex assessment o f “Jewishness” in literature. It could hardly be forgotten, he wrote, that some of the greatest works of Jew ish lit­ erature, such as M oses M aim onides’ Guide to the Perplexed, w ritten in Arabic, were not w ritten in a “Jewish language.” Instead Baal-M akhshoves defined a work’s “Jewishness” by its content. The presumption that there are identifiably Jewish literary themes and that one can express oneself as a Jew within a secular context and even in a gentile lan­ guage has today become nearly universally accepted. Few would deny the influence of Judaism in the secular writings of Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, or Philip Roth, let alone the Yiddish w riter Sholem Aleichem or the Israeli winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, Shmuel Yosef Agnon. The same can be said for the films of W oody Allen or the art of M arc C hagall, to name but a few examples. In fact, it has been contended that Judaic motifs can even be found in the m athematical reasoning of Albert Einstein and the rational musical system of Arnold Schoen­ berg.70 Even though they were no longer w riting religious commentary or divine praises, all the aforementioned figures share a talmudic obsession with interpreta­ tion and an insistence that everything has meaning. A ll are, in some form or other, mimetic of rabbinical writing. From a thematic perspective, identifiably Jewish values can be found in the works of all o f these creators. Literary critics have pre­ sented varied views of Jew ish literary motifs; some have identified an adherence to 14


the code o f mentshlekbkayt— a faith in the innate goodness of hum anity and in its ability to actively bring about positive change.71 Others have seen a profound appreciation for the contemporary significance of history or the notion o f "tradi­ tion as continuity.”72 Others have searched for the intersection o f oral storytelling and the w ritten word;73 while still others have emphasized generational conflicts and alienation.74 Freud’s Oedipus complex, Kafka’s revolt against his "bourgeois father,” Portnoy’s carnal rebellion against his mother in Roth’s Portnoy's Complaint, and Tevye’s daughters’ abandonment o f their father’s tradition in Sholem A leichem’s Tevye the Dairyman all emphasize fam ilial relations and the tensions be­ tween parents and children as an essential component o f self-definition. A ll also share a preoccupation w ith the individual's alienation from society and the defin­ ing o f personal identity. Kafka’s Joseph K., Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman, Sholem Aleichem ’s M enakhem M endl, and Agnon’s lone writer in the Land o f Israel all search in vain to find a place for themselves in an alienating society. Sim ilarly, in their own ways, Einstein, Freud, and Karl M arx each sought order and meaning in an often hostile world. Recently several literary critics have come to reject this thematic approach on the grounds that such themes should not be claimed as the exclusive property o f the Jews— indeed, one need not look beyond Russia’s own writers Fedor Dosto­ evsky and Ivan Turgenev for examples of the generational conflict in non-Jewish literature. Instead, they have sought to define a "semiotics o f Yiddish communi­ cation,” or have searched for Jew ish archetypes in modern literature.75 Although they are not the exclusive property o f the Jews, the ubiquity of themes in Jewish w riting such as uprootedness, alienation, generational conflicts, and historical memory should not be overlooked. These themes can be considered Jew ish not only because of their common usage among Jew ish writers, but also because o f their biblical roots, ranging from Job’s compulsion to find meaning in suffering to the fam ilial conflicts between Joseph and his brothers to the pretext "because I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt,” which justifies modern obli­ gations by referring to historical moments. C learly there is no litmus test that veritab ly identifies Jewish content. T hat being said, few would disagree that a group o f Jews that performs Yiddish plays situated within a Jewish m ilieu, refers to Jew ish themes and Jewish history, and whose audience is largely Jewish could be considered “Jew ish.” T his was the case of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater.

Soviet Jewish Theater As has been the case w ith much Soviet Yiddish culture, the history o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater has been largely unexamined. A rt and theater his­ torians have evaluated the theater’s aesthetic approach to selected productions,76 and anecdotal glimpses into M ikhoels’s life can be gleaned from several biogra­ phies that his contemporaries have written o f him .77 There has not yet been an attempt, however, to assess the theater’s relationship with the state during its heyday, to place the theater within the context o f Soviet culture, or to examine the theater as a window into Soviet Jewish life. 15

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

One of the prim ary impediments to such a project has been a lack of sources. Soon after M ikhoels’s death, his papers were seized from his office by the Secret Police and transferred to the Bakhrushin Theater M useum and Archive. In order to eradicate his legacy the M inistry o f State Security ordered the theater’s archives destroyed in 1953: a massive bonfire was lit that consumed large segments of the Yiddish theater’s records. Satisfied that the deed had been carried out, the inspec­ tor departed before the blaze subsided. The fire was quickly extinguished and all archival remnants were collected and hidden. O nly since Gorbachev unleashed his program of glasnost have these salvaged documents emerged from their hiding place and become available to researchers. These documents, which constitute the largest segment o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater collection at the Russian State Archive of Literature and A rt in Moscow, are analyzed for the first time in this book. The most important segment of the collection consists of the texts and syn­ opses of most of the plays performed at the Yiddish theater. Although some texts did not survive the fire and others are missing segments or are partially burned around the edges, these documents allow for the first reconstruction of the theater’s content. Indeed, most of the plays performed at the Yiddish theater were never published; it was impossible before the opening o f this archive to make any ju d g­ ment about their content. In addition to the scripts themselves, the artistic seg­ ment of the archive contains selected directorial notes, visual m aterial, and musical compositions, allowing the modern researcher to reconstruct performances. The administrative segment o f the collection, containing the theater’s correspondence w ith the Union o f Artists and the Com missariat of Enlightenment, reveals al­ tercations between the theater and its overseers and attests to the director’s early resistance to state interference. The protocols o f the Yiddish Theatrical Society, also part o f the administrative segment, establish the theater’s pre-history as an autonomous association. Press releases, posters, programs, and financial reports have provided clues into how the public received their productions; and biographi­ cal information and salary lists have allowed the researcher to unmask the theater’s participants. Finally, the collection contains the Com mittee of Artistic Affairs’ archive on the Yiddish theater, including its correspondence, financial records, and the archives of the theater’s liquidation committee. In addition to the holdings o f the Russian State Archive o f Literature and A rt, this book examines the correspondence between the theater and the Communist Party, housed at the Russian Center for the Preservation and Study o f M odern History, and the Com missariat of Enlightenm ent’s notes on the theater, housed at the State Archives of the Russian Federation. Both of these collections reveal the methods by which the state and the Party attempted to assert control over the theater and the means by which the theater resisted. Finally, m aterial on the early history o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater can be found in the manuscript divisions of the Bakhrushin Archive in Moscow and the Public Library in St. Petersburg. Other valuable sources have been brought to Israel by Russian immigrants. Among these sources are the immigrants themselves, who brought with them 16


their own recollections. T his study has benefited extensively from both formal interviews with participants in the theater and less formal talks w ith casual observ­ ers. W hen M ikhoels’s daughters im m igrated in 1972, they brought w ith them segments from their father’s personal archives, which they had taken possession o f before the documents were transferred to the Bakhrushin Archive. These have since been deposited in the C entral Archives for the History o f the Jew ish People in Jerusalem . The personal archives o f various writers and actors, including addi­ tional scripts, have also been deposited in Tel Aviv’s Diaspora Research Institute by their families. Finally, the Israel Goor Theater Archive and M useum in Jerusa­ lem has recently collected press reports on the theater and has obtained more seg­ ments o f M ikhoels’s personal archives, including stenographic reports of his most im portant speeches and his notes on staging. Thus for the first time, the texts o f the Yiddish theater’s plays and the theater’s correspondences w ith state and Party organizations have become available for examination. The new sources examined in this book demonstrate that the Moscow State Yiddish Theater expressed itself to varying degrees as a “Jew ish” theater through­ out its history. It was “Jewish” not only in the narrow sense that with few excep­ tions, its actors, designers, musicians, playwrights, administrative directors, and most o f its audience were Jewish; but in the broader sense that it addressed dis­ tinctly Jew ish concerns from a distinctly Jewish perspective. On its stage could be found folk legends of the East European Jew ish masses, august defenders o f an­ cient Judaea, talmudic parables o f rabbinical wisdom, lyrical anecdotes o f Zionist dreams, sacred prayers for divine intervention, and modern conundrums o f the Jewish condition. The people who made the theater saw it as part of a cultural and historical continuum of Jew ish culture, beginning with Abraham’s covenant w ith God. The Moscow State Yiddish Theater interpreted its surroundings in light o f Jewish memory and as exegesis of Hebraic texts— in the words of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, w riting of medieval Jew ish texts, they tended “to assimilate events to old and established conceptual fram ew orks. . . to subsume even major new events to fam iliar archetypes.”78 The aesthetic, ideological, administrative, and political history o f the M os­ cow State Yiddish Theater challenges the presumption that Soviet Yiddish culture only existed within an elusive and even deviant “denationalized” void. On the contrary, the theater proudly asserted and celebrated Jewish identity—sometimes with the overt blessing of the regime and at other times as a surreptitious challenge to authority. Through the use of allegorical language and symbolic allusions, the theater was able to project illicit messages past the censors, who often spoke no Yiddish and were unfam iliar with Judaic lore. O nly those segments of the audience who were steeped within the Judaic tradition were capable of deciphering the theater’s codes. A t the same time, the theater adhered to the principles o f socialist realism and the goals of Soviet socialism. Its participants sought to create a renaissance o f Jewish culture in cooperation w ith the “first socialist state” and in harmony with the ideals o f the Revolution. Its performances genuinely scorned the aristocracy and bourgeoisie, lamented the fate o f the downtrodden masses, celebrated the 17

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

progress o f socialist construction in the Soviet Union, and spoke to the broad masses, drawing upon their traditions and hopes. In short, the theater exhibited the three elements of socialist realism identified by C . Vaughan James in his study o f the doctrine —narodnost (popular spirit), partiinost (social function in conjunc­ tion with the Communist Party), and klassovost (a class-based worldview).79These ideals, however, were not perceived to be incompatible with expressions of Jewish identity. Despite a theoretical denial of Jew ish nationhood, in practice the Soviet state accepted the existence of a Jewish nation, for better or for worse. Stalin and the Bolshevik Party recognized Yiddish as the national language o f the Jews and hence permitted and funded Yiddish Party cells, a Yiddish w riter’s union, Yiddish printing presses, Yiddish journals, and Yiddish theaters until after W orld W ar II. Sim ilarly, the term “Jew ” was enforced as a national designation to be stamped on passports, and a Jew ish Autonomous Region was established in southeastern S i­ beria. W hen the slogan “national in form, socialist in content” was implemented, the Jews, like all other nationalities, were expected to communicate socialist ide­ ologies to their audiences through national discourses. The Moscow State Yiddish Theater w illingly complied. Although there were times throughout the period that either side o f the equation predominated, in general the theater found a bal­ ance between its Judaic heritage and socialist yearnings. O nly when the zealous guardians of proletarian art within the Communist Party placed partiinost above all else did some of the theater s participants realize that the model o f Communism being implemented in the Soviet Union was far from a panacea and begin to search for alternative cures. These acts of resistance contributed, after W orld W ar II, to the ultim ate destruction o f the Yiddish theater.80


“Let s Perform a Miracle”: The Creation o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater

In February 1917 the streets of Petrograd erupted in revolution. As Nicholas II, the last tsar o f Russia, abdicated the throne held by his fam ily for 300 years, a Provisional Government was set up to run the country until elections could be held for Russia’s first democratically elected constituent assembly. Among the many who rejoiced at the collapse o f the autocracy was a large segment of the Jewish population. Liberal democratic politicians governing for the first time over the w orlds largest concentration of Jews promised an end to their political, social, and cultural discriminations. Eight months later, the Provisional Government was overthrown by a small group of individuals belonging to a radical M arxist-inspired party calling themselves Bolsheviks. A t the head of this “revolution”were two men: Vladim ir Lenin, the founder of the Bolsheviks, and Leon Trotsky, the Jewish long­ time radical activist and recent convert to Bolshevism. As of August 1917, five other members o f the Party’s twenty-one member Central Committee were o f Jewish origin (G rigorii Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Iakov Sverdlov, M oisei Uritskii, and G rigorii Sokolnikov). Despite the Jew ish Bolsheviks’ total rejection of their Judaic heritage and identity, Jews and non-Jews alike quickly noticed the dispro­ portionate number of Jews who constituted the upper echelons of the new Soviet government. In spite of the new predominance o f a select group of their co-religionists, most o f the Jewish population was cautious in lending its support to the new Bolshevik regime. Even the m ajority of Jew ish socialists were more likely to have supported either the M enshevik faction of the Social Democrats or the Bund, the Jewish socialist party. M any liberal Jews feared that the Bolsheviks would reverse the gains Jews had made under the Provisional Government, while Jewish mer­ chants were w ary of the Bolshevik promise to nationalize trade. The Zionists, for their part, protested Soviet nationality policy for failing to grant official recogni­ tion to the Jews as a nation. The Jewish Orthodox and Hasidic populations, which constituted the vast majority of the Jewish population in the region, were the most distrustful; many had seen promising young rabbinical students abandon their religious studies, families, and traditions, enticed by the socialists’ promises of a just society. On the other hand, the Bolsheviks were less offensive than the antiSem itic and right-w ing political parties that continued to threaten the shtetl. In late 1917, for the first time, Lenin admitted the great significance of Jewish participation in the Revolution and formed the Commissariat of Jew ish Affairs (Evkom), a division of the Com missariat of N ationality Affairs. The Com m is­ sariat o f Jew ish Affairs, along with parallel organizations for the M uslim , Polish, Latvian, Arm enian, and Belorussian nations, was created with the goal of im ple­ menting Bolshevik policies and conducting propaganda among its national con­ 19

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

stituents. Soon after the establishment of the Jewish Com missariat, a Jew ish Sec­ tion (Evsektsiia), was formed within the Communist Party. O riginally, the two organizations were expected to operate separately; the Com missariat o f Jewish Affairs was to deal with affairs o f the state and the Jew ish Section with Party af­ fairs. However, the fact that they shared a common director in the person o f for­ mer rabbi Semen Dimanshtayn did litde to help delineate their responsibilities. W ith in the next two years the Com missariat of Jew ish Affairs declined in impor­ tance as most of its functions were taken over by the Jewish Section. B y 1920 the Com missariat o f Jew ish Affairs was downgraded to a department; it was dissolved four years later along w ith the entire Com missariat of N ationality A ffairs.1 Both the Jew ish Section and the Com missariat o f Jew ish Affairs hoped to instill Bolshevik values, centered on communism and secularism, among the Jew ­ ish masses. In accordance with Lenin’s nationality policy, the Jew ish organs spread Bolshevik propaganda in the language o f their constituencies—Yiddish. It was hoped that Yiddish propaganda would help persuade the masses o f traditional Jews in the provinces to abandon their religious beliefs and embrace the new so­ cialist dogmas. Given a 70.4 percent Jewish literacy rate according to the census of 1920— more than double the average for the Soviet population in general— Dimanshtayn believed that the Jews could be easily reached through the written m edia.2 However, he failed to realize that they were also more likely to question w ritten material that contradicted their own corpus o f traditional works. The fail­ ure of the first Soviet Yiddish-language newspaper, Di varhayt (The Truth, Janu­ ary 1918-A ugust 1918), proved to some that the creation of a new age required a new mode o f discourse w ith no strong roots in the past. Some believed that the Jew ish discourse could be purified with a linguistic reform sim ilar to the reforms of other Soviet languages. Such a reform was carried out in 1919-1920 by the Yiddish linguists Ilya Falkovitsh (1898-1979), A yzik Zaretskii (1892-1956), and Nakhum Sh tif (1879-1933). The overarching goal o f the linguistic reform was to purify the Yiddish language through de-H ebraicization, just as the C entral Asian languages had been purged o f Arabisms and Farsisms, and through a reform of spelling, in which the consonantal endings were removed, a more phonetic spelling was adopted, the silent aleph was removed from the middle of words, and the gender o f several words was changed.3 The reform served as a literal break from both pre-revolutionary Yiddish and the Yiddish used in the capitalist world. Those more committed to revolutionary iconoclasm saw linguistic reform as counterproductive. The reformers, they believed, were, to paraphrase Lenin, “revo­ lutionaries in word and reformists in deed.” The complete overhaul o f tradition, the revolutionary iconoclasts maintained, required not only the expression of new ideas, but also a novel way o f expressing those ideas; in short, the creation o f a new mode o f discourse. Russian poets, such as Andrei Bely and Aleksandr Blok, who united around the journal Apollon, followed the German modernists and French symbolists in believing that language was not a neutral force but rather that it imparted its own dated values onto society. T hey believed that in order to bring about societal change language must not only be reformed, but in some cases, 20

"Let's Perform a M iracle'

abolished altogether in favor o f nonverbal forms of communication, often epito­ mized by theater.4 D rawing from the example of the French Revolution, many Bolshevik and pre-revolutionary aesthetic philosophers associated theater w ith revolution: the events o f 1789 had created a public for the bourgeois theater of Schiller and his notions o f culture and morality; the 1848 Springtim e of Nations was epitomized by W agner’s romantic extravaganzas and, later, W edekind’s erotic C hristianity; and the final workers’ revolution would, in turn, be remembered by its proletarian futurist theater. Theater was seen by these thinkers not only as a practical instru­ ment of propaganda but also as a sacred festival. As early as 1904, the philosopher Viacheslav Ivanov, who after the Revolution would join the Theatrical Depart­ ment o f the Com missariat o f Enlightenment, revived the myth o f the theater as a temple in which rituals derived from Dionysian cults could unite Christ and man. This veneration o f the “New Dionysus” was drawn from W agner and Nietzsche, both o f whom sought a return to the passion o f the Hellenic m ind.5 Commissar o f Enlightenm ent Anatolii Lunacharskii rejected many of Ivanov’s cultic fantasies but still believed in 1920 that “there is no doubt that each epoch must have its own theater, and our great revolutionary epoch, approaching socialism, cannot but create its own theater, reflecting its passions, intentions, hopes, mishaps and victo­ ries.”6 The chief proponent of this position within the Jewish community was M oshe Litvakov (1880-1939). In his youth, Litvakov had seemed an unlikely candidate for Bolshevik zealotry: he had received a traditional Jew ish elementary education before studying in a yeshiva and joining the Poalei Tsion party, a labor Zionist movement advocating the establishment o f a Jewish state in Palestine on socialist principles. In 1902 he moved to Paris, where he studied philosophy at the Sor­ bonne. Three years later he returned to Russia and quickly became involved in Jewish revolutionary circles. After the Revolution he became the head of the Jewish W riters Section, a member of the Jew ish Section, and a staff member of Di varhayt’s successor, D er ernes (The Truth), assuming the task o f editor in chief in 1924. In a radical shift from his earlier Zionist affiliations, Litvakov became a stalwart opponent o f Zionism and the Hebrew language; he vehemendy perse­ cuted those who continued to champion either. H is precise and methodological skill at literary criticism combined w ith his revolutionary zeal made him a valuable asset for the Jewish Section and helped gain him a great deal of influence on Jew ­ ish cultural life. As a member of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater’s governing board, he was also able to influence the organization directly. His unrelenting po­ liticizing would eventually earn him the hatred o f all those who found themselves to be the targets of his criticism. Litvakov’s promotion o f Yiddish theatrical arts was a paramount factor in the formative period of the Yiddish theater. Referring to the importance that rabbini­ cal circles placed on written texts, he claimed that Hebrew literature could not be an art for the working people because it had been contaminated by the spirit o f pre-emancipated Jew ry.7The only medium appropriate for the expression of rev­ olutionary ideas, he continued, was the theater. In reference to the Russian lan­ 21

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

guage theater, Lunacharskii had argued that theater first had to be purged o f the bourgeois connotations it had acquired in its nineteenth-century heyday.8 Indeed, Trotsky also wrote that theater “is perhaps the most conservative form o f art.”9 But Litvakov and his supporters maintained that Yiddish theater was exonerated from this responsibility because it was a new art form emerging from a blank slate. Litvakov claimed that Jew ish theater had no past and thus carried no traditional undertones—it was truly the forum of the Jew ish future. The myth that the Jewish theater was creating form out o f void permeated the thought of many Jew ish theater activists. M any even spoke o f Soviet Yiddish the­ ater in messianic terms. The founding o f a Yiddish theater represented to them the birth of a new era and the emancipation of Judaism from centuries of oppression. The theme o f cultural regeneration recurs throughout the speeches of those in­ volved with the opening o f the theater. Abram Efros wrote: “[The Yiddish theater is] a theater that is its own grandfather, father, and son. A theater that has not yet any past, present, or future and that must create for itself a past, present and fu­ ture.”10 Solomon M ikhoels echoed him: “First and foremost, it must be under­ stood that [the State Yiddish theater] was built up from a blank slate___It cried out to live together with all the power of the Russian Revolution.”11 W h ile it is true that Yiddish theater had few bourgeois precedents to destroy, it did have a heritage in popular street theater and melodrama. Thus, some activists preferred to interpret the creation of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater in apoca­ lyptic terms— it was not creating form out of void; it was a destructive force, de­ stroying in order to create anew. It was in reference to this melodrama that M arc C hagall wrote: “Let us join forces and get rid of this rubbish. L et’s perform a mira­ cle.”12This type o f iconoclastic rhetoric was a common attribute of revolutionary discourse, expressed not only in the manifestos of the futurists but also in popu­ lar rituals and hooliganism .13 C hagall was not the only member of the troupe to use religious im agery in his portrayal of the theater. Aleksandr Granovsky wrote: “W h at kind of theater w ill you be? W h at gods w ill you seek? W e don’t know our gods—we seek them. Perhaps we w ill make gods for ourselves.”14 Influenced by Ivanov and the playwright and drama theorist Nikolai Evreinov, Granovsky the theater director equated him self with a miracle worker capable of transforming the theater into a temple. The reference to god-building was an echo of pre-revolu­ tionary rhetoric, propagated by such influential figures as M aksim Gorky and Lunacharskii, which linked religious millenarianism to socialist utopianism. L en­ in’s speeches on utopian dreams, the poetry and art o f the futurists, the aesthetic philosophy of Ivanov, and the newest trends in Soviet theater all proclaimed the dawn o f a “new world” and the need to “remake everything.”15

Prologue However, the claims of the progenitors of Soviet Yiddish theater that they were creating form out of void and initiating an apocalyptic rebirth were exagger­ ated. Jewish theater had long been prohibited by rabbinical authorities because of its common association with pagan ritual— a prohibition shared by pre-Renais­ 22

"Let’s Perform a M iracle’

sance Christian authorities. Jew ish theater was further discouraged by halakbic (Judaic law) prohibitions on women singing and dancing in front of men and on men dressing as women. Thus, for many centuries, Jew ish theater was restricted to the purimspiel, performed on the festival of Purim . This festival commemorates the victory of Esther and her cousin Mordechai over Haman, the royal adviser o f Persia who had been designing a genocide of the Jewish people. D uring Purim, Jews are told to remember the banquet held by the Persian king Ahasverous by “drinking until they cannot tell the difference between Haman and M ordechai.” It became traditional to masquerade as characters from the story, and it even became acceptable in more radical circles for men to dress as women. D uring the M iddle Ages, largely through the influence o f Christian mystery plays, German Fastnachtspielers , English harlequins, and other folk carnivals, the Purim celebrations became more formalized as the festival turned into a Jewish mardi gras during which street parades would usher in the purimspielers, who would visit aristocratic neighborhoods demanding to put on living-room exhibi­ tions. In addition to the traditional Esther story (which incidentally, also formed the basis of much non-Jewish theater, including the first recorded play in M usco­ vite history performed at the court of the seventeenth-century tsar, Alexis M ik ­ hailovich) other legends, such as the story of Joseph, were gradually incorporated into the repertoire of the purimspielers. M any of the professional Jew ish actors of the twentieth century, including M ikhoels, fondly recalled these purimspielers as an early influence. Another important source o f early Jewish theater was the wedding. The badkhen, the jester who played the role of master of ceremonies at Jewish weddings, would entertain the guests with w itty jokes and sermons. The post-wedding party itself was also a free-for-all theatrical experience as fiddlers played lively klezmer music w hile men and women danced in separate quarters, impressing their peers through acrobatics and circus feats. This spontaneous conversion o f the solemn religious ceremony into a festive event also served as an important basis for subse­ quent theater. The wedding scene would become an integral ingredient o f virtually every Yiddish play; the audience would be disappointed if they left without one. A final theatrical influence in the Ashkenazic Jewish tradition were the socalled Broder singers, itinerant bards who traveled through Eastern Europe per­ forming pranks and short skits in marketplaces. The name derives from the Polish town o f Brody, which hosted a thriving Jewish community immersed in enlight­ ened thought. The first such entertainers emerged in the 1860s. T heir shtiks ap­ pealed prim arily to the lower-class maskilim because they satirized the Jewish upper classes and the pious Hasidic rebbes. Not surprisingly, the first genuine Yiddish theatrical troupes emerged in Russia and Eastern Europe where the vast m ajority of world Jew ry resided. W hile Yiddish had become the most commonly spoken language among Ashkenazic Jews since the fourteenth century, its use was mostly restricted to oral discourse; the sacred Hebrew language was reserved for scholarship and dignified writing. However, beginning in the 1860s several maskilim, influenced by the emergence o f national vernaculars throughout the Russian, Hapsburg, and Ottoman Empires, 23

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

sought to turn their own vernacular into a literary language. This movement was spearheaded by the novelist S. Y. Abramovitsh (1835-1917), known by his pseud­ onym M endele M okher Sforim (M endele the Book Peddler). M endele’s poignant portraits of Jew ish life in the shtetls of Eastern Europe not only immortalized his own name but also influenced the next generation o f Yiddish writers who would revolutionize the Yiddish language and Jewish identity along the way. Among this group were the writers Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916), Sholem Asch (18801957), Isaac Leyb Peretz (1852-1915), Solomon Ansky (1863-1920), and the playwright Abraham Goldfadn (1840-1908). Goldfadn, a free-thinking former ladies’ hat salesman, is credited w ith having founded the first Yiddish language theater in Iasi, Rumania, in 1876. W hether or not Goldfadn’s troupe was actually the first Yiddish theater has never fully been established. D uring the 1920s and into the 1930s many actors refuted Goldfadns claim. For instance, Abraham Fishzon claimed to have been a member o f a troupe in Berdichev in 1875, while others claimed to have been in Yiddish theaters in W arsaw and even Constantinople in 1870 and 1875, respectively.16There is little evidence to substantiate any o f the stories— many troupes were camouflaged as German theaters, m aking it difficult to differentiate them from genuine Yiddish theaters, and opinions seem to have been formed more out of civic patriotism than historical research. D uring the Balkan wars of 1875-1878, Goldfadns troupe found its way into Odessa, where the large Jewish population greeted it with tremendous enthusiasm. Its presence stimulated the development o f several other Yiddish theaters, all of which presented so-called shund (trash) entertainment, performing melodramatic comedies and operettas replete w ith couplets, vulgar witticism s, double entendres, crass jokes, bawdiness, and suggestive movements. Various attempts by journalists such as Osip Lerner (1847-1907), who became director of the Odessa M arinskii Theater in 1880, to aristocratize the theater by presenting high-brow art were merely mocked by Goldfadns more popular troupe. After the 1881 assassination of Tsar Alexander II, the situation of Jews in Russia worsened drastically. Anti-Jewish pogroms swept through the Pale o f Set­ tlement (the western provinces to which Jewish residence was restricted) and the reactionary Tsar Alexander III promulgated the M ay Laws restricting Jewish free­ doms. In 1883, after a performance of Goldfadns BarKokhba about the secondcentury Jew ish rebellion in Palestine, the M inistry of Internal Affairs issued a ban on all Yiddish theater. The thriving theatrical community that had been forming around Goldfadn disintegrated as the actors returned to their former jobs or em i­ grated. Indeed, many of the most prominent actors on New York’s celebrated Second Avenue stages arrived in Am erica during this period, along w ith 1.3 million other Jew ish immigrants who flooded the Lower East Side. Among the émigrés were Goldfadn him self and several members of his troupe, including Jacob Adler, S ig ­ mund Mogulesko, and David Kessler—all of whom would become leading stars of the Yiddish theater in Am erica. It was not until the next wave of immigrants in the 1890s, which included Jacob Gordin and other former assimilationists, that New 24


Let's Perform a M iracle *

York Yiddish theater would progress into a “dignified” art form that emulated the bourgeois stages o f St. Petersburg and Berlin. M eanwhile, back in Russia, several small traveling troupes continued to func­ tion despite the ban, often deceiving the authorities by advertising themselves as “German” troupes and simply fleeing from town to town whenever the authorities caught on. W h ile most of these troupes were o f an inferior quality, often merely recreating Goldfadn’s plays from memory, one troupe stood out—that of Abra­ ham Fishzon, which was active in the 1890s. One o f the reasons for his success was his troupe’s material basis. Unlike the m ajority of traveling troupes, Fishzon had the money to support his actors, allowing them to develop their skills and become true professionals. Fishzon’s permanence also allowed him to develop a following, an achievement made difficult due to the impossibility of advertising.17 By the turn o f the century a debate about the merits of Yiddish theater was brewing in the Russian press, particularly in the Jewish Russian-language journals Voskhod [Dawn] and Budushchnost [The Future].18 The debate was sparked by a series o f letters to the editor o f Voskbod which told o f several groups o f Jewish youth banding together to perform plays in southern Ukraine. M ost of these let­ ters noted the predominance o f the plays of Goldfadn due both to a lack of rep­ ertoire and the people’s passion for historical plays. For instance, the author of one letter wrote that “among the local Jew ish youth, small curious circles are emerging with the goal of putting on performances__ The Jewish public, for the most part, demonstrates an interest in plays o f Jew ish life in general, and of Jewish history, especially its heroic epochs.”19 O ther letters noted that “curiously, the perfor­ mances even interest the Russian population, but the Jewish intelligentsia still feels uncomfortable in their presence.”20The same themes were echoed in a letter to the editor of Budushchnost: “[A group of] Jewish youth gave their first perfor­ mance under the leadership o f the artist Ariana-M ikhailova. The evening at­ tracted a large public, Christians and Jews, who were quite satisfied with the young amateurs.”21 However, many of the more conservative segments of the Jewish popula­ tion, maskilim and religious Jews alike, still looked upon the theater with suspicion. The Orthodox opposed its flagrant violation of the legal and rabbinical bans, while many maskilim still regarded Yiddish theater as a fad popular only among the youth— true art, they m aintained, must be expressed in the elevated languages o f Goethe and Shakespeare, not the crass jargon of milkmen and housewives. The self-conscious aristocratic Jews o f St. Petersburg were particularly adamant in their insistence on this rule; if it was not done in the celebrated salons o f Berlin and Paris, they would not allow it to be done in Petersburg. Champions of Yiddish theater realized that the most effective means of convincing their opponents was to provide evidence of a European precedent. For instance, after witnessing a per­ formance of an “eastern operetta” entitled D aughter o f Jerusalem which was per­ formed in Berlin, ethnomusicologist lu lii Engel wrote in Voskhod that this theater was in fact a Jewish theater: it was patronized by Jews, performed in Yiddish, dealt with Jew ish themes, and used Jewish music and dance. The existence of such a theater, he argued, proved that fine art could be expressed in Yiddish.22Two years 25

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

later, the discovery of another Yiddish theater in Austrian Lemberg, this time openly calling itself Jewish, buttressed Engel’s argument: UI am convinced that a jargon theater can be established,” the discoverer of the theater wrote, and “that sensible plays can be produced there, that these artists are tremendously talented and embody the living, genuine spirit o f contemporary Jewry, and that there is no theater public more receptive and responsive than the Jew ish theater public.”23 Since the open publication of the existence of Yiddish troupes on Russian soil did not provoke a new police crackdown, many of these troupes became more selfconfident, settling in the large Jew ish population centers of Odessa, V ilna, W ar­ saw, Lodz, or Kiev. However, with the economic downslide of 1903, which was accompanied by a revival o f anti-Jewish pogroms, many troupes either disbanded or fled to Am erica. One exception, again, was Fishzon’s troupe, which enabled Odessa to have a steady Jewish theater between the years o f 1900 and 1904. As the existence of a permanent Yiddish theater in Odessa gradually became known, the Odessa liberal press occasionally even took to reviewing Yiddish plays. After the 1905 Revolution, general theatrical journals joined the Jewish press in its call for the legalization o f Yiddish theater.24 However, a repertory problem remained: with no Yiddish dramatists, the troupes were consistently forced to perform revised versions of the old Goldfadn melodramas. In an effort to develop a Yiddish theatrical repertoire, the popular Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem , who was residing in Warsaw, resolved to write a series of Yiddish plays and to solicit plays from other writers. “The day is near," he promised, “when one w ill no longer hear ‘German’ in the Jewish theater anymore----- The Jew ish language, the true language o f the people, Jargon [Yiddish], w ill take its place.”2S Simultaneously, in Warsaw, the Yiddish modernist Isaac Leyb Peretz began reviewing Yiddish plays in the press; his constructive criticisms and support helped guide young play­ wrights in the art of drama. However, Peretz’s calls for the “democratization” o f theater to make it more accessible to the masses were met with criticism from Sholem Asch, who preferred high art that catered toward the bourgeoisie.26 The same year, the director Spivakovskii, who had been collaborating with Sholem Aleichem, made a daring trip to St. Petersburg w ith his troupe, flaunt­ ing his rejection o f the ban right in the tsar’s capital, where he played Goldfadn’s Shulamis and Two Kunt-Lemh. M ost important, the tour gave the illusion that Yiddish theater was now permitted again. However, there was a constant aware­ ness that the Yiddish theater was not experiencing a healthy growth due to a very lim ited repertoire and perpetual fear of a renewal of tsarist oppression, not to mention resistance from within the Jewish community. In 1907 the crackdown finally occurred as the M inistry of Internal Affairs reaffirmed the ban and Yiddish theater was once again forced to go underground. By the time the ban was relaxed again two years later, a group of w ealthy Jewish activists, who had profited from the economic opportunities offered by Russia’s industrialization, could be found who were w illing to patronize the theater. Fur­ thermore, the efforts of Sholem Aleichem, Peretz, and others to promote the Yiddish language as a dignified vehicle of literary expression had been astonish­ ingly successful. The most concrete expression o f this achievement was the 1908 26

“L et’s Perform a M iracle "

Czernowitz Conference in Hapsburg Bukovina, at which a prominent group o f Jew ish writers declared Yiddish their preferred language of expression. In this atmosphere, a Yiddish Theatrical Society was formed in W arsaw by Peretz and the Bundist poet, pamphleteer, and playwright, A. Vayter (Isaac M eir Devenishskii, 1878 or 1879-1919). The society encouraged a young playwright named Peretz Hirschbein (1881-1948) to switch from Hebrew to Yiddish w rit­ ing. In 1908 he moved to Odessa, where he founded the first professional Yiddish art theater, modeled on Constantine Stanislavsky’s renowned M oscow A rt T he­ ater. W h ile the troupe only lasted two years before Hirschbein emigrated, it had proven that a Yiddish art theater was viable and had produced at least one excep­ tional actor—Jacob Ben-Am i. After the dispersion o f the Hirschbein troupe, BenA m i moved to Vilna, where he helped form the Organization o f Yiddish Artists, which, in 1916, became the acclaimed Vilna Troupe. Even before its 1920 adap­ tation o f Solomon Ansky s Dybbuk, the theater had achieved fame throughout Poland; eventually it became known throughout Europe. It 1924 it emigrated to Am erica. B y 1912 there were sixteen Yiddish theatrical troupes in Russia; according to one estim ate, by W orld W ar I there were a total of 600 Jew ish actors and chorus members, 90 percent o f whom lived in poverty. After the 1917 Revolution, the number o f troupes greatly increased throughout Ukraine and Belorussia. Q uite different in style and content from these amateur theaters was the Hebrew-language H abim a theater, whose influences included the V ilna Troupe. The Habima troupe was formed in Bialystok in the years before the Revolution by the former Hebrew teacher Nakhum Tsemakh (1887-1939); it became a professional theater in 1918 after its move to Moscow and subsequent incorporation into Stanislav­ sky’s art theater system. Over the next decade, the theater achieved world fame by producing Hebrew versions of Jewish mystical and folkloric plays, including Solomon Ansky s Dybbuk, about a ghost that haunts a yeshiva; David Pinski’s The E ternal Jew , a messianic legend set after the destruction o f the Jewish temple; Halpern Leyvick’s The Golem, about a sixteenth-century rabbi who uses mystical powers to create and give life to an artificial man; and Richard Beer Hoffman’s biblical drama Jacob’s Dream. The theater aroused the ire o f the Jewish Section through its use of the Hebrew language and insistence on mystical themes. Its continued existence, though, was ensured by the support it received from Lunacharskii and other high-ranking officials. In 1926 the troupe, while on a European tour, defected and eventually settled in Palestine.27 Habima, though, was just one of m any experiments in Jewish theatrical life that accompanied the Revolution. Raikin Ben-A ri, a member o f Habim a, recalls that “in the first period of the Rev­ olution . . . an enormous reservoir of latent energy was uncovered: clubs, associa­ tions, reading circles, and dramatic groups sprang up by the m inute.”28

The Jewish Theatrical Society The most significant of these associations was the Jew ish Theatrical Society o f Petrograd. The society actually crystallized in the months prior to the Revolu­ 27

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

tion, when a group of activists associated with the Jewish Folk M usic Society decided to form a society with the goal o f “assisting in all manners the develop­ ment o f Jewish theatrical affairs” through legal means.29 M otivated by the theory o f “organic work,” the society was one of many amateur societies founded by lib­ eral Jewish philanthropists who hoped to construct a national socioeconomic and cultural infrastructure while remaining under Russian political rule.30 The Society’s first meeting, held on December 1, 1916, was attended by a group of eighteen individuals, including writers M ark Rivesman and Lev Levidov and literary critic Shmuel Niger. The prim ary accomplishment of the meeting was the approval of a constitution outlining the society’s objectives: 1) To coordinate the needs o f Jewish theatrical affairs and o f interested Jewish theatrical and stage workers 2) To bring public institutions and individuals concerned w ith the question o f Jewish theatrical affairs together w ith the state 3) To establish theaters and theatrical ventures and to assist in the foundation o f private theatrical enterprises 4) To prom ote, w ith the proper authorization, theatrical spectacles and concerts, and to organize tours in accordance w ith this goal.11

The committee also sought to organize lectures, conferences, and courses on Jewish theater; to establish museums, libraries, and exhibitions; to publish news­ papers and books; to sponsor competitions; and to engage generally in the promo­ tion of Jew ish theatrical arts. Additionally, committees were formed to prepare a report on a Jew ish theatrical repertoire and to investigate the logistics involved in establishing a theater school.32 The following week twenty-seven individuals met to discuss repertory ques­ tions in greater detail. Among those playwrights mentioned most often were Goldfadn, Asch, and Peretz.33 On December 30, the group met again with some new members, including Solomon Ansky. A t this meeting it was decided to form a library based on the donation of a private collection of Jewish plays and to begin the practical matter of creating a Jewish theater school. Due to the lack of capable Jew ish directors, a motion to search for a prominent non-Jew to head the school was approved.34A t a subsequent meeting several weeks later, some members began expressing their frustration, complaining that while the society had two million rubles at its disposal it had still not achieved any practical results; its plans were too ambitious. Rather than continue long-term plans for the foundation o f a theater school, this group proposed a public reading of one of A nsky’s plays.3SThe society decided to allocate funds toward short-term performances while continuing its search for a director. W hen the society next met, on February 5,1 9 1 7 , a resolution proposed that a Russian director be nominated as head of the theater school. In the meantime, the society would concentrate on the short-term goal of presenting public readings of Yiddish plays. The motion was greeted with almost unanimous enthusiasm. But as the debate on the motion concluded and the members prepared for the 28

“L et’s Perform a M iracle'

formal vote, an unknown newcomer to the society who was attending his first meeting stood up and dram atically objected. According to the stenographic report of the m eeting, the orator declared: W e . . . must have new people w ho w ill dedicate themselves fully to the new theater, for professionals w ill destroy it___ It is first necessary to open a theater school. Jewish theater has to be created from the beginning; it has nothing— we possess neither a voice nor a body. Having set about work, we absolutely must refuse creative pursuits. In the meantime academic w ork is needed, and actors, w ho are at least literate in respect to the stage are needed.36

Following a prolonged exchange o f opinions, the Theatrical Society voted in favor of the proposed studio-school. After formally introducing him self as Aleksandr Granovsky, the future director o f the Moscow State Yiddish T heater was put in charge of preparing a report on his proposed school. Granovsky, however, had had little previous exposure to Yiddish culture and did not even speak the language— his German would suffice until he could pick up enough Yiddish w ith the help o f his troupe. H is background lay in the European modernist schools. He was, in the words o f M ikhoels’s daughter, “an esthete of European culture and reactions.”37 Avraham Azarkh, Granovsky’s given name, was the son of Moshe Azarkh, one of the wealthiest Jews in Russia and one of a select few to whom the tsar had given the privilege of residing in Moscow. W hen Granovsky was an infant the family moved to Riga, where they assimilated into the dom inant German population. Disappointing his father’s professional aspira­ tions for the youth, Granovsky moved to St. Petersburg in 1910 to study theater, where he was influenced by Vsevolod M eyerholds experimental studio. In 1913 he moved to Germany and studied under M ax Reinhardt, the founder o f the Schall und Rauch cabaret and director of the Deutsches Theater who was known for his treatment of theater as spectacle and for his emphasis on pantomime, music, dance, and acrobatics. Upon his return to St. Petersburg, Granovsky co-directed Reinhardt’s Oedipus and Shakespeare’s M acbeth with Iury Iurev o f the Aleksandrinskii Theater at the C inizelli Circus. He and Iurev then collaborated with Gor­ ky and the renowned opera singer Fedor Chaliapin to found a theater of tragedy. Although the plan never m aterialized, Granovsky’s association with Chaliapin helped him direct Faust and Sadko at the Bolshoi Theater.38 Granovsky was uniquely qualified and w illing to lead the Jewish Theatrical Society. The report he diligently prepared for the Society’s next meeting envi­ sioned the creation of a theatrical school modeled on Reinhardt’s acclaimed stu­ dio. H is recommendations were remarkably thorough. The first semester of the program would include lessons in voice, speech, rhythm, and gymnastics; the second semester would add theater history and Jewish history to the program. He recommended two hundred and fifty days o f classes a year with three two-hour classes a day, and he planned for between twenty and forty students. His one condition was that no professional theater workers should be accepted into the school.39 Tremendously impressed with the newcomer’s progress, the Theatrical Society appointed Granovsky its director in M arch 1918.40W ith the recent arrival 29

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

to Petrograd o f the reputed theater activists A . Vayter and M endel Elkin (1 8 7 3 1962), the project got under way. Soon after, the Com m issariat o f Jew ish Affairs, in conjunction w ith the T he­ atrical Department of the Com missariat o f Nationality Affairs, began work on founding a Yiddish-language theater in Moscow. T hey wrote to the Theatrical Department o f the Com missariat of Enlightenm ent in October 1918: In the m atter o f building a new theater for the Jewish proletariat we are entering a new beginning. Jewish theater is simply balagan in which the prim ary place is occupied by operettas, melodrama, and feeble boulevard shows (fairground booth entertainm ent) w ith national-chauvinist content___ In all cities in w hich there are Jew ish workers, social democrats are erecting dramatic circles in which there could be good strong dramatic w ork.41

In order to turn these circles into useful instruments o f propaganda, the Com missariat of Jew ish Affairs decided to establish a central theater-studio in Moscow to coordinate Yiddish theatrical activities throughout the country and to devise a repertoire of revolutionary Yiddish plays. A list of acceptable pre-revo­ lutionary plays was compiled, consisting, once again, prim arily of the works o f Sholem Aleichem and Sholem Asch.42 A subsequent report recommended the establishment of a theater school capable of teaching general knowledge as well as theatrical skills. Recommendations also included the publication o f Yiddish plays and a monthly journal on Yiddish theater and the creation of a library o f Jewish theater.42 W h ile the Com missariat of Jewish Affairs had sim ilar goals to those of the Jew ish Theatrical Society, the disbanding o f the Com missariat and the merger o f the Theatrical Department with that of the Commissariat of Enlightenment in January 1919 forced the cancellation o f the project. Instead, the Theatrical D e­ partment o f the Com missariat o f Enlightenm ent began working on a broad pro­ gram to establish theaters among all national minorities. The Yiddish theater project was subjoined to an overly ambitious scheme envisioning national thea­ ters for the Chuvash, Kyrghiz, Kazakhs, South Slavs, Czecho-Slovaks, Arm e­ nians, Kalmyks, Ukrainians, and Belorussians.44 The project was never realized. Instead, once the Jewish Theatrical Society Anally succeeded in forming a studio under the leadership o f Granovsky, the Com missariat of Enlightenment simply nationalized it—along with all other independent theaters— under the auspices of its Theatrical Department.45 38 The role of the Jew ish Theatrical Society in the establishment of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater has been much misunderstood. The notion that the M os­ cow State Yiddish Theater was unilaterally created by the Commissariat of N a­ tionality Affairs owes its derivation to Soviet historians who were anxious to create a myth of the state as an omnipotent creator benevolently bestowing culture upon its progeny. Due to the suppression of any documents challenging this Action, it


“Let's Perform a M iracle'

has been repeated by even the most learned W estern scholars. For instance, Bea­ trice Picon-Vallin wrote that “the Jew ish Theatrical Society o f Petersburg showed itself to be incapable of founding the new Jewish theater. It was the revolution which gave life to this project: the Com missariat o f Jew ish Affairs o f Petrograd . . . [which] obtained the consent o f Aleksandr Granovsky.”4* Another version has it that “in 1919, the Yiddish Section (Yevsektsia) [«V] o f the Com missariat for Jew ish Affairs47. . . planned a studio to train actors for a new Soviet Jewish theater of high quality.”48 Another version, spread prim arily by Granovsky himself, m ain­ tains that he created the theater single-handedly. W h ile this fiction was broad­ cast throughout Europe during the theaters 1928 tour, discerning critics were disinclined to believe it. Few, however, have followed the literary critic Nakhman M ayzel, who claims to have been present at a meeting o f the Jew ish Theatrical Society in the late summer of 1917 and who tells that the theater “was founded in the years 1917-1918 in Petrograd by a group o f Yiddish theater activists and theater lovers.”4’ As the newly available transcripts from the Jew ish Theatrical Society’s first meetings reveal, the theater arose neither from the state’s diktat nor from one man’s whim ; it developed through the combined efforts o f a broad group o f liberal Jew ish intellectuals and philanthropists. Furthermore, contrary to the messianic cries o f its founders, it did not suddenly spring out o f a vacuum; it had evolved over the course o f forty years, during which a large group o f Jew ish playwrights and actors sprawling over two continents gradually transformed a vernacular dialect into a literary language and inspired a theater-going public in the process.

The Yiddish Chamber Theater On November 29,1918, the journal Zhizn iskusstvo announced that a Jewish workers’ chamber theater, headed by Aleksandr Granovsky, had been founded in Petrograd. Granovsky was one o f many Soviet modernist artists who defined their system as a rejection of the values and aesthetics of previous epochs. Together with the supporters of Proletkult (Proletarian Culture Movement) and T R A M (The­ ater of W orking-Class Youth), Granovsky was anticipating a redefinition of the­ atrical space that he believed would evolve as the proletariat usurped the stage from the bourgeoisie.50 Rather than recruit participants through local theatrical societies, Granovsky advertised for actors by posting bills throughout the streets o f Petrograd in the hopes of attracting the Jewish proletariat.51 Because “the entire personnel o f our theater came to us as raw m aterial,” Granovsky wrote, they were able to “abandon themselves to the joy of creation.” He wanted to divest his thea­ ter o f any remnants o f the hated old world by assembling a troupe w ith no roots in the past. Indeed, many of the approximately thirty actors who came to the theater were amateurs, but few were of working-class backgrounds or had ever seen the inside of a factory. T his parallels Lynn M ally’s observations that the Leningrad T R A M “included people with less than pure factory credentials.”52 The majori­ ty were young men and women in their early twenties hailing from urban lowerm iddle-class families of the western borderlands. Typical o f this breed were three 31

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

star actresses who remained with the theater until its closing: Esther Karchmer, a recent gymnasium graduate who had been born in V ilna in 1899; Iustina M inkova, a former m illiner born in W arsaw in 1897; and Leah Rom, the theater’s star dancer, bom in a small shted in 1894. The theater critic Osip Liubomirskii writes o f the initial troupe: “The m ajority were people of the free professions. Prior to enrolling in the studio many o f them had pretty honest jobs and decent lifestyles.”53 Solomon M ikhoels [Solomon (Shloymo) M ikhailovich Vovsi],bom in Dvinsk in 1890, was the oldest actor adm itted into the studio. The large Vovsi fam ily— M ikhoels was one of nine children (including a twin brother)—was exemplary o f Eastern European Orthodox Jewry. He described his father as a “typical Jewish patriarch saturated with a deep fanaticism.” His mother, in contrast, was an avid reader of secular Russian and Yiddish fiction.54Like many o f the other male actors, at the age o f four, M ikhoels was sent to kbeder (Jew ish religious prim ary school) where he studied the Bible, Hebrew, the Talmud, and the M ishnah. A t the age of fifteen, after his fam ily moved to Riga, M ikhoels enrolled in middle school, where he was to remain until 1908. In 1911, he enrolled in the Kiev Commerce Institute and upon graduating transferred to the faculty o f jurisprudence at St. Petersburg University. After his graduation he was offered a job teaching mathematics at a Proletkult school. T his career path was cut short, however, when in 1919 he heard about Granovsky’s theater. The idea o f becoming an actor was not new to M ik ­ hoels; he claimed to have been interested in theater from an early age. As a child he and his brothers attended the Dvinsk theater’s Russian translation of Hamlet, and M ikhoels became further inspired after seeing a Yiddish troupe on tour. In imitation o f their new heroes the young Vovsi brothers performed purim spiels for the family, and M ikhoels wrote a short play, The Sim o f Youth, about a child who does not want to study, which he performed for the neighborhood children.55 Later he informally studied Russian diction for fourteen years in the hope, he claimed, of eventually becoming an actor.56 No doubt he reasoned the skills would also be o f use as a legal orator. According to M ikhoels’s brother, they also grew up in a musical fam ily—their father was m usically gifted and a great fan of cantorial music.57 M ikhoels’s bulging eyes and protruding forehead contributed to his ex­ pressive face which, combined with his large gesticulating hands, constituted an ideal stage actor’s physique. Granovsky was prepared to run a tight ship. Unlike the transient Yiddish troupes who picked up extras at inns en route only to drop them off again at the next stop, Granovsky demanded commitment. In January 1919 he presented his employees with a one-year contract obligating them to attend all rehearsals. An additional clause required them to arrive at the theater five minutes before each rehearsal and forty-five minutes before each performance. Prospective employees also agreed to accept all roles assigned to them; Granovsky would tolerate no grum bling over bit parts. The Com missariat of Nationalities, in conjunction w ith the Theatrical Department of the Com missariat of Enlightenment, under whose auspices all state and private theaters were in the process o f being nationalized, would pay each member 900 rubles per month—a nearly worthless sum given the


Let's Perform a M iracle "

Bolsheviks’ liberal use of the currency printing press.58 In order to allow the group to supplement this “income” with a day job, rehearsals were scheduled only for evenings and Sunday afternoons.59 The ambitious director decided that his theater’s initial repertoire would in­ clude seven different plays to be performed in three separate programs. Granovsky selected a challenging repertoire to show off his troupes command of both Eu­ ropean symbolist and Haskalic (Jew ish Enlightenment) plays. He quickly proved him self to be a perfectionist; just days before the scheduled premiere, after the streets of Petrograd had been plastered w ith posters announcing the event, G ra­ novsky decided he was not satisfied and delayed the performance for a week, forcing the reprinting o f posters in the midst o f a major paper shortage.60 Finally, on Ju ly 3,1 9 1 9 , the troupe put on its first performance, consisting o f three plays: A. M agid ’s Yiddish translation of The B lind by the Belgian symbolist M aurice M aeterlinck (1862-1949)— a play Granovsky believed would prove that fine art can be expressed in the Yiddish language; and two plays by the Yiddish playwright Sholem Asch— Sin and Prologue.6I The next night they performed In Winter and Amnon and Tamar by Asch and a symbolist short play written by M ikhoels entitled The Builders, which was about the Tower of Babel.62 The final program consisted ofjust one play, a Yiddish translation of Karl G utzkows (1811-1878) UrielAcosta. The play was staged by R. Ungem , a non-Jewish former director at the Theater o f Artistic Drama and member of the W orld o f A rt school. Uriel Acosta was the most noteworthy production of this first period. W ritten in 1846 by a member of the Young Germany school, the play is based on the true story o f Uriel d’Acosta, a seventeenth-century converso (a Jew forcibly converted to Catholicism ) who fled Portugal to Amsterdam, where he was able to practice Judaism openly. However, frustrated by the necessity of conforming to Judaism s strict rituals, he committed suicide. The play’s criticism of the superstitious rituals which were perceived to accompany religion appealed to Soviet ideals. The play had long been the epitome o f dignified drama in the Jewish repertoire and a pop­ ular choice for non-Jewish theaters as well. In 1881 alone three versions of the play were being performed within the Russian Empire, including a Yiddish translation by Osip Lerner. A Hebrew version was even performed at the eleventh W orld Zionist Congress in 1913. It is hardly surprising that Granovsky sought to prove him self with this classic of the European stage. In the words of Lulla A dler Ro­ senfeld, Jacob A dler’s granddaughter, “Uriel Acosta from the actors’ viewpoint may be called its Hamlet. No dramatic actor could reckon him self of the first rank until he had shown w hat he could do with Acosta, the great Rationalist, the martyr who faced excommunication to bring light to his people.”63 Unfortunately, these early productions were largely unsuccessful. One anony­ mous critic who wrote an unpublished hagiographical portrait of M ikhoels was forced to admit: “This time, M ikhoels was not successful at portraying Uriel. The theater went along the path of aesthetics, the director wanted the stage to be a beautiful sculpture—‘living pictures,’ but not living people; he wanted an unhappy Uriel, and not a hero who is victorious over his thoughts.”64


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

The only saving grace o f the performances was their exceptional music. In­ fluenced by Reinhardt’s emphasis on harmony, Granovsky sacrificed his principles to hire professional musicians. Aleksandr Krein (1883-1951), who composed for In Winter, was born in Nizhnii Novgorod, to a fam ily of professional musicians. H is rich ornamentation of oriental motifs, which became apparent in his earliest compositions, attracted the attention o f both the Jewish Folk M usic Society and Russian musical critics. After working with the Yiddish theater for the next two decades, Krein turned to ballet; his Laurencia was performed by both the Kirov and Bolshoi Theaters in the 1940s. Joseph Akhron (1886-1943), who added a score to The Blind, was a graduate of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and a former member of the Jew ish Folk M usic Society. He continued to work for Yiddish theater before em igrating to California in the early 1920s. Driven by its musical success, the troupe supplemented its dramas w ith informal evenings of music that featured eclectic programs o f revolutionary songs, klezmer dances, and Chopin marches.65 Having had little popular success, the troupe concluded by the end o f the month that the assimilated Jews of Petrograd had little interest in Yiddish theater. It accepted an invitation from the Bund chapter in Vitebsk to move to the more Jew ish town for the summer, where it met wider, but still lim ited, success.66 Two years had passed since the “Great October Socialist Revolution,” and Petrograd was in shambles; hunger and fear enveloped the city for the second summer in a row. The government had fled the city of the Revolution to M oscow’s Kremlin, the medieval tsarist fortress. Returning from a tumultuous countryside in the fall of 1919, Granovsky and his troupe discovered that the Jews o f Petrograd had not increased their interest in Yiddish theater; nobody was w illing even to provide them with an auditorium or rehearsal hall. Not to be deterred by such technicalities, Granovsky almost farcically insisted that his employees adhere to their contractual obligations and maintain the rigorous rehearsal schedule. M uch o f the troupe lacked their director’s enthusiasm and optimism. Around half of them abandoned their leader and returned to the workforce. Indeed, the theater’s opportunities in Petrograd were spent.

Scene Change: Moscow “Passionate, frenzied, turbulent Moscow, the headquarters of the revolution­ ary country, the potential capital of the world . . . marching along the streets the chimera of dozens o f directors, hundreds o f artists, thousands of actors, barefoot dancers, circuses, dilettantes and adventurists metamorphose into reality.”67Thus wrote Abram Efros (1898-1954), a Moscow theater and art critic who believed in the messianic mission of Yiddish theater to bring revolutionary ideals to the Jewish public. He was an ardent leftist who wrote of pre-revolutionary bourgeois art forms with utter disdain. Like Ivanov, Evreinov, and others, Efros praised thea­ ter for its Dionysian potential. He hoped to create a new stage capable o f breaking down not only aesthetic traditions, but social barriers as well: T he new type o f production required a new scenic atmosphere. It was incumbent to change the traditional box . . . T he question was one o f conquering the air, o f


‘L e t’s Perform a M iracle " advancing upwards, o f mastering all three dimensions o f the stage. There was the task o f breaking up the two-dim ensional stage, o f transform ing it into a mobile three-dim ensional composition w ith the attributes o f projection, recession, as­ cension, and declination.6'

Upon learning o f Granovsky’s theater, Efros proposed that the troupe move to Moscow to inaugurate a new Jew ish emancipation centered on a renaissance o f the plastic arts. Not having performed in over a year, Granovsky found the offer appealing. Explaining his decision to move to Moscow, Granovsky wrote: “[The Moscow State Yiddish Theater] appears as the first attempt to put together a permanent significant art theater for the Jewish people. Until now, because of political circumstances, such a theater could not be founded. Moscow is the geo­ graphical center of culture and art for the entire republic. Unlike the other nation­ al m inorities, the Russian Jews are the only ones who do not have their own ter­ ritory.”69 Thus in October 1920, after receiving approval from the Commissariat of N ationalities, Granovsky’s troupe moved to a small three-story residence on 12 Stankevich Street in the heart of the Moscow theater district. T hey converted the second floor into an auditorium seating ninety and lived in communal quarters on the first and third floors.70 After receiving support from Lunacharskii for their venture, the theater was released from the jurisdiction o f the leftist Theatrical Department of the Com missariat o f Enlightenment and brought under the aus­ pices o f the state theaters, which were protected from the stringent demands of the leftist movements “Theatrical October” by Lunacharskii s personal intervention. The new Moscow State Yiddish Chamber Theater (Gosekt) thus came into being. T he organization also included a theater school, a studio, and a residence for the artists. As Granovsky explained, “The school prepares artistic and directorial personnel to perform in Jewish theater. The studio serves as a laboratory to work out forms of Jewish theater. The theater is for the broad masses. Under the theater exists the House of Artists where the workers o f the theater live.”71 The entire apparatus was subdivided into three departments: financial-administrative, in­ ventory, and artistic. The latter department was subdivided into literary, directo­ rial, and artistic divisions. The apparatus proved to be financially draining, costing nearly 30 million rubles in the second half of 1920, forcing Granovsky to request further aid from the Com missariat of Enlightenment and to delay his theater s first production for a month.72 From its inception, Granovsky hoped that this organization would eventually become the nucleus of a network of Yiddish theaters encompassing the entire country. Students from all over the land, and even the world, would converge in the Moscow Yiddish theater school where they would master the artistic and technical skills required for running a theater. After completing the program they would return to their native regions where they would channel local workers’ enthusiasm into high art and disperse Granovsky’s aesthetic precepts throughout the world. The M oscow studio, in turn, was to serve as a training ground and model theater. Its task was fourfold: to work out forms of staging, to formulate principles of Jewish spectacles, to work out modern dramatic m aterial, and to act as a practical 35

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

stage for directors, artists, technicians and administrators. In addition to the cen­ tral model theater, Granovsky envisioned regional model theaters for Belorussia and Ukraine, based in M insk and Kharkov. Each o f the three theaters would eventually have a publishing house, a school, a studio, and a club affiliated with it. It was hoped that through propaganda work in schools and among Young Pioneers these central agencies would stimulate a growth of Jew ish theaters throughout the land based in factories and Komsomol (Communist Youth) clubs.73 As ambitious as it seemed, the project would eventually come to fruition, but not until after Granovsky’s departure. In the meantime, with half his troupe abandoned in Petrograd, Granovsky was forced to search for new recruits in Moscow. He advertised in the Yiddish press for applicants in their early twenties, all of whom were required to be physi­ cally healthy, to be literate in Yiddish, to have a musical ear, and to have completed a general education. Prospective students were asked to submit two samples o f poetry or prose and a small model set and to take an entrance exam.74W h ile G ra­ novsky continued to speak of the creation of his theater in apocalyptic and mes­ sianic terms, tight competition with Moscow’s other Jew ish theater— the H ebrew-language Habima troupe— forced him to re-evaluate his former iconoclasm. The first casualty o f this new direction was Granovsky’s policy of hiring only am a­ teur actors. The director now realized that in order to balance artistic success w ith ideological messages, he would require some professional actors, often of bour­ geois background, with the skill to match their youthful enthusiasm. For instance, M ariia Askinazi (b. 1898), who had ju st finished ballet school in Moscow, would become the troupe’s star dancer. This new breed also included several former members o f the Vilna Troupe, including the most talented woman in the group, Sara Rotbaum (1899-1970), who was the daughter of a renowned régisseur and who had studied under Reinhardt with Granovsky. Some of the new recruits, such as the former Party activist Khaim Krashinskii, came from the stillborn theaterstudio the Com missariat of Jewish Affairs had tried to establish. Others, such as Evgeniia Epshteyn (b. 1897), were o f a new generation who came from a worker background but had received a formal musical education; Epshteyn had studied piano at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. The theater also continued to admit amateurs such as Benjamin Zuskin, a young student studying at Moscow’s M ining Institute, and Rakhel Imenitova (b. 1896), a recent gymnasium dropout, both o f whom would remain in the troupe for nearly thirty years. The biography of Zuskin is typical of many of the actors. He was born in 1899 in the largely Jewish shtetl o f Ponevezh in Kovno province. His religious father, an artisan by trade, was the head of the local charity society. Zuskin recalls how in his tiny shtetl house “from morning to night, coming and going, were poor and rich shtetl Jews, asking my father to please help them.” As was typical of Jew ish boys, Zuskin attended kheder from the age of five until the age of twelve. Like M ikhoels, he claims to have become interested in theater at an early age, putting on small performances with his neighbors and younger sister. However, his father’s oppo­ sition compelled him to enroll in a Realschule rather than join a theater troupe.


"Let's Perform a M iracle '

D uring the C ivil War, in accordance with his fathers wishes, Zuskin enrolled in the Ural M ining Institute, where he spent most of his free time volunteering with a Red Arm y theater circle. The following year, he moved to Moscow to attend the Moscow M ining Institute. But his thoughts were not on m ining. A t the first op­ portunity, Zuskin auditioned for Granovskys Yiddish theater-studio and left his studies im m ediately upon being accepted as a member. Impelled by his natural talent and handsome looks, Zuskin’s rise within the theater was rapid. After only three months in the theater school, he was transferred to the artistic personnel. His first performance, as First Jew in I t ’s a Lie, took place on September 2 4 ,1921.75 Another newcomer to the troupe was the artist M arc Chagall. W hen Efros was first introduced to Granovsky’s project, the art critic had one major complaint: “Granovsky clearly had no premonition about the role that art must play in the realization of his project.”76 Efros s aesthetic ideal consisted of a fusion o f folk art and modernism, “those two roots which nurture the whole o f contemporary art.”77 C hagall, an artist whom Efros had once praised for synthesizing the “phantasms of old Jew ish life” and the modern world,78 was the key to a merger between the aesthetic ideals o f Efros and Granovsky. W h ile Efros had been one of the first critics to recognize C hagall’s talent in his 1918 biography of the artist, he was by no means alone. None other than Anatolii Lunacharskii had written on C hagall as early as 1914 and had later offered to put the painter in charge of all visual arts in the Soviet state. C hagall, however, had preferred to return to his native Vitebsk, where he believed he would have a greater degree of artistic freedom. In 1918 C hagall established his Free Academy, which briefly made Vitebsk one of the great centers of art in the new state, attracting such luminaries as El Lissitzky (18901941) and Kasimir M alevich (1878-1935). But within a year of its founding, a struggle emerged because o f the apoliticism of Chagall and the leftist proletarian styles demanded by M alevich and Lissitzky. By the end of 1919, C hagall could no longer bear the atmosphere of his own art school and he abandoned Vitebsk. Thus, when the invitation came to join the theater, C hagall was enthusiastic. Under C hagall’s influence, the fusion of folk art and modernism expanded beyond the curtain, permeating all aspects of the theater. Henceforth, Granovsky abandoned his European symbolism, using the theater instead to present Jewish folk literature— such as the works of Sholem Aleichem —in the futurist frame­ work that was one of the dominant trends in Russian theater. He hoped to trans­ form fam iliar Jewish themes into revolutionary cries. He trained his actors in rigorous acrobatic exercises to emulate M eyerholds biomechanics, a technique which sought to replace the spoken word w ith exaggerated physical movements im itating the motion of industrial machinery. This technique combined elements of Kabuki and Shakespearean theater with the Tayloristic cult of the machine, the reflexology o f Vladim ir Bekhterev, and constructivism. T hick makeup emulat­ ing the masks o f the Italian commedia dell’arte and Tairov’s Kamemy Theater reduced individuals to social types and allowed for a portrayal of the grotesque. In general Soviet theater and festivals, the carnivalesque was becoming popular as a challenge to the authority of the normative bourgeois culture and as a symbol of


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

renewal. “It was," in the words o f J. Douglas Clayton, “a sign o f the overthrowing o f power, a confirmation by the theatre o f the political anarchy reigning in soci­ ety.”7’' In the Jew ish theater it took on the added implication of the Jew ish festival Purim. In the Soviet context, Haman symbolized the tsar, and the carnival was interpreted as a rejection o f historical tsardom and an affirmation o f the Revolu­ tion and its role in liberating the Jew ish people.80 Symbols and motifs were ex­ propriated from traditional Jewish culture and given a new meaning, one more appropriate to the Revolution.

Curtains Up The opening night o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, on January 1,1921, An Even i n g o f Sholem Aleichem, consisted of two short sketches and a monologue: Agents, M azelT ov (Congratulations), and The Spoiled Celebration. Explaining the theaters choice o f an all-Sholem Aleichem repertoire, M ikhoels wrote of the writer that he “felt the bankruptcy o f the old world when many still believed that everything was in good working order.. . . [H e depicted the] transient existence o f the simple dreamers.”81 M ikhoels admired his ability to speak for the people and portray the life o f the common folk. Sholem Aleichem had also been praised by such Soviet luminaries as Gorky82 and Lunacharskii.83 The theaters early pro­ ductions aimed to equate capitalism with religion and to show the bankruptcy of Jew ish capitalist bourgeois life. The Spoiled Celebration , for instance, in which a young boy is upset when his new holiday suit does not conform to the latest styles, purported to show the m aterialistic basis of religious holidays. In Agents, Sholem Aleichem s beloved character M enakhem M endl tries to sell life insurance to three different people, all of who reveal themselves to be insurance salesmen as w ell.84 M enakhem M endl represents the luftmentshen (men o f air), those unable to find employment and forced to live idle, unproductive lives. Eager to contribute to society, their enthusiasm is wasted in the capitalist system. The luftmentsh is the downtrodden yet ambitious and enthusiastic Jew who is unable to find a niche for him self in the capitalist system. He is the matchmaker who fumbles his biggest opportunity by inadvertently arranging a marriage between two brides, or he is the poor tailor who wâns 200,000 rubles in a lottery only to lose his fortune the very next day. In his flattering work on M ikhoels, theater critic M ikhail Zagorskii wrote that “his M enakhem M endl not only insures and brokers, but also dreams; does not only see the ground o f the shtetls, but also the starry sky of the entire world; is not only an agent and a Philistine, but also a Don Quixote, who stub­ bornly pursues his dreams.”85 W h ile the luftmentsh would come to virtually define the Jew of the old shted, the concept was not restricted to Yiddish literature. The “superfluous man” was a common protagonist of Russian drama in the 1920s. H e, like the Jewish luftmentsh, is defined as a character writh “an inability to find a place for him self in his society, w ith which he is generally at variance, despite a strong desire to do so, and his life is ‘useless’ either in social or in personal term s.”86 W h ile the superfluous man is generally identified as an anti-hero representing the


“Let's Perform a M iracle '

vestiges o f capitalist society, either through an inability or an unwillingness to adapt to the new world, many audience members looked upon the comical and quaint luftmentsb w ith compassion and empathy. The small auditorium on Stankevich Street where the theater was housed is described by Zagorskii as a place that “produced the atmosphere of a chamber, a studio, or a laboratory. The feeling of intim acy and closeness between the theater and its audience for that first performance resembled the First Studio of the M oscow A rt Theater.”87 In his sets M arc C hagall sought to emphasize this inti­ macy: he abolished the separation between performers and audience in a tribute to “collective action” by decorating the entire theater with oil paintings and ridding the stage o f a front curtain. The open stage was an innovation o f M eyerholds, designed to emulate the street theater which he admired as a spontaneous expres­ sion of the people’s celebratory mood.88 It also paralleled sim ilar developments in painting, such as the works o f the artist Pavel Kuznetsov (1878-1968), who re­ jected frames for his paintings in the belief that art should not be separated from the everyday. C hagall s back mural depicted disjointed groups of figures moving away from the theater’s entrance in a portrayal of forward motion— the expected course o f the Revolution. C hagall incorporated Jew ish folk motifs into his art in an effort to veil rev­ olutionary ideals in symbols fam iliar to his audience and to desanctify religious images. For instance, an acrobat wearing phylacteries standing on his head sym­ bolizes the theater’s goal of turning religion upside down and converting “unpro­ ductive” religious Jews into entertainers. A worker about to applaud represents the anticipated proletarian response and the conversion o f Jews into workers. A ram’s horn, a messianic symbol blown on Rosh Hashanah to welcome the new year, depicts the welcoming o f the new age and equates messianic expectation w ith revolutionary utopianism.89 Each skit was staged with the high level o f precision that was soon to become characteristic of Granovsky’s system. The actors gestured in exaggerated move­ ments, bending and flexing their bodies to the lim its o f human elasticity or rigidifying themselves like metal. Indications of personal feelings were concealed behind painted expressions. O verall they gave the impression of pantomime or marionettes controlled by an offstage puppeteer. Despite the sim ilarities in their approaches to theater, C hagall and Granovsky proved to be personally incompat­ ible and C hagall soon departed. Although C hagall only worked with the theater for this first production, his contribution to its aesthetic approach was seminal. The troupe learned from him the means by which syncopation can be transposed from music into three-dimensional art—a technique which was epitomized by Granovsky’s biomechanics— and he introduced them to the fusion of folk art and modernism. M uch of the Soviet press criticized the performance for being too manufac­ tured, thereby destroying the spontaneity and genuineness of Sholem Aleichem. One reviewer wrote, “Adonai, Adonai! W h at have they done with the good nature and gentleness o f Sholem Aleichem ?”90 Hoping to enjoy the type o f sentimental


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater


'Let's P erform a M iracle 1

7 bp: M arc C h agall, "Introduction to the Jew ish Theater." © 2000 A rtists R ights Society (A R S ), N ew York/ AD AG P, Paris.

Oppositepage: M arc C h ag all’s sets for MazelTov, 1921. Photo from O. L iubom irskii, Mikhoels (M oscow, 1938). Left: Solom on M ikhoels as Reb A lter in Mazel Tov> 1921. Photo courtesy o f N atalia Vovsi-M ikhoels.


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

and nostalgic portraits which had brought Sholem Aleichem international fame, much of the Jew ish audience was also shocked and disturbed by Granovsky’s sav­ age mockery of their w ay o f life. Some even accused the theater of anti-Sem itism — a charge initially shared even by some members of the troupe itself.91 However, the show was a popular success; it was performed over 300 times and M azel Tov remained in the theaters repertoire for over a decade. In September 1921 The Spoiled Celebration was replaced with It's a Lie (written in 1906), about the vicious rumors of a rich and famous rabbi’s personal affairs. Like its predecessor, the play mocked false piety. On February 13,1921, the theater premiered Before Sunrise by A. Vayter, the Yiddish theater activist who was murdered in a pogrom by Polish troops occupy­ ing V ilna during the C ivil War. Eager to depict the popular Bundist as a revolu­ tionary fighter, the Bolsheviks portrayed his death as an act of martyrdom. Set during the Revolution o f1905, the play was one o f the first in the Yiddish language to put revolution on stage. As crowds amass on the streets in the early hours o f a frigid night, Vayter takes us into the drawing room o f one Jew ish intellectual fam­ ily as they contemplate the choices before them: while the younger generation is torn between the futures promised by the Zionists and Communists, their elders try to persuade them to return to their religious tradition. Granovsky worked closely with the Soviet Jewish w riter Yekhezkel Dobrushin (1883-1952) in a rear­ rangement of the text to create a memorial for those, like their friend Vayter, whom they believed had been martyred for the revolutionary cause. Dobrushin, the son of a lumber merchant from Chernigov, would become a regular collaborator with the Yiddish theater. He had first been introduced to socialist circles in the early 1900s when he was studying at the Sorbonne. In 1909 he returned to Russia and began w riting Yiddish poetry and short stories. In 1920 Dobrushin moved to Moscow, where he became secretary of the Yiddish W riter’s Union and a noted literary critic and playwright in his own right. D uring W orld W ar II, he worked with the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Committee before being arrested in 1948. He died in prison, presumably in 1953. The second production of the season was Sholem Asch’s God o f Vengeance, about a Jew ish brothel owner who tries in vain to shield his daughter from his business. First performed by M ax Reinhardt in 1907, the play’s licentious content and sacrilegious undertones thrust it into the heart of a public controversy, earning it notoriety. Soon after, its performance by Rudolph Schildkraut (father of Joseph Schildkraut, the famous American stage and screen actor) on Broadway led to Schildkraut’s arrest and helped bring about a congressional investigation into salaciousness in the theater.92 In the 1940s Asch forbade its production. W hile Granovsky’s decision to perform it was surely influenced by Reinhardt’s produc­ tion, the play’s notoriety had reached Russia long before. A Russian-language ver­ sion had even been performed in 1907 in St. Petersburg.93 Granovsky sought to replace the play’s salaciousness w ith pedagogy by using it to argue the intrinsic connection between sin and capitalism. Finding a replacement for C hagall proved difficult for the theater. Granovsky and Efros finally agreed on a young unknown artist who had recendy arrived in 42

‘Let's Perform a M iracle ’

Moscow from the south—Isaak Rabinovich (1894-1961). As Efros explained, he was desirable for four reasons: he was young, he came from a Jew ish m ilieu, he appreciated the differences between theater art and canvas, and he was a revolu­ tionary.94 Despite its popular success, the troupe as a whole was receiving luke­ warm reviews at best. M ost critics, however, did recognize the exceptional ability of the theater’s musicians, artists, and director. Granovsky was even invited to direct a German translation o f M ayakovsky’s M ystery Bouffe, a parody o f the story of Noah’s ark, at the Moscow Circus for the delegates to the T hird Com intern Congress in June 1921.

The First Reviews Due to its popular success, the Moscow State Yiddish Theater was quickly outgrowing its intim ate theater hall. W ith in months o f the theater’s initial move to Moscow, Lunacharskii had taken it upon him self to help the theater find a larger auditorium. In M arch 1920, he had convinced the photo-cinema department of his commissariat to give Granovsky a building on the Arbat in exchange for a new building in Chistye Prudy. However, Granovsky refused the offer, insisting on the Sohn Theater in the Triumphal G arden.95 W h ile negotiations continued, Khaim Krashinskii proposed that they take the Romanov m ilitary club—a former noble palace on M alaia Bronnaia which had been confiscated during the Revolution and turned into a m ilitary club.96 Krashinskii’s proposal was accepted, and on Sep­ tember 15,1920, the palace was put at the disposal of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater by the Presidium of W orkers, Red Army, and Peasant Deputies of M os­ cow.97 After over a year of renovations, the palace was converted into a 500-seat concert hall. The theater would remain there until its 1949 closing. T he renovations required a great deal o f work and money, amounting to 25 million rubles.98 As a result of these expenditures, the theater quickly encountered financial difficulties, forcing it to seek a grant of 3.5 million rubles in order to remain open. The request was given tentative approval by the Com missariat of Enlightenm ent,99 but when Lunacharskii brought the issue before the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom) in June 1922 it was rejected “on account of political considerations.”100 A t this moment, the theater faced the very real possi­ bility o f imminent collapse. It was only saved thanks to the intervention of the Jewish Section, which was motivated by the theater’s propaganda potential.101 Moishe Rafes, a former Bundist who had become active in the Jew ish Section, penned an appeal to the commissar o f nationality affairs, Joseph Stalin: From considerations o f a political character, 1 believe it necessary to ask you som ehow o r other to reconsider the decision o f the M in or C ouncil o f People’s Commissars (M SN K ) which deprived the M oscow Jewish C ham ber T heater o f a subsidy. H aving spent the past year in W arsaw and having had the opportunity to observe how the Jewish bourgeoisie and especially the conciliatory press use every triviality to systematically poison the Soviet G overnm ent, I can categori­ cally confirm that the decision o f the M S N K w ill be liberally manipulated by them. A n d the decision, really, w ill be little und erstood .. . .


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater W e, at this time, are expending a great deal o f energy and means to dissemi­ nate correct inform ation abroad about the politics o f the Soviet state. Three and a h a lf m illion rubles is not a large sum. Disregarding all reasoning o f a cultural and artistic character, I propose that out o f considerations o f a general political character it is necessary to re-establish im mediately the subsidy o f three and a h a lf million to the Jewish chamber theater before news o f this reaches A m erica.'02

Convinced of the need to maintain at least a facade of tolerance toward the Soviet Union’s national minorities before the American and Polish press, Stalin acquiesced and granted the theater its required subsidy. The urgency with which the letter concludes—“before news o f this reaches Am erica”—reveals the audience to whom the state believed the theater was performing, regardless o f who sat in the concert hall. Fear of the effects of economic boycott, only partially alleviated by the still-recent Treaty of Rapallo with Germany, kept the fledgling state on its best behavior before the foreign press, forcing it to take great pains to hide its crimes. Polish public opinion was also paramount in warding off a potential Polish attack to retake the Soviet Union’s new acquisitions on its western frontier, and it was hoped that the large Polish Jewish population would look upon the Soviet state as its protector. W h ile no record of Stalin’s response is available, the grant was given to the theater that year. The issue was probably decided in Ju ly when the Council affirmed the decision to include the Yiddish theater in the list o f state academic theaters.103 The first production at the new M alaia Bronnaia Theater was Moshe Litvakov’s new translation of Gutzkow’s UrielAcosta, which premiered on April 9,1922. Granovsky’s version differed immensely from the Petersburg production, which Ungern had directed. The new adaptation was prepared by M oshe Litvakov and M ark Rivesman, the literary director o f the theater, based on a 1919 Yiddish translation Abraham M uravskii had prepared for the Vilna Troupe and an 1880 Russian translation by Petr Veinberg. In the words of Zagorskii, In P etersburg. . . the central role was played by the actor, still only beginning to learn the actor s trade. In M oscow, A . Granovsky introduced into the production a Jewish player who had already acquired, while in the Chernyshevskii [form erly Stankevich] H all, a fully mastered voice, movements and gestures. . . . In the M oscow version o f Acosta, he introduced an ideological significance, a tragedy o f m entality and not m erely o f em otion.144

The sets were designed by Natan Altm an (1889-1970), an artist who came to the Yiddish theater from Habima. W h ile Altman’s mother tongue was Yiddish, his prominence rested on his involvement with non-Jewish Soviet culture. Born in the town of Vinnitsa in Ukraine in 1889, Altman moved to Odessa in 1901, where he enrolled in the Odessa A rt School. Dissatisfied w ith the realist approach which monopolized the school, in 1907 he returned to his native Vinnitsa, where the contrasting shadows and lights of the town’s narrow alleyways influenced his fas­ cination with the effects o f light and atmosphere. It was here too that he began to explore Jew ish folk art, painting his “O ld Jew ” and “Young Jew.” In 1911 Altm an traveled to Paris, where he fam iliarized him self w ith French impressionism and


Let's Perform a M iracle *

was introduced to cubism. W hen he returned to St. Petersburg in 1913, Altm an became one o f Russia’s first cubist artists and, after the Revolution, embraced futurism. He was commissioned to design the first Soviet postal stamp and de­ signed the U ritskii Square (Palace Square) carnival celebrating the first anniver­ sary o f the Bolshevik Revolution.105 In 1921 he moved to Moscow and became involved with theater, working with M eyerhold on M ayakovsky’s M ystery Bouffe, and w ith Habima on Dybbuk before coming to Granovsky’s theater.106 A rt critic Daniel Reznik wrote o f Altm an that he had an “organic ear for our revolutionary epoch. Altm an is entirely in the present, he is through and through contemporary. He is the propagandist o f the new aesthetic, the aesthetic of m asterly skill, con­ scious o f understanding and affection.”107 Abram Efros was the first art critic to recognize Altman with his 1922 work A Portrait o f Natan Altman, the first book w ritten about the artist. Efros praised Altm an for his refusal to succumb to the W orld of A rt style and for his rejection o f the aristocratic art forms of Paris.10* Throughout his work with the Yiddish theater, Efros m aintained that Altm an’s art was the perfect complement to Granovsky’s goals and ideals.109 For Uriel Acosta, Altman painted the walls o f the theater black and left the stage em pty except for several geometric volumes suggesting furniture. Abstract montages of geometric shapes and color represented the urbanized and industri­ alized future foreseen for the Soviet state. Influenced by M alevich’s Suprematism, Altm an rejected realistic art, which he believed strove to im itate a dead past; he particularly rejected portrayals o f concrete objects as representative of private property. According to Efros, the cubist set resembled Alexandra Exter’s work for Tairov’s theater, a worthy archetype.110 It was in emulation o f Tairov and Exter that Efros sought artists who could metamorphose themselves into “artists of the theater, a distinctive species, an organic composition of the production— a painter, sculptor, an architect capable of seeing and thinking in terms of scenic extension and dimensions.”111 Altm an’s abstract sets provided a provocative contrast with Granovsky’s realistic staging and psychological probing. Despite moderate success, the play was quickly overshadowed by the theater’s other two new performances of the season: Goldfadn’s The Sorceress and Sholem Aleichem’s Two H undred Thousand. Both of the new productions attacked capital­ ism, private property, and money, portraying the evil and m isery that accompany them and the psychological price of acquiring unearned money. In addition, by combining modern biomechanical dance writh traditional Jewish folk music, the theater once again sought to present fam iliar symbols in new contexts through a merger of modernism and folk arts. The Sorceress premiered on December 2 ,1 9 2 2 . The play opens at a birthday celebration for M irele, the daughter of Reb Avremtse, a wealthy Jew. The party is ruined as a tsarist officer enters and arrests Avremtse, leaving M irele in the care of her wicked aunt, Vasia. In collusion w ith a sorceress, Vasia kidnaps the child and takes her to Istanbul—allowing the troupe to display some exotic and exciting Turkish dance and music—and sells her into slavery. The play ends with a joyous reunion as Avremtse is released and M irele’s beloved succeeds in rescuing her.112 The play, writh its harrowing adventures, disastrous mishaps, narrow escapes, and 45

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

intervention by characters possessing magical powers, was typical of the melo­ drama o f nineteenth-century Yiddish theater, ironically the epitome of the shund entertainment the Moscow State Yiddish Theater had been formed to combat. Sim ilar productions, such as M ikhail G linkas Ruslan and Lyudmila, were also still prominent on the Russian stage. The text of Goldfadn’s play was rearranged by Dobrushin and Litvakov. It was hoped that the revised script would help quell criticism from leftist circles attack­ ing the theater’s decision to produce a play written by the archetype o f the old melodramatic Yiddish theatrical style.113 M ikhoels argued that Goldfadn was a folk artist who wrote plays portraying genuine shtetl life, which, when combined w ith the newest stage styles, produced true revolutionary theater.114 The staging, w ith laughter at inappropriate times and bombastic music during love scenes, also aimed to mock the melodrama of the original script. Litvakov, acting hypocriti­ cally in light of his role in the arrangement, was not convinced. He complained that a theater which claimed to abhor and despise literariness should not have been performing a classic of old Yiddish melodrama. The public debate illustrates that the Party’s control over the theater’s repertoire was not yet complete. W h ile still adhering to the Party’s program in spirit, Granovsky was unwilling to allow L it­ vakov to dictate the means by which his ideology was expressed. Despite the negative press—or, more likely, because o f it— the play was immensely popular and remained in the theater’s repertoire until 1934. It was later revived in a new adaptation after W orld W ar II. Over the next few years, as a Party line on Goldfadn became formulated, Litvakov’s outright rejection would lose out to M ikhoels’s conditional praise. Like the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, Goldfadn would be seen as a revolutionary who fought against the insipid rabbinicism of his era in an effort to promote sec­ ular enlightened culture among the Jewish masses. However, the sentim entality and melodrama of his plays, which were geared toward bourgeois audiences, would remain a contentious subject.115 Ironically, when The Sorceress premiered in New York in 1882 w ith Boris Thomashefsky’s troupe, it also aroused a controversy, this time from the Hebrew Immigration A id Com mittee, who feared that the por­ trayal of the Jew ish peddler as a swindler and thief would contribute to antiSem itic feelings among non-Jewish New Yorkers.116 Once again, the highlights of Granovsky’s production were the art and mu­ sic— this time thanks to the efforts of Rabinovich and Akhron. Zuskin’s starring role, as well, helped propel him into the lim elight, ensuring him a position as M ikhoels’s sidekick for years to come. Rabinovich assembled a constructivist set of scaffolding, ladders, and platforms protruding at various levels, m aking the stage resemble a construction site— a symbol of progress, and a setting fam iliar to a proletarian audience. Akhron arranged Goldfadn’s songs and wrote an additional twenty new songs which he based on his own ethnographic studies in the former Pale of Settlement. Akhron’s songs utilized the traditionally Jewish Dorian mode with an augmented fourth— the same scale made famous by Tevye’s leitm otif in Fiddler on the Roof. “The M eeting of M irele and the Sorceress,” with its eerie introduction and oriental motifs bolstering M ikhoels w ailing voice, was even re­ 46

'L et’s Perform a


leased on phonograph. The juxtaposition o f Akhron’s folkish melodies and Rabin­ ovich’s futuristic sets emphasized the distinctions between old and new. Granovsky’s strict discipline and training produced remarkable results. T he actors danced, climbed, crawled, jum ped, flipped, and somersaulted over, under, and around the sets and each other. Choreographed like clockwork, the actors moved like cogs in a machine, sporadically bursting out o f their syncopated robotic mime into w ild and frenzied dance. T hey littered the stage, filling all its open space and crevices as they crawled along the scaffolding like nimble cats or pounced out of concealed pits like leopards on the attack. Hidden behind grotesque makeup, each individual ego was but a symbol for the social class it represented. Granovsky’s camivalesque sacrilege manifested itself in his equation o f the sorceress’s spell w ith the Kol Nidre prayer sung on the eve o f the D ay o f Atone­ ment and in a mourning ceremony that is held for an earlock. Zuskin, in the role of Baba Iakhna, was dressed as a woman but wore arm phylacteries (the ritual dress prescribed for men) around his legs. W h ile this female role was traditionally played by a man, a custom followed in New York as w ell as in Moscow, the wear­ ing o f phylacteries amounted to sacrilege. It could also be interpreted as a protest against the treatment o f women in traditional Judaism by mocking the segment o f die morning prayer declared by Jew ish men while w earing phylacteries: “Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King o f the universe, who hast not made me a woman.” Further, by having both women singing and dancing on stage and a man dressed as a woman, the theater flaunted its defiance o f Judaic law while simultaneously emphasizing its victory over the ancient repression o f theater. The iconoclastic

The Sorceress, 1922. Sets by Isaak Rabinovich. Photo from Das Moskauer JüdischeAkademische Theater (B erlin , 1928). 47

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

mission was further represented by a funeral procession for the “Old Theater Habima” which passes through the town square. Unfortunately, many Soviet reviewers were disappointed and could not re­ frain from comparing the theater unfavorably w ith Habim a, whose production of Solomon A nsky’s Dybbuk was rapidly achieving worldwide fame. One reviewer complained that Granovsky’s excessive biomechanics distracted the audience from the play, m aking the performance appear to be more of a festival than an art thea­ ter.117 Others complained that Granovsky’s mechanized adaptation had destroyed the spirit and spontaneity of Jewish folk theater. 118 The British director Basil Dean, who saw the play on a trip to Russia, disagreed: “I believe that this produc­ tion is one o f the best examples of Russian theater,” he w rote.119 In light of the negative response from the Yiddish press and the Jew ish Sec­ tion, the theater next returned to a less controversial author—Sholem Aleichem. In January 1923, when work began on The B ig Win (which was written in 1915 and later renamed Two H undred Thousand ), the repertory decision was praised by both Dobrushin and Litvakov in D er ernes.120Excitement was further generated through a gala four-year jubilee celebration in January, during which the theater presented the 150th performance of An E vening ofSholem Aleichem. The addresses given at the gala by Litvakov and Granovsky showed that this time the two were in total agreement. D er ernes reported that the auditorium was filled with workers, stu­ dents, literary figures, and artists.121 The new production premiered on June 28, 1923. Two H undred Thousand begins at the house of the poor tailor Shim ele Soroker, where his assistants M od and Kopl continuously interrupt each other as they try to formulate new ways of expressing their shared love for Shim ele’s daughter Beylke. M eanwhile, Shimele is groveling to his landlord and his wife is staving off sundry lenders. The next evening, after w inning 200,000 rubles in a lottery that day, Shim ele, now insisting on being called by the more formal appellation Simeon Makarovich Soroker, throws a flamboyant ball to which he invites all the lum inar­ ies of the town. M aking the rounds as the host of the evening, Shimele arranges a match between his daughter and the son of his wealthy landlord and invests in a nascent movie studio. M uch to his chagrin, the next morning the illiterate former tailor discovers that he put one too many zeros on his check toward the founding of the studio, leaving him destitute once again with only memories of his night as one of the elite. The play ends happily as the landlord to whom Shimele promised his daughter reneges on the agreement, allowing her to marry her true beloved, Shim ele’s poor assistant.122 In contrast to the original Shimele, who gives much o f his fortune to charity, Granovsky’s protagonist lunges full force into the immoral and decadent lifestyle o f the nouveau riche. Shimele was intended to arouse the disdain of the audience. Indeed, like Bolshevik agitators, Granovsky shunned any psychological complexi­ ties, preferring to portray characters as social types. The sharp contrast between the reformed Shimele and his working-class background was emphasized by a split stage which placed workers on ladders effortlessly floating above the bour­



Let's Perform a M iracle "

geoisie, whose obesity made them ever aware of the pull of gravity. A matchmaker parachuted onto the stage, alluding to a literal interpretation o f the ubiquitous luftmentshen. In another scene, the obese swindler stood atop a table as the crowds swooned around him in reverence and musicians serenaded from the scaffolding above. A contorted menorah floated above center stage, mocking the false piety of the bourgeois clique. As had now become common for the theater, prominent professional artists and musicians were recruited. Isaak Rabichev (1896-1957) designed the sets for Two H undred Thousand. Rabichev was born in 1896 in Kiev and had studied at the Brodsky A rt School until 1917, when he continued his art studies in Moscow. He had worked as a graphic artist for Pravda and had achieved fame designing agitational posters, the most famous o f which were his “Proletarians o f A ll Coun­ tries U nite” and “The Enemy W ill Find No Place to Hide From the People.”123 But the most significant new recruit was Lev Pulver (1883-1970), whose musical compositions became the hallm ark o f the theater for the duration of its existence; they were even featured at the 1939 New York W orld’s Fair. Pulver was born in 1883 in a shtetl on Russia’s western frontier into a fam ily of musicians. He gradu­ ated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1908 before joining the Bolshoi Theater orchestra, where he served as violin soloist for fourteen years.124 Songs like “Not Shim ele! It’s Semen M akarovich,” with its H asidic-style chant, and the lively wedding dance “Sher,” with its syncopated rhythm, became staples of the the­ ater.125 W ith its newfound niche among Moscow’s major theaters and new home on the M alaia Bronnaia, the theater’s trade union also decided, on September 15, 1924, to delete the word “Cham ber” from its name, changing it to the State Y id­ dish Theater, also known by its Russian acronym, Goset.126 The growth o f the theater, combined with its new responsibilities, led to financial problems which left the troupe unpaid for extended periods of time. This was caused in large part by the exponential growth o f the theater’s staff; it doubled in just eighteen months and continued to increase. In M arch 1922, the theater’s staff numbered only fortyeight people, including twenty-five actors and actresses. T hat number had in­ creased to seventy-four in June of the same year and to eighty-seven by September 1923. T he staff continued to grow, reaching a peak of one hundred and fifteen by 1924, including four department heads, forty-four artistic personnel, twenty-three orchestra members, eighteen administration personnel, fifteen technicians, five costume makers, three decorators, and two medical advisers.127 M any of the new actors, such as David C hechik (b. 1893), were former members of the Kiev KulturLige dramatic circle who relocated to Moscow with the organization’s 1924 disso­ lution. Others, like M oshe Goldblatt (b. 1896), were graduates of the Yiddish theater studio. Salaries also increased, particularly those of the orchestra members and department heads. In 1924, twelve members of the organization had salaries of over 100 rubles a month: Granovsky at 360, Pulver at 287, M ikhoels at 230, and Zuskin at 115.50. Several members of the orchestra and management divisions, the lighting technician (Aron Namiot), and the chief makeup artist (Tubakov)


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

2 0 0,0 0 0 1923. Sets by Isaac Rabichev. Photo from Das MoskauerJüdische Akademische Theater (Berlin« 1928).

200,000, 1923. Front,from left to right. Eva Itskhoki, Evgeniia Epstein« Rakhl Imenitova, Esther Karchmer. Back: Benjamin Zuskin. Photo courtesy o f Ala Perelman- Zuksin.


“Let's Perform a M iracle ’

round out the list o f top salaried members.128 W ages for the rest o f the staff were scaled in thirteen divisions. This situation did little to placate the grum bling bit actors, who were already complaining that they were experiencing worse hunger than they had during the C ivil W ar.129 These financial and administrative difficulties impeded the theater’s artistic work. Unable to put together a full-length play, the troupe resorted to performing a series of sketches: Three Jew ish Raisins, w ritten by Dobrushin and Nakhum O yslender (1893-1962), premiered in M arch 1924. O yslender was born in 1893 in Kiev and, like Dobrushin, was the son of a lumber merchant. After studying m edicine in Berlin, he was mobilized into the Red Arm y as a m ilitary doctor. A fter the C ivil W ar, O yslender started w riting symbolic Yiddish poetry. However, he would find his niche not as a creative writer, but as a literary critic and translator, Three Jew ish Raisins was his first venture into dramaturgy. The reference to raisins was both a tribute to Goldfadn’s famous song “Raisins and Almonds” and a syn­ ecdoche o f wine— a symbol of merriment and life. Each sketch mocked one of the major genres of Jewish theaters: Prince von Fliasko Drigo, about a love affair between a Chinese emperor and a poor Jewish woman from Odessa, poked fun at the melodramas popular among wandering Jew ish troupes. In the spirit of Goldfadn, the play is an adventure-packed fantasy in which the two lovers narrowly escape certain death through a series of mishaps and encounters with bandits and pirates, only to be reunited in the finale. The second sketch, Sarra Wants a Negro, satirizing the American motto that “every­ thing is possible in Am erica,” mocked the New York Yiddish theaters; and A N ight at a Hasidic Rebbes, the most successful of the three, parodied the mystical piety o f M oscow ’s own H abim a.T his last sketch concludes after a wealthy rebbe explains to his eager neophytes how he has accumulated his wealth, and one student ex­ claim s, “M y God, how many poor people are needed so that one rich man can live the good life in this world!”130 Once again Granovsky’s staging emphasized the carnivalesque, mixing the sacred w ith the profane. By turning the ecstatic dance and singing o f the Hasidim into theatrical gestures devoid of ulterior meaning, the movements were deprived of their spiritual significance. Such spiritual dance was also a large part o f Habima’s choreography, epitomized by plays such as The Eter­ n al Jew . The popularity of the play was enhanced by Pulvers parody of Hasidic songs, using authentic melodies such as “W hen the Rebbe drinks, his students follow” which mocked the conformity of the sect. The first two sketches were later dropped from the repertoire, and the title Three Jew ish Raisins was used to refer to a program consisting o f Sholem Aleichem’s The D ivorce Paper (written in 1887), M azelT ov, and A Night at a Hasidic Rebbes. The D ivorce Paper, Sholem Aleichem’s first play, presents a conversation between two poor failures who conclude that “Life goes nowhere— feh!” One critic praised A Night at a Hasidic Rebbes for its intricate artistic content as well as its propagandist anti-religious message but was less impressed with the other “raisins”: “Here they only dance and sing.”131 Izvestiia, in contrast, was full of praise: “One can say that it is the most joyous production of the season.”132 Pravda


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

echoed this sentiment: “One can confidently say that o f all the parody spectacles o f the ongoing season this is the most successful, most joyous and w ittiest.”133 W h ile the Soviet press praised the productions o f these years for their strong social messages, some critics were dubious about the theater’s potential to per­ suade Jew s o f the merits o f communism. One reviewer wrote: “I suppose that to the Jew ish theater all this is new and unusual and would be irreplaceable for the broad Jew ish working masses in the provinces, but here in Moscow, alas, it is idle beauty.”134Indeed, evidence suggests that the theater was not reaching its intended audience—the Yiddish-speaking religious Jews. In the words o f Nahma Sandrow, "Laughter came in two waves: first from those who understood the jokes, and then from those to whom they had to be explained.”135 Russian-language synopses were sold to 60 to 80 percent of the audience each night,136 brief summaries o f all pro­ ductions appeared in the major theatrical journals along w ith the cast lists, and the performances were so dominated by song, dance and decorations that they could be appreciated even without any understanding o f the dialogue.137 Furthermore, while the Jew ish population o f Moscow was rapidly increasing, it still only consti­ tuted 5.8 percent o f the total Jew ish population o f the Soviet Union, and it was one o f the most assimilated segments o f that population.133 The frequency o f articles on the theater in the Russian press confirms that it was not exclusively o f interest to Jews. T he new theater building on M alaia Bronnaia was a stark contrast from

A Night at a Hasidic Rebbest from ThreeJewish Raisins, 1924. Photo courtesy o f A la Perelm an-Z uskin.


Let's Perform a M iracle "

the Bund hall where they played in Vitebsk for the summer; the Moscow State Yiddish Theater was placed in the heart of the downtown theater district—less than a kilometer from the famous Stanislavsky, M eyerhold, andTairov theaters. In short, the theater was clearly addressing itself to a non-Yiddish-speaking audi­ ence. For central state organizations such as the Commissariats o f Enlightenment and N ationalities, both o f whom sought to use the theater as a showpiece to dem­ onstrate for foreigners the thriving culture of Soviet national minorities, the ethnic composition of the in-house audience made little difference. However, for the Jew ish Section, which hoped the theater would inspire traditional Jews to revolu­ tionize their values and adopt new behavioral patterns, the lack of interest among the targeted audience was a significant problem to be rectified in the future.

Revolutionary Theater Bolshevik thinkers o f the 1920s believed that with appropriate content the theater could become an ideal medium for a revolutionary culture. It alone could present utopian visions in concrete forms: revolutionary heroes, right-w ing foes, popular festivals, religious rituals, modern industry, and capitalist speculation could all be appropriately exalted or denigrated in a setting comprehensible to even illiterate masses. This sentiment was shared by the community of artists involved in the Soviet Jewish theaters of the 1920s. T hey were united by a common belief that the theater was the medium most suited to freeing Jew ish society of w hat they saw as its insipid, rabbinical scholasticism and bourgeois philistinism. T he initial successes of the Bolsheviks in establishing control over the turbu­ lent, war-torn country caught many o f the self-appointed guardians of proletarian cultural purity off guard. Lacking the resources to create a network of Soviet, statecontrolled cultural institutions, the Bolsheviks were w illing, for the time being, to welcome those that emerged independently. Unsure how best to create and enforce a purely working-class culture, these enthusiasts were w illing to tolerate a motley mix o f interpretations. Typical of this am biguity was the state s simultaneous funding o f both the Hebrew-language theater, Habim a, and the Moscow State Yiddish Theater. In such an open environment, the Yiddish T heaters symbolist staging, constructivist sets, folkish melodies, and popular texts were permitted to prosper relatively free o f state interference. T he Moscow State Yiddish Theaters support for Communist ideals and compliance with Bolshevik nationality policies of the era, as well as its use of the language championed as the vernacular of working-class Jews, helped gain it an unprecedented degree of state patronage. However, while the theater was formed with the support of the state, the initiative came from Jewish artists whose own ideals corresponded roughly to those of the Soviet government. As a result of its official sanction, the theater became a haven for artists work­ ing in all media. Those unsure o f how to express their revolutionary ardor appro­ priately could be comforted that the theater provided a suitable forum. Those fearful o f arousing suspicion of their apprehensions toward the new order could camouflage themselves among the theater s zealots. And those simply unable to


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

make a living otherwise could join the state-funded theater. Once they became co­ opted into the system, many members o f the troupe adopted its ideology, con­ firming one scholar’s conclusions about the Soviet propaganda system that “Soviet propaganda may not have convinced the masses but it succeeded in reinforcing the commitment o f the propagandists.”139 W h ile the theater and its ideology attracted many artists to its stage, its effectiveness must also be assessed on the basis o f its audience. As we have seen, the theater was preaching to the converted, or at least to the oversaturated— its mes­ sage was hardly new to the intelligentsia and social lum inaries who filled the M alaia Bronnaia H all one night and migrated to the nearby M eyerhold or Tairov theater the next. Its large non-Jewish audience was probably captivated by the theaters exoticism, viewing its Jew ish content no differently than they would the Gypsy entertainers who performed at expensive après theater restaurants. On the other hand, word o f Granovsky’s accomplishment was gradually reaching the influential Jewish communities o f Warsaw, Berlin, London, and New York. A l­ though many greeted the news o f a Jewish cultural renaissance in Soviet Russia with skepticism, others were less cynical. After the expansion of the theater in the second half of the decade, the British journal Theatre Arts Monthly, for instance, would write that: Soviet Russia, alone among nations, claims three state-endowed Jewish theatres. Nor is the reason hard to find, for it stems from the Soviet policy o f National Cultural Autonom y. According to this doctrine every nationality represented in Russia not only has the right to use its own language and develop its own culture but can also count on the State for active support in the exercise o f this right.140


Comrades from the Center: State, Party, and Stage

A s the actors o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater attained the status of star­ dom, they began to act accordingly; their youthful dreams of “performing m ira­ cles” were replaced with more adult concerns about personal finances and prestige. T heir deference toward the unquestioned authority of Aleksandr Granovsky was replaced with a more weathered skepticism, encouraged by their union leaders. And the intimate friendships which fueled the collective in its early days were replaced with jealous tempers. To use Hannah A rendt’s term, the troupe became atomized, but not as a result of the crushing momentum of a totalitarian move­ ment. Rather, it was simply a prosaic clash of egos as some actors elevated their personal interests above those of the collective. This environment not only im ­ peded the artistic development of the theater but also allowed the state to manip­ ulate the internal discord and penetrate the theater’s curtain, introducing its own characters both onstage and backstage in an effort to assert its agenda. A fter its victory in the C ivil W ar, the strengthened Soviet state was no longer satisfied with the often passive role it had played previously; as of 1924 it was prepared to reallocate its resources toward cultural enlightenment and propa­ ganda. T his was heralded by the November 1923 creation of the Central Reper­ tory Com m ittee (Glavrepertkom), the committee of censorship, as a division of the Com m issariat of Enlightenment. C ertainly Bolsheviks from Lunacharskii to Trotsky had realized the important propagandiste value of culture in general and theater in particular, but economic difficulties and concerns with more pressing problems hindered any concerted action on the cultural front during the C ivil War. The Bolsheviks had no choice but to allow a wide array of cultural discourses to compete as the true expression of proletarian culture.1 It was not until the New Economic Policy (NEP) provided the Party with sufficient breathing space that it could finally work toward the disposal of those whom Trotsky dubbed in his 1924 work Literature and Revolution the “fellow travelers of the revolution.”2 But there was no general agreement regarding a definition o f proletarian cul­ ture, even within the upper echelons of the Party; the well-known conflict between A leksandr Bogdanov and Lenin was only the tip of the iceberg. As Trotsky put it: “The question i s . . . in which case and between what should the Party choose. And this question is not at all as simple as the theorists of the ‘L e f [Left Front], the heralds o f proletarian literature and the critics are pleased to think.”3 Indeed, while all Com munist thinkers agreed with Lenin’s oft-cited remark that culture must serve the Party’s interests, none agreed on how to reconcile education with enter­ tainm ent or how to channel artistic creativity into social utility. In their efforts to abolish the realism o f the old, many artists created abstractions incomprehensible to the masses. W h ile there was no definitive and consensual ideological answer 55

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

(despite Trotsky’s polemics) there was a political solution— to obtain Party control for the moment and defer repertory and stylistic decisions for later. In other words, to invert M arx’s sociology by m aking political control the “base” rather than the “superstructure,’’ from which cultural enlightenm ent would derive only second­ arily. T his is, in many ways, a paraphrase of the revised totalitarian argument re­ garding the supremacy of the regime’s political power over socioeconomic factors, which claims that by 1932 each “sensitive field” of culture “was annexed by the regime and directly subordinated to its immediate political purposes. And in each case Stalin personally initiated the change.”4 But how was this achievement actu­ ally accomplished, and was Stalin truly the prime mover? W h ile the state’s cultural organs wrangled over the terms by which proletari­ an culture would be defined, the Jewish Section of the Party was constructing its own project that was equally, if not more, pertinent to the Moscow State Y id ­ dish Theater’s future. The ultim ate goal of the non-Jewish state organs with regard to the Yiddish theater was, as we have seen, to use the theater as a showpiece for the W est, as a testimony to the state s tolerance and support o f its national m i­ norities. The goal of the Jewish Section, which was less concerned with foreign audiences, was to “educate” the Jew ish masses of the former Pale o f Settlem ent in order to wrench them away from their traditional religious lives in the shtetl and to integrate them into the expanding proletariat or convert them into collective farmers. As the foremost scholar o f the Jew ish Section writes, “By 1925-26 it was the Jewish Section which defined the scope and intensity of the revolution­ ary struggle for the modernization o f Soviet Jew ry and, in many cases, instigated and led it___ In effect, it was assigned a major role in determining the fixture of Soviet Jewry.”5 Consequently, its own division between the assimilationists, who anticipated the “withering away” of national peculiarities, and the nationalists, like Moshe Litvakov, who pursued a distinctly Jewish proletarian culture, was re­ flected in the Yiddish theater’s development. Furthermore, the Thirteenth Party Congress in M ay 1924, which called for an increase in Party work among na­ tional minorities in their native languages, also provided the Jewish Section with the authorization it needed to expand its base, especially into the U krainian and Belorussian shtetls.6 The Jew ish Section’s Yiddishization campaign, which had been harassing the Hebrew-language Habima theater from as early as 1920 (de­ spite Lunacharskii’s objections), ensured that Yiddish, rather than Hebrew, would be designated as the Jewish national tongue. This led to the final denouement of Habima— a process that was hastened by the death of its most prestigious director, Evgenii Vakhtangov (1883-1922) and by the recent successes at the Moscow State Yiddish Theater. In the summer o f 1924, confronted with the task of integrating the shtetl Jews into Soviet society, the Jewish Section founded the Committee for the Settlem ent of Jewish Toilers on the Land (KO M ZET) and its non-Party corollary, the Soci­ ety for the Settlem ent o f Jewish Toilers on the Land (OZET, GEZERD ), w ith the ultim ate goal of enticing Jewish petty traders and unemployed workers to abandon the shtetls in favor of agricultural colonization on collective farms. Be­


Comradesfrom the Center

cause the vast m ajority of Jews in the former Pale still held strong ties to rabbinical Judaism , Hasidism , or Zionism, the movement was accompanied by anti-religious and anti-Z ionist campaigns. W ith in the next year, the Jewish Section mounted over 120 anti-religious campaigns, closed over 1,000 kheders, and arrested count­ less Zionist leaders. This “Face-to-the-Shtetl” movement provided a new impetus and direction for Soviet Jew ish culture that resonated deeply within the Moscow State Yiddish Theater.

Face to the Shted W ith the return to a partial market economy during the New Economic Pol­ icy (N EP), the theater quickly realized the benefits o f pleasing those who held the purse strings. However, it was faced with an insurmountable quandary shared by any product geared toward a working-class constituency—the audience, by defini­ tion, lacks the funds necessary to serve as patrons. In the context of1920s Russia, this m eant catering to either Moscow’s “Nepmen”—those entrepreneurs profiting from the restoration of private business—or to the state, which retained control o f the economy’s “commanding heights,” including the credit industry, which was centralized under the state bank in 1918. Since the regime, which claimed to rep­ resent the proletariat, apportioned its funds according to political expediency, the theater was forced to choose between profit and politics: it could fill its coffers by charging the Nepmen in Moscow, or it could achieve its political goals by touring the poverty-stricken provinces, where the m ajority of unassimilated Jews resided, and offering discounted tickets to workers, thereby garnering state patronage. For the Moscow State Yiddish Theater the choice was obvious: as a revolutionary theater geared toward the working masses, it could hardly defile itself by coddling the Nepmen. Following the line advanced by the Jewish Section’s “Face-to-the-Shtetl" movement, the Moscow State Yiddish Theater took several steps to extend its reach into the former Pale: first, Litvakov helped found a Society for Friends of the State Yiddish Theater to organize a campaign to the shteds. Its first meeting, on September 22,1926, formulated the goals of the society—to publish ajournai on the activities of the theater, to discuss general questions of Jewish culture, and to gather members and supporters for the theater. Between M arch and M ay 1927, the membership of the organization increased from 545 to 890 members, the largest contingent o f whom were dependent wage earners (66 percent), followed by factory workers (16 percent). Students, artisans, and housewives rounded out the rest.7To supplement these activities a newsletter for the theater was established for distribution throughout the country.8 Second, the theater was reorganized as the nucleus of a network of Jewish theatrical institutions under the auspices of the Theatrical Department of the Com missariat of Enlightenment. The network corresponded to Granovsky’s ear­ lier vision, in which his Moscow studio was to serve as a training ground and model theater for other Yiddish theaters scattered strategically throughout the Soviet


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

realm. To facilitate this project, the Moscow division was allocated three build­ ings: the theater on M alaia Bronnaia, an artists’ residence at the old theater on 12 Chernyshevskii (formerly Stankevich), and a school-studio on 6 Kuznetskii M ost. Finally, in 1925, U krainian and Belorussian divisions of the State Yiddish T hea­ ter were created in Moscow and later relocated to M insk, the capital o f the Belo­ russian Soviet Socialist Republic, and Kharkov, the industrial capital o f Ukraine. The U krainian division was directed by Efraim Loiter, the former director o f the K ultur-Lige’s theater section, while the Belorussian division was entrusted to M oshe Rafalskii, former director of the Unzer Vinkl theater.9 Lacking Granov­ sky’s ties to high-level Party figures like Lunacharskii (whose cultural tastes were relatively conservative and who looked upon the new avant-garde proletarian cul­ ture with a certain skepticism), the provincial theaters were more susceptible to the influence of the extreme left Proletkultists and the Jewish Section, both o f which promoted a total break with pre-revolutionary culture and a singular emphasis on the most radical definition o f proletarian culture. Thus, the repertoires of these theaters came to consist prim arily o f political works by contemporary Soviet Jew ­ ish writers that glorified the Soviet regime. The radical politicization of the provincial theaters and their overwhelming dependence on orders from Moscow were deterrents to genuine experimentation and innovation. Financial difficulties and resistance from actors who were to be transferred to the provinces further hindered the development o f these theaters. Indeed, rather than have talented Moscow-based actors transferred to the prov­ inces, as Granovsky envisioned, more often than not movement was in the reverse direction as provincial hopefuls were called to the big city. M any participants in these theaters later went on to work for more central and prominent theaters, not the least o f which was the Moscow State Yiddish Theater. T his trend supports the hypothesis that those institutions, led by the Com missariat of Enlightenment, which preferred to use the theater as a showpiece for visiting foreigners were w in­ ning out over the more populist Jew ish Section, which sought to direct its propa­ ganda toward a domestic audience. Lacking the charismatic stars who contributed to the popularity of their M os­ cow counterparts, these provincial theaters were destined to remain, for the time being at least, provincial in the full sense of the word. Shtetl audiences preferred to w ait for the chance to see M ikhoels and Zuskin when they went on tour than satisfy their desire for entertainment w ith the lesser theaters. The w ait usually proved worthwhile, as Granovsky’s troupe began to spend its summers touring the former Pale. Over the summers o f 1922 and 1923, with the aid of the Com ­ missariat of Enlightenment, it brought its message to M insk, Vitebsk, Gomel, Kharkov, and Kiev. The following summer, the troupe was popular enough to be expressly invited by the community. The director of the Gomel State Theater in­ vited Granovsky’s troupe to visit, offering to pay 12,000 rubles and accommoda­ tions for twenty shows,10while M insk offered 15,000 rubles." Hoping to capital­ ize on his provincial popularity, Granovsky, in a letter to Litvakov, requested 5,000 rubles from the Jewish Section to help subsidize a tour of Ukraine, where his


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troupe’s anonymity could not attract the capital investment the Belorussians were w illing to risk.12 Even Odessa, having heard o f the theater through word of mouth alone, offered to pay 2,000 rubles a night and to house the theater in hotels rather than dormitories— a rare treat for the wandering stars.13 In preparation for the theater s arrival, placards in Yiddish— a strong indication o f the expected audi­ ence— were posted throughout the streets.14 T he program for the 1924 tour included Two Hundred Thousand, The Sorceress, Three Jew ish Raisins, God o f Vengeance, and An E vening ofSholem Aleichem (.Agents, M azel Tov, and The D ivorce Paper). Additionally, the theater added to its repertoire an evening o f entertainm ent entitled A C arnival o f Jew ish Comedy. The program typically consisted of a variety o f short sketches supplemented with musical per­ formances. For instance, one program included a m edley of H asidic, Latin A m er­ ican, and African Am erican music and dance; a sampling o f folk songs from V ilna sung by the actress Leah Rom; a Jew ish dance performed by M ariia Askinazi; a Hasidic musical ensemble; some klezmer music; and a short sketch. D uring the 1924 tour— the one for which we have the best records— the theater played in Kiev, Gomel, Odessa, and Kharkov before returning to Moscow in September.15 To accommodate large audiences, the theater sometimes played outdoors or on factory floors. Since tickets were sold at reduced rates for workers, students, soldiers, and members o f Party organizations and special closed perfor­ mances were given to union members, we can compile a fairly accurate assessment of the theater s success in attracting members of these targeted groups. But the figures are probably bloated because the report was prepared for the Jew ish Section by the governing board of the theater, which had a vested interest in proving to its prim ary benefactor that it was reaching its intended audience. Furthermore, ticket purchasers could have exaggerated their worker background in order to receive the discounted tickets. Nevertheless, the statistics confirm a reasonable hypothesis— that in regions w ith high concentrations of Yiddish-speaking Jewish workers, the audience was comprised of Yiddish-speaking Jewish workers. O f seventy-three performances to over 91,000 people, between 65 and 80 percent o f the audience were Jew ish, and between half and two-thirds of all spectators received discounted tickets as either union members, workers, Party members, or Red Arm y soldiers.16 C learly the theater was reaching its targeted audience of Jew ish workers in the provinces. Furthermore, each show was viewed by an average of 1,250 people, compared with under 300 a night in Moscow.

The Penniless Box Office W h ile the provincial tours, where the theater met its intended audience, were certainly effective propaganda, they were inevitably financial failures. The dream of using proceeds from the Moscow season to finance the politically expedient tours proved to be unrealistic; even in Moscow the theater could barely escape without a loss, let alone cover the costs of transportation and housing for the large troupe, now numbering 115.17 In this light, it should come as little surprise that the


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

1924 tour concluded w ith a deficit of between 6,000 and 8,000 rubles, at a time when the theater was already almost 40,000 rubles in debt.18 Thus, in the fall of 1924, after the troupe’s extended summer tour, Granovsky returned to Moscow as a supplicant: “W e are the only theater in the U SSR which accomplishes such significant political work while rem aining artistically avantgarde. W h at theater can produce this kind of press? W h at theater can demonstrate such closeness to the Party?”19 he demanded in an appeal to the Jewish Section for funds. In October the Council of People’s Commissars approved, on the Com ­ m issariat o f Enlightenm ent’s recommendation, a grant o f 50,000 rubles— 40,000 to cover the theater’s debt, and an additional 10,000 bonus for its "revolutionary portrayal o f the Jew ish bourgeois shtetl-dwellers, and its decisive war against cler­ icalism and national chauvinism.”20 Despite this assistance, financial difficulties were exacerbated by adm inistra­ tive and personal conflicts within the troupe. The grueling tour schedule began to have a negative effect on the actors, and the theater’s trade union voiced its griev­ ances against the director. In 1924 the kindling ignited into a huge flare-up be­ tween Khaim Krashinskii and Granovsky. Krashinskii was a minor member o f the troupe’s acting personnel, but he was the only member o f the Communist Party in the troupe and the secretary of the theater’s local union branch. He had come to the theater from the Com missariat o f N ationality Affairs, where he had been secretary o f the Jew ish Department and had led the campaign against H abim a in 1920-1921, accusing the Hebrew theater of being counter-revolutionary and Z i­ onist.21 His position against Habim a had brought him into direct confrontation w ith Lunacharskii, who at the time continued to support the Hebrew theater for its artistic merits.22 After a minor argument, Krashinskii denounced Granovsky to the Jewish Section, complaining that the troupe’s director had been tampering w ith the thea­ ter’s accounts, that he did not allow the members of the troupe to develop artisti­ cally, and, most serious, that "the absence of a Party controller has resulted in an ideological bias in the past repertoire toward accommodating the theater to the side of the NEP public.” He recommended that a working board be established over the theater, that Granovsky be dismissed from his role as financial director so that "the financial-administrative section can be put in the hands of a Party mem­ ber,” and that "a purge o f actors in the collective be carried out, freeing the theater of bourgeois elements and replacing them with proletarian Communists.”23 Kra­ shinskii became further infuriated when a commission appointed by the Jewish Section to investigate the charges absolved Granovsky but stated that “Kr[ashinskii] was not able properly to use his position as the sole Communist in the theater to resolve the crisis that arose in the theater.. . . In order to get his way, he took it upon him self to aggravate relations w ith the directorate.”24 Dissatisfied with the resolutions of the committee, Krashinskii turned to the Moscow Union of Artists, an organization dominated by plebeian artistic workers notoriously hostile to the prestigious state theaters.2SThe union responded with its own investigation.26This time the commission upheld Krashinskii’s position and


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recommended that Granovsky be relieved of his financial and administrative du­ ties and be replaced w ith a Party member.27 The Jewish division of the Com mis­ sariat o f Enlightenment agreed w ith Krashinskii28 but was countered by Comrade Palatnik, a member o f the theater’s governing board and a representative of the Jew ish division of the Soviet of National M inorities, who sent a secret letter to the Jew ish Section accusing Krashinskii of intentional troublemaking and of falsely denouncing Granovsky to the secret police.29 Thus, a conflict which started as a clash o f personalities was broadened to include virtually the entire Jewish state apparatus. T his incident began a trend by which the disgruntled members of the theater would appeal to higher authorities in their squabbles with Granovsky, thereby legitim izing state and Party interference in the internal affairs of the the­ ater. Each organ responded by appointing a commission to investigate and m edi­ ate; once invited in, these commissions were reluctant to withdraw. The Jewish theater was not alone in its struggle for administrative autonomy during this period. As Lunacharskii’s influence declined, Party and union officials were suc­ cessful in having their own candidates appointed to important posts throughout the M oscow theatrical establishment. According to Richard Thorpe, Party mem­ bership became one of the most important criteria in the appointment of many theater directors in 1924-1925, surpassing even artistic experience.50

Jewish Luck By February 1925, the theater was finally ready to present its next full-length production—Granovskys adaptation of Isaac Leyb Peretz’s mystical play about the dawn of modernity, Night in the Old Market, which he turned into a tragedy about a wedding o f the dead in a graveyard.51 Preparations for the production lasted over a year due to a combination of the problems plaguing the theater’s ad­ ministration and Granovskys insistence that the premiere be delayed until he was completely satisfied with the production— a process that involved over 250 re­ hearsals. W hen news was released that the theater was working on a play by Peretz, Der ernes lamented the theaters decision to perform material from the pre-revolu­ tionary past rather than utilize the works of the new generation of contemporary Soviet artists, such as Ber Orshansky (1884-1945), Aharon Kushnirov (1890— 1949), and Ezra Finenberg (1899-1946), all of whose works were under prepara­ tion for performance at the Ukrainian State Yiddish Theater.52 Despite this public criticism, Litvakov and the Jewish Section continued to defend Granovsky before the trade union and continued their fund-raising for the theater. Granovsky’s adaptation of Peretz’s classic left little of the original authors intent; the play was reinterpreted to conform to the Jewish Section’s new agenda. Heartened by its experience in the provinces and encouraged by the Jewish Sec­ tion’s “Face-to-the-Shtetl” campaign, the theater chose to use the play as an attack on the shtetl, which was symbolized by a cemetery. The juxtaposition of a wedding and a cem etery represented the belief that a new beginning cannot occur in a dead world. Starring M ikhoels and Zuskin, the play consisted of a plotless montage of


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

eerie, disconnected images. As night falls in the cemetery, the dead rise from their graves to the sounds of the Kaddish, the Jew ish prayer for the dead, mixed with the requiem mass. As the dead rise, they shout allusions to traditional Judaism : “The Kohanim [priestly clan] gather,” “The horn o f the M essiah,” “T he syna­ gogue is taken over by the dead!” “Dead Ones with Torah bells!” “W ith Sukkos [huts built during the Festival of Tabernacles] pegs!” “W ith phylactery bags!” A f­ ter the wedding, as dawn approaches, the wedding entertainer calls “Remain above the earth! Don’t return to the graves!”— an appeal to abandon the metaphorical shtetls. However, fearing the rising sun and the new day, the dead return to their graves. The attack on the shtetl was accompanied by an attack on religion. As the play ends a voice is heard from beneath the stage, shouting “God!” to which the wed­ ding entertainer replies “Dead, your God___He is Bankrupt!”33This line, which appeared only in Peretz’s 1909 text, recurred twice in Granovsky’s adaptation and was developed into a major theme. Once again, Granovsky alluded to the carnivalesque by transposing the sacred and profane through the badkhem. His badkhens were actually closer to the payats, another type of Jew ish clown often portrayed in the purimspiels, who were known for inserting profanities into prayer. The musical accompaniment, composed by Aleksandr Krein, consisted of dis­ sonant perversions o f traditional klezmer music sporadically interrupted by frag­ ments of dialogue. H is score comprised five major elements: 1 ) impressionist genre themes depicting the everyday life o f the shtetl; 2) tunes drawn from the repertoire of the klezmers 3) modern motifs characterizing the growth o f the Jews from the “old ghettos”; 4) religious elements drawn from Jew ish liturgical melodies; and 5) dissonant themes depicting the triumph of the new world. The predominance o f music in the production taught M ikhoels a lesson on the significance o f re­ straining speech: “I act more remarkably when I am silent than when I am talking,” he later remarked.34 Robert Falk designed a series of grotesque costumes that portrayed the un­ dead zombies with dripping flesh. Falk (1886-1958), the son of a prosperous M os­ cow lawyer, began his career in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture in 1905. After traveling to Italy in 1910 he returned to Moscow, where he affiliated him self with the Jack of Diamonds group, where he m et C ha­ gall and Altm an. Prim arily a landscape painter, Falk found the transformation to theater difficult, but he adapted well and went on to work for Habim a and the Belorussian State Yiddish Theater. Great care was taken in the construction o f the costumes and sets, and Falk accompanied them with a large oil painting. A flurry of macabre colors graced the stage, which was set in the shadow o f a huge wrinkled bamsah (Kabbalistic sign in the shape of a hand) that came down from the center o f the stage, displaying Peretz’s Hebrew initials. The costumes also emphasized the mechanical movements of the actors. W h ile Falk’s designs were among the most memorable in the theater’s history, Efros was less than enthusiastic, disap­ pointed by the artist’s use of space. Several years later he wrote, “Falk and theater — two incompatible things.”3S


Comradesfrom the Center

Solom on M ikh o els in Night in the Old Market. From L iu b o m irskii, Mikhoels. Solom on M ikh o els and B enjam in Z uskin as badkhens in Night in the OldMarket\ 1925. P hoto courtesy o f A la P erelm anZ uskin.


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

R obert F alk’s sets for Night in the Old ,1 9 2 5 . From Das Moskauer Jüdische Akademische Theater (B erlin , 1928).

N ight in the Old Market was one o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater’s most popular productions, but it received ambivalent reviews from , which criti­ cized it for merely stating the obvious and offering no solutions.36 Izvestiia was also somewhat critical, worried that the theater was romanticizing the shtetl,37 while another reviewer was concerned about the m ystical-religious content o f the play, which he felt the theater was unable to overcome completely.38 However, most critics saw it as a successful continuation o f the cycle o f anti-religious, antishtetl productions, couched in the stylized and grotesque forms that had become the theater’s hallm ark.39 Several reviewers reminded their readers that the reac­ tions of Moscow and Leningrad audiences were of litde significance, because the vast m ajority o f Jews, for whom this production would have been most valuable, lived in the provincial shtetls.40 Granovsky and his troupe continued to find favor in the eyes o f the Com missariat of Enlightenment; in February o f that year, Lunacharskii awarded Granovsky the honorary title of State Academic Theater A rtist.41 The following summer the troupe once again toured the provinces. T his tim e it supplemented its stage offerings w ith a motion picture directed to shtetl audi­ ences. Jew ish Luck, the theater’s first venture into the new medium, was filmed on location during the summer of 1925. W h ile Lenin regarded cinema as one o f the most important art forms, in 1925 only ninety motion pictures were made in the


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Soviet Union.42 Thus, the Moscow State Yiddish T heaters invitation was a rare privilege shared by relatively few of the many ambitious artists who hoped to im m ortalize themselves on film.43 Granovsky first wrote o f a desire to make a film in September 1924, begin­ ning negotiations with Sovkino, the state film enterprise, soon after. The final deal was favorable to the theater: Sovkino agreed to provide transportation, costumes, 17,000 meters of Kodak film, and forty days in the Goskino factory for cutting and editing.44 Granovsky and G rigorii Gricher-Cherikover (1893-1945) directed it, Natan Altm an designed the sets, and Lev Pulver composed and conducted music for the premiere. The prominent Soviet writer Isaac Babel (1894-1940) was re­ cruited to write titles. The film again starred M ikhoels and Zuskin. The film follows Sholem Aleichem’s hapless insurance salesman M enakhem M endl as he experiments in matchmaking, only to inadvertently arrange a m ar­ riage between two women. The wedding, a traditional Jewish symbol of life and renewal, turns into a disaster, once again symbolizing the belief that a new begin­ ning could not take place within the shtetl. The new medium allowed for a more forceful attack on shtetl life. Renouncing the carnivalesque and acrobatic features which had become the hallm ark of his theater, Granovsky chose instead to present a “realistic” portrait of pre-revolutionary shtetl life in all its stagnancy. By claim ­ ing to present a candid, almost documentary, portrayal of the shtetl, Granovsky spurned anticipated attacks of exaggeration, especially from an American audi­ ence without firsthand knowledge of life in the former Pale. The sheer starkness of the dirty town of Berdichev as depicted on the crude grainy film was sufficient­ ly unappetizing, especially when contrasted with the modern, revolutionary city of Odessa. Lest the audience miss the message of his straightforward narrative, Granovsky used cinematic tricks to highlight it; one scene shows a cemetery which fades out as the streets of Berdichev fade in, merging with the gravestones to equate the shtetl with a cemetery. T he film also attacked the treatment of women by traditional Jew ish ritual, mocking the trade of women among matchmakers. D uring a dream sequence, M enakhem M endl, im agining that he has become the greatest matchmaker in the world, is approached by the German Jewish financier and philanthropist Baron M aurice de Hirsch at an exclusive seaside Odessa café. The world-famous phi­ lanthropist humbly explains to the great matchmaker, “American bridegrooms are clim bing the walls, there aren’t enough brides to go around. Save Am erica, M en ­ akhem M endl.” After arrangements are made, a boxcar train full of women in wedding dresses, classified according to their physical characteristics—one car reads “fat”—arrives in Odessa. After the women are carried off the train and in­ spected, they are loaded—by crane— onto a ship bound for America. Finally, the film sought to show the oppression of the poor by the rich in the traditional Jew ish settlements. “Oy, it’s tough for a poor Jew to get anything out of a rich m an,” and “You can’t do anything without money,” laments M enakhem. Other scenes mocked the social segregation of the rich and the poor and the economic stresses of marriage. W h ile one woman complains, “M y father wants me


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

T h e brid es m eet in Jewish Luck, 1925. P hoto courtesy o f N atalia V ovsi-M ikhoels.

to m an y a rich man,” another written request for a match reads, “O.K. if the groom is not yet a doctor.” Produced by the A ll-U krainian Photo-Cinem a Adm inistration and spon­ sored by the Society for the Setdem ent o f Jew ish Toilers on the Land, the prim ary target audience was the shted Jews of Ukraine. However, an American audience was also targeted. A version with English-language rides was prepared and the film was made available for export, although it did not reach Am erica until 1935, when W orldkino released a dubbed version enrided Menakhem M endi'm Yiddish, or The Matchmaker in English.4S One reviewer used the opportunity to discuss the potential the Revolution had created for Jews. The satire o f Sholem Aleichem , he explained, emerged out o f the difficulty o f pre-revolutionary Jewish life. However, the Revolution gave Jews all the institutions necessary for a new life: For us now, Jew ish Luck has practically become a historical film .. . . Now in Belorussia . . . grand w ork is going on regarding the allotm ent o f land to Jews. Collective farms are springing up, they are irrigating the la n d .. . . O ne need not feel sorry for the image o f M enakhem M en d l’s umbrella, one need not find romance in the p a s t. . . but one must know o f the old life.44

Backstage Backstabbing Although the movie project was a massive undertaking for the troupe, only a select few o f its members were involved in the film. Those deprived o f a chance at 66

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eternal stardom on the silver screen became bitter. The problem was compounded by M ikhoels’s refusal to join the local union on the grounds that he considered it to be merely a platform for petty political squabbles. W ithout the mediation of the theater’s biggest star and a firm voice o f authority, the union was left to indulge in its own jealous grievances. In one instance, the union called upon all members of the troupe involved with the movie to share their new income with the rest o f the troupe— a move obviously opposed by those who were putting in the extra time and effort to conform to the rigorous schedule demanded by the filming. Fur­ thermore, the irregular filming schedule, complicated by the need to work w ithin Sovkino’s calendar, threw off the normal rehearsal program, infuriating those who were forced to conform. Granovsky, in turn, criticized the troupe for failing to recognize the importance of the movie, the potential success o f which could pro­ vide a firm financial basis for the theater in the future, thereby benefiting the entire troupe. A t a subsequent meeting between the directorate and the union, the direc­ torate reprimanded the union for abusing its power and called upon a commission to investigate its behavior. Thus, the union became embroiled against not only Granovsky, but against the entire directorate, leading to a sharp division between the local union, which was backed by the Moscow Union o f W orkers, on one side, and the theater’s directorate, its governing body, the Jewish Section, and Granovsky on the other.47 A new flare-up took place when the trade union met to discuss problems affecting the directorate without Granovsky’s presence. W hen Granovsky com­ plained, one member o f the troupe contemptuously replied: “W e are not obliged to think about when Granovsky is busy w ith the movie.”48 Once again, the workers of the theater appealed to higher sources, w riting a letter to the Jewish Section arguing that as a result of the movie, the repertoire for the coming season was be­ ing neglected.4’ The Jew ish Section sent Moshe Litvakov to investigate the prob­ lem. T he tension was in no way eased when Litvakov, addressing a general assem­ bly o f the theater’s local union, reduced all of the collective’s problems to Party matters which he claimed were not comprehensible to the masses, who were not members o f the Party.50 Members of the theater’s union then insulted Litvakov in the presence of the C entral Committee o f the Jewish Section, leading to a further deterioration of relations. T h e problem only worsened in September 1925, when in accordance with the state policy of khozrazcbet, or self-finance, the theater was deprived of its extensive funding and ordered to fend for itself. On December 1,1925 the Com missariat of Enlightenment and the M anagem ent of State Academic Theaters issued a joint declaration confirming the transfer of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater to selffinance and placing it under the supervision of the M anagem ent of State A ca­ demic Theaters, a division of the Com missariat of Enlightenment. W h ile G ra­ novsky was permitted to remain as director, he was henceforth obligated to remain within the lim its set by estimates and plans and was required to receive special permission from the management for any activity deviating from the Ac­ cording to Granovsky, the theater’s union used the resulting economic hardships to pursue a deliberate policy of discrediting the directorate before the Union of 67

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Artists rather than helping to placate the troupe, which he believed was their role.52 Responding to complaints from the local union that Granovsky was failing to consider a repertoire for the coming season, the M anagem ent o f State A ca­ demic Theaters appointed B. S. Shteiger to investigate. Shteiger, the prototype for M ikhail Bulgakov’s distasteful informer Baron M aigel, was the special agent re­ sponsible for reporting on the actions o f visiting entertainers. His report on the Yiddish theater concluded that its problems were common to all theaters and therefore did not warrant further action. However, he did use the opportunity to suggest m aterial for a new repertoire, proffering plays by Isaac Babel, Yekhezkel Dobrushin, Abraham Veviurka, and the Am erican playwright Halpern Leyvick. He also endorsed Granovsky’s proposed repertoire, which included Babel’s Benye Krik, Sholem Aleichem’s Doctor (written in 1887), and Dobrushin’s adaptation of Goldfadn’s The Tenth Commandment (written in 1887).55 The theater also found itself harassed by the state for the first time when the city of Moscow ordered the conversion of C hagall H all (the old theater on Stankevich) into a residence, prompting appeals from Granovsky and the Jewish Sec­ tion to Lunacharskii.54 The matter was brought up at the highest levels to the Council of People’s Commissars.” Despite these protests, the C hagall murals, which had continued to decorate the hall, were moved to the storage room beneath the stage o f the M alai Bronnaia Theater, thereby ending their public exhibition, and the historic Stankevich studio was converted into a residence for the troupe. Financial problems also continued into the 1924-1925 season, during which the theater’s debts rose to over 90,000 rubles, according to one estimate, the larg­ est portions of which were salary expenses and tour deficits.56 As a result o f the long summer tour, the theater had played only seventy shows in Moscow over the regular season— not nearly enough to bring in the revenue necessary to cover the tour’s losses. Indeed, the regular season brought in less than 60,000 rubles, a large drop compared to the nearly 140,000 rubles in profits the previous year.57 How­ ever, recognizing the political expediency of the tours, the M anagem ent of State Academic Theaters, the Com missariat of Enlightenment, the Com missariat of Finance, and the Council of People’s Commissars all approved a 30,000-ruble grant to help the theater elim inate its debts.58 The situation was worsened by the new frugality of the Council of People’s Commissars with regard to the funding of state theaters. In late 1921, Lenin started to pressure Lunacharskii to reduce the expenses o f the state theaters, even suggesting closure of the Bolshoi and M arinskii theaters.59 The Yiddish theater was not immune to these cutbacks. Under the guise of a solution to the theater’s poor financial standing, the Council of People’s Commissars proposed removing the theater from the list of State Academic Theaters and moving it from its Moscow location to Belorussia, where they believed the larger Jewish community would be capable o f supporting it. Realizing that the provincial Jew ish communi­ ties were too poor to support the theater, Granovsky staunchly opposed the deci­ sion on the grounds that “a transfer is the same as killing it.”60 No doubt he was


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also concerned that if separated from the cultural center o f Moscow, the theater would be doomed to parochialism. The Jewish Section agreed with Granovsky, prompting a letter from Sh. Palatnik to the Com missariat of Enlightenment, whose director sat on the Council o f People’s Commissars: “The liquidation of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater would be a great blow to all our Soviet cultural work among the Jew ish masses,” he wrote, emphasizing the theater’s political im ­ portance.61 The commissariat agreed and sent its own note to the council stating that it “cannot agree w ith this decree, on the grounds that moving the Moscow State Yiddish Theater from Moscow would effectively signify its liquidation.”62 T he theater also objected to the proposal to remove it from the list o f State Academic Theaters and the protection to which this entitled it. In a letter to the Com missariat of Enlightenment, the theater’s union for the first time suggested that the theater was being discriminated against on the basis of anti-Sem itism : “The theater does not w ant to think it is an outcast only because it is a Jewish theater, but it thinks the exhaustive demands on it reveal such signs.”63 Sim ilar ac­ cusations o f anti-Sem itism would be directed toward the Academic Theater orga­ nization throughout the decade. The charge was not launched lightly; the M an­ agement o f State Academic Theaters was the only organization to be so accused by the Yiddish theater. For instance, in 1928, when one of the most famous ac­ tresses in the M aly Theater died (M ariia Nikolaevna Ermolova, b. 1853), all mem­ bers o f Moscow’s theatrical society were invited to the funeral except for the mem­ bers o f the Jew ish theater. The incident sparked a series o f letters from Granovsky to the board o f the M aly Theater, Der ernes, and the Com missariat o f Enlighten­ ment. “Surely, in 1928, the word ‘Jewish’ is not still odious for the M aly Theater, or does the M aly Theater think that the death of M ariia Nikolaevna does not concern the ‘non Russian’ artists of Moscow?” he demanded.64 Although there is no evidence that the state itself discriminated against the theater on the basis o f anti-Sem itism , it was inevitable that the theater would encounter anti-Sem itic in­ dividuals, such as Shteiger, who sought to use their power to ostracize the Jew ish theater. In 1925 there clearly was ongoing tension between the M anagem ent o f State Academic Theaters and the Yiddish theater, according to Granovsky, the m anage­ ment was withholding promised funds and violating orders to release the theater from its debts. Granovsky further charged that neither the manager nor his depu­ ty had ever visited the M alaia Bronnaia H all.65 Shteiger shot back with the accu­ sation that the Yiddish theater was operating at an overwhelming deficit largely because Granovsky was overpaying him self and misappropriating funds from the film by separating the film’s account from that of the theater.66 Granovsky correctly retorted that the film was being conducted under the auspices of Sovkino, not the M anagem ent of State Academic Theaters; therefore it was essential that the ac­ counts be separate. Furthermore, the decision to separate the accounts had previ­ ously been approved by Shteiger himself.67 The baseless accusation was probably a manifestation o f Shteiger’s anti-Sem itism . Once again, the Jewish Section came to Granovsky’s defense by sending a secret communiqué to the Com missariat o f


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

Enlightenment warning that the M anagem ent o f State Academic Theaters was m anipulating figures to give the false impression that the theater was in dire fi­ nancial straits and deliberately misrepresenting the matter of the film’s income "to give the impression that Granovsky is a blackmailer.”68 Palatnik, however, added to the communiqué the recommendation that a Party member replace Granovsky as adm inistrative-financial director o f the theater. Finding itself defeated in the first round, the management changed tactics by arguing that Granovsky’s theater was a political rather than an artistic organiza­ tion and therefore did not fall under its auspices. T his line of reasoning, which discredited Granovsky as an artist, infuriated the director, who responded by ten­ dering his resignation.69 However, at the same time, he wrote to those institutions he believed were sympathetic toward him, the Jew ish Section and the Com m is­ sariat of Enlightenment, hinting that he could be persuaded to retract his resig­ nation if a commission were to investigate the M anagem ent o f State Academic Theaters.70The Jew ish Section quickly seized the opportunity to firmly establish its own control over the theater. W h ile it sought to keep Granovsky as artistic di­ rector, it recognized an ideal opportunity to appoint one o f its own to the theater’s board of governors. “Granovsky must always feel the strong hand of the Com mu­ nists near him ,” stated one internal Jew ish Section memo.71 On M arch 13,1926, Litvakov, Palatnik, and Granovsky decided to encourage the Com missariat of Enlightenment to set up a commission to investigate the internal problems of the theater.72 W hen Litvakov wrote to the Com missariat o f Enlightenment less than two weeks later asking to testify at the hearings, he was informed that the investigation had already been concluded.73 The commission’s findings were discussed at a meeting of the presidium of the Com missariat of Enlightenment on April 6th, when it was resolved that the Yiddish theater would remain in Moscow on the list o f State Academic Theaters and that measures would be taken to relieve it of its debts. Specifically, it was decided to ask the Council of People’s Commissars to ensure the theater’s continued financial stabil­ ity by providing a grant to pay off the theater’s debts and an additional loan o f 20,000 rubles. In return, the commissariat would force Granovsky to accept two assistant directors, who were to be appointed by the Jew ish Section.74 This victory, however, proved to be short-lived. On M ay 28th the Council o f People’s Commissars rejected the proposal, providing only verbal encouragement that “measures o f an internal organizational character be taken to lighten the the­ ater’s current financial position and secure its continued existence in Moscow.”7S As an afterthought, it also expanded the theater’s credit with the State Bank. Nevertheless, the possibility of moving the theater to either Ukraine or Belorussia continued to be investigated.76 The question was finally brought to the highest level when the Jew ish Section sent a report to the Politburo asking for its intervention: W e believe it is our Party obligation to inform the Politburo that in the near future, the only national theater in the U S S R — the State Yiddish [Theater]— w ill be closed. T he closure can only be stopped w ith immediate help. T his situ­


Comradesfrom the Center ation is a result o f the political relationship o f the M anagem ent o f State A ca­ demic Theaters w ith the th eater.. . . T he M oscow State Yiddish T heater is not ju st a theater, but also is related to the working masses, the Party, trade unions, and Kom som ol organizations. In the course o f three years it has toured Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia on the invitation o f local Party committees, executive comm ittees and trade unions . . . Regardless o f all this, the theater has almost always in its existence been under the threat o f closure. Even in 1 9 2 2 the question o f its removal was raised. . . . It was averted only through the interference o f Com rade Stalin.

The letter went on to im ply that the M anagem ent o f State Academic Theaters, motivated by anti-Sem itism , was sabotaging the theater by deliberately depriving it of the rewards lavished upon its competitors.77 T he Politburo responded with a noncommittal letter, expressing sympathy with the theater. It praised the theater for being “deeply revolutionary, thorough­ ly Soviet and, at the same time, high art”; for capturing “the love of the Jewish working masses o f Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia”; and for attaining “great fame . . . in Am erica, Poland and Lithuania, clarifying the high standing of the culture of national minorities in general and of Jews in particular in the Soviet state.”The loss o f the Yiddish theater, it concluded: could, in our opinion, prove to be very significant. It would provide sensational material for agitation by the yellow press against Soviet power on the basis o f the “Jew ish Question”; it would provide “evidence” that those culture-building mea­ sures taken by the Soviet state among Jews were tem porary and ephemeral. It w ould especially undermine the campaign abroad to bring Jewish land workers to the U S S R .78

Yet the Politburo declined to take specific measures to ensure the theater s survival. T he Jew ish Section responded to the Politburo s report with a reiteration o f its position— that taking the Yiddish theater off the list o f state theaters and taking away its subsidy would be the equivalent o f closing it.79 Assessing the favorable situation in the Politburo, the Com missariat o f Enlightenment once again wrote to the Council of Peoples Commissars to recommend that the theater remain in Moscow on the list of state theaters: “Leaving Moscow would not be favorable for its development because it would be doomed to work in isolation from the broad working masses of the Jew ish people and because it has too much of an established audience here.”80 O f course, the Jew ish working masses were, in fact, concentrated in Belorussia and Ukraine: according to the 1926 census 69.3 percent o f the Soviet Jewish population lived in Ukraine, o f whom 15.2 percent were classified as work­ ers; w hile only 5.8 percent of the Jew ish population lived in Moscow, of whom only 8.3 percent were workers.81 A more credible motivation for keeping the theater in Moscow, the unrivaled center of Soviet cultural life, was-expressed by the newly formed Society for Friends of the State Yiddish Theater. On December 16th, 1926, an appeal from the society appeared in D er ernes: It is no coincidence that in M oscow— in the center o f our great union . . . in the new laboratory o f the great revolution— also resides the laboratory o f revolution­


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater ary art, thought, and feelings. O ne is connected to the o th e r.. . . A ll those w ho love the State Y iddish T h e a te r. . . should jo in the society and do all that they can to help and w ork for our theater.82

W hatever his personal motivation, Lunacharskii insisted that the theater must remain in Moscow and recommended a 50,000-ruble loan to wipe out its debts—especially those owed to the workers— and enable a new production to be mounted: he was convinced that, given the advance necessary for a new produc­ tion, the theater would net a profit the coming season. The need for a new produc­ tion was echoed by the theater’s union,8' which also insisted that the workers be paid all back wages first.84 Indeed, underlying the im m inent collapse were real financial problems. Be­ fore the summer tour began, the workers had not been paid. T hey continued to demand equal payment, a system the directorate categorically refused to enforce. On June 25th, the union demanded that all back wages be paid prior to the com­ mencement o f the tour.85 Despite attempts to quickly raise the necessary funds, it simply could not be done. Finally, an agreement reached on Ju ly 30th called for the union to distribute 14,500 rubles by the middle o f August to help alleviate back wages.86W hen the directorate failed to come up with the funds, the theater work­ ers refused to go to M insk as scheduled. The trade union then presented its grievances to the Moscow Union o f A rt­ ists, now adding the complaint that the troupe had not been given its allotted twoweek vacation. The vacation incident was sparked when actress Rakhel Im enitova left for the Crim ea without permission from the directorate, prompting the theater s governing board to sanction her. T he local union adopted the position that Imenitova had gone on sick leave, not vacation, but added that vacations were long overdue.87The directorate responded by arguing that a tour of Leningrad was necessary to raise the money required to pay the troupe: if a vacation were to force the cancellation of the Leningrad stint, they could not be paid. Imenitova then took the matter to the courts, which ruled in her favor and ordered the directorate to give the troupe a two-week vacation and pay its obligations im m ediately after their tour of Leningrad.88The theaters local union responded with a declaration stating: “The general gathering of workers o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater categorically protests against the methods o f the directorate which system atically breaches all agreements concluded with the union on its obligations to the work­ ers.”89 The Union of Artists backed it up by ordering the workers to be paid by October 15th and by unilaterally replacing Granovsky as administrative-financial director of the theater with one of their own people, Comrade Plomper. Regarding the vacation problem, the Union o f Artists ordered the workers to be given vaca­ tions on a rotating basis until the start of the new season on January 1st.90 Granovsky, who had become visibly exhausted and had succumbed to the idea o f an assistant director in August, still resented the unions move, arguing that he wanted only an assistant, not a replacement, and that the union did not have the authority to intervene.91 He preferred that the Commissariat of Enlightenm ent or the Jewish Section, both o f which he knew to be sympathetic toward him, appoint


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him an assistant.92 The M anagem ent of State Academic Theaters, for its part, continued to hope that one o f the new personnel would eventually become direc­ tor.92 But Granovsky insisted that the Union of A rtists did not have the authority to replace him and that the financial and artistic apparatuses o f the theater were indivisible and must remain so. Thus, Plom pers status as administrative-financial director was recognized only by the union. The solution proved to be short-lived; by Januaiy' the union had turned against Plomper, ordering him to pay the workers’ wages and provide them with regular vacations.94 The entire conflict was essentially about the theaters autonomy with respect to Party organizations. Although Shteiger’s attack on the theater may have been motivated by anti-Sem itism , the general trend toward curbing institutional au­ tonomy reflected the climate within the Soviet cultural realm. M ichael David-Fox has shown that by the mid- 1920s, the Party had made significant headway in con­ solidating its control over formerly autonomous institutions of higher learning, while Lynn M ally has shown that through the introduction of trade union control in 1925, the Proletkult also lost the remaining vestiges of its autonomy.95Although the Party and its organs were divided among themselves with regard to their at­ titudes toward the Yiddish theater, all agreed that it required greater Party super­ vision. Each organ was w illing to manipulate any internal dissension within the theater to promote its own agenda. Granovsky, for his part, viewed all such moves as an intolerable obstruction o f his creative independence. Granovsky's ordeal forced him to re-evaluate his faith in the promise of Soviet art.

The New Repertoire On the positive side, the truce allowed for the preparation of two new produc­ tions in 1926: Goldfadn’s The Tenth Commandment and a play by the contemporary Soviet writer Abraham Veviurka (1887-1935) entitled 137 Children's Homes. The Tenth Commandment was a modern adaptation of Goldfadn s play, reoriented to­ ward the ideological needs of the Soviet state. The story tells of two angels, one Evil and one Good, who place a wager on the expediency of the Tenth Com mand­ ment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor s w ife.”The Evil Angel, arguing that the commandment is no longer applicable, wagers that he can find a righteous person who breaks the commandment. W hen he shows how the German bourgeoisie exchange wives for sport, the Good Angel quits in despair. M ikhoels, as the Evil Angel, was entrusted with a carnivalesque role that mocked the traditional Jewish distinctions between good and evil. Settings ranging from heaven to modern Palestine and Germany also allowed Granovsky to insert contemporary political commentary into the text. The play was highly symbolic in its satirical criticism of Zionism, religion, the bourgeoisie of Europe, and especially the Second International (1889-1914). One scene shows the Orthodox Jews praving for the health of the Second International: G o d save the Second International Shelter and Secure it



MoscowState Yiddish Theater From From From From From

M oscow Tsars Red Stars C om intern Profintern w hatever the C om m unists w ant to become.96

T he play also pokes fun at capitalism in the W est w ith songs like "Berlin, Berlin”: In B erlin, B erlin, Berlin Is a crisis o f a sort O ne spreads m oney all over A s it bursts bank after bank W h ile people are sick and suffer . . . C apital must be preserved W h ile six m illion do not eat.97

T he chilling reference to the number six m illion becomes eerily prophetic when taken in conjunction w ith a following verse: In B erlin, B erlin, Berlin Is the power o f a sort W h ic h is called Sturm und D rang A n d they do all that H itler wants.9*

W h ile the play was overtly propagandist, it was full o f the song, dance, and humor o f G oldfadns original. It was a popular production, taking in an average o f 786 rubles per show over the course o f the year," and it received favorable reviews. uThe Tenth Commandment ,” wrote an Izvestiia critic, “is the first Jew ish revolu­ tionary operetta.”100 Trud saw it as a criticism o f the false piety o f modern Europe with an elem ent of hope that would precede the expected world revolution. “It is done by the brilliant director Granovsky w ith great taste and rhythm and excellent staging and flow .. . and all this goes on w ith spirit, joy, and much activity.”101 A ll reviews complimented Rabinovich, Pulver, and the choreographers for their con­ tributions to the production.102 “The theater is standing on the correct path and w ith every production is gaining still more sympathy for the new Jew ish society," wrote P ravda.m One critic praised it for being comprehensible to a broad audi­ ence.104 However, some, like Litvakov, voiced criticism s o f the play, attacking G ra­ novsky for his penchant toward m usical comedies. He wrote that Granovsky “uses music to evade the concrete word.”105 He also noted that the operetta style o f the production “is the true quintessence o f bourgeois artistic culture. New methods and means must be found for operetta art and Granovsky in Though Shalt Not C ovet has not found them .”106 In the fall o f 1926, the theater began to lean toward more proletarian-oriented productions. Veviurkas 137 Childrens Homes, based on his short story, w hich ap­ peared in the Yiddish journal Oktober (October) under the title Comrade Shindel, told o f a young woman from a shtetl who falls in love w ith Com rade Shindel, played by M ikhoels, a sm uggler im personating a local Party boss who claim s to be collecting money for the establishm ent o f orphanages but in fact is trafficking


Com radesfrom the Confer

contraband hidden in phylacteries. W h en Shindel’s assistant loses the phylacteries in w hich the contraband is hidden, Shindel is forced to buy up all the phylacteries in the town, in the hope that someone has come across his. The Jew s all w illingly trade in their phylacteries and even offer to sell their guest all other types o f re­ ligious paraphernalia. M ocking the value placed upon phylacteries as fam ily heir­ looms and the sacredness o f the leather straps, one seller parts w ith his w ith the words: A n d now 1 give you the holy tefillin (phylacteries) o f m y holy zayde (grandfa­ ther). I received them from m y zayde. M y zayde received them from his zayde and his zayde got them from his great zayde and his great zayde got them from his great great zayde and so on higher, higher, and still higher— a huge chain o f zaydes all the w ay back to Ezrah the Scribe.107

137 Childrens Homes was intended to raise awareness o f the ongoing attem pts o f counter-revolutionaries to underm ine the new regim e through illegal activity. T he use o f religious artifacts for speculation was intended to equate religion w ith capitalism . It was also intended to urge Jews to reject their so-called “old rags” (prayer shawls) and “bourgeois psychology” and instead reorient their resources toward political and com m unity goals, such as the establishm ent o f orphanages. Once again Altm an painted sets, w hile Aleksandr Krein wrote the music. T h e show was the theater s biggest failure, both critically and financially.108 It was performed only fifteen times during the season, taking in a petty average of 311 rubles per performance, w ell below the theaters 700-ruble average.109 T he play lacked song and dance and did not flow as previous plays had. Judging by the extensive doodles on M ikhoels s personal copy o f the script, even the star had trouble staying alert during rehearsals. The response o f the Soviet press was also critical, reflecting the increased earnestness about the portrayal o f political themes in art. Reviewers, such as M ikh ail Zagorskii, no longer felt that shtetl life should be portrayed at all, even for educational purposes— it was sim ply too horrible for a comedy.110 Pravda wrote, “T he absence o f a large theme in the production and the unsuccessful dram atic choice does not move the theater forward and does not make the ‘modern play an event in the life o f the M oscow State Yiddish T h e­ ater.”111 Izvestiia sim ply called it an “unsuccessful play.”112 C ritics complained that it was obvious from the very beginning that the comrade was a fake. Even A ltm an s art was criticized as being poor realism ; it was too m inim alist, consisting sim ply of a few chairs and tables scattered around the stage.113 In a more probing review, Litvakov attributed the play s failure to an unsuccessful text. W h ile he believed that the original short story was an interesting anecdote, “from an anecdote does not come a plot__ There is no development, no dynam ic— Shindel comes in and wanders around; Jew s come in and wander around__ The dialogue is shallow and banal.” H e complained that Shindel was portrayed as having “absolutely no revo­ lutionary intent. H e is a character full o f old Jew ish associations.” He remarked that there were too few examples o f the new Soviet man in the play, and those that existed were “chiefly clay golem s.” Indeed the entire play, he wrote, “is not revolu-


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

tionary and owes nothing to the revolution___One can transfer the same story to any place.”114 Perhaps, though, Litvakov’s objections stemmed from ulterior mo­ tives. There is an alternative interpretation o f the play which radically changes the message. T he final draft o f the script approved by the requisite censors was entided 200 Childrens Homes; the version o f the script used by the actors contains hand­ w ritten corrections replacing every reference to 200 w ith 137. Indeed, the play underwent several tide changes, from Comrade fro m the Center to 200 Children's Homes to its final 137 Childrens Homes. The last-m inute change was probably deemed to be m erely an insignificant adjustment o f the facade. Yet Granovsky prided him self on being a symbolist and often claim ed that every word and gesture on his stage was full o f significance. H e would hardly have picked a random num ­ ber. Perhaps, then, the number was a cryptic reference to Psalm 137— one o f the best-known o f all Biblical passages: B y the rivers o f Babylon, there we sat down, yea we w ept, w hen we remembered Z ion. W e hung our lyres upon the w illow s in its midst. For there they w ho carried us away captive asked us for a song: and they w ho spoiled us asked us fo r m irth, saying, Sing us one o f the songs o f Z ion. H ow shall we sing the L o rd ’s song in a foreign land? I f I forget thee O Jerusalem , let m y right hand forget her cunning. I f 1 do not rem em ber thee, let m y tongue cleave to the ro o f o f m y m outh; i f I do not set Jerusalem above m y highest joy.

T he psalm, which contains the most stirring Zionist oath as w ell as one o f the most impassioned exilic lam ents, also bemoans the inability o f the exiles to perform music in a foreign land. T his is noteworthy because the play was performed im m e­ diately after a cam paign against Yiddish dramatists who adhered to the style of musical comedy. T his type of harassment ultim ately led the director to reject his earlier belief that the Soviet Revolution was the harbinger o f a Jew ish cultural renaissance. W h ile Granovsky never expressed any sympathy with Zionism , even after his defection two years later, the allusion to this psalm is likely a surreptitious expression of his distaste toward the lim itations being put on Jew ish creativity' in the Soviet state.

The Jewish Don Quixote As the popularity o f the Yiddish theater expanded beyond the Jew ish commu­ nity, it steered its them atic goals accordingly, prodded by its detractors’ allegations o f “nationalism” and “bourgeois sym pathies.” In November 1926, Granovsky an­ nounced the debut of his new program embracing the best works o f the Revolu­ tion— regardless of their Jew ish content115— interspersed w ith some universal dra­ m atic classics.116 Granovsky, who since the theater’s debut o f M aeterlink’s The B lind in 1919 had adam antly insisted on jo ining the ranks of world art through the performance o f universal classics, welcomed the opportunity to prove his versatil­ ity. H is adaptation o f Trouhadec, by the French playwright Jules Romains (1885— 1972), which premiered in January 1927, proved that a complete break w ith Jew ­ ish culture— both in terms of content and provenance—could still produce fine 76

Com radesfrom the Center

Trouhadec, 1926. Photo from Dos MoskauerJüdische Akademische Theater (Berlin, 1928).

art. R om ains, most famous for his D r Knock, w ritten in 1925, was the founder o f U nanim ism , a movement w hich sought to promote the ideals o f universal broth­ erhood and group consciousness by view ing the world in term s o f groups rather than individuals. Granovsky’s production was the first tim e that the w ork o f Jules Rom ains was performed on stage. T h e play begins on a M onte C arlo terrace where Yves le Trouhadec, a French professor, joins a group o f academ icians, to whom he professes his love for the Parisian actress M lle. Rolande. W h en the extravagant and lavish M lle. Rolande arrives, Trouhadec realizes that in order to court her successfully he w ill need to raise his income bracket. Thankfully, the casino is a short w alk away. W in n in g big in the casino and entranced by the m any beautiful women, Trouhadec forgets Rolande until she reappears on the scene, now jealous of her paramour’s successes. R ealizing his beloved is now w ithin his reach, Trou­ hadec organizes a banquet for her. However, w hile preparations are under way, his gam bling luck runs out, leading him to bankruptcy; he is saved from suicide only by the prospect o f ruining an expensive banquet. Trouhadec decides that he w ill dedicate his life to w riting a book— Roulette: The O nly Useful Profession, w hen one of the barons he had befriended offers him a job as police commissioner o f M on­ aco Principality. H aving moved up the social ladder, Trouhadec renounces his pri­ vate life and forms a P arty o f G entlem en o f w hich he names him self president. A s a leader o f aristocratic society, he decides he must m arry a baroness. However, his plans are foiled when a pregnant Rolande appears, dem anding that Trouhadec take on his paternal responsibility.117 N atan A ltm an depicted the flamboyant costumes o f the European urban up­ per class as he had seen them in his travels— through the eyes o f a destitute Soviet 77

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Jew whose own tattered clothing was but a m ockery o f fashion. Lev Pulver, for the first tim e, incorporated episodic music as w ell as songs drawn from modern Euro­ pean music. However, the play was made by M ikhoels, whose poignant reading of the contradictions o f Trouhadec’s personality added a new dimension to the play: on one hand the protagonist is a serious professor and would-be academ ician, w hile on the other he is a vain adventurist caught up in the irrationality o f the roulette wheel. T his hint o f psychological complexity, w hich Granovsky’s previous stylized system had avoided, proved to be a success. T h e press praised the production for its portrayal o f bourgeois life in contem ­ porary Europe.118 Pravda wrote, “T he basis o f the growing success o f this produc­ tion can be found in its inclusion o f high skill.”119 Zagorskii called it a “splendid success.”120 However, the production caused consternation and a split w ithin the Society for Friends o f the State Yiddish Theater, some o f whom believed that nonJew ish themes would help make the theater world-class, w hile others feared the loss of its national essence.121 T his ambivalence was epitomized by M oshe Litvakov. On one hand he celebrated the production as a step toward solving the thea­ ter’s repertoire problems, seeing the play as a “poignant satire against contempo­ rary bourgeois society”; on the other hand he berated the absence o f any workers on the stage. “T he conclusion,” he wrote, “is that on the whole Trouhadec is, so to speak, a permissible production in the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, a produc­ tion w ith great worth, especially for the inner professional training o f the troupe. B u t. . . the theater must finally begin to present productions w ith concrete revo­ lutionary content.”122 Yet for its next production the pendulum swung in the opposite direction; the theater returned to Jew ish them es, creative experim entation, and a renowned Y id ­ dish w riter—M endele M okher Sforim , the “grandfather o f Yiddish literature." Dobrushin converted M endele’s unfinished short story The Travels o f B enjam in III into a play and added an ending. The play, w hich premiered on A pril 2 0 ,1 9 2 7 , starred M ikhoels as Benjam in, a naive simpleton from the shtetl o f Tuneiadovka (D roneville), who, like C ervantes’ Don Quixote, resolves to set out in search o f the faraway places cited in popular literary tales. In this case, it is the “Black Jew s” (one o f the lost tribes o f Israel) in the Land o f Israel that captures the young hero’s attention. A fter enticing his friend Senderl, a m eek househusband in perpetual fear o f his w ife, w ith a promise that when Benjam in becomes king he w ill make Senderl viceroy, the two secretly steal away in the m iddle o f the night to begin w hat they believe w ill be a heroic and historic adventure. A fter w hat seems to them like an eternity o f harsh travel, they spot a town ahead, which Senderl presumes must be Istanbul. R ealizing how far they must be from home and how close to the Land o f Israel, Benjam in dreams about how posterity w ill compare him to the other great adventurers such as Alexander o f M acedon. T he dream sequence, designed by Robert Falk, depicts the Promised Land as a fantastical fairy land inhabited by creatures who are h alf men, h alf beast.123 Upon entering “Istanbul,” they m eet a neighbor from Tuneiadovka who casually informs the two journeyers that their wives are looking for them and inquires w hat business brought them to G lupskie (D im w it-tow n), a village in the region of Tuneiadovka. T he excursion finally 78

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reaches its conclusion when the two approach a fam iliar site. “How did we get back to Tuneiadovka?” asks Senderl, to w hich Benjam in w isely replies, “T he earth is round.”124 T he two adventurers find that their real homeland is in Russia. T h e play sought to convince Jew s to abandon the shtetls and begin productive lives and to discredit the increasingly popular option o f em igration to Palestine. M ocking the Zionist claim that Palestine is more o f a homeland than U kraine, Pulver incorporated the Zionist anthem and future national anthem o f Israel, H atikva (The Hope), into a traditional U krainian melodic motif. M ikhoels’ por­ trayal o f the “Jewish Don Q uixote” represented an im portant change in direction for the theater toward the type o f constructivist realism being made popular by Tairov.125 B uilding upon the approach he set asTrouhadec, M ikhoels attem pted to delve into the psychology o f his character, seeing him as a complex individual— an am bitious youth “w ith his w ings clipped,”126 rather than as a social type. It was the first performance in which M ikhoels’s sym pathetic portrayal o f the character, combined w ith Pulvers authentic shtetl tunes, transcended Granovsky’s symbol­ ism. T h e adaptation o f realism was received positively by most critics. One wrote, “It is a joyous show. . . . It can agitate, be comprehended by, and captivate the audience___ It is, for this theater, a viable beginning.”127 D espite the play’s overtly anti-Z ionist intent, m any audience members were probably inspired by Benjam in’s heartwarm ing search for a better life in Zion. T he fantastical land portrayed in Benjam in’s dream could also be interpreted as a tribute to the biblical land o f m iracles. Indeed, during the theater’s European tour, at least one reviewer was touched by w hat he saw as the Zionist inspiration behind The Travels o f Benjam in III. A . S. L irik, w riting for the Y iddish paper H aynt (Today), rejected any satirical interpretation o f the play and saw it sim ply as a genuine homage to the Zionist dream: Is this the same régisseur w ho showed us Two Hundred Thousand and The Sorcer­ ess} T here there was satire and ridicule, here there is pure childish hum or; there they were comedians and joyous acrobats, here they are children, grown chil­ dren, clever children, but w ith the purity o f the genuine folk----- H ere the Y id ­ dish actors do not look like m arionettes, but like people----- A good angel also prom pted G ranovsky to present Benjamin III not in the style o f satire, only in the spirit o f his popularity. W h a t can be m ore popular than the dreams o f genera­ tions, and w hich dream is stronger among Jew s than the dream o f the Land o f Israel?12*

T h e success o f the 1926-1927 season dispelled any rumors o f collapse and put a tem porary end to financial difficulties. T he debt was also reduced by a long season, lasting 239 days, in which the theater gave 192 performances (not includ­ ing the summer tour). Four new productions ( Trouhadec, The Tenth Commandment, 137 C hildren’s Homes, and The Travels o f Benjam in III) also helped draw audiences. In total over 47,000 spectators attended the theater, averaging 244 a night. Nota­ bly, the theater was still only filling h alf its seats— its financial success was more attributable to the sheer number o f performances than to its nightly attendance. W ith over 600 hours spent in nearly 100 rehearsals, the troupe earned this success 79

«r *

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

The Travels o f Benjamin III , 1927. The letters on the curtain spell Mendele in Yiddish. Photo courtesy of Ala Perclman-Zuskin.

Left to right: Benjamin Zuskin as Senderl, Solomon Mikhoels as Benjamin, in The

Travels o f Benjamin III. Photo courtesy o f Ala Perclman-Zuskin.


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The Dream Sequence from The Travels Photo from Solomon Mikhoels, Statt, besedi, recht.


through hard w ork.129 T he season ended w ith another successful tour, during which th e theater played to an estim ated 71,000 spectators.130Once again, the tour proved th at there was more interest in Yiddish theater in the provinces than in M oscow.

Revolution on Stage W ith the approach o f the tenth anniversary o f Bolshevik power, the theater was obligated to celebrate the occasion by “putting the Revolution on stage.” Granovsky chose to sidestep the sensitive issues surrounding the portrayal o f the Bolshevik Revolution by turning to more remote political upheavals. For despite the flurry o f festivals w hich celebrated its victory, the narrative o f the “G reat Socialist October Revolution” was only now being canonized in art w ith Sergei Eisenstein’s film October. M an y knew that the chronology o f events as they oc­ curred the night o f October 25,1 917 was sim ply too mundane to form the creation myth o f the utopian state. T h e action was not the stuff o f dreams or dram a: there were no mass demonstrations, no street fights, no barricades, and no live cannons fired from offshore ships. Granovsky was by no means the first to be confronted w ith this enigm a, nor w as he the first to opt to ignore it. Sergei Tretiakovs Roar China!, for instance, w hich was am ong the first productions to show a revolution on the stage, shunned the story o f the Bolshevik seizure o f power in favor o f depicting a remote Chinese rebellion against W estern im perialism . Following this model, Granovsky chose to produce Lipe Reznik’s Uprising,


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

w hich premiered November 7,19 27. Reznik’s original text was a symbolist drama set in an unnamed valley town where a m ystical “general-engineer” defends his revolution against a counter-revolutionary center. Granovsky placed the play in a concrete setting, turning it into a historical representation o f the D utch coloniza­ tion o f Java and an uprising against the British overlords. It was a bland depiction of the clash o f cultures and class struggle which accompany im perialism . Accord­ ing to M oshe Goldblatt, M ikhoels, realizing the script’s shortcomings, deliber­ ately sabotaged his chance o f being assigned the lead role by giving a pitiful per­ formance at the script’s prelim inary reading in the presence o f the author. As a result, the lead was given instead to G oldblatt, who, in ligh t o f Granovsky’s strict discipline, could not refuse.131 T he play surpassed even 137 Childrens Homes as a popular and critical failure. T he performance compared unfavorably w ith sim ilar productions running sim ul­ taneously in M oscow (Dzhuma Mashid, about colonialism in India, at the Korsh T heater and Kaucbui, about colonialism in South A m erica, at the Proletkult the­ ater), and the absence o f M ikhoels from a lead role contributed to the Yiddish theater’s dw indling audience.132 Litvakov complained that Granovsky’s adaptation turned the play into a com pletely different piece o f work: “In Uprising the theater handled all the ideology correctly, it did everything to give the play and the perfor­ mance an appropriate ideological direction. But it could do nothing, because the entire structure and content o f the play conflicts w ith the régisseurs intentions.”133 Others sim ply felt the play was boring or unsuccessful, often noting its excessive melodrama and affectations and w eak character developm ent.134 The turn away from specifically Jew ish-oriented productions to general Soviet themes also de­ tracted from the theater’s uniqueness, a point not lost on some reviewers, one o f whom cautioned that “the theater must remain a Jew ish th e ate r. . . and not ju st a theater in the Y iddish language.”135 T he new year could hardly have started worse for Granovsky. On January 2nd, the commission w hich had been invited to investigate the continuing battle be­ tween the directorate and the theater’s union issued its conclusions. The commis­ sion found that the theater still had a total debt o f nearly 200,000 rubles, despite having received almost 50,000 rubles in subsidies. The prim ary cause o f the debt, it continued, was poor m anagem ent on the part o f Granovsky, who had allowed his staff to balloon to ninety people. Specifically, it found that 50 percent o f the budget allocated for salaries w ent to a fourteen-member adm inistrative section and that the eighteen-m em ber orchestra was disproportionate for the size o f the theater— another attack on Granovsky’s emphasis on music. M ost im portant, it found that the “non-Party-m em ber director, Granovsky" had led the theater into conflict w ith its trade union by system atically violating his agreements. T hus, the commission recommended that, pending the approval o f the M oscow Union o f A rtists, G ra­ novsky be form ally replaced w ith Com rade Plomper as adm inistrative-financial director.136 An infuriated and frustrated Granovsky responded the same day Math a defiant letter. H e refused to recognize the authority of the union and said that the theater had no need o f a Party director since there were already two Party members on the 82

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theater’s board o f governors (Litvakov and Palatnik). H e then disputed each point of the commission’s report, noting, for instance, that there were only ten members of the adm inistrative departm ent o f the theater and that they did not consume nearly 50 percent o f the budget; that the total deficit o f the theater was under 150,000 rubles; and that the money spent on the music section, w hich had only fifteen orchestra members, was absolutely essential.137 According to the theater’s accounts, Granovsky’s version was closer to the truth. There were eleven adm in­ istrators who consumed under 20 percent of the total budget, w hile the fiftyseven-mem ber artistic division (including all actors) received nearly 70 percent o f all wages. Indeed, M ikhoels, whose salary now came to 400 rubles a month, had over-taken Granovsky, whose salary lingered at 360, as the highest-paid member of the staff. Ten other actors received salaries o f over 100 rubles a m onth.138 In this light, Granovsky criticized the integrity o f the commission, pointing out that it had m ade its decision based on only one tw enty-m inute conversation w ith the the­ ater’s director. Finally, he objected to being referred to as “the non-Party-m em ber Granovsky.”139 Several days later, Granovsky received another order, this tim e from the C om ­ m issariat o f Enlightenm ent, dem anding that he reduce his staff.140 W h ile the staff of the theater had fallen from its high o f 115 in 1924, it remained relatively over­ staffed.141 T hus, on January 11th, an ad hoc commission to reduce the staff o f the M oscow State Yiddish T heater was gathered together under the auspices o f the M anagem ent o f State Academ ic Theaters. It was decided to release three m em­ bers o f the adm inistrative section, one member o f the technical departm ent, and three members o f the artistic division.142 Regarding the last category, it was easily decided to release the choreographer and one actress who was away on a vacation for w hich she had not received permission. However, the third choice posed a problem, because both Rakhel Imenitova and E. Z. Vayner had only been in four o f the last seven productions. Eventually, Granovsky’s argum ent that Vayner should be retained because she had been in the theater since its founding was accepted and Imenitova was laid off. T he official decision, w hich was issued in the nam e o f the M anagem ent o f State Academ ic Theaters, was then sent to the Com m issariat o f Enlightenm ent and the Union o f A rtists for approval, w hich they gave.143 Im enitova, for her part, felt that the decision to fire her was based on a per­ sonal vendetta of Granovsky’s, who still held a grudge against her for the vacation incident several years earlier. T hus, on February 15th, two days after she was offi­ cially released, Imenitova filed suit in the People’s C ourt against the directorate o f the theater.144The legal suit quickly divided the theater once again, reviving the old divisions between the directorate and the troupe.145 T he M arch 26th decision o f the People’s C ourt found that the defendant had been unduly fired and called for her reinstatem ent as w ell as for reimbursement o f her lost salary and legal fees, despite the fact that the decision had been approved by all the requisite supervisory organizations.146 Bogged down by ongoing adm inistrative, financial, and legal difficulties, and with extensive planning for his upcoming European tour, Granovsky had little 83

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

tim e in early 1928 for artistic concerns. These distractions contributed to what G oldblatt called a severe lack o f discipline during the preparations for the next production.147 Despite these difficulties, Dobrushin and O yslenders adaptation of Sholem A leichem s story “It Doesn’t W ork,” premiered in M arch 1928 under the title Luftmentshen. The play represented M ikhoels’s third attem pt at portraying M enakhem M en d l.T h is tim e, the hapless luftm entsh travels the world in a fruitless effort to eke out a living. In Odessa he speculates among the Jew ish poor, in Kiev he speculates among the rich Jew ish capitalists, and in A m erica he discovers that the “Land o f O pportunity” is a myth. W h en our hero, now in the role o f a diplo­ m at, gains an audience w ith the Turkish sultan— an allusion to those political Zionists who believed that a Jew ish homeland could be established in Palestine w ith the permission o f the sultanate— the audience could only laugh at the absur­ d ity o f the situation. Stylistically, the theater sought to rem ind the audience that they were w atching a spectacle. For instance, characters in different villages used the same telegraph machine to dispatch messages to each other, and characters wrote letters without a pencil. However, m any o f the workers in the audience failed to understand the m eaning o f such subtleties, relegating them to carelessness or prop shortages.148 In M arxist Jew ish literary criticism , M enakhem M endl had come to sym ­ bolize the archetype o f the luftmentsh. H e was, as Sholem A leichem him self wrote, proof that “everything built in air and wind must eventually come crash­ ing down.”149 However, the political situation had made the public less tolerant of subtle innuendoes; political leaders preferred broad attacks. M ikhoels was only able to justify his decision to interpret M enakhem M endl as a comic figure, rather than as a tragic and vicious capitalist, on the grounds that parasites like M endl were a dying type and no longer required the reticence o f earlier tim es.150 Never­ theless, by returning to the Jew ish shtetl past, the theater was falling behind the political demands o f the day. “[T he M oscow State Y iddish Theater] cannot con­ tinue returning to the theme o f the Jew ish past,” wrote one critic. “T he circle is closed. T he bankruptcy o f the old Jew ish shtetl world has been unmasked for ever. I f still after The Travels o f Benjam in the M oscow State Y iddish Theater succeeds in lyrically creating the dying-out days o f old, then it is only the last echo, the dying echo o f a requiem o f the past.”151 P ravda was equally critical o f the productions theme: T he M oscow State Y iddish T heater has not emerged out o f the Pale o f S ettle­ m ent, the lyrical hum or o f life in the Jew ish tow ns___ In short, [Luftmentshen ] is not a failure, but it is not an achievem ent— it is treading in place. M aybe, and even probably, Luftmentshen w ill find its public. But it is nonetheless necessary for the theater to reconsider continuing along this path.152

Despite their harsh criticism , reviewers were unable to concede that the show was a popular failure. For instance, Izvestiia wrote: “It cannot be said that the m aterial for this production is bad. T he literary reworking o f the text by Dobrushin was done w ith great thoroughness.. . . M ikhoels plays his role w onderfully.. . . T he music o f Pulver enlivens the spectacle and is the most effective part o f the play.”153 84

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One reviewer, who saw the play in Odessa and wrote for D er ernes had, perhaps, not yet been briefed on the Party line. H e could hardly contain his enthusiasm: Mikhoels plays Menakhem Mendel. This is not an uneventful play from the other world__ This is savage satirical humor, a sharp protest, a verbal exclama­ tion against any economically inept epoch, in which a thousand Menakhem Mendels choke themselves and march on without any ground under their feet. . . . Mikhoels does not play Menakhem Mendel; rather he lives together with him, he aches together with him, he rages together with him.1S4

W h ile haughty critics in M oscow could freely celebrate the Revolution’s role in w iping out the vestiges o f the lufrmentshen, provincial Jew s needed only to look at themselves to appreciate the play’s poignant candor.

T h e question o f whether the Soviet state played a preventive or prescriptive role in thé culture o f the N ew Economic Policy era continues to be debated among


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

historians. Since E. H . C arrs monumental history o f the Bolshevik Revolution,155 the era o f the NEP has generally been seen as a period o f transition during which the state retreated from its aspirations o f total control o f culture.156 However, a few scholars have argued that it was during the period o f the NEP that the Party began the C ultural Revolution that would bring culture under the states firm control. M ichael Fox, for instance, argues that: an entire system o f ad hoc commissions was developed to report to the Politburo or Central Committee on issues o f special im portance.. . . The result was that artistic and scholarly groups were closely monitored, and altercations negotiated. . . . The high Party leadership, therefore, did not merely set major policies, but was deeply involved in the picayune o f cultural affairs___ The important thing about such seemingly insignificant squabbles was that they were inevitably tied to the institutional tu rf battles surrounding censorship. Just as Party leaders could become involved in such disputes, so could Party and state institutions.157

Fox’s observations are apropos in m any ways. However, Fox assumes a com­ m onality o f purpose among these ad hoc commissions. T his was rarely the case. T he tu rf wars waged among the Com m issariat o f Enlightenm ent, the People s Court, the unions, and the Jew ish Section enhanced the theater’s autonomy while lim itin g each individual institutions say. Like a m anipulative child who turns to M om when Dad says no, the troupe could shop around for the permission it re­ quired. Nevertheless, each organ’s persistent need to display its own power and the resulting constant reversals o f policy led to an atmosphere o f incessant harassment, im peding Granovsky’s autonomy. W h ile Granovsky could, perhaps, have reached an arrangem ent o f mutual interest w ith a single organization— as he achieved w ith Litvakov and the Jew ish Section— the varying objectives and universal aspirations toward hegemony o f each organ placed them in opposition to one another, m aking a compromise w ith one anathem a to the other. T he ironic consequence was that the confusion regarding delineation o f duties led to an indefatigable, yet ultim ately ineffective, discipline. T his process began in 1924-1925 as Granovsky started to lose control over the day-to-day activities o f his troupe. W h ile various organs o f the state, such as the M anagem ent o f State Academ ic Theaters, the Com m issariat o f E nlighten­ ment, and the Union o f A rtists, issued declarations transferring aspects o f the theater’s operations to their control, they did not interfere in the everyday func­ tioning o f the theater unless invited to do so by members o f the troupe. A s the theater staff took advantage o f the m any bureaucratic checks on its director by appealing to higher authorities, the organs o f the state were given the opportunity to intervene by invitation, thereby increasing their legitim acy as a superior author­ ity. W h ile the process began w ith Krashinskii’s appeal to the M oscow Union of A rtists, Granovsky him self finally succumbed to such tactics. H is final act o f des­ peration— his appeal to the C entral Union o f A rtists—gave the union the legiti­ m acy to issue its declaration relieving him o f his post as head o f the adm inistrativefinancial division. T h at is not to say that the decision was not politically motivated.


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By literally asking for its intervention, Granovsky forfeited his final say. However, as w e shall see in the next chapter, Granovsky’s capitulation was not complete; he was m erely biding his tim e, w aiting for the opportunity to reassert his authority. W e must note that at this stage no restrictions were placed on the theater’s repertoire or stylistic approaches. Indeed, a list o f permissible productions circu­ lated in 1928 included virtually the entire corpus o f Y iddish theater—over 100 different playwrights were represented.158 However, this leniency hardly stemmed from any democratic notions o f artistic freedom; it was sim ply an unavoidable consequence o f the Party’s own confused understanding o f the nature o f proletar­ ian culture, since an orthodox cultural discourse had yet to be formulated. In the interim , the Party had to be content w ith lim itin g the adm inistrative autonomy o f the theater, thereby placing the regim e’s political control above and beyond the enforcement o f any cultural ideology. T he suppression o f the M oscow State Y id ­ dish T heater’s adm inistrative autonomy coincided w ith sim ilar measures taken against all independent institutions, regardless o f their political or ideological affiliations. It was a fate shared not only w ith such prestigious institutions as the Proletkult, but also w ith a wide range o f inform al voluntary organizations ranging from local literary circles to sports clubs. In the case o f the M oscow State Y iddish Theater, neither the state nor the Party unilaterally imposed itself upon a helpless organization. O n the contrary, the initiative to curb the theater’s autonomy was taken by low-level workers seeking self-promotion by discrediting their superiors, thereby entering into a dialogue with the state to the m utual advantage o f the workers and the state. In this in­ stance, however, it must be remembered that the initiative was spearheaded by Khaim Krashinskii, the troupe’s only Party member. As such, his actions can be interpreted as those o f either a low-level worker in the troupe— one o f the com­ mon people— or as a functionary o f the ruling Party. Furthermore, while his ac­ tions were supported by the theater’s trade union and therefore could be seen as the collective expression o f the entire troupe, one must not forget that the union—o f which he was secretary—often used coercive methods to m aintain its membership. Thus, the initiative to curb the theater’s autonomy was taken by a single low-level worker who acted as a member o f the Com m unist Party to seek promotion either within the Party or the theater by discrediting his superiors and enforcing his own opinions on the collective through his control o f the union. T he state and Party were able to keep their hands clean by allowing one o f their minions to do their dirty work. In the larger arena o f cultural outreach, the theater expanded its influence during the latter h alf o f the 1920s into the w orking-class populations o f the provincial shtetls. Nevertheless, it failed to become a genuine workers’ theater on a par w ith its allegedly “bourgeois” competitors in New York. T he Yiddish theaters of A m erica catered to the very same lowbrow habits that Granovsky sought to reform. W heth er they were com ing from the sweatshops o f the Lower East Side or the factories o f Moscow, w eary laborers preferred the “beerhalT theaters o f Sec­ ond Avenue, where they were encouraged to heckle and swoon over their beloved


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

stars for the sheer sake o f entertainm ent, over the M alaia Bronnaia "Temple” where they were instructed to remain silent and absorb the pedagogical lessons of the anonymous actors and agitators. The M oscow State Y iddish T heater was a sm all but integral part o f the vast program o f propaganda upon w hich the Soviet state and the Jew ish Section relied to entice the shtetl Jew s. It functioned in conjunction w ith more conventional forms o f persuasion, such as Yiddish Party cells, trade unions, courts, books, pam ­ phlets, periodicals, schools, and violent coercion. W h ile the problems associated w ith many o f these methods have been am ply documented, Jew ish Party m em ­ bership did increase dram atically throughout the 1920s, and Jew ish agricultural settlem ents flourished briefly in the latter part o f the decade.159Perhaps the theater was able to motivate the populace where traditional forms o f agitation failed.


Wandering Stars: Tour and Reconstruction


In A p ril 1 9 2 8 , the M o sco w State Y id d ish T h ea ter em barked on a n in e-m o n th to u r o f E urope. D u rin g its absence, S talin began the im p lem entation o f his “S e c ­ ond R evo lu tio n ,” o r “C u ltu ra l R evo lu tio n ,” d u rin g w h ich he attem p ted to tran s­ form every’ aspect o f S o viet society, from the p roduction o f pig iron to the rep er­ toire and aesthetic techniques o f the Y id d ish theater. T h e F irst F ive-Y ear P lan, im p lem ented in 1 9 2 9 , aim ed to cen tralize all decision m aking in th e hands o f an elite few. T h e first step in this process w as the rem oval o f local specialists, those en terp risin g and creative individuals w h o operated the factories, supervised the w orksh op s, financed th e business firm s, and directed the theaters. A ll rem aining vestiges o f autonom y held by cultural and political in stitu tion s w ere to be erad i­ cated as the state asserted its control. In M a y and Ju n e 1 9 2 8 , d u rin g the th eater’s absence, the S h a k h ty trial, at w h ich a group o f m in in g specialists was accused o f sabotage, preceded a tu rn against the alleged E uropeanized intelligentsia and th eir claim s o f cu ltu ral superiority. T h e icons o f the R evolu tion — its generators, Cele­ brators, propagators, and supporters, from L eon T rotsky to M ak sim G o rk y — w ere rejected b y zealous w orkers and P arty activists as d eviationists— w h e th e r from the right o r the le ft w as irrelevant. Factory w orkers jo in e d in the chorus, along w ith the C o m m u n ist press and the associations o f p roletarian m usicians and w riters, in je erin g Prokofiev, M eyerh o ld , E isenstein, and G ran o vsk y as relics o f an age gone by w ith n o th in g le ft to con trib u te to the new R evolu tion — w h ich this tim e was to be carried ou t by the w orkers alone. T h e S o vie t th eater and its personnel did n ot escape the strin g en t dem ands placed o n society. In A u g u st 1 9 2 8 , M ik h a il C h ek h ov, the p re-em in en t Russian actor and playw righ t, d efected, w h ile M eyerh o ld , in E urope over the sum m er, was persuaded to return to M osco w and attem p t to revive his ailing th eater o n ly th rou gh th e d irect in terven tio n o f L unacharskii. M ayak o vsk y’s B edbug, w h ich p re­ m iered at the M eyerh o ld T h eater in early 1 9 2 9 , w as quickly m et w ith harsh c rit­ icism fro m th e U n ion o f P roletarian W rite rs. H ow ever, the great d irecto rs ca­ lam itous fate w as delayed, thanks to the trem endous popular success o f his new prod u ction . A young D m itry Sh ostakovich , w h o w as w ork in g w ith M eyerh o ld on the p ro d u ctio n , also becam e the subject o f intense slander. E ven the hallow ed halls o f th e B olsh oi w ere n ot im m une to the w h irlw in d o f change. T h e Y id d ish theater, too, w as to undergo its m ost striking tran sform ation d u ring this tu rb ulen t period. In the w o rd s o f p rom in en t th eater critic Pavel M arkov, “T h e slogan o f C u ltu ral R evolu tion is being enthusiastically and triu m p h an tly carried in to execution.”1

The Best-Laid Plans T h e n otion o f a E uropean tou r w as appealing to both G ran o vsk y and the Party, alb eit fo r v e ry d ifferen t reasons. G ranovsky, craving recognition from his


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

alm a mater, had begun plans as early as 1923 to tour Germany.2 T he director was always more at home in the cosmopolitan capitals o f Europe than in the povertystricken shtetls of the former Pale or the ostracized capital o f Revolutionary Rus­ sia. N atalia Vovsi-M ikhoels wrote o f Granovsky that “life in the Jew ish shtetls, on w hich practically the entire repertoire o f the Jew ish theater was founded, was totally strange and incomprehensible to him .”3 H e disdained Russia for w hat he saw as its parochialism , debilitating bureaucracy, and m arginality.4 H is correspon­ dence provides evidence that he yearned for the fraternity o f the European salons he had abandoned. H e composed lengthy intim ate personal letters to G erman friends and continued to network extensively w ith German colleagues. In short, Granovsky was more interested in showing European society how he could make Jews dance than in showing the Jew ish masses how to become productive factory workers in service o f the Soviet state. Throughout the 1920s, Granovsky concentrated on enhancing his prestige abroad: he sent costumes and photos for inclusion in an exhibition in V ienna;5 he planned an exhibition o f his theater in A m erica;6 and he repeatedly sent press releases and photos to European newspapers. H e even kept G erm an-language let­ terhead on hand. M uch to his chagrin, m any o f his plans m et w ith frustration. For instance, w hile Granovsky was able to elicit articles about his theater in several Y iddish- and Russian-language Berlin newspapers, such as Eko (Echo) and Nash m ir (O ur W orld), the G erm an-language papers from w hich he most sought rec­ ognition politely replied that the Yiddish theater would not be o f interest to their readership.7 Furthermore, the pictures that were published in Nash m ir were ac­ companied w ith the m istaken caption, “T he Jew ish chamber theater, H abim a,” confusing Granovsky’s troupe w ith his rival, the H ebrew-language theater.® A British paper even failed to identify the theater whose photos it featured.9 It be­ came increasingly clear to Granovsky that in order to get the international recog­ nition he craved he needed to take his troupe on the road. T he state, as w ell, had strong reasons for w anting a tour. In the late 1920s, w ith the likelihood o f world revolution fading, the diplom atically isolated Soviet Union became desperate for allies. W ith increasing anti-Sem itic incidents spread­ ing through Europe, it was hoped that the Jew s o f the world, particularly the in­ fluential Polish Bund and New York W orker’s C ircle socialist movements, could be persuaded to lend their support to the Soviet Union. In early 1924 Granovsky began negotiations w ith H arry W in itsky o f the New York socialist Y iddish paper Frayhayt for a tour o f A m erica, which he hoped could follow a tour o f Germany.10 The paper was already intensely involved w ith Y id ­ dish theater; it had sponsored the New York communist Yiddish troupe which was to become the A rtef (W orkers’ Theater Society) T heater directed by Benno Schneider— ironically, a former member o f M oscow’s Habim a. On the paper’s recommendation, Granovsky turned to the theater activist M endel Elkin, an ex­ patriot Belorussian Jew living in New York." Since 1907, Elkin had been involved w ith a group o f Yiddish theater activists in M in sk that had included A . Vayter, A ri Ben-A m i of the Hirschbein theater, and Peretz Hirschbein himself. H e was later


W andering Stars

associated w ith the founding o f the Jew ish T heatrical Society o f W arsaw, together w ith Vayter, Isaac Leyb Peretz, and Scholem Asch. In 1923, Elkin moved to New York, where he helped found the Yiddish T heater Society and the Unzer Teater troupe o f the Bronx, whose short-lived existence ended in 1926 w ith bankruptcy.12 E lkins arrangem ent w ith Granovsky involved an exchange in w hich the So­ viet troupe would come to North Am erica over the summer and fall o f 1924, where they would play in New York, C hicago, Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Toronto, M ontreal, and W inn ipeg, while a New York troupe would tour the Soviet U nion.13 O riginally Elkin hoped to send the renowned actor M aurice Schwartz and his Yiddish A rt Theater, but eventually decided to allow Edwin Relkin (1880-1952), the leading Jew ish theater agent famous for m aking the Café Royale in the Lower East Side his office, to decide the m atter.14W h ile the Jew ish Section approved o f the tour in principle,15 the ten months it took the Jew ish Section to debate the m atter left Granovsky’s A m erican and G erman partners frustrated, leading to a break in relations.16A ny attem pts to re-establish relations were thwarted when the Soviet C entral Com m ittee o f the Union of A rtists forbade the A m erican troupe to tour w ithout prior approval o f its repertoire.17 T he Am erican union was equally inflexible, first by refusing to give permission for Relkin to tour communist Rus­ sia18 and then by refusing to allow Granovsky’s troupe to visit New York during the theatrical season for fear o f the competition it posed to local troupes.19The prob­ lem w as resolved only after Elkin convinced the A m erican union that Granovsky’s troupe was geared toward a specific audience and would not pose any competition. N egotiations once again hit a snag over financial differences. Granovsky initially demanded 125,000,20 but eventually lowered his costs to $16,000.21 T he price still proved to be too high for Elkin.22 Granovsky, not realizing the high price of advertising in the United States, demanded a publicity cam paign beyond E l­ kin’s means. H e required well-published books in Yiddish and English, bilingual glossy programs and librettos with photos, and extensive advertisements in the Russian, Yiddish, and English press: “W e are not intended only for the attention of the Jew ish public. O ur forms and principles are undoubtedly new also for the English theater,” he w rote.23 W hen Elkin indicated he was approaching bank­ ruptcy, Granovsky appealed to his acquaintance LeonT alm y (LayzerTalm ovitsky, 1893-1952) for help.24 Talm y was a one-tim e Territorialist (supporter of Jew ish autonomy w ithin the Diaspora) from Russia who was active in the Am erican Com m unist Party during his residence in the U nited States in 1912-1917 and 1920-1932. Talm y’s response was not encouraging: Relkin terminates the agreement on the grounds that it is too great a risk A ll other Broadway managers have said that they think it is too great a risk. They point out that it would require a very broad advertising campaign to generate interest. In general, the condition o f Broadway is now extremely unfavorable toward foreign theaters, especially Jewish ones. The other possibility is to try to interest private individuals who are able to partially finance you. Personally, 1 am skeptical o f these.25


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

Talm y went on to advise Granovsky to focus on the Jew ish theaters o f Second Avenue. But without Broadway, Granovsky was not interested. A ttem pts by D obrushin to reopen negotiations w ith different contacts, notably with the Y iddish dram atist H alpern Leyvick, m et sim ilar fates. Just over a year later, Granovsky renewed contacts after setting a new date for his world tour. N egotiations began in Septem ber 1926 when Palatnik, as a member o f the theater’s governing board, wrote to the Jew ish Section asking the Party’s opinion on the possibility o f a European and A m erican tour to take place the following summer and fall.26 O ver the next few months, Granovsky wrote some tw enty letters to Berlin, Prague, New York, Buenos A ires, V ienna, London, W arsaw, and Am sterdam searching for sponsors.27 Plans to tour Britain fell apart after the British government refused to grant visas to the troupe on the grounds that they would provide competition for the local theaters. H untley C arter, the renowned theater critic and Granovsky’s British sponsor, suggested that the real motive lay in a fear o f Com m unist propaganda.28 A fter receiving favorable re­ sponses from two Berlin firms, Granovsky wrote to the Jew ish Section, w hich had not yet replied to Palatnik’s request. H e stressed that m any other Soviet theaters had recently received permission to travel abroad, hinting that a denial o f his re­ quest would be construed as anti-Sem itic.29T he Jew ish Section turned the m atter over to the Com m issariat o f Enlightenm ent, which waited a year before approving the tour in early 1928 w ith three conditions: that a fixed time period be confirmed, that the troupe “attach to the tour a character which reflects favorably on Soviet art abroad,” and that Granovsky actively work to enhance the foreign reputation o f the Soviet Society for the Settlem ent o f Jew ish Toilers on the L and.30 W h ile w aiting for a response from the Com m issariat o f Enlightenm ent, Granovsky had also continued secret negotiations with several A m erican Arms31 before deciding to return to M endel Elkin, giving him power o f attorney in the spring o f 1927.32 On January 28, 1928, the theater Anally received ofAcial permission from the Com m issariat of Enlightenm ent to go abroad.33 On M arch 1 2 ,1 9 2 8 , the governing board o f the theater, now consisting o f Granovsky, Palatnik, Litvakov, and Lazar Vayn, met for the last time before the tour to discuss seem ingly mundane matters. Regarding the repertoire for the com ing season, it was decided that Granovsky would continue to rehearse Sholem Aleichem ’s Luftmentshen during the tour and that a new play by a Soviet author would be added later. Granovsky then insisted that Vayn be dispatched to Europe at a later date to allow the director to take a vacation w hile abroad. Finally, it was decreed that M ikhoels be given a vacation due to illness and that an understudy be trained for M ikhoels should his illness continue.34 T he protocols from this m eeting, particularly Granovsky’s concern w ith Anding replacements for him self and M ikhoels, indicate that he m ight have been planning to defect w ell in advance and that he m ay have even planned to take M ikhoels w ith him. T he harassment the director had experienced over the previ­ ous two years, culm inating w ith the reference to him as “the non-Party director” and his forced dism issal from the post o f Anancial-administrative director fore­ boded a bleak Aiture. His antagonistic response to the commission’s report had 92

W andering Stars

d o n e little to b rin g h im back in to favor. T h is h ypothesis also explains his obses­ sion w ith securing perm ission fo r th e to u r; it w as his o n ly o p p o rtu n ity to carry ou t such a plan.

Indeed, the suspicious character o f M ikhoels’s sudden illness was not lost on the C entral Com m ittee o f the Com m unist Party. In early M arch, the C entral C om m ittee abruptly denied passports for the troupe, citing rumors of defection. T h e problem was resolved only through the jo in t intervention o f a number o f Jew s prom inent in the Com m unist Party, including Sem en D im anshtayn, former head o f the Com m issariat o f Jew ish Affairs; A leksandr C hem eriskii, secretary o f the Jew ish Section; Palatnik; and Litvakov. In a letter to the C entral Com m ittee o f the Party, they vowed to “h illy vouch for the conduct o f the theater abroad” and sug­ gested that Vayn be dispatched to monitor the troupe— ironically the very same suggestion that had gotten Granovsky in trouble in the first place.3S Granovsky left M oscow on M arch 21st without delay, to be followed by the rest o f the troupe two weeks later. Since the European segm ent o f the tour was to be preceded by a tour o f the Soviet Union’s western provinces, Vayn stayed behind to oversee repairs o f the theater hall and to finish some accounting business; he had plans to join the theater in Berlin in October. M eanw hile, on A pril 4th, Com rade W aldm an, a member o f the Union o f A rtists stationed in Berlin w ith the Soviet diplom atic corps, discovered that the G erman firm w ith which Granovsky had contracted was not solvent. His suspi­ cions grew when he discovered that the 10,000-M ark advance stipulated in the contract had never arrived. On further investigation he found that Granovsky had requested that the m oney be placed into a G erman account rather than be sent to Russia. Upon interrogation, Granovsky insisted that the money was needed in G erm any to purchase supplies abroad. However, all foreseeable supplies had been brought from Russia—at great expense; the 10,000 M arks seemed to be ju st the right am ount of money one would need to start a new life in Germany. But for the tim e being, the Party, worried that any moves to cancel the tour at this point would be construed as anti-Sem itic by the foreign press, accepted G ranovskys explana­ tion and the tour continued.36

Europe F rom th e first in stan t th e trou p e set fo o t on n o n -S o v ie t soil, its conduct was provocative. H uge crow ds m et th e p erform ers at th e W a rsa w train station, fu elin g th e egos th ey had acquired as th eater stars. M a n y o f th e actors w ere also m et b y old frien d s and fam ily dressed in trad itio n al religious garb. A t least one actor rep orted feelin g self-conscious and asham ed in fro n t o f his O rth o d o x b reth ren ; w hereas in th e S o v ie t U n io n m od ern dress w as regarded as a sign o f en ligh ten m en t, am ong m an y Polish Jew ish circles it w as still seen as indecent. T h e actors’ p iety w as fu r­ th e r stirred b y th e tim in g o f th e ir arrival, w h ich coincided w ith th e first n ig h t o f Passover. S evera l actors accepted in vitation s to atten d a seder th a t n igh t, the feast co m m em o ratin g th e E xodus from E gypt. T h e actor M o sh e G o ld b la tt recalled the effect th e seder had on him : “T h e seder n igh t! A w o rld o f n o u rish m en t and m em ­


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

ories from childhood years.” Conveniendy forgetting his own role in promoting Com m unist propaganda, G oldblatt continued: "For ten years in Soviet Russia they inundated us day in and day out w ith anti-religious propaganda and inculcated our consciousness w ith negative and even abhorrent attitudes toward the Jew ish tra­ dition, rites, holidays and w ay o f life. W e had even begun to believe in this.”37 W h ile no performances were scheduled for Poland— the troupe hoped to per­ form there on their return trip— Granovsky, Zuskin, and M ikhoels accepted in­ terviews with the Yiddish literary magazine Literarisbe bleter. In their first open interviews with the foreign press, the performers belittled the state’s role in the development o f the theater. In an issue dedicated entirely to the M oscow State Y iddish Theater, Granovsky provided the lead article, “O ur Theater,” in w hich he portrayed the theater as his own independent creation; other articles repeatedly referred to “T he Granovsky Theater.” Zuskin was quoted as saying, “T h e theater came to life around the person o f A . Granovsky.” Throughout the journal, the theater’s adaptations o f Sholem A leichem , Peretz, Goldfadn, and M endele were celebrated, w hile no reference was made to the contemporary Soviet plays. Fur­ ther, the journal published an article on the theater by David Bergelson, a So­ viet Yiddish w riter who defected to Berlin in 1921. A lthough Bergelson would be valued as a pro-Soviet w riter upon his return to the Soviet Union in 1934, he was out o f favor w ith the Kremlin in 1928, and his association w ith the troupe was not viewed favorably in Moscow.38 The troupe’s behavior in Berlin, where it would spend the next six weeks giving its first European performances, was no different. T he actors, accustomed to dormitories and cafeterias, were overwhelmed at their Berlin accommodations and amazed at the extravagance o f European life. G oldblatt recalls the first night in Berlin when several actors were invited to dinner at the residence o f a friend o f Granovsky. It was G oldblatt’s first live encounter w ith the European bourgeoisie, whose decadence and iniquities he had mocked on stage for the last ten years: “A t a colossal table, around w hich could sit no less than a dozen people . . . a huge number o f different foods, baked goods, fruits and drinks were laid out on the ta­ ble. T he lavish cut glass and porcelain dishes in which all the delicacies were placed was enrapturing.”39 Initially, the young actors were astonished by the ease w ith w hich “H err Professor Granovsky” fit into this alien environment. But during an evening o f stim ulating conversation, the director revealed his fam ily secret to the actors— that he was a “class enemy,” having been born into one o f the w ealthiest bourgeois Jew ish fam ilies in the Russian Empire. Henceforth, those present that evening would see their mentor in a different light. The troupe’s Berlin premiere o f Two H undred Thousand, which was attended by a large segm ent o f the G erman cultural intelligentsia, particularly those o f Jew ish extraction, was an instantaneous popular success. G oldblatt recalls that when we thought that the stormy ovation and the cries o f “Bravo” and “G ra­ novsky” would never end, people immediately set out to find the person being honored and almost forcefully shoved him onto the stage where he remained standing bewildered with a pale jelled face until his wife yelled to him w ith a


W andering Stars

hoarse voice from behind the curtains: “Aleksei, give another bow. W h y are you just standing there like a groom under the cbuppabT 40

“T h e greatest triumph which the theater found in Berlin w ith its first perfor­ m ance,” G oldblatt later wrote, was the stir within the Jewish population o f B erlin .. . . How the German Jews, who with great contempt and scorn looked upon the Ostjuden [Eastern Jews], suddenly, to their great surprise, [found out that] an inferior backward caste can have a cultural institution that stands no lower, and is possibly even higher than, a lot o f institutions in Western Europe.41

T h e troupe anxiously awaited the first reviews. G oldblatt, the actor to whom Granovsky entrusted the critical task o f perusing three editions o f each o f B erlins fourteen daily newspapers for reviews, described the director’s state o f m ind at the time: Knowing Granovsky’s erratic nervousness that he had nightly exhibited, I was completely surprised by the soberness and almost indifference with which he read about yesterday’s premiere and about his great success with the audience. . . . I could not understand how a director could nonchalandy read through a review o f his production.. . . But, subsequently it turned out that Granovsky’s callousness was artificial and external. W h en we saw him later he had lost sleep for a considerable time and had stayed awake the entire night smoking countless cigarettes. So much so that in the morning a thick cloud o f tobacco hung over his room.42

T he in itial reaction o f the press was rewarding. Alfred Kerr, an assim ilated Jew who was G erm any’s leading theater critic, exclaim ed, “T his is great art. G reat art. . . . Not a dead point the whole evening___A m azing.”43 The Y iddish press, while appreciating the high caliber o f art, was skeptical about the troupe’s politics. For instance, H erm an Sw et wrote in D er mom ent: “A ll o f G erm any is praising the theater to the skies!” H e credited Granovsky w ith retaining artistic integrity and forgoing “propositions from the Soviet propaganda m achine.”44 W h ile intended as a com plim ent, such statements inflamed Moscow. A . S. L irik felt sim ilarly: W h o believed that Sholem Aleichem’s hero Shimele Soroker, the simple folkish man, who wins the big win and later loses it, that he, the poor tailor o f the shtetl, would be transformed into a symbol o f the revolution against the old world? . . . [The actors] climb and crawl on the stage like nimble cats. They dance and move like the best acrobats.. . . One must have respect for the high technical culture in their play.. . . but their one-sidedness is their curse. O nly in revolution­ ary Russia, where man is dead and only the masses, the collective, live; only there where mechanisms and machines are a cult to which man bows down, only there could they rise and develop as a theater... .There is no joy; only exaggeration and satire.45

One critic who saw the show later in Frankfurt was turned off by the troupe’s lighthearted approach to deep philosophical problems, insinuating that it would


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

be more appropriate for a cabaret than a theater. “One cannot compare these ac­ robats w ith H abim a,” he wrote. “T h eir approach to art is very lighthearted while H abim a is deep. . . . [T he M oscow State Yiddish T heater] is entertaining, but one must not extract theoretical obligations from them ___It is a joyful fair. One should be perm itted to smoke and drink beer [here].”46 T he premieres o f The Sorceress and The Travels o f Benjam in ///also received rave reviews, but the critics continued to fault the troupe for its agitational propa­ ganda. A group o f actors w ithin the troupe suggested that the theater forego its planned performance o f Trouhadec, the most pedagogical o f its productions, in favor o f a repeat performance o f one o f the lighter plays. However, the suggestion was w ithdraw n when the troupe was visited by a Soviet “diplomat," who disci­ plined the actors for their resistance to the planned performance.47 A s expected, the new premiere o f Trouhadec received negative reviews from critics, who chas­ tised Granovsky for deviating from the Jew ish classics. T he financial and popular success o f the tour was im m ediately apparent back home, prompting an optim istic Council o f People’s Com missars to wipe out the theater’s debts to all state organizations w ith the hope that the tour would m ake up for all lost funds.48 Yet M oscow was not pleased w ith the political and agitational success o f the tour. Soon after Granovsky’s arrival in Berlin, word reached M os­ cow that he was attem pting to renegotiate contracts w ith the tour’s sponsors. Suspicious o f the director’s motives, Palatnik and Litvakov, on behalf o f the Jew ­ ish Section, sent a telegram to Granovsky in w hich they reiterated that “A trip to A m erica is categorically forbidden.”49 A dditionally, the Jew ish Section and the Com m issariat of Enlightenm ent decided to dispatch Vayn im m ediately to Berlin. On M ay 25th, Vayn sent a telegram to Granovsky asking the director to obtain a French visa for him and to have it sent to Berlin. Vayn arrived in Berlin on June 5th, not realizing that the theater had just departed for Paris.50 A fter explaining to the French embassy that he was w ith the Y iddish theater, he was assured that in that case he must already be in Paris where the theater was currently performing. Aggravated, Vayn had no choice but to monitor Granovsky’s activity on the basis o f irregular reports from Granovsky him self until he could obtain a French visa. Occasionally, however, rumors reached Vayn through other channels. For instance, he heard from a member o f the diplo­ m atic corps of the Union of A rtists, who had ju st returned to Berlin from Paris, that Granovsky was “sick six days a w eek and healthy one day.” Yet rumors were spreading that Granovsky was w orking on a film. Vayn recommended to Litvakov that Granovsky take a vacation. But he realized that his recommendation unfor­ tunately could not be fulfilled because he, Granovsky’s assistant director, was de­ tained in B erlin.51 In the m eantim e, Vayn snooped around the German capital, where he discov­ ered that Granovsky had failed to report one-tenth of his revenue from the Berlin shows.52 Granovsky was up to even more unorthodox financial dealings in Paris: on June 5 th he negotiated an agreem ent that included a trip to A m erica, by which his sponsor would pay debts and expenses o f the European segm ent o f the tour in return for a percentage o f the profits from the Am erican leg o f the tour.53 96

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O n June 14th, Vayn was still w aiting for his visa in Berlin. In a letter to L itvakov he accused Granovsky o f sabotaging his visa application: Today is the eighth day that I have been sitting in Berlin and I still have no visa. .. . I have sent two telegrams to Aleksei Mikhailovich [Granovsky]. In answer, on Monday (June 2) I received a telegram from Aleksei Mikhailovich in which he wrote "regarding the visa, you should receive an answer today.” Today is Thurs­ day and still no visa. I cannot judge what type o f measures Aleksei Mikhailovich has taken toward dispatching a visa to me___ Does Aleksei Mikhailovich want me to come? O f course not. I explained the situation to the representative o f [the diplomatic corps o f the Union o f Artists] in Berlin, Comrade Simok. In answer to Simok's suggestion that I come there, Granovsky answered, “W h y does he need to?”54

W h en Vayn sent a threatening telegram to Granovsky, the director replied from his Parisian haven, “I am not used to receiving letters written in that tone and if you repeat it again, I w ill throw your unread letter into the wastebasket.”55 Indeed, Granovsky surely knew Vayn’s motives and was in no hurry to facilitate them. He must have relished the idea that the man entrusted w ith the task o f reporting his every move to the Com m unist Party was 500 m iles away, entirely reliant on his own efforts to bring them together. Further, Granovsky had proven that he had the means o f obtaining visas; during this same period he obtained a visa for Robert Falk, who had rem ained in Berlin after the rest o f the troupe’s departure for per­ sonal reasons.56 Granovsky later adm itted that when the French Embassy asked him for a guarantee that Vayn was not a member o f the Com m unist Party, he had refused to give it.57 A t the end o f June the theater was still receiving positive reviews from the press. P ravda even reprinted excerpts from European reviews, particularly those w hich emphasized the Party line that such art could only develop w ith extensive state funding and support.58 However, such articles were the exception. T he m a­ jo rity o f the foreign press, while praising the theaters artistic m erits, denied that it represented a flowering of autonomous Jew ish culture in the Soviet Union. For instance, Nakhman M ayzel, the influential theater and literary critic, did not be­ lieve that the theater was showing its true face to Europe. W ritin g in the W arsaw Y iddish paper Haynt, he argued: T hey bring the quintessence o f Jewish identity from Moscow. The theater is under the direct influence o f the Jewish Section which in theory wants to anni­ hilate all that is Yiddish . . . but Granovsky understands that the old Mendele, Sholem Aleichem, Peretz, and Goldfadn are safe and more interesting that the young Veviurka and R eznik.. . . The Moscow Yiddish Theater is going around the world clothed with such old classics instead o f showing the new revolution­ ary Moscow.59

Zionists, Rabbis, and Nationalists D uring the course o f the summer o f 1928 several scandals rocked the troupe, leading to demands from M oscow that the theater return. T he scandals involved 97

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three incidents in particular during w hich members o f the troupe violated their instructions to avoid circulating among “anti-Soviet elem ents.” T he first was the troupe’s attendance at a Shavuot (Feast o f Tabernacles) banquet in M annheim given by an unnamed Jew ish organization sympathetic to rabbinicalism .T his was followed by a m eeting o f Zuskin and M ikhoels w ith Sholem Asch. Finally, Zuskin, M ikhoels, and G oldblatt m et w ith C haim W eizm ann, the president o f the W orld Zionist O rganization and future president o f Israel. Understandably, L itvakov was infuriated— his trusted anti-Z ionist, anti-rabbinical, anti-nationalist troupe had been holding m eetings w ith the w orld’s leading Zionists, rabbis, and nationalists. H e was particularly disturbed by the m eeting w ith W eizm ann. He was undoubtedly fam iliar w ith the Z ionist’s attitude toward the Soviet Union. W eizm ann had recently w ritten in reference to the Birobidzhan project: “The whole fantastic project o f setting up a Jew ish Republic in Russia is a second m atter w hich attem pts to pervert hum anitarian efforts o f A m erican Jew s into a political action serving Soviet purposes."60 Further, Litvakov likely knew that W eizm ann was in the process o f bringing H abim a, currently stationed in N ew York, to Pales­ tine to serve as the Palestinian national Hebrew theater.61 Despite W eizm ann’s preference for Hebrew, it is possible that he had sim ilar plans for the Y iddish theater. In order to put pressure on the theater, the Soviet government released infor­ mation to the local and foreign press that the theater’s tour had accum ulated a debt o f45,000 rubles— a figure Granovsky categorically denied.62In Septem ber rumors that the troupe would soon be recalled to M oscow reached Europe. T h e rumors prompted a letter from the theater’s local union to the theater’s governing board (Palatnik and Litvakov), w ith copies sent to the Union o f A rtists, in w hich the local union denied any involvement in Granovsky’s alleged schemes and plans to defect: “T he M oscow State Y iddish T heater collective has acted w ith the highest political and professional discipline throughout the entire tour. W e, the local trade union, are sure that there is not one worker in the theater who does not w ish to return w ith the theater to Russia."63 Benjam in Zuskin also sent his own letter to Litvakov justifying the illicit m eetings: I have reason to believe that you believed me and still believe now, so believe me that I am writing you the truth about the tour. Believe me, Moisei Ilyich, that all the information which you have on the movements o f our actors in Europe has not a single basis [in fact]___ Every one o f us remembers and knows that he is a Soviet citizen.

T he M annheim Shavuot banquet, he explained, occurred after the troupe had been stuck in Frankfurt for four days unable to perform due to a lack o f ticket sales during the Jew ish holy days. A fter a w eek w ith no income, the troupe was literally starving and thus could hardly turn down the invitation to a banquet.T he “tea w ith Asch" incident, he continued, was a chance encounter; M ikhoels and Zuskin were invited to David Bergelson’s Berlin apartment, not realizing that Scholem Asch would be there. Explaining the W eizm ann incident, Zuskin wrote that one night after a show, 98

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Weizmann came behind the curtains to thank us and express his delight. He saw and spoke to Mikhoels, me, and, I believe, Goldblatt, since we three stayed behind on stage. The others were already removing their makeup. W h at, in your opinion, should we have done? Turned our back to him and left?64

If W eizm ann offered the troupe a haven in Palestine, his offer was rejected. Negative reports o f the theater’s conduct, however, continued to flood the office o f the Jew ish Section. C ontinuing his investigation into Granovsky’s be­ havior, Vayn discovered that im m ediately after arriving in Berlin, the director had contacted a number o f Soviet ém igrés, including Vassilii Kandinsky, and had largely ignored the collective, preferring to circulate in bourgeois German and Russian émigré circles. T his conduct is confirmed by G oldblatt’s memoirs. Forced to rely on hearsay and press reports, Vayn wrote: In all his speeches and interviews, Granovsky did not once mention that the theater was formed thanks to the union and strength o f the Soviet state and workers, emphasizing always that the theater is his doing— i f it were not for him there would be no theater. The press always calls it “Granovsky’s theater.” Fur­ thermore, when asked what he thought o f the U SSR , Granovsky replied, “I do not interfere with politics. I am an artist. To me it is all the same who is in power.”65

A s we have seen, the accusations were largely true. However, even Vayn could not deny that the tour had been an im m ensely popular success.

America or Moscow? T h e tide began to turn in more than one w ay in Vienna. T h e theater’s stint in the city was generally ignored by the German press, w hile the response from the largely assim ilated Jew ish quarter was “cold and indifferent.”66 To make matters worse for Granovsky, on Septem ber 10th— after five months o f w aiting in vain for a visa— Vayn finally caught up w ith the troupe. Also, after a month o f futile attem pts to get information from Granovsky, Palatnik was dispatched to Berlin to investigate further. T he m eeting between Vayn, Granovsky, and Palatnik took place on October 11th. Palatnik wanted to know if Granovsky planned to continue the tour to A m erica, where the m issing money from the Berlin tour was, and how the theater had m anaged to accumulate a deficit when it had a guarantee from its G erm an sponsors. Granovsky denied that there was any guarantee, arguing that the Com m issariat o f Enlightenm ent’s information was incorrect. H e further in­ sisted that all subsequent arrangem ents had also been approved by W aldm an o f the diplom atic corps o f the Union o f A rtists. R egarding the question of A m erica, Granovsky adm itted he had made a lucrative agreement w ith a French firm, insist­ ing “I did not know that M oscow was against an A m erican tour.” Furthermore, he pointed out that the contract had been signed while he was still in Moscow. Indeed, Granovsky had signed a contract w ith the French firm in Moscow, but without consulting the Com m issariat o f Enlightenm ent and without including an A m erican tour. A fter further interrogation, Granovsky adm itted he knew the A m erican tour was prohibited: 99

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater W e had begun to play in Belgium and Holland and on the fifth or sixth day in Antwerp a telegram arrived from Comrade [Aleksei] Sviderskii [saying] that the American tour is prohibited as is the rest o f the European tour. I wrote Sviderskii a letter stating that first o f all I completely do not understand why he does not approve the maximum favorable agreement. Secondly, I do not understand why currently three directors o f academic theaters sit abroad and conclude agree­ ments on tours to America— yet for the Moscow State Yiddish Theater this is forbidden. Thirdly, what kind o f principles could interfere with a trip to America and to New York, where there are so many Jews? W h y is the agreement that I first succeeded in concluding so advantageously to us not being approved? In conclu­ sion, I asked him to release me from the theater.67

He w ent on to relate that when he told the French firm that M oscow was forcing the cancellation o f the contract, it threatened to take the theater to court. Granovsky reiterated that the deficit problem would be solved w ith a trip to New York. T he panel was not fazed by the prospect o f a lawsuit. Vayn and Palatnik agreed to place all responsibility for forfeiting the contract on Granovsky, w hile the government would deny any involvement. T he next day Palatnik sent a report to Litvakov along w ith a stenographic rec­ ord o f the m eeting w ith Granovsky. H is advice was to take every measure possible to return the troupe to M oscow im m ediately before the situation got further out o f hand. Describing the director s mood, Palatnik wrote that Granovsky was con­ vinced there was a mole close to the theater, that he felt the Soviet press was slandering him , and that he believed he could not return to the Soviet Union w ith im punity.68 Palatnik advised Litvakov to “w rite something kind,” to Granovsky which would open the path for a discussion o f his return. Regarding the rest o f the troupe, he wrote: The artists, for the most part, have been unfaithful abroad. The success, improv­ ing their material position, has largely regenerated them so that they are not averse to touring endlessly.. . . For the present there are still corners o f the earth with Jews where they can play. Zuskin is included in this group o f artists. The other group wants to return to Moscow, as long as it can be guaranteed they will not go hungry. Regarding Mikhoels, they say he will return to Moscow.69

T he solution, he believed, was to begin a slanderous cam paign in the press, which would scare the troupe into behaving for the sake o f their families in Moscow: W h a t do we need now? In no circumstances should we hush up the state o f unrest in the Moscow State Yiddish Theaters tour. It must be published in Der ernes (and not only in Der ernes, if possible) but also in all provincial papers, through letters from comrades and articles. I f possible this question must be considered in meetings, carried out in resolutions, etc. In a word, conduct a cam­ paign along the lines o f that carried out against Meyerhold. But it must always be remembered that such a campaign must not cut o ff the path to a return o f Granovsky and the theater. A t the same time, bear in mind arrangements should Granovsky not return to the Soviet U n io n .. . . I am also writing to the Friends o f the State Yiddish Theater to publish an open letter to Granovsky, which will be composed by us.70 100

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Two versions o f the fraudulent letter, in Russian and Y iddish, were preserved. T h e letter states: The theater has had enormous success abroad and nobody has any doubt that the objective accomplishments were successful— Soviet [sic]. For it is clear even to our enemies that only under the regime o f proletarian dictatorship, only under the national politics o f Soviet power, could it be possible that a state over the period o f several years would spend around a million rubles so that a Jewish theater can form and develop into a first class theatrical collective, beginning with its art director and ending with the last extra. B u t. . . the political character o f the theater is currently being distorted. The artistic stagnation and ideological conservatism that the theater has found abroad conflicts with the goal the theater expressed in its farewell evening in Moscow— that the bourgeoisie will admire the theater s art and feel their class hatred. On the contrary, the theater has become the love o f the Jewish bourgeoi­ sie abroad.71

A rticles criticizing the theater’s conduct on its foreign tour were also appear­ ing in a wide variety o f newspapers and theatrical journals. For instance, Lunacharskii wrote an article in Vecbemiaia Moskva (Evening M oscow), in w hich he acknowledged the troupe’s popular success but criticized Granovsky for not ad­ hering to proper ideology in his contact w ith the press. Leaving open a channel, he hinted that if their behavior improved, a tour to A m erica would be possible.72T he article was w idely reprinted, appearing in D er ernes and Literarisbe bleterP It soon became apparent, however, that the cam paign against the theater was becoming counterproductive. Palatnik’s next report to Litvakov stated that the troupe was becoming less w illing to return to Moscow. “T he artists,” he wrote, “do not want to return to M oscow soon because they are afraid o f the mood in M oscow .. . . T he theater w ill be hum iliated, said M ikhoels.” The artists, he continued, were virtu­ ally certain that Granovsky would not return w ith them and feared for their future without him. Practical concerns also figured into the equation: the theater had no new productions prepared and the M alaia Bronnaia H all was still under reno­ vation.74 T he Jew ish Section was alarm ed by this newest report: a mass defection would do irreparable dam age to the Soviet Union’s reputation in the foreign press. A fter the recent defection o f the H abim a troupe w hile on tour, the M oscow State Y id ­ dish T heater rem ained the Com m unists’ most valuable show piece w ith which they could prove to the world that the Soviet Union was free o f chauvinism toward any group. T hey had spent countless resources touting the theater as sim ultane­ ously anti-rabbinical, anti-Z ionist, anti-nationalist, and pro-Soviet, all as a spon­ taneous expression o f the actors’ beliefs and ideals. A mass defection would have proven the opposite to the W estern press. T he Party was determined to take all measures necessary to ensure the return of the troupe, preferably w ith Granovsky, but w ithout him if necessary. Palatnik formulated a two-step scheme: first, in order to turn the troupe against Granovsky, he personally awarded the artists all outstanding wages, hint­ ing that Granovsky was responsible for the delay.75 He then gave Granovsky an 101

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off-the-record com m itm ent to an Am erican tour, provided the troupe first return to M oscow: “I strictly took the position that the theater should return to M oscow and only from there go on to Am erica. I suggested that Granovsky together w ith M ikhoels come to Moscow, and once there I w ill not agree to a trip to America [Pa­ latnik s italics].”74 Regarding M ikhoels, Palatnik explained, “I took a candid tone w ith M ikhoels—yes or no? Return now or not? T his candid presentation o f the question instilled hostility in M ikhoels toward me, but on the other hand he an­ nounced that he w ill return to the U S S R .”77 By October 2 7 ,1 9 2 8 , a w eek later, Palatnik was optim istic. Granovsky had promised to return and to “w rite a letter to the papers” denouncing his past activ­ ity.78 Palatnik believed it was genuine; Granovsky had consistently denied rumors in the G erman and Russian press that he, M ikhoels, and Zuskin were defecting.79 Yet the German press continued to report that the three were planning to extend their stay in G erm any to make a film adaptation o f Benjam in entitled The M odem Quixote, despite the Jew ish Section s opposition.80 T hus, in early November the troupe’s mood was positive: the theater was playing in Berlin to consistently full houses, and Broadway was looking closer.81 A fter investigating the contract w ith the French firm, Palatnik concluded that Granovsky was right—a tour to Am erica would be a gold mine. The catch was that Granovsky was the gold; without him the theater was an em pty shaft. Palatnik noted that Granovsky’s dism issal from the post o f director “even if he rem ains head o f a r t . . . would lead to the possibility o f a political scandal and the disintegration o f the theater. I therefore decide that in m y opinion we should negate the question o f an A m erican tour.”82Once again, the Com m issariat o f Enlightenm ent forfeited financial success for political utility. T h ey could no longer allow Granovsky to re­ tain his position. On November 24th, in all likelihood having made his decision to defect, G ra­ novsky signed off all adm inistrative and financial control o f the theater to Palatnik in an agreement that stated: 1) As o f November 24, all financial matters and judicial rights o f the director o f the theater are handed over to the managing representative o f [the Commissariat o f Enlightenment], Comrade Palatnik, until a director is appointed from M os­ cow. 2) Aleksandr Mikhailovich Granovsky will be the artistic director o f the theater until the end o f the tour abroad and all rights relating to the internal artistic life o f the theater will remain under the management o f Granovsky. 3) Questions o f internal administrative orders (hiring and firing artists, ques­ tions o f salaries, etc.) will be decided jointly by the managing director and the artistic director. 4) Questions relating to political appearances (speeches) o f the theater (partici­ pating in various banquets and speeches in the name o f the theater) are decided by the directing manager and the artistic director.83


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Throughout December, the Jew ish Section continued its attem pts to bring the theater home, w hile slowly accepting that it was likely to lose Granovsky. It began to concentrate its efforts on securing the return of the rest o f the troupe, M ikhoels and Zuskin in particular. On January 1,1929, Vayn wrote to the Jew ish Section: W h y does Granovsky insist on an American tour? Granovsky does not want to return to the U SSR now: he is afraid o f responsibility for his fiscal problems and politics, etc. Apart from that he now does not intend to put forward a new repertoire, etc. The arrival o f Granovsky in the U SSR would be a failure in his theatrical career.. . . Keeping in mind all the above indicators, it is not possible to allow a tour. In the theater a schism may occur, like that which happened with Habima__ Thus, it is essential to immediately send a telegram to the plenipotentiary , about taking measures to return the theater to Moscow. [ Vayn’s italics]*4

T h e Jew s ofN ew York would continue to w ait in vain for the troupes appearance.85 Finally, in the m iddle o f January, the troupe— without Granovsky—returned to a frigid Moscow. Granovsky remained in Germany, where he worked in the film industry, rem aining ever close to controversy. One o f his films, The Sorrow o f Life (1931), about a woman who experiences severe complications during childbirth and is forced to undergo an emergency operation, was banned in G erm any for fear it would discourage women from having children. Throughout the decade, G ra­ novsky also worked w ith the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, directing, among oth­ ers, M olière s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme ,86 Both Natan A ltm an and Robert Falk, who had accompanied the theater on its tour, remained in Europe w ith Granovsky. Falk worked on the film Taras Bulba (1930) w ith Granovsky and lived in Paris for ten years before returning to the Soviet Union in 1937. A ltm an stayed only three years, returning to his homeland in 1931. Granovsky’s wife, A leksandra A zarkh, returned to Moscow, where she joined the staff o f the Yiddish theater school. In M arch 1937, Granovsky died at the age o f forty-seven in Paris. No obituary appeared in the Soviet press, but Nakhman M ayzel wrote in Haynt: “H e was an interesting and very complicated man. H e possessed a restless spirit— he had in him a bit of an adventurer. A t the same tim e he was as naive as a child.”87 W h ile his name was soon forgotten by the Soviet press— at first spoken o f only w ith de­ rision and, later, not spoken o f at all— he was fondly remembered by his students. Joseph Schein, a former student o f the Y iddish studio recalls: In the family o f Yiddish actors, Granovsky was remembered silently with love and appreciation. He put his life into his performances, and into the acting o f his students, who remembered how Sasha (Aleksandr) would capture a scene in a production and how he would interpret a character. His heritage brought us pride for many years.**

From the perspective o f the Party, the tour was largely a failure, and the troupe would never again be perm itted to leave the Soviet Union. T he foreign press, by


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

and large, treated the actors as talented individuals who were able to develop ar­ tistically in spite o f their citizenship rather than as a result o f it. Jew ish papers, in particular, rejoiced at the performances but were w ary o f confusing fantasy with reality. T h ey were alert to the fact that the theater was presenting only the best face to the W estern world and was hardly representative o f the state of Jew ish society in the Soviet Union as a whole. W h ile they were impressed w ith the theater, they refused to view it as a microcosm o f Soviet society or even o f the Jew ish Section. European Socialists continued to view the Jew ish Section as a cartel of traitorous Bundists, Zionists were unw illing to forgive its repression o f the Hebrew language, and religious Jew s around the world continued to despise its anti-religious cam­ paigns. Upon its return to Moscow, the troupe was presented w ith both more uni­ fied cultural policies and a state that was more w illing to carry them out. T he Jew ish Section (soon to become a victim o f the C ultural Revolution it­ self w ith its 1930 dissolution) and the Com m issariat of Enlightenm ent treated the troupe w ith an unprecedented degree o f condescension, m anipulation, and author­ itarianism . W ith nobody around to listen, these organs could assert themselves w ithout fear o f being challenged. W h ile the troupe could mock this bellicosity w ith flagrant disobedience abroad, upon its return it was confronted w ith a fait accompli: the Party had used the troupe’s absence to unilaterally restructure the theater in accordance w ith Stalin’s “C ultural Revolution.” In their attem pts to per­ suade the troupe to return to Moscow, Palatnik and Litvakov used a com bina­ tion o f the carrot and the stick. T h ey manipulated the publicity-craving actors by threatening negative press cam paigns w hile sim ultaneously prom ising a sham trip to the coveted Am erican shores as a reward for proper behavior. A lthough the younger actors succumbed to the tricks, the more experienced and skeptical d i­ rector did not. The chasm between Granovsky and the Party, w hich had first cracked open w ith Granovsky’s adaptation o f 137 Childrens Homes, proved to be irreparable.

The Cultural Revolution H aving finished its European tour and subsequent expedition to the Jew ish heartland, the M oscow State Yiddish Theater returned to an altogether different Moscow. The theater’s absence coincided w ith the clim ax o f a major social and political turning point in the history o f the Soviet Union, generally known as the C ultural Revolution. T he prim ary impetus toward the C ultural Revolution of 1928-1929 was the emergence o f a new class o f upwardly mobile individuals from predom inantly w orking-class or peasant backgrounds who felt that the Revolu­ tion was fought for their benefit but was instead being led by bourgeois intellec­ tuals w ith their own agendas. T he Shakhty trial engrossed the country and sig­ naled the start o f a new cam paign against “bourgeois specialists” and intellectuals and the “rightist deviationists” w ithin the Party who tolerated them. O ver the course o f the year, the “soft line on culture” that the Party had pursued during the NEP years hardened into a m ilitant repression o f all non-Party and non-proletar­


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ian elem ents w ithin the cultural sphere. T he ensuing class w ar and social purging o f intellectuals expedited the promotion o f the upwardly mobile proletariat.89 Because the M oscow State Yiddish T heater was abroad on tour at the start o f the C ultu ral Revolution, its day o f reckoning was delayed until its return and, after that, until the term ination o f its annual summer tour o f the provinces. However, w hen it returned to M oscow in the fall o f 1929 the theater was hit w ith a ven­ geance. Not only was it subject to the usual harsh requirements being forced upon every Soviet institution from factory to cinem a, but w ith the departure o f G ra­ novsky as artistic director the theater also faced the unavoidable task o f its own in ­ ternal reconstruction. T h e most pressing demands made upon the theater were w ith regard to its adm inistration. As was the case throughout the state, non-Party specialists, and particularly intellectuals, were purged from positions o f power and replaced w ith Party members who were usually younger and had fewer European contacts and who had lived their formative years under Soviet power. In the case o f the Y id ­ dish theater, purging the top adm inistrative personnel was unnecessary because Granovsky, who had concentrated all adm inistrative and financial responsibilities in his own hands, had already defected. T he state easily appointed a loyal bureau­ crat, S. S. Somov, to take on the role o f adm inistrative director. W h ile Somov proved to be popular with the troupe, which complimented him for m aking every­ one feel like “old comrades,” his tenure lasted less than a year.90 N ext, the theater was placed firm ly w ithin the framework o f the newly re­ vamped “proletarian state.”T he first step taken in this direction was the order that the departm ent o f art and literature, having reorganized itself administratively, should see that the theater begin to work on fulfilling orders from the organs o f the Party, the soviets, and the professional unions. T he theater was urged to strengthen its relations w ith worker organizations and told to strive to ensure that 85 percent of its audience be members o f Party and union organizations and that 32 percent of the audience be factory workers.91 In order to achieve this goal, the Society for Friends o f the State Y iddish T heater was revived as a liaison between the theater and the workers. Concrete measures were also taken to introduce workers to the theater: ticket prices were reduced by 10 percent, special coupon booklets were distributed to workers providing a 50 percent discount on tickets,92 and special performances were given in factories throughout the country. Additionally, w ork­ ers were given the opportunity to meet w ith and exchange ideas w ith the actors through informal m eetings and lectures. One w riter explained the purpose o f these m eetings: Workers are not just interested in questions o f artistic method and the path o f the theater, but also in how actors live. W hen [the worker] learns how much our comrades work and how they study, when we explain to him that from early morning [the actors attend] theater circles on Marxism and art and Leninism; that the group studies plays, fencing, dance and movement, after which rehears­ als go for between two and three and a half hours, then there is a break, lunch, and


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater in the evening a performance— the workers understand how complicated and stressful the working days o f the actors are.91

W orkers were also invited to join the repertory committee and to attend re­ hearsals so that they could express their opinions prior to production. O ne such worker expressed his opinion in a factory journal: Earlier, during tsarism, we Jews had no rights and were an oppressed nation. W e had no possibility for our development. W e could not have useful occupations. . . . O nly the October Revolution removed our chains; it allowed us to breathe freedom, and created for the Jews and all oppressed nations the conditions for a happy working life W e would like to see on the stage o f the Jewish theater the real life o f the new man and not the man o f air. W e would like to see Jewish shock workers, Jewish Communists, Jewish collective farmers, the culture o f Jewish engineers, students, and musicians. W e would like to see a person with the new socialist understanding.94

A dditionally, the theater building was turned into a de facto Jew ish cultural center; it presented special commemorative evenings o f interest to Jew s, hosted meetings, and entertained Moscow with other Jew ish theatrical and musical troupes during summer tours. Next, measures were taken to increase w orking-class representation among the theater’s staff. To make w ay for the new cadres, the theater was ordered to lay o ff fourteen members o f its staff, reducing the total number to seventy-five for the 1928-1929 season. H alf o f those released were members o f the artistic division, w hile only three members o f the bloated adm inistrative division were laid off.95 On August 1,19 29, the theater, along w ith all other state theaters, was given spe­ cific instructions from the Com m issariat o f Finance on the means o f calculating payments for workers.96 In the Yiddish theater, the order m eant a reduction o f total salaries by nearly 10 percent. T he upper echelons were hit hardest; the director’s salary dropped from 360 rubles to 225 rubles per month.97 In keeping w ith the principle o f creating a new cadre o f theater workers, the Soviet State Y iddish T heater School was com pletely revamped and turned into a certified four-year technicum, bringing it in line w ith sim ilar technicum s at M oscow’s other major theaters. D uring the First Five-Year Plan, the C om m is­ sariat o f Enlightenm ent began to issue universal standards for Soviet theatrical schools, requiring each to teach general subjects, such as history, politics, economy, art, and M arxism -Leninism , in addition to their specialized programs. T hus, stu­ dents devoted a great deal o f attention to studies unrelated to the theater. The curriculum , however, retained all the basics o f a theatrical education— diction, staging, dance, rhythm, stage movement, music, Y iddish, acting, Y iddish theater history, European theater history, and makeup.98 “It is not possible today to be a good actor w ithout having a fixed baggage o f culture and knowledge,” M ikhoels once explained. The audience looks through the actor as does an X -ray machine. The actor, on the stage, reveals himself, before all else, as a man, entirely naked. His body


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Left to right: Solomon Mikhoels, Benjamin Zuakin, Yekhezkel Dobrushin, 1930. Photo courtesy o f A la Perelman-Zuskin.

cannot compensate for any part he plays. One w ill immediately realize die im­ portant thing: i f he is a man o f culture or a crass youth.**

T h e technicum became an integral part o f the theater, it was also the largest Y iddish theater school in the world. In its first year as an accredited institution, the school received fifty applicants for the fall session.100 M ikhoels him self devoted a large portion o f his tim e to cultivating his love o f Jew ish theater am ong the stu­ dents. M an y students fondly recalled d ie director’s lively talks on diverse subjects. The other teachers included m any o f the older actors in the troupe as w ell as rep­ resentatives o f M oscow ’s literary and artistic Jew ish elite, such as the playw right Yekhezkel D obrushin, the w riter M oshe Broderzon, and the director Efraim Loiter. T h e leader o f the practical acting departm ent was A leksandra A zarkh, Granovsky’s estranged w ife. Benjam in Zuskin also played a leading role, tutoring his students on the practical elements he derived from his academ ic work on Y iddish literature. Perhaps the most difficult role fell upon Sara Rotbaum , who taught a m aster class on phonetics and diction. Because students came from all comers o f the Soviet U nion, Rom ania, and L ithuania—and even several from as far aw ay as C anada and U ruguay—their Y iddish dialects and accents varied im ­ mensely. It w as her task to standardize their accents and present a uniform lan­ guage to the theater’s audiences.


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

Mikhoels the Director T he next major step in the theater’s reconstruction was the appointm ent o f a new artistic director to replace Granovsky. T he obvious choice was Solomon M ikhoels. Not only was he the most talented, competent, and popular m em ber of the troupe, but the Com m issariat o f Enlightenm ent also regarded him as an ideal candidate to help carry out its reconstruction. A lthough M ikhoels retained a preference for the Yiddish classics, he was w illing to use the stage to promote the work o f his colleagues, enhance the prestige o f the cultural com m unity to which he proudly belonged, and nurture the development o f Soviet Jew ish culture. Peretz M arkish, an author who would become a regular contributor to the repertoire of the theater, praised M ikhoels for having the courage and vision to introduce audiences to young and unproven w riters.101 By giving such writers a large and already acclaimed forum to present their newest works, the theater’s contribution to the m aintenance o f Yiddish literature throughout the 1930s and beyond cannot be overstated. T he Soviet authorities, for their part, demanded repertoires from contemporary Com m unist playwrights reflecting the “great achievements” o f the Bolshevik Revolution. From a political perspective, M ikhoels was an odd choice. H is credentials as a Com m unist were severely lacking. H e was not a member o f the Com m unist Party and never would become one. In contrast to the m ajority o f Soviet Jew ish cultural figures— David Bergelson, Peretz M arkish, M oshe Litvakov, Natan A lt­ m an, and others— M ikhoels was never a radical ideologue o f any kind. H e joined the theater out o f a love of theater and Jew ish culture, not out o f identification with the proletarian bases o f Granovsky’s vision. Even w ithin the theater, M ikhoels shunned political activity o f any kind— he ardently refused to join even the thea­ ter’s own trade union. He never expressed any grandiose vision o f the theater as a temple for the new proletariat as Granovsky had. H e sim ply sought to entertain. M ikhoels’s roots lay in traditional Jew ish life. As a youth, he showed no in­ terest in the socialist and populist circles that had enticed so many Jew ish intellec­ tuals; he spent his time studying w ith H ebrew gram m arian Rabbi Isaiah Hertz Gordon and w riting his own Hebrew poetry. In one messianic poem he wrote with his brother, M ikhoels even envisioned a Jew ish redemption in Jerusalem . H is first attem pt at acting, at the age o f twelve, was in a play called The Hasmoneans that a youth group in D vinsk presented for H anukkah.102 W h ile he drifted away from the H asidic lifestyle in which he was reared, he never rejected Judaism outright. H e retained much o f his early religious education and never tired o f peppering his lectures w ith rabbinical adages or retelling Jew ish folktales to anyone who would listen. Even when presenting formal addresses to Party organs in an official capac­ ity, M ikhoels could rarely resist entertaining his audience with a diversion into Jew ish folklore or elucidating a point w ith biblical and talm udic references. D ur­ ing W orld W ar II, M ikhoels even took to carrying a Bible w ith him . L ike millions o f Jews around the world, M ikhoels had eschewed his religious practice but con­ tinued to embrace the ethical principles o f Judaism and to celebrate Yiddishkayt


Wandering Stars

and the Jew ish cultural heritage. H e identified him self as Jew above all else and circulated prim arily w ithin a Jew ish m ilieu. T h e only hurdle the state needed to overcome was a renewed danger o f de­ fection on the part o f M ikhoels. In June 1929 M ikhoels received an invitation to B erlin from the G erman Com m unist director Erwin Piscator. Piscator, an adm irer o f the Proletkult movement, had often written o f the need to revive Yiddish leftist theater in Germany in emulation o f his M oscow counterparts.103 Together w ith the M odernist architect W alter Gropius, he was seeking collaborators for his Total T h eater project when the M oscow State Y iddish T heater arrived in Berlin. P is­ cator was planning to stage W alter M eh rin gs The M erchant o f Berlin (about a poor Je w who exploits the inflationary crisis of 1923 for personal gain) and sought to cast a native Yiddish speaker as the play’s protagonist. M ikhoels had greatly im ­ pressed Piscator and likely would have made an ideal candidate. T he role remained unfulfilled in the summer o f 1929, when Piscator traveled to M oscow for the foun­ dation o f the International Association o f W orkers’ Theaters. According to Pis­ cator s biographer, the director sought M ikhoels s collaboration on the project.104 W h e n he could not bring M ikhoels to Berlin, Piscator instead hired New York Y iddish actor Paul Baratoff, who came to Berlin specifically to star in Piscator s play. Piscator would continue to seek M ikhoels s collaboration throughout the 1930s, most notably for his 1936 plan to found a G erm an-language theater in the Soviet G erman Volga Republic. M ikhoels, for his part, likely felt betrayed by Litvakov’s subterfuge in induc­ in g the return o f the troupe w ith sham promises o f a trip to A m erica. Further, the drastic changes and new clim ate which had emerged throughout the country dur­ in g the theater’s brief absence unnerved even the most loyal Bolsheviks. T he im ­ m ediate motivation for M ikhoels s frustrations, however, was a m eeting o f the theater collective, held in M ay 1929, during w hich the future o f the theater was debated. A report o f the m eeting published in D er ernes indicates that the troupe w as alert to the dangers it faced. Oyslender, for instance, called for leniency from the leftists, w arning that the old repertoire should not be discarded too hastily. Two other members o f the troupe demanded artistic autonomy: “It is our theater, it has been ours and it w ill remain ours . . . T he collective must stand on its own healthy feet.”105 Although Sviderskii, the head o f the C entral A rts A dm inistra­ tion, gave M ikhoels the requisite permission to travel to Berlin for four months, the permission was retracted because of Somov’s objections.106 M ikhoels continued to resist following the Party line, as reflected in his re­ sponse to the Party’s efforts to rewrite the theater’s history in accordance with the values o f the C ultural Revolution.Trade union journals such as Vecherniaia Moskva and Raboch'ti i iskusstvo (The W orker and A rt) took the lead in this project.T hey chastised the theater for its behavior under the “rightist" and “bourgeois” director, Granovsky, and reproached him for his defection. However, as M ikhoels often reminded the public, Granovsky had not officially defected; he continued to insist that he would return after completion o f the movie.107 The critical retrospectives in the press o f Granovsky’s tenure made it clear he was no longer welcome— no


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

doubt playing a role in confirm ing his decision not to return. M ikhoels, however, did not w ant the theater’s past to be denigrated. H e argued that the theater did not need to be "saved from Granovsky”; it had always reflected the revolutionary mood o f the times, as evidenced by Trouhadec, The Travels o f Benjam in III, The Tenth Commandment, and Luftmentshen. T h e editors o f the trade union journals were not convinced: “T h e skill and indisputable service o f Granovsky does not in any sense excuse him from his responsibility for the delayed turn o f the theater toward the [mood o f] current days.”108 T he cam paign against the theater’s past spilled out o f the press and into other public forums as w ell. One o f the most critical organizations was the U nion o f A rtists. In 1929, the Presidium of the M oscow regional Union o f A rtists m et to discuss the M oscow State Y iddish Theater. One press report sum m arized the m eeting: The Presidium verified that the Moscow State Yiddish Theater does not reflect the life and work o f the Jewish working masses in the post-revolutionary era, except for some attempts (137 Children’s Homes and Uprising); and that although the Moscow State Yiddish Theater has a revolutionary significance in the com­ bat against old lifestyles, it does not, in this measure, satisfy the needs o f the Jewish working masses.109

Further, in a dispute held at the theatrical workers’ club in January 1931, Litvakov charged the theater w ith failing to move beyond the days o f the NEP and compro­ mise w ith bourgeois art forms. The classics, on which the theater had so heavily relied, he continued, no longer had m eaning in today’s world. M ikhoels once again countered by rem inding the audience that under Granovsky the theater had always sought to portray social characteristics w hile inventing new revolutionary aes­ thetic forms. H e further emphasized that w hile he now sought to present new plays by contemporary w riters, this was not to be done at the expense o f dism issing elements o f traditional Jew ish national theater and m usical m otifs.110 Eventually, M ikhoels would give up his ardent public defense o f Granovsky, preferring to sim ply rewrite the history o f the theater without his mentor.111 In his statements behind closed doors, however, M ikhoels rem ained loyal to his former teacher and director. For instance, in one speech to the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs in the m id-1930s, M ikhoels openly contradicted the director Sergei Radlov, who accused the theater o f formalism: Sergei Ernestovich [Radlov], speaking o f our theater, argued that he finds clear examples o f formalistic expressions in the acting o f a number o f Granovsky’s productions. I must put forward a contrary point. Granovsky, who staged a num­ ber o f our productions, today has become a person who is subject to categorical condemnations and not only in view o f what he did in theater. In the first place, and above all else, he is subject to condemnation because he betrayed the trust o f the Party and the government and betrayed his own collective. I am compelled to say about this that in my opinion, in spite o f everything, Granovsky possessed a high level o f mastery and to take this away from him would be absurd.111


W andering Stars

W h ile M ikhoels then w ent on to criticize elements o f Granovsky’s formalism, his ardent defense o f his teacher’s talent and his recognition that Granovsky was being denounced out o f political rather than artistic motivations is notable. A s he watched the campaigns progress against his avant-garde colleagues — M eyerhold, Granovsky, Shostakovich, and others—M ikhoels quickly learned that in order to revive the Y iddish theater, he had best follow the state’s criteria. M ikhoels, however, should not be seen as m erely a handm aiden o f the state; all the official requirements were consistent w ith his own goal o f cultivating a Soviet Jew ish cultural renaissance. There was nothing inherently repugnant—either mor­ ally or aesthetically—about showcasing the works o f contem porary writers. In­ deed, it is a commendable objective shared by the finest theaters throughout the world. T h e same can be said o f cultivating relations w ith the w orking class and offering opportunities for the lower classes to explore the theater. Sim ilarly, M ik hoels’s rejection o f his predecessor’s artistic methods allowed the new director to develop his own distinct system. Throughout Europe and North A m erica stylized class-based character traits were gradually being replaced w ith profound psycho­ logical inquiry as the "world-historical role” o f M arx gave w ay to Freud. It was this correlation between official requirements and M ikhoels’s own dreams that would make him an exem plary director who was valued by his superiors and loved by his people.

I ll

The Court Is in Session: Judgment Postponed


As part o f the C ultural Revolution and the general overhaul of Soviet soci­ ety that accompanied the beginning o f the First Five-Year Plan in 1929, the M os­ cow State Y iddish Theater was subjected to an increased level o f aesthetic censor­ ship and Party control. The theater responded by hiding Jew ish themes beneath the surface of its plays. It presented a series of socialist-realist productions w ith cryptic Jew ish subtexts, attained through the use o f Jew ish archetypes, symbols, and allegory. D uring the period o f the NEP, the Party adopted a “soft line on culture,” a relatively passive system of censorship geared prim arily toward preventing “harm ­ ful” m aterial from being disseminated. Indeed, throughout the 1920s, the C om ­ m issariat of Enlightenm ent did not possess any centralized arts adm inistrative organ. T he C entral M anagem ent o f Literary and Publication Affairs (G lavlit), founded in 1922, was initially the states only organ of censorship. In an effort to protect the integrity o f theater from zealous officials, Lunacharskii had resisted the centralization o f theater adm inistration. T hus, the M anagem ent o f State A c­ ademic Theaters, direcdy supervised by the commissar, was responsible for the adm inistration o f all state theaters, while most other theaters were subordinated to the C entral Repertory Com m ittee. T he theaters o f the extreme left (T R A M , Proletkult, and the Theater o f Revolution), on the other hand, were placed under the supervision o f the city soviet. Thus, the pre-revolutionary state theaters and the M oscow State Yiddish T heater were technically given favorable status, anger­ ing the leftist advocates o f proletarian culture. The C ultural Revolution o f 1928-1929 led to the ascendance o f more m il­ itant and repressive cultural policies. Since 1926, voices from w ithin the C om ­ m unist Party had been urging the Party to take an active role in directing literary and artistic affairs. In 1927, Platon Kerzhentsev, an old Bolshevik form erly active in Proletkult and later appointed to the central committee o f Agitprop, recom­ mended that the Com m issariat of Enlightenm ent set up a central arts adm inis­ tration. T he suggestion was received favorably and in A pril 1928 the C entral Arts A dm inistration (Glaviskusstvo), headed by A leksei Sviderskii, was founded by or­ der o f the Council o f People s Commissars as a supervisory organ over all artistic institutions in the country. Several months later, the M anagem ent o f State A ca­ demic Theaters, under whose auspices the M oscow State Yiddish T heater had functioned, was abolished and replaced w ith a D epartm ent o f Literature, A rt, and Theater, headed by P. I. Novitskii, former head o f the art section o f the C entral Sciences A dm inistration (G lavnauka). W ith the departure o f Lunacharskii from the Com m issariat of Enlightenm ent in 1929, the left w ing of the Party w as given


The C ourt Is in Session

free reign over cultural affairs, during w hich tim e it firm ly strengthened Party censorship.1 Henceforth all repertory decisions were taken out o f the hands o f the board o f governors and the artistic director o f an individual theater and were instead to be decided by the Com m issariat o f Enlightenm ent s C entral Repertory C om m it­ tee and the C entral A rts Adm inistration. Not only did the Repertory Com m ittee play an important part in the selection o f repertoires but it was also a ubiquitous presence during the rehearsal stage, ensuring that a proper interpretation o f each play was adopted. Representatives from the Repertory Com m ittee would attend dress rehearsals, sitting obtrusively at a long green felt table set halfway back in the house, accompanied by the director and his assistants.2 W ith the institutional framework o f censorship in place, the state sought to compel theaters to abide by the rules o f an aesthetic style, known as socialist real­ ism , whose formulation was only in its burgeoning phase. T h e resolution “On the Reconstruction o f L iterary and A rtistic O rganizations” issued on A pril 23 ,1 9 3 2 , represents the culmination o f the C ultural Revolution in the aesthetic sphere. T his was followed by the 1933 publication o f G orky’s On Socialist Realism and the First W riters’ Congress the following year, at which socialist realism , a term that had slowly been entering Soviet parlance since the 1920s, was declared the sole accept­ able form o f art in the Soviet Union. A ny objective m eaning o f socialist realism was, in the early 1930s at least, marred by a cacophony o f voices, each defining the new aesthete according to its own vision. W riters seeking to interpret the slogan drew from a variety o f sources, including the fiction o f Em ile Zola, Fedor Do­ stoevsky, and Honoré de Balzac; the dram a o f A leksandr Ostrovskii and W illiam Shakespeare; the epic sagas of Scandinavia; the folklore o f the Russian village; the heroism o f H ellenic m ythology; and, o f course, the novels o f M aksim G orky and Fedor Gladkov. T he only consensus was that artistic products should appeal to the m asses.3 T h e Yiddish theater, when told to appeal to the people, was forced to consider to w hich people it should appeal. W as it to gear itself toward the m inority o f Jew s who were w orking in the factories? To the even sm aller m inority who had joined collective farms? To the proletariat as a whole—Jew ish and non-Jewish alike? Or to the vast m ajority o f Jews who had not yet joined the ranks o f the rural or urban proletariat? Further, how was it to appeal to the people? W as it sufficient to address them in Yiddish— the mother language o f the older generation, but a language rapidly decreasing in use among the youth? O r was the theater required to address problems specific to Jews? W as it permissible to draw upon the national m yths o f the Jew ish people? In short, w hat role was the national specificity o f the theater to play in its productions? These dilem m as were shared by all cultural institutions in the state, particularly those of the m inority nations, each o f which tried to deal with the new demands in its own way. T he slogan “national in form, socialist in content,” was eventually adopted as a guideline. Once again, though, the slogans conciseness left little room for elaboration.


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

Describing the effects o f the new style on theater, A m erican theater critic Norris Houghton wrote: The nature o f the theater underwent a change during this period: it ceased to be agitational and turned propagandist. It paid less attention to satirizing and con­ demning the old and more to depicting the new... . A certain amount o f guidance seemed necessary. For the accomplishment o f this two-fold program, therefore, the government, through the agency o f its Commissariat o f Education, tight­ ened its authority over the theater.4

W h ile the Yiddish theater had already anticipated the turn toward realism in its production o f The Travels o f Benjam in III, it was a far cry from the type o f socialist realism required by the state— for Benjam in was still a classic tale o f the shtetl w ritten by a pre-revolutionary writer. Socialist realism demanded that the theater orient itself toward contemporary themes that reflected the strength and growth o f socialism in the Soviet Union. T his foreboded a difficult adjustment for the M oscow State Y iddish Theater: its two previous plays on modern themes, R eznik’s U prising and Veviurka’s 137 Children's Homes, had been particularly w eak artistic productions and had brought the theater its two greatest failures. Its return to the classics o f Y iddish literature, such as The Travels o f Benjam in ///and Luftmentshen, was a response to this failure. T he problem w ith the new repertory demands, w hich was im m ediately recog­ nized by all critics, was that the type o f revolutionary plays demanded by the state had not yet been w ritten. In an influential article published in the Y iddish jour­ nal Prolit, Osip Liubom irskii urged, “O ur art in general and the theater in partic­ ular must become infected w ith the same enthusiasm that propels contemporary times from factory to factory, from plant to plant, from collective farm to state farm .” There were virtually no plays, Liubom irskii continued, that reflected the actual problems o f the day as they related to the complex social processes that had emerged from the ideological and psychological class struggle. T he reason for this absence, he argued, was that virtually all Jew ish w riters in the Soviet U nion were o f petit bourgeois origins and were unable to break w ith this past. No modern So­ viet dram aturgist or w riter was able accurately to portray the modern class struggle from the vantage point o f the factory worker. For instance, in an effort to w rite a proletarian play, Kushnirov turned to the historical past in Hirsh Lekert, w hile oth­ ers, such as Lipe Reznik in his Uprising, depicted revolutionary eras in other coun­ tries. T he solution Liubom irskii proposed was to facilitate the growth o f worker clubs and am ateur dram atic circles from w hich new proletarian writers could be recruited. Further, he argued, a concerted effort was needed to work out a Jewish national form consistent w ith socialist content.5 M uch o f the theater s subsequent history was guided by this effort. T he new state guidelines led to a renewed debate among writers and artists regarding the role that Jew ish national form should play in art. Censorship o f Jew ­ ish themes in Russian-language literature made it clear that topics such as popular anti-Sem itism , Zionism , and Jew ish religious life were taboo, w hile any literature in the Hebrew language was now firm ly banned.6 T he role o f Jew ish them es in 114

The Court Is in Session

Y iddish literature was less clear. Opinions ranged from those who believed that “national” only referred to language— G orky’s M other performed in Yiddish, for instance, would satisfy the criteria—to those who anticipated a more substantial tribute to national myths, history, and ideology.7A ll shared the conviction, though, that pre-revolutionary m aterial, such as the plays o f Sholem A leichem , Goldfadn, and Peretz, would no longer suffice, even if performed in the revised and modernist forms Granovsky had favored. It was clear that understanding these Jew ish stories w ith socialist intentions was no longer enough; the theater would now have to try to give Jew ish m eaning to w hat were prim arily socialist stories. T h e M oscow State Yiddish Theater experimented w ith several different ways to incorporate the new values. Between 1929 and 1935 the theater oscillated be­ tween three broad approaches to socialist realism. T h e first was “national” in the narrowest sense— plays in the Yiddish language telling o f socialist construction. Jew s numbered among the characters, sometimes even playing a dom inant role, but the themes were universally “Soviet.” It was the basest type o f national culture, w hat the G eorgian w riter Nikolo M itsishvili called “pale copies o f Russian litera­ ture, and as restrained in the choice o f new subjects as in the search for national forms.”8These plays exemplified w hat can be called “Soviet culture in the Y iddish language.” T he second type o f play was outwardly sim ilar to the first, but was m arked by its identifiably Jew ish subtext. T he Y iddish theater, w hich had flirted w ith allegorical allusions to Jew ish lore under Granovsky, responded to increased censorship by hiding its Jew ish associations between the lines o f the text. Typically, the narratives o f these plays paralleled great moments in Jew ish history or con­ tained symbolic references to Judaic concepts. T he third type of production— o f w hich there are but two examples in this period—were translations o f European drama. A lthough these plays were generally considered politically sterile, I w ill ar­ gue that in at least one case— Shakespeare’s K in g Lear —the theater continued to use allusion in an effort to criticize the power that was trying to convert the Jew ish theater into a theater o f translation.

Workers on Stage T h e theater’s new aesthetic style under M ikhoels’s directorship was im m edi­ ately apparent: On the Jewish stage, they acquired their own reflection o f revolutionary roman­ ticism, the heroic battles o f the Civil War, industrial and collective farm develop­ ment, the theme o f Soviet patriotism. They found a place for the new heroes o f our day— revolutionaries, workers, collective farmers, Soviet intelligentsia, fight­ ers and commanders o f the Red Army. They began to sound the ideas o f inter­ national worker solidarity and the brotherhood o f nations.4

W hen the now largely w orking-class audience entered the theater hall on October 1 1 ,1 929, for the prem ier o f Yekhezkel Dobrushin’s The Court Is in Session , they were im m ediately confronted w ith a new Yiddish theater. T h ey no longer saw grotesque figures veiled behind cosmetic masks. Gone too were the bizarre m etal ladders and platforms leading nowhere. T his tim e they saw silhouettes o f them ­ 115

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

selves in their workplace. Rabinovich, who returned as designer, flooded the stage w ith blue-collar workers— robust men in grim y caps and gray cloth vests interact­ ing among wooden sets depicting a bustling workroom. T h ey could also recognize the music as their own. Gone was the traditional Jew ish music based on the folkloric and klezm er motifs that their parents had sung in the shtetl. For the first time, Lev Pulver drew his inspiration from the melodies o f the new audience—worker tunes and arm y songs that gave the music a simpler, but harsher, feel.10 Refrains such as: Red A rm y soldiers, hey, red brothers, Let us sing, hey, red songs. In the army we learn and we get ready To spread among the people throughout the land.11

and W ork is meaningful, work is meaningful! W h en the plane planes and the knife cuts, Ay, ay, ay, work is better W h en the plane planes with a sharp knife12

were a far cry from the theater’s earlier folk songs, although by no means w ith ­ out precedent in traditional Y iddish tunes— artisanal songs o f labor can be found among the earliest collections o f Yiddish folksongs.13 Even the light dialogue and simple language were more in tune with the discourse o f the working class. In concert w ith the movement toward the “norm alization o f language,” D obrushin sought to draw his vocabulary from the idioms o f the people rather than the argot o f the intelligentsia.14 O nly the staging by Fedor Kaverin (1897-1957), w ho had previously worked w ith the M aly Theater, still retained the accentuated, almost biom echanical style o f acting complete w ith exaggerated movements, although in a far more subdued form. Benjam in Zuskin, as Niome Burm an the joiner, brought a new character type into the repertoire o f the theater— the hard-working blue-collar laborer. T h e plot o f The Court Is in Session revolves around Niome, the shtetl-born son o f a Jew ish déclassé merchant, who leaves the old life to join the Red Army. A fter being re­ leased from the army, Niome is convinced that he can do more to help build com­ munism. W ith the public good in m ind, he gathers a group o f young labor en­ thusiasts together to form a collective artel and rebuild a local m ill. “W ill the m ill be ours?” asks one lad. “Ours" replies Niome’s companion, Sonia. The conflict of the play emerges when Niome falls in love w ith a non-Jewish woman, A nastasia, knowing that his parents w ill not approve. W hen A nastasia asks her beloved why he has not w ritten about her to his parents, the young man replies that his parents are religious Jew s, and therefore he cannot speak o f love w ith them. “W h y ? R eli­ gious Jew s don’t love?” asks the young gentile woman. “T hey love, only they con­ ceal it,” replies Niome, to which A nastasia marvels at these “strange people,” but continues to insist on being allowed to meet them . Niome is Anally forced to tell her the truth: “T h ey hate Russians.” A gain Anastasia is dumbfounded, musing, 116

The C ourt Is in Session

“T h ey love you and you love me and they hate me? Strange people!” Sure enough, upon hearing o f their son’s new beloved, the young hero’s parents disown him . However, he easily finds a new fam ily among his worker comrades. T he play takes place in a flashback, as the young couple tell their story to a court in the hopes o f suing Niome’s parents for child support for their newborn son.15 From the moment the play was announced, the Soviet press in general, and the workers’ press in particular, was unanimous in its praise for the new direction upon w hich the theater was finally embarking. Rabocbii i iskusstvo wrote that “T he play The C ourtis in Session is an im portant, leading example o f the turning point in the work o f the M oscow State Y iddish Theater.”16 O thers were more specific: “T he old man Burman and the speculator Droibkin . . . are not new [characters] for the M oscow State Y iddish Theater; we have met them in earlier performances . . . But Burman’s son Niome (who is dem obilized from the Red Arm y) and A na­ stasia (his Komsomolka wife) are figures we are seeing for the first tim e.”17 Sim i­ larly, Isaac Nusinov argued that despite several w eak characters, in its portrayal o f the New Soviet M an the play represented a great step forward for the theater and for Soviet Jew ish art in general.18W h ile they could hardly restrain their praise for the political importance o f the new production, many critics did not even bother to m ention the aesthetic quality o f the play—it was o f little relevance. T he thea­ ter’s Y iddish-speaking supporters, on the other hand, were more interested in such “trivialities.” Zagorskii and Liubom irskii, both o f whom had w ritten books on the Yiddish theater, praised Kaverin for “partially retaining the style o f the Moscow State Y iddish Theater. He only changes the distribution o f color and ligh t and even sometimes suppresses the eccentric style o f the text. A nd this is correct.”1’ T h e most im portant criticism o f the play was w ith regard to the theater’s characterizations of the New Soviet M an. Niome is intended as a “positive hero” to replace the perennial luftm entsh o f the former era. He is designed as a didactic model to be contrasted w ith his parents, who represent the obsolete generation. However, Niome is a mere silhouette when compared to the psychological depth of the older generation. T his weakness can, at least partially, be attributed to the w riters’ and actors’ own personal experiences. As George Lukacs noted in his critique o f socialist realism , “It is evident that writers w ill tend to present an inside picture o f the class on which their own experience o f society is based. A ll other social classes w ill tend to be seen from the outside.”20 Indeed, it is a truism that w riters w rite best about their own experiences. T his posed a problem for Soviet Jew ish writers and actors, virtually all of whom were of petit bourgeois heritage and had little experience in the factories, the Red Army, or on collective farms.21 In addition to their own personal experiences, the troupe had spent a decade per­ fecting the portrayal o f the shtetl Jew, a character whose contradictory and sympa­ thetic characteristics had already been formulated so w ell by Sholem A leichem and M endele M okher Sforim. T h e new generation lacked the dimensions o f their elders. For instance, L iu ­ bomirskii wrote that “the weakness o f the play is that Dobrushin, like the m ajori­ ty o f our Soviet dram aturgists, knows and can show the old life and the old types, but he still cannot m anage to embrace the growth o f the new, o f our youth, w ith 117

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convincing artistic forms.”22 W orkers who wrote about their reactions to the play in the proletarian press were sim ilarly unconvinced, com plaining that they could not understand the motives that would im pel a child born o f déclassé merchant parents to abandon everything and jo in the Red Army.23 T he audience could also em pathize w ith old Burm an, a poor Jew ish m erchant struggling against the drastic changes occurring around him to m aintain his culture and to instill the morals of his own upbringing in his offspring, because he was a character close to their real lives. Niome, in contrast, was a chim era. A lthough there certainly was a new gen­ eration that rejected its parents’ erudition in favor o f assim ilation, its transform a­ tion was never as complete as that portrayed in the play. Jew s participated actively in the industrial drive o f the First Five-Year Plan by flocking en masse to factories, but the type o f assim ilation portrayed by Dobrushin in The C ourtis in Session was typically hindered by anti-Sem itic resentm ent.24 Niome was too detached from his people; too unaffected by his parents’ pleas and sufferings. H e showed no remorse or hesitation. T he enthusiasm and ease w ith which he disowned his parents and blended into the Soviet w orking-class gentile world, where he was welcomed w ith open arms and joyous song, was sim ply unconvincing. He was a difficult character to portray because he did not exist. Indeed, W estern socialists commonly criticized Soviet socialist realism for portraying w hat “ought to be” rather than “w hat is.”T he genre encouraged writers to portray the exceptional as typical, in anticipation of future realities.25 Conflict between generations was a useful theme for the theater because it allowed the portrayal o f the beloved older generation alongside the less believable new generation. It is, o f course, a timeless literary them e, but it was particularly poignant during the volatile period o f the Revolution and C ivil W ar as children rejected the political and moral values o f their parents. T hus, it found its w ay into countless contemporary Russian plays as w ell, notably Boris Lavrenev’s Breakup and Konstantin Trenev’s Liubov Yarovaia (in which a Bolshevik woman reveals the identity o f her husband, a W h ite officer, to her superiors, which leads to his arrest.) It was at this time that the first generation to have been born in the Soviet Union was com ing o f age and beginning to m arry and start fam ilies o f their own. Those who had been educated in the new ideology o f the Soviet state were being encour­ aged to revolt against any vestiges o f pre-revolutionary values that rem ained w ithin the family. For the Jew ish playwrights o f the early 1930s, the theme was particularly appealing. By ostensibly using the older generation as negative heroes and foils to the youth, the theater was able to continue depicting the idealized stereotype of the shtetl Jew which was so popular among its audience. T he luftm entsh could no longer be the hero o f the play, but he could at least continue to entertain the au­ dience as a negative foil. T h e placement o f proletarian characters on stage was coupled w ith renewed efforts to put workers in the audience and to solicit m aterial from proletarian w rit­ ers. The theater initially concentrated its efforts on attracting workers during its sum mer tours. O ver the summer o f 1930 it toured Berdichev, Kiev, O dessa, and Kharkov, where it played extensively in factories for proletarian audiences.26 In 118

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their absence, M oscow was treated to a tour o f the Belorussian State Y iddish T heater; they played a total o f thirty-five shows to 15,000 spectators.27 Further, the sum m er tours acquired greater prestige by featuring premieres. In Odessa, for instance, the theater premiered The Dams, staged by Kaverin and w ritten by for­ mer R ed A rm y soldier and factory worker H ershl O rliand (189 6-1 946).T h e thea­ ter had high expectations for the play; O rliand was the only Soviet Y iddish w riter w ith genuine proletarian credentials. T h e story “T he Dams” first appeared serially in D i royte v elt (The Red W orld) in late 1927 and early 1928. T he play is a bland socialist realist production about a heterogeneous group o f Jew s, non-Jews, workers, and peasants who overcome all their differences and the harsh conditions o f the time to build a dam in a m alariainfested locale.28T he play exalted the participation o f form erly poor shtetl dw ell­ ers in the process o f socialist construction. A t the same tim e it was saturated w ith overtones o f social conflict between old, w orn-out intellectuals and enthusiastic youth; Jew s and U krainians; men and women; and foremen and workers. Personal conflicts and love triangles added further confusion to the already entangled plot. D er ernes wrote o f the play that “one can say that The Dams is for the theater a historical performance; w ith it the theater has finally established itself w ith two feet firm ly and securely on a new revolutionary-proletarian ground.”29 However, the Russian-language press disagreed, noting that in its adjustment to revolution­ ary them es the theater was losing its Jewishness, w hich was its raison d’être: “T he State Y iddish Theater is w ithout doubt currently going through an artistic crisis. The production The Dams provides patently obvious evidence o f this___There is nothing here either genuinely proletarian or genuinely Jew ish,” wrote one critic, calling O rliand’s text “a w eak play” and Kaverin’s staging “unsuccessfid and cha­ otic.”30 D espite the confounding plot, however, audiences were able to enjoy the m any mass scenes at the construction site, as w ell as Pulver’s music w ith its Polish motifs. T h e w eak play was symptomatic o f a continual repertory crisis w ithin Y iddish theater, a crisis shared by m any R ussian-language theaters as w ell. Put simply, playwrights could not produce new plays as quickly as the Com m issariat o f En­ lightenm ent could issue new directives. W h ile the theater had two new plays scheduled for the 1931 season— Peretz M arkish’s Do Not G rieve! and M . D aniel’s (D aniel M eyerovich, 1900-1941) Four Days —it was clear to all involved that these two plays were among the only rem aining works w ith both artistic m erit and appropriate themes. Given that there were only a lim ited number o f Soviet Y id ­ dish authors, only one o f whom was a professional dram aturgist (Dobrushin), the im plem entation o f the new repertoire was sure to be difficult. T h e following year, 1931, the theater performed Do Not G rieve! by Peretz M arkish. M arkish was born into a poor fam ily in the town o f Polonne in Volhynia in 1895. H e received a typical Jew ish education, studying in kheder and working as a choirboy in a synagogue before moving to Odessa and later to Kiev. A t the age of fifteen, M arkish had already begun w riting poetry in Russian. In 1916, he was drafted into the tsarist army, and spent time fighting at the front. In his youth in Kiev, M arkish had been involved w ith the Yiddish socialist artistic groups Kultur119

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Benjamin Zusidn in Do Not Grieve!, 1931. Photo courtesy o f A la Perelman-Zusldn.

L ige and O ur O wn. In 1921 he moved to W arsaw, where he became an editor and frequent contributor to the leftist expressionist m agazine w as one o f the founding members o f the Y iddish literary journal Literarishe bleter. D uring the 1920s he spent tim e in Paris, London, B erlin, and Palestine, where he refined his artistic style; he returned to the Soviet U nion in 1926. As one o f the most prolific Soviet Y iddish w riters he w as often called upon to w rite for the theater, always w orking in close cooperation—w hich often turned into bitter, but friendly, dis­ agreement—w ith M ikhoels on the staging o f his plays. A trem endously charis­ m atic figure, M arkish was often called upon to be a spokesman for a variety o f organizations.31 Do Not G rieve! had first been performed in Russian at the former Korsh T heater under the title Land. T h e play was about a struggle am ong the déclassé population o f a Jew ish shted between those who embrace the Revolution by jo in ­ ing the toiling masses at a Jew ish collective farm and those who still clin g to d ie life o f the former lufimentshen. T h e young collective farmers embrace communism by jo in in g the Komsomol (Com m unist Youth League) and go on to play a m eaning­ ful role in the fight against kulaks, w hile the lufim entshen linger in their squalor. Do Not G rieve!, co-directed by Sergei Radlov (1898-1964) and M ikhoels, w as again criticized for displaying richly developed older characters but relatively hollow youth. W h ile praising M arkish, m any critics warned o f the biblical motifs w hich occasionally appeared in his works. M an y also felt that the play’s them e was


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a little behind the times: uDo Not G rieve! sketches only the first steps o f the Jew ­ ish workers on the land and o f course does not reflect the current situation of the Jew ish village and its fight for collectivization,”32 wrote one critic. In general, the Y iddish production was compared unfavorably w ith that at the Korsh Theater.33 Once again, the positive heroes were not real. T he enthusiastic Jew ish collective farmers could only be chim eras; only about 5,00 0Jew s joined collective farms dur­ in g the great drive to collectivize during the summer o f 1929.34W h ile the numbers increased over the next few years, the statistics indicate that few were able to adjust to agrarian life— the percentage o f gainfully employed Jews on collective farms declined from 10 percent in 1930 to 6.7 percent in 1935.35

National Archetypes In 1930 the theater turned to the already renowned Y iddish w riter David Bergelson. Bergelson (1884-1952) was born into a H asidic fam ily in the town o f O khrimovo, near Um an, U kraine, in 1884. D uring his youth, he received a strictly Jew ish education, studying the Talm ud, the Bible, and Hebrew in a local kheder. A lthough he began w riting in H ebrew and Russian, he achieved great popularity w ith his first Y iddish novel, At the D epot (1908). A fter embracing socialist ideals, in his When All Is Said a n d Done (1913) and D eparting (1920) Bergelson turned toward works that sensitively portrayed the poverty and hopelessness o f the old Jew ish life. As one o f the leaders o f the Kiev K ultur-L ige, Bergelson also edited the two-volume poetry anthology Our O wn (1918-1920). In 1921 he em igrated to Berlin to escape the horrors o f the C ivil W ar. Throughout the 1920s, Bergelson was an active Com m unist in Germany, working for the Com m unist Yiddish paper Frayhayt (Freedom) and publishing novels in support o f the Soviet Union. The Deaf, his first m ajor dram atic work, was loosely based on a short story he had w rit­ ten in 1907. The dram atic version was first performed in Gomel in 1929; it was later performed in 1930 in V ilna under the title The Flour M ill. It was the produc­ tion o f the play at the M oscow State Y iddish Theater, which premiered in January 1930, however, that would be most remembered. M ikhoels starred as the Deaf. The D ea f was one o f many Soviet plays w hich sought, in the words o f Kon­ stantin Rudnitsky, “to show ordinary, average people who were not heroes, who did not speak or behave heroically, but who were nevertheless capable o f rising to the heights o f heroic action.”36 Like much contemporary literature, it showed that “little heroes” were capable o f “big deeds.”37T he play was exem plary o f the spon­ taneous revolutionary enthusiasm that was still being tolerated in 1930. T he deaf protagonist o f Bergelson’s play, who is never given a formal name, is a simple in ­ articulate m ill worker who lost his hearing in an accident at the m ill due to the negligence o f the m ill owner, Shim on Bika. H e lives alone in his silent world w ith few concerns about the outside world beyond the welfare o f his only daughter, Esther, whose mother was worked to death at the m ill. Plagued by emotional and physical pain, the D eaf silently accepts his lot. The play begins as the D eaf dis­ covers that Esther, who is employed as a servant in Bika’s house, is pregnant by Bika’s son, M endel, who has seduced her.


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G rieving, the D eaf rem ains silent until he hears o f a plan to bring in new m achinery and lay o ffh alf the workers. No longer able to control himself, the D eaf reaches his lim it. “Bika is m y enemy,” he stutters in a ram bling soliloquy w hich serves as his m eek epiphany, “I am perpetually envious o f him . H e is m y enemy. Com e here, come here. I f Bika is killed, I w ill be happy. Yes, yes, I w ill be happy. Nu, and when I . . . when I alo n e . . . ” H e stops in m id-sentence before continuing "The blood goes to m y head. I do not sleep at night, I do not sleep.”3* In the next scene, he is thrust into the forefront o f a futile rebellion in w hich he radicalizes the w orking masses and calls for a violent attack on Bika. However; w hen the D eaf breaks into the m ill owner’s home w ith an axe, he is easily appre­ hended and arrested, leaving the workers to continue their futile strike. Seem ingly fated to linger in obscurity as ju st one o f the injured w orking masses, the D eaf’s pent-up anger, frustration, and desperation suddenly explode, thrusting him into the forefront o f a revolution and turning him into a working-class hero.

Benjamin Zuskin and Solomon Mikhoels in The Deaf, 1930. Photo courtesy o f Ala Perelm an-Zuskin.


The Court Is in Session

T h e play, staged by Sergei Radlov, was the first representation o f Yiddish realism in Soviet theater. T he m uch-suffering D eaf is a tragic figure whose life has been devastated by the evil forces o f capitalism as represented by the ruthless, yet religiously pious, m ill owner. H is only jo y in life is his daughter, Esther, by whom he measures any semblance o f hope he encounters in his pitiful life. “Nu, already tw enty-three years I have worked for him ,” he ponders in a reflective moment. “I became d eaf by him. I hear nothing. But sometimes when she, Esther, speaks to me I hear. She Esther. Esther.” In the words o f Liubom irskii: “H e perceives in a vague manner, but he does not understand. It is the tragedy o f a single individ­ ual.”39 Some critics, failing to recognize the poignancy o f the plot, felt that the them e o f a poor maiden falling in love w ith a rich capitalist reeked o f melodrama.40 M ost critics, however, recognized the revolutionary significance o f the produc­ tion. O ne wrote that the play “decisively exposes the Jew ish bourgeois nationalists, who contend that am idst the united Jew ry there were never class antagonism s.”41 W h ile biomechanics was no longer an acceptable aesthetic means o f expressing the new realism , rhythm remained an integral part o f the theater s training. “T he only language o f the actor,” M ikhoels once said, “is rhythm.”42 Pulver’s music strove to help the actors attain perfect rhythm and to capture the difficulty w ith which the protagonist communicates. A side from its overt revolutionary significance, the play retained a strong Jew ish subtext by paralleling in m any ways the biblical Book o f Esther, another tale of a young woman and her guardians love. Like the biblical Esther, Bergelsons Esther is a poor person whose'only source o f love is her male guardian. As a re­ sult o f her extraordinary beauty her fortune changes when she is brought into the camp o f the overlord— the Persian king in the Bible, the m ill owner in the play. In both versions, her guardian is left on the other side o f the real or m etaphorical palace w all, where he discovers a plot w ithin the palace to destroy his people, either through death (the Bible) or the loss o f livelihood (the play). Together the two Esthers and their two guardians attem pt to foil the plan. Both stories focus on a banquet: it provides the setting for the entry scene for the biblical Esther and the place where the D eaf prepares to attack the m ill owner. A t this point, however, the two stories diverge. W h ile the Book o f Esther is one o f the most optim istic books of the Bible because the evil plan is foiled and its culprit is hanged, Bergelsons play ends in tragedy. T he biblical story emphasizes the pride and dignity o f Esther and her uncle: it is the uncle s stubborn refusal to bow down to the m inister that precipitates his plan for genocide and it is Esther s continued identification w ith the Jew ish people that prompts her to halt the genocide. The Deaf, in contrast, has adopted a subservient and fatalistic attitude toward his oppressor, m aking his fi­ nal vanquishm ent an inevitable product o f his lifelong capitulation. By neglecting both God and his people, the D eaf pre-ordains his own failure. B y paralleling the Book o f Esther, Bergelsons lyrical play nevertheless hinted at the optim istic his­ tory o f the Jew ish people and their ability to survive. T h e 1930 production o f the play at the M oscow State Y iddish T heater added a new symbolic reference to nationalist themes. M ikhoels, as the Deaf, developed what he called a gesture leitm otif in which he would begin to raise his hands to the 123

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stars, but on the w ay his righ t hand would get distracted and wipe die sweat o ff his brow. A fter a moment, he would become lost in thought as his right hand lingered in a clenched fist resting lim p ly over his head, where it would remain for extended periods o f tim e. M ikhoels repeatedly em phasized the importance o f this one gesture in his discussions o f the play.43 H e argued that this gesture sym bolized his character's high aspirations that were unable to reach fruition because o f his pre­ occupation w ith his labor, leaving him perpetually frustrated, seem ingly fitted to a life o f inaction. However, this gesture, combined w ith the stuttering voice M ik ­ hoels used to speak the m eager few words his character utters during the course o f d ie play, can be seen as a symbolic reference to Psalm 137 and one o f the Zionist movement’s themes: I f I forget thee, O Jerusalem , let m y righ t hand lose its cun­ ning, I f I do not rem em ber thee, let m y tongue cleave to the roof o f m y mouth.*

Solomon M ikhoels as The Deaf, 1930. Photo from O . Liubomirsldi,



The Court Is in Session

T he fate o f the D eaf parallels that o f Soviet Yiddish literature in general. H is true feelings, w hich he is unable to express overtly, are forced deep w ithin his inner self, only to reveal themselves periodically through symbolic expressions. W h ile the im age o f the tongue-tied D eaf w ith his right arm resting lim ply above his head was a m undane pose to the vast m ajority o f the secular and non-Jewish audience, who saw it m erely as indicative o f a “tortured soul,” it can also be seen as a value-laden symbol, evoking the longing o f the Jew s for an end to their Diaspora existence. O ver the summer o f 1931, the troupe toured the Jew ish heartland again, con­ centrating on strengthening its relations w ith worker organizations by perform­ ing at factories, collective farms, and m ilitary camps, where they gave a total o f 143 performances,44 to an audience o f w hich it was estim ated that 80 percent were workers.45 These tours were becoming more educational: members o f the troupe often delivered special lectures on Jew ish literature and theater. Troupe members also attended sim ilar lectures provided for them by representatives o f non-Jewish local theaters and worker organizations. Upon their return to Moscow, the Jew ish worker’s club Kommunist an­ nounced that it would sponsor the November premiere o f Four Days, for which tickets would be distributed only at factories to ensure that workers were given the first opportunity to see the new show. Preparations had begun during the summer tour. Four Days w as w ritten by M . D aniel and was based on his novella/«/», a C ivil W ar story situated in 1919 V ilna during the G erman occupation. The play was w ritten in honor o f Iulis Shim eliovich (1890-1919), a former Bundist who had become an active member o f the C om m issariat o f Jew ish Affairs and editor o f the journal Kom m unist after the Revolution. In 1919 Shim eliovich and eight other Bolshevik activists com mitted suicide in V ilna.46T he play draws its name from the four days the Bolshevik partisans w ithin the city were forced to w ait before the expected arrival o f the Red Army. O utwardly the play sought to exalt the role o f the Bolsheviks in defending the Revolution against the perceived treachery o f the Bund and the Polish Socialist Party. The play begins w ith subtle foreshadowing when, am id the cries o f starving children, one little boy says UI heard from an adult that soon the soviet w ill build a revolution in the city, kick out the G erman oc­ cupiers, and then everyone w ill eat m eat for lunch.” M eanw hile, Bundists and members o f the Polish Socialist Party take up arms and put up placards calling for workers to help build the Revolution. The children watch the opposition parties, but the scene ends w ith a child dream ing o f one day becoming a Bolshevik. M ost o f the play’s action takes place w ithin the V ilna soviet as the Bund­ ists and Polish Socialists split from the Bolsheviks, led by Iulis, over the issue o f w hether the soviet should remain only the organ of the working class or expand itself, as the Bolsheviks desire, to be an organ o f government as well. T he excite­ ment peaks as one nationalist asks, “To whom does V ilna belong? To W arsaw or M oscow?” to w hich one Bolshevik hero responds, “To the working class o f V ilna!” Unconvinced, the Polish Socialist Party and the Bund split from the Bolsheviks and stave off the Red Army, allowing the W h ites to take control o f the city. D uring the final exciting battle scene, the Bolshevik partisans, who begin their rebellion from w ithin the city, w ait in vain for the Red A rm y to back them up. R ealizing they 125

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have been betrayed by the opposition parties, they com m it suicide before the counter-revolutionary forces are able to capture them .47 In the playbill, M ikhoels took the rare step o f including a foreword, in which he explained that the theater was attem pting to go in a new direction in accordance w ith the new demands o f the w orking class to portray the first few days o f the Revolution, to present heroes appropriate to the new times, and to elaborate on the differences between the various socialist parties. D aniel also wrote a foreword in which he explained the earnestness o f the topic, dedicated the play to the m artyred Bolshevik heroes, and explained that the play was m eant to represent the real life o f everyday Jew s during the C ivil W ar period. T h e earnestness o f the topic was further demonstrated by the length o f the playbill, w hich consisted o f a w hopping seventeen pages o f pedantic commentary.48 T h e play was in m any ways a risky production— it was one o f the first plays mounted by the theater by an unproven Soviet Jew ish writer. For these reasons, some, like Peretz M arkish, who owed much o f his world fame to M ikhoels s w ill­ ingness to experim ent w ith unproven artists, would look back on Four Days as one o f the theaters most significant productions. It was the first play, he argued, that allowed for the combination o f the new Soviet socialist art and the developing Y iddish theater. It represented the development o f a new form in the M oscow State Y iddish Theater, he continued— psychological realism .49 In significant ways the risk paid off. T he ideological and political content o f D aniel’s play was uni­ versally praised by critics as the archetype o f Y iddish revolutionary plays, w hile the character o f Iulis was cited as a “wonderful example o f a Bolshevik.”50 D er ernes wrote o f the play: Iulis is the Moscow State Yiddish Theater s first success on their path to over­ coming the crisis that has overcast it for so long, and that has surrounded all the major moments o f its theatrical life— repertory, directorial and internal collec­ tive work___For the first time on the stage o f the M oscow State Yiddish Theater there is a play about class struggle, about the important question o f the proletar­ ian revolution, about the actions o f the working class, about proletarian dicta­ torship.51

Iakov G rinvald echoed this sentiment: “T he new production is a m eaningful at­ tem pt in the theater’s life and provides evidence o f the genuine attem pts to include new themes, w hich continue along the lines o f Do Not G rieve!”*1 However, the onstage production o f Four Days was far less successful than hoped. L iteratum aia gazeta wrote: The production has a profound international significance.. . . It is a victory for the theater. But this victory is still unfulfilled, still indecisive___ In this produc­ tion there is still a strong contradiction between the essence and the expression o f the idea.53

Indeed, M ikhoels’s portrayal o f Iulis was one o f his weakest performances. In con­ trast to his more convincing characters, like M enakhem M endel, Benjam in, and the Deaf, Iulis is not a product o f the simple Jew ish folk, brought up on Talm udic erudition and shtetl yarns. On the contrary, he is a sophisticated M arxist who em126

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Four Days, 1931. Left to right: Daniil Finkelkraut, Benjamin Zuskin, Solomon Mikhoels, Eva Itskokhi. Photo courtesy o f A la Pcrelman-Zuskin.

braces the Revolution not out o f frustration, innocent hope, or genuine sympathy, but out o f an academ ic conviction based on the laws o f dialectical m aterialism . H e was the first professional Bolshevik to find his w ay onto the Jew ish stage; yet it was this very professionalism and com mitment to the cause w hich made the char­ acter unbelievable. Iulis, like Niome Burm an, was a flawless prototype for the N ew Soviet M an , but he was not real. H is ardenfand unwavering principles did not al­ low for the kinds o f tragic indecision and psychological contradictions M ikhoels had portrayed so w ell in The Deaf. T his flaw was particularly acute during the final suicide scene. “T h e basis o f the play’s weakness,” wrote one critic, is its central point— the death o f Iulis and his comrades. The death does not seem entirely justified. Its inevitability is not motivated fully and from all sides, and die audience does not accept the tragedy o f the situation with the necessary poignancy.54

D er ernes agreed, noting that the suicide w as an “ideological error,” and that “Iulis is a proletarian revolutionary who is capable o f the greatest sacrifice, but who does not com pletely possess the necessary Bolshevik duty to fight. ”ss Indeed, the con­ fidence w ith w hich he takes his life seemed remote to an audience w hich had w it­ nessed some years before the paralyzing vexations and doubt that U riel Acosta had undergone when confronted w ith a sim ilar decision. 127

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Surely the author knew that mass suicide under siege was hardly the type of heroism required o f committed Bolsheviks (although suicide and sacrifice were later incorporated into Bolshevik heroism). One must ask, then, w hy this tragic ending was included. T he answer m ay lie w ithin a symbolic interpretation o f the text, which alludes to an altogether different moral ideology. Kiddusb ha-sbem (sanctification o f G ods name, or m artyrdom) is a w ell-recognized m otif in Jew ish literature and history. In this case, a play about a group o f ideologues who w ait under siege for the enem y to approach, deciding at the last m inute to take their own lives rather than be captured, particularly evokes the story o f M asada as told by Josephus Flavius, the historian and commander o f the Jew ish army in G alilee. T he fortress o f M asada, which fell in 73 C .E ., was the last holdout o f the Jew ish rebellion against Roman rule in Palestine. A fter the failure o f the rebellion in J e ­ rusalem, a group of Zealots led by Eliezer ben Yair fled to the fortress o f M asada, where they were able to resist Roman encroachments. However, with time on their side, the Roman legions were easily able to surround the fortress, put it under siege, and slowly vanquish it. W hen the end was im m inent, the 960 Zealots decided to take their own lives rather than become slaves o f the Romans. Seen w ithin this light, the narrative takes on a nationalist significance, linking the Bolshevik pro­ tagonists who outwardly reject the nationalism of the Bundists and Polish So­ cialists to the greatest Jew ish nationalists— the rebel Zealots. Once again, a play mounted by the theater evoked one o f the proudest moments in Jew ish national history. T he reference to M asada is particularly tim ely because the story had only recently begun to re-em erge in the Jew ish collective m em ory after centuries of neglect. T he narrative o f Josephus had largely been forgotten by Jew ish historians, although it continued to be published in numerous translations throughout the centuries. Another chronicle o f the rebellion, The Book o f Jospian, had preserved the narrative in a modified form—Jospian reports that the Jew ish rebels fought to the death. However, after the first H ebrew translation o f Josephus in 1862, the m yth of M asada as an example o f mass suicide under siege was revived. Beginning w ith the 1923 publication o f a new Hebrew translation o f his w ar chronicles,5 M asada became an integral Zionist symbol. The popularity o f Josephus’s version among the Jew ish populace was further enhanced by Selig K almanowitschs first Yiddish translation57 and, most im portant, by the 1927 publication o f Y itzhak Lam dan’s epic poem Masada. T he poem, which uses M asada as a m etaphor for Zion, tells o f a Jew who flees oppression in Russia to rebuild the Land o f Israel. Its popularity rapidly spread throughout Europe. By the late 1920s a Zionist journal entitled Masada had emerged in Europe and the mountain itself became a popular pilgrim age site for Zionist youth. Given the contemporary popularity of M asada as a Zionist symbol, the Yiddish theater’s cryptic reference was easily accessible— although by no means obvious— to an audience literate in Jew ish m ythology.58 In both The D ea f and Four Days, the Moscow State Yiddish T h eater’s “Jew ishness” was forced beneath the surface. The depiction o f the revolutionary strug­ gle o f the proletariat and their vanguard against the evil forces o f capitalism in the


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two plays was balanced w ith Jew ish archetypes and structures underlying the m an­ ifest text. To the casual observer, these plays displayed no elements o f Jew ish form other than language; it m attered little whether or not Iulis and the D eaf were even Jew ish. T h ey ht the model plot o f contemporary socialist realism and contained no overt taboos. But beyond the text lurked powerful im ages o f Jew ish nation­ hood.

The Costs of Reconstruction Repertory difficulties and difficulties em bracing the new style continued to plague the theater. It had not produced one resounding success since its European tour, and the two plays that were m oderately well-received — The D ea f and Four Days— were really short stories rather than dram atic scripts. As a result o f these difficulties, a political-cultural com mittee sim ilar to those already in place at other theaters was established to help the troupe recognize appropriate m aterial. T he com mittee determined and im plem ented all artistic decisions, thereby reducing the authority o f the theater’s individual artistic director and dispersing that au­ thority am ong the various outside organizations that had a vested interest in the theater. O n February 19,1932, the Y iddish theater’s political-cultural com mittee m et for the first tim e. Boris Volin, a representative from the Com m issariat o f E nlight­ enm ent, chaired the conference, and Zuskin served as secretary.59T he committee was composed o f representatives from the Soviet of N ationalities, the Com m is­ sariat o f Enlightenm ent, D er ernes, the Union o f Proletarian W riters, selected trade unions, and selected factories. Representing the M oscow State Yiddish T heater itself were Pulver, M ikhoels, Zuskin, and the actors Abraham Baslavskii, Rakhel Imenitova, and Yosef Shidlo. T his intensified censorship o f the theater would, for the tim e being, restrict its ability to refer to Jew ish themes. A m ong those represented on the political-cultural committee were many writers w ith the Jew ish background required to decipher the theater’s covert code, particularly M oshe Litvakov and Isaac Nusinov. Nusinov (1889-1950) was a for­ mer Bundist who, like m any o f his fellow revolutionaries, had Red to central Eu­ rope before the w ar to escape tsarist persecution. A fter the Bolshevik Revolution, Nusinov returned to Russia and joined the Com m unist Party in 1919. H e was ac­ tive in the Kiev K ultur-Lige before moving to M oscow in 1922, where he made his mark as a Y iddish literary critic. Litvakov, like Nusinov, was an experienced literary critic w ho would likely have recognized the Judaic motifs in the troupe’s produc­ tions. But to point them out publicly after the fact would have been counterpro­ ductive. Litvakov had been a vocal supporter o f the theater from its inception and had vouched for the troupe’s political orientation before his superiors in the Party. He was also an old acquaintance o f M ikhoels. W h ile both Nusinov and Litvakov had prior connections w ith the theater, neither had had the power to decisively influence productions. In 1932 political criticism had not yet become a death sentence, but it would likely have had adverse


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effects on the state’s support for the theater. Litvakov did not w ant to force the closure o f the theater he had done so much to promote, he m erely w anted to re­ form it in accordance w ith the ideology o f the Party. H e probably still believed that the best means o f convincing the troupe to discard its nationalist orientations lay in private persuasion rather than public hum iliation. T he political-cultural com­ m ittee gave him this opportunity. A t its first m eeting, the com mittee debated the suitability o f m ounting Dobrushin and Nusinov’s The Specialist, even though rehearsals had virtually finished and the premiere was slated for a mere ten days later.60 B y threatening to cancel a production on such short notice, the com mittee im m ediately established its pow­ er. It was decided that the theater should perform one act the following day at a factory and allow the workers to express their opinions, w hich would leave the theater w ith a “full week” to make any changes. Dropped for production for the 1932 season were Peretz M arkish’s The Fifth Horizon,61 Ernst T ollers (1 8 9 3 1939) Flam e from the B oiler (which was to have been guest-directed by Piscator),62 and two plays on the theme o f industrialization by M arkish and O rliand. T he com mittee then approved a motion to undertake m uch-needed renovations at the theater hall. It was also decided to arrange a m eeting w ith a com mittee o f Y iddish writers (Litvakov, M ikhoels, M arkish, Nusinov, Dobrushin, and others) w ho had been appointed the previous month to prepare for the celebration o f the fifteenth anniversary o f the October Revolution, for which a “significant sum” had already been set aside.63 Finally, two subcommittees were arranged: one for public rela­ tions and one to make repertory decisions. M em bers o f the troupe were notably absent from the repertory commission.64 O n M arch 12,1932, the theater premiered The Specialist. It was another w eak play, w ith an oversimplified plot about anti-Soviet sabotage. M ikhoels starred as Berg, an engineer who feels that the Soviet state is failing to give him the respect he deserves. As a bourgeois specialist, Berg scorns the notion o f sacrificing his own exaltation for the betterm ent o f the community. T his attitude quickly leads him into an anti-Soviet group o f saboteurs who believe they can neutralize the Soviet state through vandalism . One reviewer wrote that the play demonstrates “the costs o f reconstruction. T he blame for this goes, in the first place, to a production built upon literary m aterial o f a low quality.”65T he problem w ith the play, as m any critics and workers pointed out, was that the authors failed to provide a convincing motive for the sabotage. No doubt m any o f the thousands o f innocent workers falsely arrested for sabotage during the 1930s could have made the same point. Even the educational value o f the play, some critics complained, was outdated— the them e o f bourgeois specialists, they argued, had reached its apogee several years earlier, despite the fact that non-Party specialists continued to be arrested and harassed throughout the decade. O ther critics felt that the problem w ith the work went beyond the poor script. Iakov G rinvald, for instance, argued that in addition to using a second-rate text, the theater was not m aking enough o f an effort to reconstruct its artistic methods and was still adhering to elements o f the grotesque.66 Indeed, even M ark-


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ish w as unable to restrain him self from criticizing the acting, noting that M ikhoels “ram bled."67 A s it returned to M oscow from its first summer tour in Baku and the Donbass region, the theater faced a future full o f doubt. W h ile the theater had three ap­ proved plays scheduled for the new season: Who b A gainst by M arkish; a play in progress by D aniel about the G erman revolutionary movement; and a play by B er O rshansldi on the them e o f the C ivil W ar,66 the season w as delayed due to die sudden approval by the M oscow soviet for renovations at the M alaia Bronnaia H all. T h e renovations, w hich the troupe had hoped would be done w hile it was absent d u rin g its sum mer tour, began only upon the troupe’s fall return. T h e the-

Benjamin Zusldn and Esther Karchmer in The SfeciaJist. Photo courtesy of Ala Ferelman-Zuskin.


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

ater rem ained closed until the following A pril, forcing the cancellation o f the en­ tire season.The process o f renovating a theater in the Soviet Union often outlasted the life o f a troupe. For instance, M eyerhold, who moved out o f the Sohn T heater in 1931, fell victim to Stalin s purges in 1938 before his new theater was completed. T he renovations o f the Y iddish theater allowed the state to bide its time w hile it decided on the future o f the theater. In the end the renovations were a tremendous improvement to the theater. T h e entire hall w as mechanized and electrified, the stage was enlarged, and a rehearsal hall, dressing rooms, set workshop, and perm a­ nent curtains were added.69 W h ile the theater was closed, the center o f Jew ish M oscow’s cultural life moved to the Jew ish worker’s club, Kommunist, where workers were “entertained” w ith oral readings o f M arxist newspapers and occasionally treated to guest ap­ pearances by members o f the State Yiddish Theater, who would perform scenes from recent and classic productions.70 Instead o f the theater, Soviet Jew ish cultu­ ral patrons could also entertain themselves w ith M ikhoels’s second major motion picture production —The Return o f Nathan Becker, w hich was released in 1932. Two years later a Russian version o f the talkie was released. The film, although not affiliated w ith the Y iddish theater, was w ritten by Peretz M arkish. It told o f a R us­ sian emigre living in Am erica who returns to his homeland along w ith an A frican A m erican friend, played by Kador B en-Salin, to help build socialism in M agn ito ­ gorsk. The first scene shows a ship leaving from N ew York against a backdrop of montages of M anhattan decadence that included advertisements for cosmetics and billboards showing scantily clad women. T h e contrast w ith the shtetl where they arrive is im m ediately apparent. The shtetl is a decrepit ghost town in w hich a lone violinist plays a lethargic tune as panhandlers and peddlers loiter aimlessly. M ikhoels, playing Nathan’s father, decides to jo in the two men in the construction business. Once in M agnitogorsk, N athan is shocked to see workers studying the­ ater and relaxing. A fter they explain that cultural enlightenm ent is a vital aspect o f work, a skeptical N athan, brought up on the A m erican ideal o f relentless w ork devoid o f recreation, challenges some Soviet workers to a “shock worker” contest to see who can produce the most in the least amount o f tim e. T he contest is framed in a celebratory atmosphere, w ith montages o f typical circus scenes, showing that work is an amusement in M agnitogorsk. W h en , predictably, the A m erican loses to his more skilled and energetic Soviet counterpart, Becker is mortified and tells his wife, who had resisted the move from the beginning, that they are returning to A m erica. H is wife, however, has since fallen in love w ith M agnitogorsk. She strug­ gles to determine how much tim e she has left to enjoy the “M agnetic M ountain,” but is confused by the four-day work w eek and the absence o f a religious Sabbath. In the end, Becker decides to stay, realizing that he can work and learn to improve him self—“Father, you know,” he reflects, “here they work not only w ith their heads, but also . . . ” and he motions to his heart. T he final scene shows M ikhoels, the old Jew, sitting atop a construction site w ith his new African A m erican friend, teaching him how to nign (hum Ashkenazic melodies) w ith elaborate hand ges­ tures.71


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O ne purpose o f the film was to convince Jew s to leave the shtetls and join industrial production. Its makers also hoped to encourage em igration from a de­ pressed Am erica to a prospering Russia by painting a rosy picture o f race relations in the Soviet Union, contrasting it w ith both the failure o f Jew ish assim ilation and the ubiquitous race riots o f A m erica. A lthough the U.S. D epartm ent o f State was concerned about the propagandist value o f the film ,72 it was eventually brought to A m erica and opened in New York in A pril 1933. D er ernes called the film “a pitiful failure,” arguing that the dialogue was corny and labored and that the com­ plex prose o f the language was incomprehensible to workers. Furthermore, it ar­ gued that the contrast between the shtetl and M agnitogorsk, which forms the basis o f the movie s social message, was anachronistic; by the time M agnitogorsk was founded, the argum ent continued, the old shtetl life had been entirely elim inated — a point M ikhoels, who spent every summer touring through these “non-exis­ tent” shtetls, could w ell have protested.73 There is little doubt that the M oscow soviet’s decision to undertake renova­ tions on the theater during the season was also motivated by political concerns. As we have seen, despite its efforts, the theater was not adapting satisfactorily to the new repertory requirements. C losing the theater for several months m ight give it an opportunity to begin anew on a repertoire specially selected by the politicalcultural committee. Because there was no available repertoire, writers had to be commissioned for specific jobs— a very tim e-consum ing project. T hus, w hile in January 1933 the theater announced that its next new production would be David Bergelson s M idat ha-din (A M easure o f Strictness),74 the premiere o f the play did not take place until October 3rd— over a year after the theater s closure. T h e play tells the story o f Fillipov, an overworked Bolshevik leader deployed at the Polish border who succeeds in suppressing the counter-revolutionary activi­ ties o f socialist revolutionaries, bandits, and smugglers through the im plem enta­ tion o f strict discipline. The central conflict revolves around Fillipov s battle w ith Lem berg, a particularly ruthless speculator. T he play ends when Fillipov s murder at the hands o f counter-revolutionaries is avenged by a mob o f angry workers. Bergelson originally wrote the story as a novel w hile living in Berlin in 1924-1925. The novel was then serialized in the Soviet Yiddish literary journal D i royte v elt in 1928. As Bergelson explained, there were fundam ental differences between the morals and ideologies o f the novel and the play, largely as a result of the changes which took place in the construction o f socialism in the Soviet Union between 1928 and 1932. H e noted that while in 1928 there was a need to dwell on the old life (represented by the clericalism o f Lem berg), in 1932 the old had been com­ pletely destroyed, and therefore the play was more concerned w ith glorifying the new (represented by Fillipov). T he vilification o f Lem berg was more complete in the play, w hich left no room for the audience to sympathize w ith the character s reluctance to part w ith the old life. “In the book,” wrote Bergelson, “Lem berg is not entirely unmasked. Under his piety, the disgusting speculator still remains unexposed. But in the play all his masks are removed.”75 The play, he argued, was intended not only as a historical justification for C ivil W ar violence, but also as a


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w arning to those who believed that the w ar had been won and that the Revolution could let down its guard. T he artistic presentation o f the play saw M ikhoels s first use o f the split stage. A sim ilar device had been used by M eyerhold in the 1926 production o f Roar China!, but M eyerholds split stage was used prim arily to display the antagonism s between the British and Chinese. M ikhoels, on the other hand, sought to em ulate Eisensteins film montages through the depiction o f two or more parallel events suggesting cognitive or emotional associations to the audience. For instance, when Fillipov catches Lem berg red-handed sm uggling leather across the border, the au­ dience sim ultaneously sees a Red A rm y division m arching barefoot in the back­ ground, rem inding them that Lem berg’s crime is not victimless; he is stealing from the brave soldiers defending the people.76 A nother divided scene showed a battle between Reds and W h ites on stage right, while to their left two contrabandists calm ly played chess; each move o f a figure on the board corresponded to a genuine battle and loss o f life to the players’ im m ediate right. W h ile the counter-revolu­ tionaries lounged around at home, the heroic Red A rm y soldiers fought for their own lives and the liberty o f all Soviet citizens. T he split stage was also used to enhance the subjectivity o f the performance. For instance, in one scene, M ikhoels divided the stage into parts, one o f w hich was set at a border patrol station and the other in a shtetl, and allowed characters from the two sets to converse w ith each other through space and tim e. T he play was full o f mass scenes, calling for 45 roles. One critic wrote o f the premiere, ult has been such a long tim e since such a dignified, celebratory mood prevailed in the M oscow State Y iddish T heater.”77 In Litvakov s review for D er ernes, he praised Bergelson’s play for being truly rev­ olutionary and uniting the w riters creativity w ith an appropriate class-centered worldview. Litvakov saw Fillipov as a C hrist-like figure seeking an apocalyptic destruction o f the old world in order to usher in the new messianic era through his own m artyrdom .78 Once again, though, the play had an ambiguous subtext that alluded to a different interpretation. T he title o f the play, M idat ha-din, was accurately trans­ lated into Russian as M era strogosti, w hich can be translated into English as A M easure o f Strictness or Stem Judgm ent. These translations, however, fail to reflect the nuanced m eaning o f the Hebrew term m idat ha-din. In the Kabbalah (m ystical Judaism ), the term is used to refer to those attributes o f God that demonstrate his vengeance in opposition to his mercy. In effect, the term is often equated with Satan— it is the source o f all evil in the world. C ertain H asidic sects that were dom inant in the U krainian regions in which Bergelson was reared raised the no­ tion o f m idat ha-din to include the concept o f redemption. According to this doc­ trine there are two states o f Jew ish existence: that dom inated by m idat ha-din and that dom inated by m idat ha-hesed (a measure o f benevolence, or divine grace). According to historian Raphael M ahler: The basic idea in all Hasidic doctrine o f this period in Galicia is the primacy o f the kabbalistic notion o f midat ha-hesed (divine grace).. . . A ll the calamities o f th e galut Mali (the exile o f the Jewish people) as well as o f the galut p rati (the exile


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o f the individual Jew), derive from the dominance o f m idat ha-din (stern judg­ ment) over m idat ha-hesed . . . . If, according to the Hasidic teachings, all the woes o f the Jewish people and o f each individual Jew are caused by the domination o f the power o f midat ha-din , this domination reveals itself first o f all in the oppres­ sion o f the Jews by the gentile nations.79

T hus, by use o f the term , Bergelson equates Soviet power with the evil o f m idat ha-din, or exilic oppression. Bergelson’s support for the Bolshevik system o f ju s­ tice as expressed in the text o f his novel is m itigated by this symbolic interpreta­ tion. A lthough this should not be regarded as deliberately subversive (Bergelson wrote the novel in Berlin where he was free from censorship), it does suggest that Bergelson’s support m ay have been more equivocal than a straightforward reading o f his novel suggests. D espite the relative success o f Bergelson’s second play, the fact remained that an acceptable Y iddish theatrical repertoire was not emerging. Even the successes did not reflect w ell on Y iddish dram aturgy per se—both Bergelson plays were adaptations o f earlier novels, as was D aniel’s Four Days. W h ile Yiddish plays were being w ritten by Soviet w riters, each had its own ideological offense. N ew plays by D obrushin and Veviurka, for instance, were dismissed for being overly m ystical and m essianic, while even some revolutionary plays about the C ivil W ar and so­ cialist construction, such as Ezra Fininberg’s Youth and Veviurka’s Naftali Botvin, were dismissed for ideological errors. O ther plays that sought to follow the same formula as M arkish’s Do Not Grieve!, such as Veviurka’s The Steppe Is B urning or Dobrushin’s On the Sixty-Second, were less successful as artistic products.80 Even M ikhoels was becoming frustrated by the low artistic quality o f the new plays. According to Isaac Babel, “[M ikhoels] was extremely disapproving o f the plays o f Soviet dram atists, w hich he contrasted w ith the repertoire o f old and classic plays.”81 A fter almost two years o f its existence, the political-cultural committee proved to be largely ineffective and was, predictably, paralyzed by its own internal turf wars. Furthermore, more Yiddish state theaters had arisen throughout the country. It was becoming clear that a central organization was needed to coordinate the activities o f the various Yiddish theaters. Ia. O. Boiarskii, the head of the Union o f A rtists, recognized this opportunity by calling a general m eeting w ith the directors of all the Y iddish state theaters in December 1933. H e began the session by ex­ plaining that as a result o f the territorial dispersion o f the Jewish theater audiences in various national republics, the Central Committee o f R AB IS (The Union o f Artists) is the only all-union organization, working in the sphere o f culture, which can and must organize this historical first meeting o f workers in Jewish theater.82

In other words, since the theaters were not solving their own problems, the Union of A rtists would take it into its own hands to dictate solutions. T he potential Jew ­ ish audience, Boiarskii theorized, was undergoing a process of denationalization, in w hich they were assim ilating w ith general Soviet society and were no longer interested in parochial theater. M ikhoels was the first to challenge this assump­ 135

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tion, recognizing that it w as a dangerous contention com ing from outside sources. Further, the repertory problem was not reflected in any loss o f audience, M ikh o d s argued, despite figures from the C entral T heater T icket Office to the contrary. H intin g that the state ticket office was deliberately sabotaging the Y iddish theater, M ikhoels cited one example in w hich prior to a performance the cashier had re­ ported that only four seats had been sold, yet when the curtain opened the house was full. T his sentim ent was echoed by the directors o f the Kiev and Birobidzhan Y iddish theaters, who reported that most o f their shows regularly sold out. Fur­ thermore, in d ie Jew ish Autonomous Region o f Birobidzhan, continued its direc­ tor, assim ilation was sim ply not an issue.*3 D espite these objections, Boiarsldi passed a resolution stating that henceforth all additions to the ongoing repertoire should be restricted to translations o f ac­ cepted European and Russian classics, at least until an appropriate Jew ish reper­ toire was created. N ew productions o f d ie M oscow theater would consist on ly of two plays: Shakespeare's K ing Lear and a w ork by the French playw right Eugene Labiche (1815-1888). T h e theaters were perm itted, however, to continue per­ form ing Jew ish plays already in the repertoire. Before the m eeting d osed , M ik ­ hoels warned that “if we turn oursdves into a theater o f translation, then to us, as a Jew ish theater, there is nothing more to be done. O ur path is unique— it is only compatible w ith the creative growth o f Jew ish theater and Jew ish dram a.”*4

The Classless Society B y the tim e d ie First A ll-U nion Congress o f Yiddish Theaters convened in late 1934, there were eight Y iddish theaters scattered throughout the Soviet U nion, m any o f w hich were staffed by graduates o f the M oscow Y iddish T heater technicum. In addition to the older theaters o f Moscow, M insk, and Kiev (w hich had been transferred from Kharkov in 1931), new troupes had em erged in O dessa, Birobidzhan, Tashkent, Stalindorf (in the Volga G erman Republic), and Sim fer­ opol (in the C rim ea). T he latter two were the newest additions, both o f w hich had been founded w ith the support o f the Society for the Settlem ent o f Jew ish Toilers on the Land to serve as collective farm theaters.*5 M ikhoels, chairing the congress, followed the Party line against his prior objections and called upon his colleagues to turn aw ay from the Y iddish classical repertoire and begin presenting strictly contem porary Soviet plays. Once again he refrained from denouncing the theater's earlier period, noting that the era o f experim entation had “found a new aesthetic, new m ethod, new rhythm , and new stage language.”*6 H is about-face, though, suggests that M ikhoels was becoming w ary o f his future. M ikhoels was conspicuously absent from the directorate o f the theater’s new­ est production, turning the job over to French director Leon M ussinak and to A leksandra A zarkh. The M illionaire, the Dentist, and the Pauper (formerly entided The Thirty M illion c f M ister Gladiator), a lighthearted vaudeville by Labiche that poked fun at the decadence o f W estern European high society, premiered in No­ vember 1934. W h e n the Am erican m illionaire Yucatan leaves his w ife behind and arrives in Paris w ith his secretary and his son, there is no end to the hilarious and


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Benjamin Zusldn as Anatol in The

Millionaire, the Dentist, and the Pauper, 1934. Photo courtesy o f A la PerelmanZuskin.

o u trageo u s adventures they encounter. T h e audience is told: "Once the Spanish d isco vered A m erica, and now the Am ericans, w ith their dollars, w ill discover Eu­ rope.* T h e p lo t o f the play revolves around the seductress Suzanna’s attem pt to m arry A n a t o l, Yucatan's son, in order to get his money—a scene dom inated by D ob ru sh in s s o n g "Less Love, M ore M oney." However, Yucatan him self has already set h is e y e s on the seductress. A t a gala ball, receiving news o f his w ife’s death, Y u catan re jo ic es because he is now free to pursue his new prize, and steels him self for th e t a s k o f removing his son and rival. However, the plan fails and Yucatan is left a lo n e . W r it in g in Izvestiia, M ussinak described the play as a m odernized reinterpre­ tation o f th e vaudeville, w hich not only revealed the comedic irony o f Labiche, but also u n d e r lin e d the bitter irony o f his play, turning it into a tragicomedy.*7 W h ile some c r itic s agreed w ith the director’s assessment,** the m ajority was less enthu­


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

siastic. G rinvald, for instance, wrote that it had neither political nor social value, but was, nevertheless, a pleasant performance.89 Like M eyerholds production the same year o f The Lady o f the Camellias by another French writer, Alexandre D um as, The M illionaire sought to present an artistic portrayal o f the slavery o f women under capitalism . Incidentally, another translation from the French, this time of Balzac’s A Bachelors Establishment , was playing sim ultaneously at the Vakhtangov Theater. T he Y iddish theater w as not alone in its confusion regarding appropriate Soviet repertoire. L acking a model o f the type o f integrative propaganda demanded by socialist realism , theaters throughout M oscow preferred to delay the adoption o f the program for as long as possible by staging French vaudevilles. A lw ays anxious to help those in the arts overcome difficult times and find appropriate repertoires, the state once again intervened by establishing yet another com mittee to assert its authority over the arts— the Com m ittee o f A rtistic A ffairs, attached directly to the C ouncil o f People’s Commissars. T h e political-cultural committees for individual theaters which had previously decided collectively on all artistic questions were relegated to a form ality; all genuine considerations o f an artistic character were henceforth to be decided by the new Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs. T he organization was headed by Platon Kerzhentsev, the leftist former Proletkult activist and deputy head o f Agitprop, who was assisted by Boiarskii. W ith supervisory powers over all elements o f art in the country, the com mittee did not restrict itself to repertory m atters. Henceforth each theater would have to subm it requests for approval o f every move: hiring a new stage manager, givin g a vacation or sick leave to a staff member, presenting a new production, raising a salary, disciplining a member o f the group for lateness, and giving a bonus, to name but a few o f the thousands o f requests w hich flooded the committee. Each dress rehearsal would be attended by a member o f the committee, and representatives from the D epartm ent o f Propaganda, the C entral Com m ittee o f the Party, and the Repertory Com m ittee who would discuss the play and “recommend” any changes. In addition, the Party organization o f each theater, consisting o f all staff members who were members o f the Com m unist Party, was given increasing au­ thority, regardless of the ranks o f the Party members w ithin the troupe. T hus, for instance, Ju ri Jelagin, a former member o f the Vakhtangov T heater orchestra, explained that the most powerful personages in his theater became the barber, a couple o f stagehands, the m anager o f the dining room, the editor o f the theater’s newsletter, the m anager o f the laundry room, and one o f the bass tuba players.90 T he M oscow State Y iddish Theater was in a sim ilar state. O f its members, only seven were Party members, none o f whom were actors, directors, or m usicians.91 A lthough the troupe began to lose even more control over its destiny, it was placated by the type o f state privileges that characterized the “classless society” of the 1930s. Living the high life, the former students, workers, and struggling artists who became the M oscow State Yiddish T heater had little desire to risk trading in their privileged life for possible Siberian exile. T he life o f the privileged artists is colorfully described by Jelagin:


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Thousands o f innocent people were placed under arrest, the prisons were crowded, in the villages peasant uprisings and desperate attempts to resist hated collectivization were suppressed with incredible cruelty. Denunciations, lies and fear were all around, and the immense country was in the grip o f famine. Yet, backstage in the Second A rt Theater, life was dominated by noble, warm friend­ liness, by a total absence o f jealousy and intrigue, by unselfish service to art and by faithful devotion to the theater and its ideals.42

Norris Houghton echoes him: “I f it can be said that an aristocracy exists in the classless society o f the Soviet Union, then the artists o f the theater are a part o f it.”93 T h e Moscow State Y iddish Theater was no exception to this rule. As w ith Shim ele, the poor tailor who changes his name to Semon M akarovich Soroker after w inning the lottery, the actors in the Y iddish theater troupe adopted more formal appellations. T he program for K in g Lear listed the actors’ names with first initials for the first time (patronymics would later be added), accompanied by state-awarded titles. By 1935 M ikhoels had been made a People’s A rtist o f the Russian Republic, w hile G oldblatt, Shidlo, Shteim an, Rotbaum, M inkova, Zuskin, Pulver, and Radlov were all Honored A rtists of the Republic. In the m id1930s there were approximately 500 Honored A rtists, a title endowed upon the fortunate by the Council o f Peoples’ Com missars upon recommendations from the Com m issariat o f Enlightenm ent. In the words o f Norris Houghton: These honors are not empty ones. They bring with them certain privileges----The right to have one’s own apartment is granted to honored artists[,] some o f whom occupy alone or with their families apartments o f four or five rooms. A few o f the great People’s Artists have an entire house. They all may have one or two servants.94

Indeed, m any o f the more senior members o f the Yiddish theater had moved out o f the Stankevich residence into luxury apartments on M oscow’s prestigious G orky (Tverskaia) Street or A rbat Street. The honor additionally relieved the re­ cipient o f a great deal o f work. For instance, w hile the average member o f the Yiddish theater attended anywhere from 100 to 140 rehearsals during the 1936 season, Honored A rtist Iu. Ia. M inkova attended only fourteen, w hile Honored A rtist S. D. Rotbaum was only present for thirty-three.95 M ikhoels, especially, had achieved “star status.” Polish Yiddish actress Ida Kam inska, who never forgave M ikhoels for his unwillingness to help her find a job during W orld W ar II, recalled her first impression o f the actor during this period: Mikhoels sat in his dressing room like an emperor, surrounded by young ac­ tresses. One o f them fanned him, another served him coffee, a third asked him what he wanted. Everyone fawned over him. I don’t recall anyone dancing around a prima donna the way they crowded around Mikhoels.96

The King and the Fool T he 1935 production o f K in g Lear was perhaps the theater’s most famous performance in its history. Preparations for the production began in M arch 1934,


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

Solomon Mikbods as King Lear. Photo courtesy of Ala PerelmanZusldn.

w hen Shm uel H alkin (1897-1960), a Soviet poet known for his historical subjects, w as commissioned to provide a Y iddish translation.97 L es Kurbas, the U krainian director and former student o f M ax Reinhardt, w as originally slated to stage the production. H is arrest, however, delayed the scheduled fall 1934 prem iere and forced the theater to search for a new director. T he play finally premiered under the directorship o f Sergei Radlov on February 5 ,1 9 3 5 . Sets were designed by A leksandr Tyshler. Tyshler (1898-1964) was bom to an atheist fam ily o f Jew ish background in the town o f M elitpol. A fter moving to Kiev, he enrolled in the Kiev A rt School in 1912, and upon finishing became involved w ith the art studio o f Alexandra Exter. A fter jo in in g the Red A rm y to fight in the C ivil W ar, Tyshler moved to Moscow, where his dynam ic series of paintings on C ivil W ar and fantasy themes caught the attention o f M . Rafalskii, director o f the Belorussian State Y iddish Theater, who invited Tyshler to jo in his


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theater as designer. A fter w orking w ith Rafalskii on the theaters production o f Veviurka’s Naftali B otvin and Bergelson’s The Deaf, Tyshler began to supplement his w ork on the Belorussian State Y iddish T heater w ith the Red A rm y Theater, the Kharkov State Y iddish Theater, and others. In 1933, Tyshler accepted M ik hoels’s invitation to design sets for K in g Lear w hile sim ultaneously w orking on R ichard III fo r the Bolshoi Theater and the D eath ofTarelkin for the M aly Theater. For Lear, Tyshler constructed a tw o-story stage, depicting a medieval village w ith a castle and sculpted figures. A lthough hardly new to the Russian theater, Shakespeare was seeing a revival in the 1930s.The VakhtangovTheater had presented its severely criticized produc­ tion o f Hamlet, w ith music by Shostakovich, in the early years o f the decade and in 1936 had premiered M uch Ado About Nothing. By the late 1930s, Othello had been performed in K irghizia, G eorgia, B uriat-M ongolia, Tadzhikistan, A rm enia, and Moscow. In 1934, Twelfth N ight was being performed at the Second M oscow A rt Theater and Romeo and Ju liet at the T heater o f Revolution. O ther productions o f Romeo and Ju liet could be seen in Yaroslav and M agnitogorsk. A n Uzbek transla­ tion o f Hamlet premiered in 1938 and the play was also performed in Kursk, Stal­ ingrad and T b ilisi.’ 8 However, the idea o f M ikhoels playing L ear was m et w ith skepticism from most tragic actors o f the period.99 One director, perhaps skepti­ cal o f M ikhoels s ability to portray a British king, suggested that he relocate the narrative to Palestine— a notion categorically rejected by the actor.100 O ne o f the reasons for Shakespeare’s renewed popularity in the 1930s was that such tried and true plays, so fam iliar to any theatergoing public, seemed to the authorities to be politically safe. A 1929 list o f acceptable dram atic productions released by the C entral Repertory Com m ittee gave K in g Lear, along w ith four­ teen other Shakespearean plays, a rare “A” rating, indicating that it was “most acceptable.”101 Directors were able to take advantage o f this lax attitude toward Shakespearean productions to m anipulate his plays subdy into political protests. Because o f their remote historical content, Shakespeare’s historical tragedies were particularly suited for allegorical intent. Boris Pasternak’s translation of H amlet is probably the most well-known attem pt by a Soviet w riter to use Shakespeare as “a lyrical confession camouflaged as translation,” in the words o f V ladim ir Markov. Pasternak’s translations, M arkov continues, were “not only alien to the atmosphere of socialist realism , but some lines sound outright defiant.”102 Despite the M arx­ ist doctrine o f linear history, the early Bolsheviks were w ary o f history repeating itself: it is w ell known that Lenin, for instance, studied the Paris Com mune care­ fully for fear of repeating its mistakes and often used Napoleon Bonaparte as a symbol o f m ilitary dictatorship, even coining the term “Bonapartism ,” later used by Trotsky as an attack on Stalin’s Russia. Bolshevik propagandists themselves of­ ten used historical episodes as allegories for contemporary threats and victories: Sergei Eisensteins Alexander Nevsky (1938), which painted a horrifying picture o f barbarian Teutons as G erman fascism threatened Europe, is perhaps the most recognized example o f this type of art. Even earlier theatrical productions, such as Tretiakov’s R oar Chinai and the Yiddish theater’s own Uprising, had depicted the


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

revolutionary struggle in other regions as a metaphor for Russia’s own Revolution. T hus, official Soviet discourse had already created a precedent whereby historical events could be understood as representing contemporary issues. W ith the inten­ sification o f Soviet censorship, historical com mentary became a convenient means o f critiquing the m odem regim e as w ell. A s A . Belinkovwrote in his A esopian text Iurii T ÿnianov: “A t the end o f the twenties a certain segm ent o f the R ussian in­ telligentsia began to see analogies between the m odem age and revolutionary eras o f the past.”103 Belinkov wrote these lines in a text w hich, itself, has been inter­ preted as an allegorical "essay on the nature o f despotic and totalitarian power.”104

Benjamin Zuskin as the Fool. Photo courtesy o f Ala PfcrelmanZusldn.


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T h us, it is not in the least far-fetched to interpret K in g Lear as an allegorical critique o f Stalin’s tyranny. T his interpretation is given further credence by the onstage production o f the play at the M oscow State Y iddish Theater. T he show trial w hich opens the play as the self-centered and autocratic yet insecure king demands verbal adulation was rem iniscent o f Stalin’s growing cult of personality and the earlier Soviet show trials o f Socialist Revolutionaries, M ensheviks, and bourgeois specialists. L ear’s misdirected expulsion o f the only daughter who truly loves him and his m isguided trust in those who seek to betray him leads to his own tragic downfall. W as M ikhoels w arning Stalin that his own cam paign against the O ld Bolsheviks and alliances w ith the new guard would only lead to doom? W as M ikhoels also m aking a reference to the strife in Stalin’s fam ily which led to the death o f his wife in 1932? M ikhoels’s own com mentary on the play helps to un­ derscore this interpretation: T he tragedy for me does not begin with the expulsion o f Goneril, but rather in the expulsion o f Cordelia, that is, in the first act___ The tragedy o f Lear is the bankruptcy o f his former false and stagnant feudal ideals; and in the agonizing advent o f the new, more progressive and truthful ideology.10*

B y transposing the tragedy from Goneril and Regan’s rejection o f L ear to L ear’s rejection o f Cordelia, M ikhoels blames L ear rather than his daughters for the outcome. T he tragedy, M ikhoels insists, is a direct consequence o f the king’s impotence and the bankruptcy o f his ideals; it cannot be blam ed on his subjects’ acts o f sabotage. I f we replace Lear w ith Stalin and feudal w ith Com m unist, M ik ­ hoels’s comments can be read as a scathing critique o f Stalin’s Russia. B y em pha­ sizing that the central point o f the play is not the betrayal by L ear’s daughters, but rather L ear’s betrayal o f the one daughter who is faithful to him , M ikhoels em pha­ sizes the allegorical element— the true “enemy of the people” is the king who exiles his faithful servants, as Stalin was doing to the intellectuals who helped build the Revolution. A lthough the process o f extracting ideological premises from all art was a m andatory game in 1930s Russia, the explicit message o f M ikhoels’s analysis is contradicted by an allegorical reading which sees L ear as Stalin and the bank­ rupt political system he adheres to as Bolshevism. T his interpretation is buttressed by later Soviet analyses o f the play. G rigori Kozintsev’s 1965 essay on K in g Lear, based on a 1941 essay published in Teatr, argues that the theme o f one tyrant replacing another is a timeless them e, equally applicable to Shakespeare’s era as it is to Lear’s. By suggesting that Shakespeare chose a historical ruler as a metaphor for the reigning monarch (Elizabeth I), Ko­ zintsev seems to be covertly inviting his readers to do the same, im plying that Lear can be a com mentary on Stalin’s Russia: The events o f the tragedy should be perceived as taking place in a real world o f tyranny, rather than in the vacuum o f fabular convention... . By blending periods and locales, he [Shakespeare] was able to compare, emphasize, and generalize. . . . In order to bring contemporary processes into full relief, the shadow o f another epoch was cast on the principals and on the course o f events. The story o f the old hero was repeated in a new time and with a totally different quality.106


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

Kozintsev continued: One form o f oppression succeeded another.. . . New rulers cut down medieval detention stocks in the name o f the free development o f new forms o f production and the free (though already unlimited) oppression o f man by m a n . . . . Hordes o f vagabonds, terrible caravans o f human grief, roamed the country. They were ragged, exhausted from hunger, and vainly sought work. They dragged them ­ selves along the roads, leaving by its edge the corpses o f those who did not have the strength to go farther. So went the future army o f hired labor. It had already begun to be disciplined to the new order.107

T he allegorical elements were also emphasized in the performance. Liubom irskii describes M ikhoels’s entrance as Lear: I f not for the crown, it would be difficult to believe that he is a king: a modest, flabby, solemn old man, who comes down, stooping, and quietly approaches the throne. He stands by the throne as i f he wants to recollect something. Having seen the jester on the throne, he glances perplexedly, grasps the jester by the ear and calmly lifts him slightly above the throne. He begins to laugh with a sarcas­ tic, weak giggle, and sits on the throne.10*

T his trium phant first scene was a subtle tribute to the carnivalesque. A d d i­ tionally, it can be seen as an allegory of 1930s Russia. W h ile the Fool sits trium ­ phantly on the throne, the wise play the role o f comedians on a stage. T h e line “Thou wouldst make a good fool”109 uttered by the Fool to Lear, becomes a dom i­ nant them e. T he interplay between Zuskin as the Fool and M ikhoels as L ear was one o f the most celebrated elements o f Radlov’s production. In the words o f M ik ­ hoels, “W e do not play two roles, we play together a single role, only two sides of it.”110 On a sim plistic level, the blurring between L ear and Fool can be seen as an attem pt to equate Stalin w ith a fool. On a more profound level it can be seen a challenge to Stalin’s tidy division o f the world between Good and Bad, W e and They, Red and W h ite. T he theater had been developing this type o f Janus-faced character since it introduced the character o f Benjam in, who can be seen as half Don Quixote and h alf L ittle Tramp. T he notion o f ego and alter-ego, w hich was repeated throughout the theater’s plays beginning w ith the tragicom edy o f N ight in the Old Market, presented contradictions that challenged the tidy divisions of Stalin’s world. “There is one remarkable trait in Shakespeare’s heroes,” M ikhoels wrote. “T his is the internal dialect o f their manners. Shakespeare did not sim p­ lify character types, rather, he complicated them. H e always brought contradic­ tions into their m indset, contradictions w hich he wanted to prove [were reconcilable].”" 1 Indeed, the theater’s emphasis on the psychological contradictions of individuals could not have been more removed from the stylized social types Granovsky had earlier sought to extract from Sholem A leichem and Goldfadn. M ikhoels described the psychological contradictions o f L ear through a musical analogy: “[Shakespeare’s art] is never a monody, and it is the actor’s task to hear the separate notes m aking the character.. . . T h ey m ay be separated by quite an in­ terval; on the other hand, contrasting and diam etrically opposed notes m ay coin144

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Solomon Mikhoels and Benjamin Zuskin as Lear and Fool. Photo from Solomon Mikhoels, Statt,

besedi, recbL

d d e in tim e."1u T h e internal contradictions w ithin the character were further un­ derlined on stage. In the words o f G rinvald: [The] greatness [of Mikhoels’s Lear] was not external but internal. Mikhoels’s Lear was carried away by the beauty of his soul, purified by the torments of suffering, and enlightened by the rays of the new truth .. . . Lear appeared to Mikhoels as an example, thought up by Shakespeare, of the embodiment of a meaningful and deep philosophical idea. The artist saw this idea as a conflict between the human ego, imagining itself as omnipotent and invincible, and the reality of the objective world, before which the individual's arrogant ego is pitiful and weak.1“ M ikhoels also developed the leitm o tif o f a gesture in K in g Lear, a technique first used in The Deaf, in w hich he would repeat a particular gesture w hich sum ma­ 145

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rizes the character’s innermost thoughts. L ear would giggle, evoking his reaction at first seeing Cordelia; feel for tears on others’ faces, foreshadowing the tears on Cordelia’s cheeks; and put his hand over his head, as though searching for the crown w hich he no longer possesses. T his gesture perhaps best conveys the pathos of A ct 1, Scene 4, when Lear curses Goneril as he slaps him self on the belly "so the house resounded w ith those slaps.’’" 4 A fter uttering this famed curse, M ikhoels once again reaches for his discarded crown before breaking down into tears. H e has realized that without the crown he is nothing. M ikhoels’s L ear loves to sing, w hich allowed Pulver to utilize sixteenthcentury Renaissance English music. In particular, he has a favorite hunting song. T he metaphor o f hunting is deprived o f its regal and grandiose associations, be­ com ing instead a simple song enjoyed by an old man. T he song takes on greater significance later in the play. Finding him self in captivity w ith Cordelia, L ear finds intense jo y sim ply by looking into his daughter’s eyes and holding her hands. A fter the death o f Cordelia, M ikhoels s L ear is unable to giggle; instead he quietly hums the hunting song to himself. Liubom irskii notes that M ikhoels’s Lear is happier in prison w ith C ordelia than he had ever been before; he finally outgrows his habit of reaching for his crown. Furthermore, Lear refuses to isolate himself, at least in­ tellectually, from the realistic problems confronting those who do not share his position in life: poverty, hunger, and cold; M ikhoels underscores his sym pathy for the “poor wretches” o f Act III, Scene 4. M ikhoels’s performance firmly placed him among the ranks o f Russia’s great­ est artists— a fact im m ediately recognized by all critics. “Before you unfolds the play o f an artist,” wrote Leningradskaia pravda, “an artist o f world standard, whose name you must place among the ranks o f the great names of the artistic stage— from M ochalov to Ermolova, together w ith Rossi and Salvini.”" 5“ATmf Lear in the M oscow State Yiddish T heater’s presentation is one o f the best Shakespearean productions in the Soviet theater,” wrote P ravda.Ub “M ikhoels has entered the ranks o f the greatest actors o f the w orld” echoed Karl Radek, w riting in Izvestiia: This presentation, in the first place, is a great cultural victory for the Jewish pop­ ulation o f the USSR. K ing Lear at the Moscow Jewish Theater enters the high­ road o f great culture and great art, just as the Jewish poor, who are participating in the industrialization and collectivization o f our country, have entered the great path o f socialist construction.117

O ther critics seem to have appreciated the symbolic elements. For instance, G rinvald praised M ikhoels for drawing “a clear picture o f the death, o f the fail­ ure, o f the feudal w orld.”" 8 Rozentsveig echoed him: “Shakespeare saw the death o f the feudal princedoms, he saw the failure o f the system.”" 9 Radek, though, asked “W h at is it? A personal human tragedy or a symbol o f the social crisis at the end o f the sixteenth century?”120The play was so successful that less than four years later, in December 1938, the theater celebrated its 200th performance of K in g Lear.m A fter this production, Litvakov could w rite that the M oscow State Yiddish Theater was “one o f the greatest theaters in the w orld.”122


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Audiences and Censors T h e theater struggled during the early 1930s to dehne and interpret the slo­ gan “national in form, socialist in content” in a manner advantageous to itself and acceptable to the increasingly influential censors. Initially M ikhoels m im icked the style o f productions being performed at Russian theaters and concentrated on the officially condoned theme o f socialist construction in the Soviet Union. These productions, however, failed to attract large audiences. W hereas during the NEP the theater s Sem itic exoticism and modernist experimentation had attracted m any non-Jews, in the early 1930s the Y iddish theater was rapidly transform ing itself into a clone o f M oscow s other theaters, differentiated only by its language. Those who did not speak Y iddish were no longer rewarded w ith exotic treats for sitting through an incomprehensible production. Jews also became less interested in the theater because it ceased to reflect the peculiarities o f their own existence. W h ile the Jew ish audience could identify w ith the negative hero, the luftm entsh or the parent whose children were rejecting tradition, the positive hero— the New Soviet M an—was still a chim era. T his uneasiness was a factor o f w hat Régine Robin calls the “im possibility” o f the socialist realist aesthetic. “T he positive hero,” she w rites, “can only be a horizon, a lim it to be reached in indeterminacy, a goal.”123 T he socialist realist discourse urged the portrayal o f “w hat ought to be” rather than “w hat is,” thereby elim inating the possibility o f drawing examples from the real world. Socialist realism did not require the actor and dram atist to replicate life, as its name im plies, but rather to construct an idealized vision o f the future as de­ term ined by ideological and political propaganda that was not even o f their own m aking. Further, the realist designation abhorred the stylized masks of agitprop behind which actors in the 1920s had hidden, thereby excusing themselves from probing the psychology o f their characters. In response to these problems, the theater began to perform productions w ith w hich their Jew ish audience could better identify. First, the theater turned toward better-known authors, such as David Bergelson and Peretz M arkish. Second, it adopted the generational conflict as its pet theme, allowing the continued portray­ al o f the fam iliar Jew who loved learning and tradition. Finally, the theater began to present productions that mirrored recognizable Jew ish stories and legends and that contained Jew ish subtexts and archetypes. A lthough the text of these plays continued to refer to socialist realist themes, the subtext alluded to stories more enthralling than the construction o f dams. It is difficult to determine w hat portion o f the audience, if any, was able to recognize these connections and read the theaters subtext. C ertainly large por­ tions o f the theater’s audience, particularly those who saw the theater during its provincial tours, had received traditional Jew ish educations prior to the Revolu­ tion and therefore possessed the necessary cultural and linguistic tools required to decode the plays. Up until 1917, virtually every Jew ish boy attended a kbeder or Talm ud Torah where, in the words o f Zvi G itelm an, they “mastered impressive


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

amounts o f traditional lore and developed outstanding powers o f reasoning as well as a lifelong com mitment to the study o f the Torah."124 Young women, as w ell, had received religious instruction through Yiddish storybooks and religious texts prior to the Revolution. Those who received their education after 1917 had less formal exposure to traditional Judaism , but many of those living in Ukraine and Belorussia had still been reared in religious homes and functioned in a predom inantly Jew ish m ilieu. M any Jew ish children continued to receive their prim ary education in Y iddish at the new secular schools, and a few had probably attended some o f the clandestine religious schools that continued to exist into the late 1920s.12S Be­ cause o f the informal networks by which Jew ish tradition was transm itted after the Revolution, it is difficult to determine w ith any precision w hat percentage o f the population possessed the tools necessary to appreciate the theater’s subtext. Even if it is assumed that a large segment o f the theaters audience had extensive Jew ish backgrounds— an assumption that holds more for the theaters provincial audi­ ences than for those in Moscow—this alone by no means indicates that they un­ derstood the productions in allegorical terms. It is worth remembering, however, that in an environment o f strict censorship audiences are more responsive to hid­ den codes and contexts, because they recognize that certain ideas cannot be con­ veyed overdy. The censors, on the other hand, seem to have lacked even the most basic skills required to carry out their work effectively. W ith the 1930 dissolution o f the Jew ish Section, the Party lost its chief conduit to the Jew ish community. H ence­ forth the theater was supervised by the C entral Repertory Com m ittee, whose officials lacked the Jew ish Sections fam iliarity w ith Jew ish life. In fact, the theater itself was forced to hire translators to translate each play into Russian for approv­ al by the censors, suggesting that the censors did not even read Yiddish. W h ile there is no evidence that the translators deliberately doctored their translations, the m eaning o f certain terms, such as m idat ba-dirt, were sim ply lost in translation. T h e fact that the censors needed translations also suggests that they were unfam il­ iar w ith other aspects o f Jew ish culture to which the theaters plays referred. De­ spite their strong presence, the censors seem to have rarely interfered w ith the theater directly. A lthough they played an active role in suppressing H ebrew litera­ ture and Jew ish topics in Russian literature, the censors were less conspicuous in the realm o f Yiddish. T his can be attributed both to a lack o f staff w ith the nec­ essary linguistic skills as w ell as to the Party’s own ambiguous policies w ith regard to Jew ish themes in Y iddish literature. H aving deprived itself o f the Jew ish Sec­ tion’s guidance in formulating policies about Yiddish literature and culture, the Party seems to have been just as confused about the slogan “national in form, socialist in content” as was the theater. The ubiquitous presence o f censorship itself, even if it did not directly touch their work, was sufficient to keep Yiddish writers on their toes. The theater’s re­ lationship w ith its censors can be gleaned from an anecdote told by Y iddish poet Abraham Sutzkever, who fled V ilna to M oscow in 1944 and was asked by M ik hoels to w rite a play for the theater. Sutzkever recalls that he told M ikhoels he was concerned about the censors: “At these words o f mine M ikhoels laughed, not only 148

The C ourt Is in Session

w ith his face, but w ith his entire body.. . . ‘You are m istaken, Abraham , the censor has nothing to do w ith us, because in every w riter’s head sits his own censor.’"126 In other words, as long as they were not antagonized, the censors left the theater alone. A s Peretz M arkish wrote: [M ikhoels’s] elaborate creation process allows him to attain the highest grade o f artistic independence and freedom and gives him the possibility o f m anifesting his own artistic individuality and the social philosophy o f the tim e and society in w hich he lives.127

M ikhoels understood that his theater’s raison d ’être was its “Jewishness.” He had clearly seen, since the 1927 production o f Uprising, that without Jew ish con­ tent the theater would fail, both financially and ideologically. H is motives, how­ ever, cannot be reduced to pure opportunism. Jew ish culture remained close to M ikhoels’s heart; throughout his tenure as director o f the theater, the promotion o f Jew ish culture in the Soviet Union increasingly became his pet cause. M ikhoels was able to turn his theater into a Jew ish cultural center where the greatest Sovi­ et Jew ish artists, directors, actors, musicians, and writers could all find a faithful audience.


W here Are the Maccabees? The Heroic Past


One o f the problems discussed at the First W riters’ Congress o f 1934 was the application o f socialist realism to non-Russian culture. Ethnic writers were warned against producing mere facsimiles o f Russian culture, on the one hand, and be­ coming self-contained, on the other. A synthesis of the two extremes was found in G orky’s call for a return to folklore. Artists and writers were urged to draw from the cultural traditions w ith which their people identified, to express themselves w ith narodnost , a popular sp irit.1 Russian novelists revived the themes o f peasant lubok literature, balalaikas became the musical instrum ent o f choice, U krainian dance troupes performed in colorful peasant dress, and olympiads and dekadas showcasing the folk cultures o f different nationalities proliferated. The propo­ nents o f folklorism sought to construct a new supernational culture that would encompass the universal myths of all people o f all time. It was this struggle to create a universal Zeitgeist devoid of all indeterm inacies that has prompted Régine Robin to call socialist realism “an impossible aesthetic.”2 A further im possibility inherent in the aesthetic was the notion of narodnaia kultura, a term w hich can be translated as “people’s culture,” “folk culture,” “national culture,” or even “mass culture.”The urge to appeal to the narodw as by no means new to Russian aesthetic ideology. It can be traced back to the 1874 “G oing-to-the-People” movement, during which thousands o f Russian students flocked to the countryside alterna­ tively to learn from or to teach the people. T his dichotomy between the narod as teacher and narod as student persisted w ell into the 1930s. D uring the 1920s, theater activists such as M eyerhold and Granovsky drew from the fairground, the carnival, and popular theatrical traditions (such as the purim spiel) in an effort to incorporate the spontaneity of the “common folk” into their art, w hile others delivered Bolshevik literature into rural reading rooms. Yet despite its celebration o f cultural diversity and exoticism, the regim e sought to divorce cultural production from the ideology behind it; culture w as per­ m itted to be national, but not nationalist. In other words, Soviet folklorist culture was expected to present “kitsch nationalism ,” a superficial recognition o f a nation’s cultural idiosyncrasies that was devoid of political or religious im plications.3 O f­ ficial recognition of a nation’s unique cultural traditions was not expected to vali­ date that nation’s claim to distinctness, and certainly not to sovereignty. T h is phe­ nomenon of divorcing cultural production from broader sociological issues was hardly restricted to the Soviet Union. In fact, postcolonial literary criticism con­ tends that W estern attitudes toward the “O rient" reek of sim ilar condescension.4 Thus, official Soviet nationalities policy continued to deny the existence o f a Jew ­ ish nation in theory, while simultaneously promoting a diluted Jew ish national culture.5 150

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N ational motifs were to be used solely as a medium through w hich socialist them es could be communicated. Regardless o f the language and dress o f the protagonists, the structure o f all socialist realist novels rem ained the same. On M oscow ’s stages and in the pages o f Soviet novels, young men and women became “questing herofes] in search o f consciousness.”6 T h ey learned to be “conscious” workers by enlisting in the Red A rm y to defend “the G reat October Revolution,” by w resting produce from a hostile nature w ith the help o f their trusty tractors, and by m ining coal to fuel their m otherland’s ever-expanding industrial production. These “boy meets tractor” novels, however, were largely absent from the Yiddish stage. C ertainly audiences saw young Jew ish workers leading their parents to a state o f “revolutionary consciousness,” but the action was more likely to take place in the home, that sanctuary o f Jew ish life, than in the factory or the field. Socialist realism in the Yiddish theater was geared toward the peculiarities o f Jew ish life. T h e plays presented at the M oscow State Y iddish T heater in the latter h alf o f the 1930s can be characterized first and foremost by their definite “Jewishness.” A fter divorcing itself from Jew ish content w ith its 1935 production o f K in g Lear, the Y iddish theater returned to its roots w ith a vengeance in the latter h alf o f the decade. T h is period saw not only a return to the pre-revolutionary Jew ish play­ w rights that had dominated the stage in the 1920s— Sholem A leichem and A bra­ ham G oldfadn—but also a renewed attem pt to have contem porary Jew ish play­ w rights deal w ith specifically Jew ish themes. No longer were Jew ish motifs to be clandestinely hidden beneath socialist story lines— they were now openly pro­ claim ed and celebrated on stage as an expression o f folklorism and popular spi­ rit, provided that they adhered to certain rules. The first such works appropriated the folklore and popular heroes o f the nineteenth-century shtetl and transformed them into didactic illustrations o f the m erits o f communism and Soviet policies. A s the decade progressed, the theater became more w illing to cross the line from national content into nationalist content. It began to move away from quaint socialist fables drawn from shtetl life to politically charged legends o f ancient Judaea. T he integration o f national form into Jew ish art posed a unique problem in that much o f w hat could be called Jew ish form was based on either religion or the Jew ish longing for Zion, both o f which were strictly taboo topics. “I do not understand why a Georgian or an Uzbek theater m ay present a national epic, but we m ay not,” M ikhoels protested.7T he answer was obvious and M ikhoels doubt­ less knew it. There was nothing unpatriotic or anti-Soviet about Georgian poets dream ing o f their ancient capital M tskheta or about Uzbek bards singing o f the Sh ir D ar M adrasa o f Sam arkand—both were integral features o f the Soviet Union o f w hich all its citizens could be proud. But a Jew longing for Jerusalem was an altogether different m atter— not because he was a Jew, but because he looked beyond the Soviet realm for inspiration. A ll Soviet citizens were invited to share in the glory o f the halcyon days of M tskheta and Sam arkand, but the lore o f Judaea and Sam aria was the exclusive property o f the Jew s. Plays depicting the halcyon days o f Jew ish civilization in ancient Israel im plicitly glorified the golden era o f Jew ish statehood and im plied a degeneration o f society since the beginning o f exilic existence. T he theater’s spokespeople officially presented these plays as so­ 151

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cialist realist examples o f the class struggle w ithin the Jew ish community, although the texts themselves were rife w ith subtexts and coded symbols asserting genuine national pride. O ther plays were situated in Russia and resuscitated the shtetl Jew, a charac­ ter, whether adored or despised, who had rem ained close to the hearts o f Jew s and non-Jews alike. W h ile the characters were portrayed first and foremost as Soviet citizens or subjects o f the tsar, to m any audiences it likely made little difference whether their heroes were o f proletarian or aristocratic stock—the im portant fact was that they were Jew s. W h ile the nationalist structure o f these plays was less explicit, they were in m any ways a greater challenge to the m ythology o f Jew ish assim ilation and integration. For in contrast to the historical plays that validated Jew ish nationhood by harking back to ancient Judaea, these plays acknowledged the unique predicament and distinctness o f the contemporary Jew ish population o f the Soviet Union.

Fifteenth Jubilee In M arch 1935, the M oscow State Y iddish T heater celebrated its fifteenth jubilee w ith a momentous gala. A jubilee committee was established, headed by such lum inaries as the new Com m issar o f Enlightenm ent Andrei Bubnov (who replaced Lunacharskii in 1929) and la . O. Boiarskii. Representatives from the Jew ­ ish cultural com munity included David Bergelson, Itzik Fefer, Peretz M arkish, and M oshe Litvakov.8 The gala event was typical of contemporary Soviet com ­ memorative events: a series o f bland policy speeches “entertained” the invited guests, and for the finale the M oscow State Yiddish Theater performed a scene from Two H undred Thousand, into which greetings to the theater were inserted from major factories and collective farms.9 In honor o f the jubilee, the first acts of Two H undred Thousand and The D ivorce Paper w ere broadcast on the radio.10 A d­ ditionally, the theater and its adm inistrative director, Ida Lashevich, were honored by the Com m issariat o f Enlightenm ent. The Soviet Telegraph A gency (T A SS) credited the theater w ith being “one o f the best theaters in the w orld.”” D er ernes celebrated the jubilee by inviting factories and collective farms throughout the Soviet Union to send their greetings to M ikhoels and his troupe. T he workers of K alinindorf D istrict, for instance, saluted the theater w ith hails o f “Long live the nationality policies o f L enin -Stalin! Long live socialist culture! Long live the State Yiddish Theater and its talented collective! Long live our greatly beloved Stalin!” T he festive mood o f the paper, however, was tempered by a short article— doubtless included as an ominous w arning—w hich reported on a plenum held by the Union of Soviet W riters in w hich Yiddish dram aturgy was criticized for failing to portray the New Soviet M an .12 T h e festivities surrounding the theater’s anniversary provided an ideal oppor­ tunity to formulate an official interpretation o f the theater s history. According to this schema, first formulated by M ikhoels at the A ll-U nion A ssem bly o f Jew ish Theaters, the recent translations o f Shakespeare and Labiche were hailed as the enlightened culm ination o f a three-part history o f the theater. D uring the first 152

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period, 1920-1929, the theater performed avant-gardist versions o f Y iddish liter­ ary classics.T he second stage, 1929-1934, saw a turn toward Soviet Jew ish writers who portrayed the C ivil W ar and the Revolution, w hile for the third and final stage, the theater raised itself to the exalted level of perform ing standard classics o f non-Jewish theater. T his standardized interpretation o f the theater’s history be­ came the sole acceptable means o f discussing the topic. It was repeated in virtually every speech and article w ritten by M ikhoels over the course o f the year, it ap­ peared in reviews and articles on the theater in the press, and it appeared on the cover o f librettos from the period.13 For instance, Intourist’s libretto of K in g Lear contained the unintentionally ironic statem ent that “the theatre could not content it s e lf .. . w ith themes drawn from the past, even though treated from a revolution­ ary stan d p o in t.. . . T he theatre has been searching for new Soviet themes and consequently for new artistic m ethods.”14 How exactly Shakespeare, a sixteenthcentury British playwright, could w rite plays on “Soviet them es” was unclear. Yet there are many indications that some people, including M ikhoels, were not satisfied w ith this paradigm . Indeed, despite the resounding success o f K in g Lear, it was difficult for those who hoped for a flowering of Yiddish culture to accept that the highest level o f this renaissance would be characterized by trans­ lations o f European classics. One need only recall M ikhoels s w arning that “if we turn ourselves into a theater o f translation, then to us, as a Jew ish theater, there is nothing more to be done” as evidence that he would not be satisfied w ith only translations.13 It seemed like more o f a retreat than a leap forward. M ikhoels often rem inded his audience o f the theater’s attem pts in 1926-1927 to produce contem­ porary Soviet plays on revolutionary them es.16 T his deviation from the theaters path o f development did not fit into the ascribed dialectical periodization. Further, it contradicted the estim ation o f Granovsky as an ardent counter-revolutionary. Behind closed doors, M ikhoels s defense o f Granovsky was unwavering. Referring to the requirement o f denouncing past excesses, he allegedly once remarked to Liubom irskii that “to dictate to the theater to deny its history is the same as dic­ tating it to deny itself.”17 Some outspoken critics shared M ikhoels’s concern. For instance, Zvi Friedland had the audacity to deny that socialist principles could be extracted legiti­ m ately from Shakespeare. In Literaturnaia gazeta, he argued that the theater should return to Jew ish tragicomedies: T h e com bination o f tragedy and com edy in the productions o f the Jew ish C h am ­ ber T heater played a great educational role for its audiences. It helped them purify their internal w orld from the rem nants o f capitalism. T he role o f the Jew ish C ham ber T heater has still not been adequately evaluated. T his theater is a significant factor in the international education o f the w orking masses.

Friedland continued that w ith K in g Lear, however, “the theater, it seems, has entered into a denial of itself.”18 He then singled out N ight in the Old Market as one of the theater’s finer productions, praising it for convincing the audience o f the tragedy o f the old Jew ish life through an enjoyable performance. T his was a stark contrast to the politically correct interpretation o f the play, w hich regarded it as a 153

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text adulterated w ith m ystical and religious dogma. Not surprisingly, Friedland s article provoked a repudiation in Sovetskoe iskusstvo. 19 A fter the jubilee the theater completed its plan for the year 1935, w hich in­ cluded a summer tour in which the theater played forty-two shows in Leningrad to a total o f 70,000 spectators and performed nearly sixty shows in U kraine.20

The W ailing Wall The theater’s repertory decisions over the following year reveal a great deal o f uncertainty about its future. Between M ay 1935 and February 1936, no fewer than twelve different plays were announced in the press, including new ones by Kushnirov, D aniel, Bergelson, and Reznik; an adaptation o f Babel’s Sunset; and translations o f Pushkin.21 T he theater’s first play after the jubilee reflects much of this uncertainty. T he new production, which premiered in November, was Shm uel M alkin’s Yiddish translation o f Lev M izandrontsev’s Wailing Wall, staged by Vasily Fedorov. M ikhoels was conspicuously absent from the production. T he perfor­ mance was entirely devoid o f the type o f symbolism and avant-garde theatrics that had characterized earlier productions. Even the music, composed by M oshe M il­ ner, the musical director o f the Kharkov State Yiddish Theater, sought to authen­ tically recreate M iddle Eastern melodies, while A . M . G usiatinskii’s realist art left little room for the audience’s im agination. The play’s message was clear and straightforward. It was the theater’s first specifically anti-Z ionist production since Benjamin. However, this tim e rather than poke fun at the fantastical dreams o f Zion, the play offered a more sober pe­ dantic criticism o f the perceived political im plications o f Zionism , representing an early manifestation o f the motifs that characterized Soviet anti-Z ionist propa­ ganda after the creation o f the State o f Israel.22 In particular, the play overempha­ sizes the role o f Jew ish capital in financing Jew ish colonization of Palestine and equates the Arab population w ith the downtrodden proletariat, w hile the khalutzim (Jew ish pioneers) are portrayed as capitalist im perialists. T his was a stark contrast w ith the theater’s earlier depictions of Jews. For fifteen years, the Yiddish theater had been stereotyping Jew s as pitiable paupers and luftmentshen. Suddenly the very same Jew s were transformed into the epitome o f W estern financiers, who, having already pillaged the w ealth o f the European proletariat, were beginning to look elsewhere for regions to exploit. T he play begins in the port of Jaffa as a group of Jew ish colonizers from G er­ m any disem bark from their ship exuberantly singing Zionist songs. One such oleh (im m igrant to Israel) is Leo Berns, a fictional German Jew ish poet, who decides to settle in the colony Derekh Tikvah (The Road o f Hope), where his brother resides. W hen he arrives he learns that his brother has been killed during an attem pted expropriation of Arab land. Berns learns of the frequent Arab raids on the colony and is surprised at the extent o f A rab-Jewish hostilities. A t a m eeting o f the colony, he learns o f the Jew ish policy o f appropriating Arab land w ith the ultim ate goal of capturing the W ailin g W all (the last rem aining w all of the second Jew ish Temple) by annexing Jerusalem to a Zionist state. O nly one member o f the colony objects


Where A re the Maccabees?

to the planned expropriation, for which he is sum m arily banished from the colo­ ny. T h e next act takes the audience to a neighboring Arab settlem ent, where the villagers realize they must defend their land w ith violence. T he Jew s take the in i­ tiative, however, w ith a pre-emptive strike against their Arab neighbors. In the fi­ nal scene a lone Jew and Arab befriend each other and come to understand that they are not enemies. T he only enem y is the W ailing W all.23 Pravda, accentuating the struggle between the poor working Arabs and the rich bourgeois Jew s, complimented Fedorov for not being distracted by the “East­ ern exoticism” o f Arab life and for adhering to “social truths,” but criticized the play for w eakly portraying the class differences am ong the Jew ish im m igrants.24 T his sentim ent was shared by most critics, m any o f whom used the opportunity to lam baste the “bourgeois movement o f Zionism” for its oppression o f the “Arab proletariat.”25 One critic noted that “the audience knows from the papers that rich Jews are striving to buy up Arab land for the needs o f colonists and that this has only led to a new explosion o f national strife. A ll this is true. A ll this happened in actuality, but in the past authors have not properly provided all the details o f contem porary life in Palestine.”26 Indeed, it was not easy to portray the struggle for Palestine— a land in w hich every stone is sacred for having been walked upon by prophets and a land whose own history provides the source o f national awareness for countless peoples— as a class struggle in which national and religious conno­ tations were only secondary.

Jewish Robin Hoods O ver the next two years, the theater presented two plays that drew from the folk tradition of social banditry. Eric Hobsbawm has defined “social bandits” as “peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as crim inals, but who remain w ithin peasant society and are considered by their people to be heroes, champions, avengers, fighters for justice.”27 Common figures in most cultures, bandits were ubiquitous in pre-revolutionary Russian popular culture; they symbolized the free­ dom o f the individual over the strictures of society and the arbitrariness of tsarist law. T h e Russian folk heroes Stenka Razin and Em elian Pugachev both symbo­ lize this spirit of revolt. However, as Jeffrey Brooks notes, social bandits were rare in Russian fiction.28 Russian fictional bandits certainly challenged authority, but they did so out o f gluttony rather than for the good o f society. Social bandits were more common in Jew ish folk traditions, where they realized the spontaneous re­ bellion o f the poor against their oppressors.29 T hey appeared in early purimspiels, in Sholem A schs Motke the Thief, in Joseph O patashu’s Romance o f a Horse T h ief and especially in Isaac Babel’s Benya Krik. These stories told o f “noble robbers” who fought to “right societal wrongs.”30 T hey exalted the egalitarianism o f folk justice and heroized those who sought to mete it out. M oshe Kulbak’s (1896-1940) Boytre the Bandit was first performed in 1936 during the Yiddish theater s summer tour o f Smolensk, Leningrad, Odessa, and the Donbass region; it premiered in Moscow in October. The play was based on Schiller s Robbers, in w hich the noble robber Karl M oor sacrifices his own life to


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save a poor man. T he play was M ikhoels’s first attem pt to deal w ith pre-revolu­ tionary Russian Jew ish life since he became the theater’s director. In his biography o f M ikhoels, M atvei G eizer describes how the play was added to the repertoire: Once, in January 19 3 6 , w hile returning hom e after a perform ance, M ikhoels noticed a stalker. Som e “strange character” follow ed him through the public gar­ den ofT verskaia Street. N ow w hen M ikhoels approached the door o f his en ­ trance, the “strange character” silently called to him : thin, dark eyes, very sweet and shy, he took a portfolio out o f his briefcase and said: “I ask o f you, read it. Ju st read. I don’t dream o f greatness and I don’t expect anything.” T he stranger revealed h im self to M ikhoels as somebody very familiar. It was the renowned Jew ish poet, M oshe Kulbak, and in the portfolio was his play Boytre the Bandit.^

Born on a farm ing com munity near V ilna, Kulbak was one o f the few Je w ­ ish intellectuals w ith practical agricultural experience. H is poetry celebrated the return o f Jews to the soil and promoted agricultural pursuits. Kulbak received a typical Jew ish education, studying in kheder and then yeshiva. In 1919 he moved to the city o f V ilna, and then Berlin. A lthough he was only in his early twenties, Kulbak’s expressionist poetry was already being read throughout the Y iddish­ speaking world by the time he returned to V ilna in 1923. Kulbak im m igrated to Soviet M in sk in 1928, hoping to take advantage o f w hat he thought were liberal cultural and political conditions in the Soviet state. D uring the 1930s, Kulbak turned to socialist realism and sought a more gentle humor in emulation o f Sholem A leichem . Boytre , written in 1933 and published two years later in the literary journal Shtem, was one of only two dram atic works w ritten by the prolific writer. In addition to being performed at the M oscow State Yiddish Theater, the play was performed in 1937 at the A rtef T heater in New York. The play is set in the year 1829 during the reign o f Tsar Nicholas I, a peri­ od remembered bitterly by Jew ish victims o f tsarist oppression. T he plot centers around the conflict between the hero, Khaim Boytre, a Robin H ood-type folk thief, and Aron W olf, the head o f the kahal ( Jew ish communal government). Boy­ tre s rebellion against the rabbinical kahalic authority begins when W o lf rejects Boytre’s suggestion that the com m unity raise money to help the poor and provide medication for the sick. W o lf insists that the kahal should respect the tsar’s d i­ rectives and concern itself solely w ith spiritual matters: “Jews are responsible at present only for peace w ithin their home,” he explains. “T he king has insisted on this.”32 To spite the elder’s intransigence, Boytre woos W o lf’s daughter, w inning her over by his courage in challenging the dom inant authority. T he poor and downtrodden celebrate their victory. The play ends, however, as W o lf summons mercenaries to attack Boytre, who is killed in the ensuing battle.33 Kulbak portrayed Jew ish history in early nineteenth-century Russia as a “pris­ on of nations.” H is M arxist interpretation o f history was most evident in the illum ination o f class conflict w ithin the Jew ish community. T he play scoffed at the vision o f the kahal as a unified organization, highlighting instead the very real so­ cial conflicts perm eating the institution.34 It also addressed the inadequacies o f national autonomy by showing how the nom inally autonomous kahal was unable 156

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and unw illing to resist the evils o f the tsarist regime. Kulbak suggested that pro­ tection from despotism cannot be found in national self-government, but rather must be sought in the international class consciousness suggested by Boytre’s jo in t Cossak-Jewish partisan army. As M ikhoels explained, “In counterbalance to sev­ eral o f our old works that idealized the past and sketched it in m ild lyrical tones, in this production the theater strives to show the accumulation o f rage and the hate felt toward the oppressors.”35 T he oppressors in this case were the rabbinical authorities who controlled the kahal and allegedly used their dominance over the organization to perpetuate the economic status quo. T he kahal is portrayed as an institution whose very purpose is the m aintenance o f power for the privileged. Boytre’s request that it use its influence to redistribute resources on an egalitar­ ian basis threatens the very foundations o f the institution and its power structure. Boytre’s insistence that one’s first loyalty must be to the com m unity and not the fam ily also conformed w ith contemporary Soviet demands that led young children to denounce their parents to the secret police. On a less structuralist level, the play represents a continuation o f the theater’s more traditional themes— the ability o f romantic love to overcome all obstacles and the conflict o f generations. The play was not m erely a front for a social ideo­ logical lesson, but was also an episode from real life. T hus, most observers classified the play as a romantic rather than a historical drama. For instance, Iakov G rinvald wrote that w hile it is set in a historical tim e frame, it is not a historical play: “It is a poetic play on a historical them e, in which we are given living historical sketches . . . a romantic dram a.”36 Stylistically, the play was the closest to Granovsky’s method that the theater ever produced under M ikhoels’s directorship. M ikhoels sought to recreate a p u rim sp 'tel atmosphere. T he play was full o f exciting crowd and festive wedding scenes. Zuskin, as Boytre, played his first real non-comedic role and succeeded, according to all accounts. M ikhoels andT yshler devised a m ise-en-scène depicting the pov­ erty and hopelessness of life in the Pale; somber colors in the backdrop contributed to the gloom o f the setting. Tyshler was praised for finally abandoning any sem ­ blance o f stylism and truly embracing realism .37 Pulver also spiced his Jew ish folk songs with more experim ental, almost atonal, strains, producing an eerie feel de­ void o f the gaiety o f traditional klezmer music. T he reaction o f the press was tremendously positive. “In Kulbaks’s play,” raved one critic, the theater gave a genuine reproduction o f Jew ish life in the “prison o f na­ tions”— tsarist Russia. T here we see the great social conflict between the Jew ish rich and the Jew ish p o o r.. . . T he author has built a play on Jew ish legends and has liberally used the rich folklore o f the Jew s. It has made the play accessible and com prehensible to a mass audience.38

G rinvald echoed him : “The M oscow State Yiddish Theater has given us a superb production. W e highly recommend that not only Jew s see it, but all o f Moscow.”39 C ritics also appreciated the revamped portrayal o f shtetl Jew ry, as the luftm entsh gave w ay to the bandit-hero. “Boytre the Bandit firmly rejects any of the idealization 157

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o f the old life that can be found in the theater’s prior works,”40 wrote one critic. “There has not yet been on the Jew ish stage a production on par w ith B oytre the Bandit in terms o f the strength o f its heroic inspiration,” agreed Izvestiia.*1Some, however, criticized the theater for returning to the old Jew ish shtetl after having found moderate success in the portrayal o f contemporary revolutionary move­ ments w ith Four Days and The Deaf.*1 M . Gershenzon’s vaudeville Hershele Ostropoler, performed in 1937, again drew from the folk tradition o f the noble robber and exalted the leveling o f popular justice. In contrast to the violence o f Boytre and typical folk bandits, H ershele Ostropoler was a cunning fool who helped the downtrodden and outsm arted the elites through his w its and chutzpah. T he legends o f H ershele were widespread throughout the Pale o f Settlem ent; they were favorite stories o f children and parents alike. Even Isaac Babel had featured Hershele in his short story Shahosnakhamu .4JThrough his cunning, humor, and folkish charism a, H ershele could always be counted on to outmaneuver the rich in favor o f the poor. In G ershen­ zon’s adaptation, H ershele defeats the m iserly m oneylender Kalman. Berl, a young would-be groom who has starved him self for weeks to save enough money for a w edding ring, comes to Kalman, who is holding B erl’s grandm other’s ring as a pledge. Kalman insists on charging an exorbitant price for its redemption and is unw illing to compromise. Hershele then makes his appearance, prom ising to ob­ tain the ring for the couple. H e steals a golden cup, an um brella, and a sack from Kalman. W hen Kalman brings a policeman to arrest H ershele for stealing the cup, H ershele replies that the moneylender is out o f his m ind; the cup does not belong to him .To prove his point, Hershele explains to the policeman that Kalman thinks everything is stolen from him , at which point, on cue, Berl enters holding Kalman’s umbrella and Bunem, the bride-to-be, enters w ith Kalman’s sack, sending Kalman into a frenzy and convincing the policeman that the moneylender is out o f his w its. Berl receives his ring back and the w edding takes place w ith all the traditional m erriment. T he play, w hich was Zuskin’s first attem pt at directing, received generally positive reviews. G rinvald appreciated the play as a simple, festive, life-affirm ing satire o f the old shtetl life.44 A . Khasin, reviewing the play for D er ernes, wrote: “Here the gifted dram atist has the opportunity to create a character like the old C harlie Chaplin. For instance, here it was necessary to express artistically the en­ tire range o f folk buffoonery . . . and to combine the socialist character w ith the nationalist form o f Jew ish folk traditions.” H e praised Gershenzon for raising the folk text to a new dram atic level by adding realistic dialogue, pathos, and new comedic situations. However, Khasin felt that overall the production was a bit careless. T his may have been due to Zuskin’s inexperience or to the short period of rehearsals. But Khasin noted that the play demonstrated two very im portant points — first, that “Zuskin can and must work as a director,” and second, that “actors like [Ilya] Rogaler and [Isaak] Lure who have until now only played episodic roles can play, and play w ell, lead roles.”45 Jew ish bandits and their ethos o f folk justice, centered on a Robin H ood-like concern for the social welfare o f the underprivileged, recreated the pastoral shtetl. 158

Where A re the Maccabees ?

By draw ing from epic themes, the plays o f Gershenzon and Kulbak, like B abels cycles, transformed the resigned and m eek shtetl Jew s into robust heroes.The ban­ dits boldly challenge their oppressors and through sheer nerve bring justice to the people. However, popular justice and spontaneous leveling reeked o f anarchism. It was not the means by which those who claim ed to represent the conscious van­ guard o f the proletariat would reconstruct society. T he Bolshevik version o f history rejected the spontaneous redistribution o f w ealth, the “Black Repartition” that Russian peasants and populists had im agined would level society. The collectiviza­ tion drive o f the late 1920s and early 1930s had forcefully and violently demon­ strated that individual paupers were not to appropriate the property o f their former landowners. The means o f production were not to be seized by the needy; rather, they were to be nationalized by the state according to a central plan. Further, the romanticization of folk violence im plicit in Boytre’s struggle for justice was intol­ erable to a regim e w hich vehem ently needed to preserve its own monopoly on violence. T hus, the notion o f folk justice was rejected by the reigning power in favor o f its own laws. T his official rejection o f the tendency to heroize and roman­ ticize social bandits would eventually silence both those like Babel, who made a career o f tales o f violence, and those like Kulbak, who merely dabbled in the genre.

The W easel and die W ell O ne night sometime in 1937, Stalins right-hand man Lazar Kaganovich (1893-1991) attended a performance o f Boytre the Bandit. A fter serving as a Par­ ty functionary in Turkestan, Kaganovich had risen quickly w ithin the Party lead­ ership under the personal patronage o f Stalin himself. As head o f the U krainian Com m unist Party from 1925-1928 and head o f the agricultural section of the Par­ ty thereafter, Kaganovich was largely responsible for im plem enting collectiviza­ tion. W h en he returned to M oscow in 1928, he was appointed to the Secretariat of the C entral C om m ittee, and in 1930 he became First Secretary o f the M oscow Party C om m ittee. D uring both collectivization and the Party purges, Kaganovich had proven his ability to effectively carry out Stalin s most ruthless orders, which earned him Stalin's unrivaled trust. It was not Kaganovich’s sheer power, however, which most disturbed the Yiddish theater troupe. U nlike most official Party rep­ resentatives who occasionally observed the theater, Kaganovich was Jew ish and spoke Y iddish fluently. H e had received a typical Jew ish education in his native U krainian town o f Kabana. His father was a tailor, his paternal grandfather a can­ tor. H e was able to understand and appreciate every linguistic and cultural nuance. Further, despite his background, Kaganovich was not known to be a friend o f the Jew s.46 One negative word from this illustrious guest, and the entire theater could be closed down and its participants arrested. Joseph Schein reports that during the curtain calls, Kaganovich was absent from his box— an ominous sign. After a pri­ vate conversation w ith M ikhoels, he appeared backstage to chastise the theater: It is a shame to me, a sham e L ook at me, at w hat la m — la m a Jew , m y father was also one: exalted, bright, healthy. W h y do you drag down such Jew s on your stage? D eform ed, lame, c rip p led ?!. . . Such Jew s summon sensations among the


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater audience. I w ant you to summ on sensations o f pride in today and yesterday w ith your plays. W h e re are the M accabees [the leaders o f the Jew ish revolt in 1 6 0 B.c.E. w ho rededicated the Temple]? w here is B ar Kokhba [the leader o f the Judaic revolt against Rom an rule in 1 3 2 c.E.]? . . . W h e re are the Birobidzhan Jew s w ho are building themselves a new life?47

Schein described the reaction among those backstage: Som e o f the younger members were hearing these names for the first tim e and did not understand w hat kind o f Jew ish revolutionaries he was talking about and dem anding from the theater. For the elders it sounded like a provocation. O n ly an hour ago, nobody w ould dare even think about them fo r fear o f being accused o f nationalism or counter-revolutionary activity.48

It was one o’clock in the m orning by the time Kaganovich left the theater. Despite the late hour, M ikhoels im m ediately contacted H alkin— the one w riter whom he could rely upon to bring to life the heroic age o f Jew ish history on such short notice. W ith in months, M oshe Kulbak was arrested and his play was removed from the repertoire o f the Yiddish theater. T he author perished three years later in a Siberian labor camp.49 Kaganovich, indubitably acting w ith Stalins support, had strong reasons for encouraging heroism. T he glorification o f the past was a theme whose growing prevalence was noticeable not only in Yiddish culture but also in Russian culture as a whole. W ith the rise o f fascism in Germany, the dream o f a worldwide social­ ist revolution was firm ly put to rest. T he Soviet Union could no longer be pro­ moted as a harbinger o f world communism. On the other hand, by the late 1930s the political system in place was no longer threatened by internal enemies— Sta­ lin s grip on power was virtually untouchable. T hus, Soviet propaganda largely abandoned the im age o f the Soviet Union as a bastion o f communism keeping capitalist forces at bay. T he new threat had little to do w ith economic forces and everything to do w ith G erman and Japanese m ilitary m ight. T he upcoming battle was perceived as a w ar to preserve the Russian m otherland from foreign enemies. Russian patriotism was promoted in conjunction w ith Russian chauvinism . For instance, on M arch 13,1938 the Council of People’s Com missars and the Central Com m ittee approved a resolution authorizing the compulsory teaching o f the Russian language in all schools.50 In an effort to rouse the people’s patriotism , the Soviet state saturated its propaganda w ith the historical heroism o f the nation’s defenders. Film s such as Eisensteins Alexander Nevsky drew from the distant past to resuscitate historical figures as models o f patriotism. Personal valor and m ili­ tary m ight were the character traits most valued for the com ing confrontation, and it was the goal o f Russian and Yiddish culture to provide heroic examples of this type. It did not take long for M ikhoels to construct his own rhetoric that glorified the Jew ish past along the lines o f Kaganovich’s model: T he main question w hich is now brought to the attention o f the M oscow State Y iddish T heater is the question o f the [Jewish] people. T he people are not like they have been portrayed in the past. T he Jew ish people are a pow erful and


Where A re the Maccabees f healthy people, a people w h o have undergone thousands o f years and have lived to be free, thanks to the great O ctober Socialist Revolution, thanks to the nation­ ality politics o f L enin and Stalin ___ H eroism — this w ord represents for us the fundam ental task.5'

Kaganovich’s chastisem ent came as a relief to M ikhoels, who had always expressed a great deal o f pride in the Jew ish past. W hereas previous references to the glory days o f M asada and the Jew ish revolts could only be surreptitiously inserted into his plays, M ikhoels was now being given license to openly proclaim his pride in Jew ish heroism. C ertainly the comic character o f the luftm entsh had always appealed to Jew ish sentiments, but few proud Jew s could forget the hal­ cyon days o f the M accabean revolt. Further, the authorization to explore historical themes freed the theater from the narrow confines o f its previous repertory re­ quirem ents. Since M ikhoels had become director o f the theater, his repertoire had largely been confined to plays situated w ithin a period o f roughly thirty years, from the 1905 Revolution to the present. T he cycle o f productions portraying social­ ist construction and revolutionary enthusiasm , w hich never reached the aesthetic quality o f the theater’s earlier productions, was becoming even more stale. Ka­ ganovich’s proclamation thus unleashed in M ikhoels a barrage o f emotions that m aterialized on the stage o f the Yiddish theater. G rinvald recounts the ease w ith which this new vision was incorporated into the theater’s repertoire: T he Jew ish theater, w hich is guided by M ikhoels, is beginning to see in its people not only poor, dow ntrodden, oppressed people, but also proud heroes, brave and selfless fighters for national independence, for freedom . R eturning to the past, the theater finds in the history o f the Jew ish people the greatest m ilitary leaders, masculine, freedom -loving fighters w ith weapons in their hands, raised against the oppressors and enslavers. M oving toward the present w ith their new reper­ toire, w hich incorporates better productions o f Soviet Jew ish w riters, the theater sees and shows its audience the current happiness o f the Jew ish people, clear examples o f socialist construction, defenders o f the Soviet homeland, and healthy, strong, new people full o f optim ism .52

M asculinity became a major theme in the Y iddish theater for the first time. T h e meek househusbands in perpetual fear o f their overpowering dom inant wives who had whimpered on the Yiddish stage for decades were replaced w ith robust, virile, gallant youth. T his reworking o f the male prototype is a fam iliar component of nationalist movements. Just as Soviet and German youth joined gym nastic societies under the belief that physical exercise was an integral component o f Bil­ dung or kultumost, Jew ish nationalists around the world sought to expand Jew ish education beyond the kheder and into the gym nasium .53 Zionist sports and gym ­ nastics clubs in particular sought to produce, in M ax Nordau’s words, Muskel­ ju den tum (m uscular Jew ry), physically capable o f farm ing and defending the future Land o f Israel.S4 In this sense, the M oscow State Yiddish T heater shared w ith Zionist culture a desire to remake the Jew ish male. Both cultures looked toward the same historical episodes for inspiration: the M accabean revolt, the Bar Kokhba revolt, and the pre-exilic Jew ish state in Palestine. 161

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

Over the next two years, the troupe would present two plays situated in the halcyon days o f pre-exilic Judaea in which the national content was foregrounded in both the text and the performance. T he productions, Shulamis and Bar Kokhba, were both w ritten by Shm uel H alkin and were based on plays by G oldfadn. No Y iddish author was better suited for the task o f reviving Jew ish national history than H alkin. H alkin has long been recognized as one o f the most nationalist of Soviet Yiddish w riters: “Am ong the Soviet Y iddish w riters,” wrote Am erican Y iddish literary critic N akhm an M ayzel in 1958, “Shm uel H alkin has rem ained the most complex and sophisticated, the most profound and the most Jew ish .”55 Noted Soviet Yiddish literary critic Aron Gurshteyn (1895-1941) agreed, noting that H alkin s poems “strove toward the threads o f old Jew ish culture, toward the metaphorical im agery o f ancient Jew ish literature, among which the Bible is given the first place.”56 H alkin was born in the Belorussian town o f Rogachev in 1897. H is father, a lumber inspector, taught him a love o f nature and philosophical appreciation for physical labor that would permeate much o f his early w riting. A s a youth, H alkin began w riting Hebrew poetry on the theme o f nature. F leeing the wartim e devas­ tation o f Rogachev, H alkin moved to Kiev, where he met David H ofshteyn and Peretz M arkish. It was there that he began to w rite in Yiddish, publishing his first poems in the M in sk literary journal Shtern in 1921. H e moved to M oscow the following year. Between 1922 and 1935, H alkin published four original poetry collections. In contrast to the m ajority o f Soviet Yiddish w riters, H alkin rejected shtetl life as his prim ary subject matter, preferring instead biblical and historical themes. For this reason, he was criticized in 1929 by a group o f proletarian literary critics led by M . Altshuler. A lthough Litvakov in itially defended H alkin, when charges o f nationalism resurfaced two years later Litvakov joined the critics and helped convince H alkin to recant his earlier work.57 T he author, however, found that his creative impulse was integrally linked to a national stimulus. Deprived of Hebraic motifs, H alkin found that he had difficulty w riting. A lthough he contin­ ued to sporadically publish poetry in various anthologies and journals after 1935, he began in the m id-1930s to turn his attention to translations o f European clas­ sics, most notably his translation o f K in g Lear, and to adaptations o f canonical works such as Goldfadn’s plays. Shulamis, perhaps Goldfadn’s most famous play, was based on the legend “The W easel and the W ell.” T he legend, often cited as “one o f the most popular and im portant stories in Jew ish culture,”58 traces its origins to Talm udic tim es.59 The fable tells of a young woman who falls into a w ell w hile w andering in the desert. H er screams are heard by a young warrior who rescues her, falls in love, and vows to m arry her after com pleting his cam paign. In need of the two witnesses required by Jew ish law to confirm an oath, the lovers decide to use the w ell and a nearby weasel. T he warrior then breaks his vow and marries another woman, who bears him two children— the first o f whom is killed by a weasel and the second o f whom dies after falling down a w ell. R ealizing that he is cursed, the warrior returns to and marries his betrothed, who has remained faithful, discouraging suitors by feigning


Where A re the Maccabees ?

insanity. T he fable was eternalized by a Talm udic reference in w hich Rabbi H anina uses it as an example to illustrate the importance o f abiding by G od’s covenant. I f a vow to a weasel and a w ell must be taken so seriously, he w rites, im agine how earnestly one must adhere to a vow before God.60 T h e fable was first adapted into a play, The L overs o f Zion, in the early 1880s by Joseph Lateiner, a rival of Goldfadn’s. Not to be outdone, Goldfadn quickly responded by w riting his own play, under the title Shulamis— a reference to the heroine o f the Biblical Song o f Songs, usually interpreted by rabbinical commen­ tators as a symbol for Zion or the Jew ish people. First performed in the southern U krainian town o f Nikolaev, Goldfadn’s play was so popular it has since been performed in Yiddish, Russian, U krainian, Polish, H ungarian, and German. “R ai­ sins and Alm onds,” a lullaby from the play, has become one o f the most beloved o f Y iddish songs. T he original text was w ritten during Goldfadn’s so-called na­ tionalist period, the point at w hich the playw right rejected H askalah in favor o f a more romantic nationalism . B y setting the story in Biblical Judaea, Goldfadn was m aking a political statem ent in favor o f the nationalist Zionist camp. T he play is set against the backdrop o f a w ar o f national liberation as the Hebrews defend the Land o f Israel from foreign invaders. W h ile the M oscow State Yiddish T heater had previously performed plays by Goldfadn, it had never before attem pted one from his nationalist years. Before production on H alkin’s adaptation even began, Litvakov waged a cam ­ paign against the play w ithin the theater collective, eventually bringing several actors to his side. H e berated M ikhoels for neglecting contemporary themes and for clinging to historical myths. He was likely also w ary o f H alkin’s interpreta­ tion and eager to prove to the leftists who had attacked him in 1929 that he no longer supported H alkin’s nationalism . M ikhoels ardently defended the produc­ tion against his critics throughout the w eek-long assembly w hich m et to evaluate the play. He argued that the play was chosen in response to G orky’s call at the 1934 W riters’ Congress for literature that drew upon the folk traditions o f the people. Shulamis, he m aintained, was sim ply a historical work that depicted the efforts o f two lovers to overcome the class antagonisms perm eating the Jew ish community. M ikhoels’s efforts to premiere the production on time were relentless; he spent his days before the assembly listening to reproaches and his nights w ith the troupe in rehearsals that sometimes lasted until three in the morning. W h en the play finally premiered— on schedule— M ikhoels and H alkin ex­ ceeded Litvakov’s worst fears. Like Goldfadn’s play, H alkin’s version is set in B ib­ lical Judaea. Shulamis thereby became the first play performed on the Yiddish stage, and the first major work by a Soviet writer, to be set in Biblical Judaea. Not only did H alkin revive the Jew ish homeland for Soviet audiences, but he also re­ invented the Jew ish people. There are no luftm entshen in H alkin’s world. On the contrary, the Jew ish people are armed shepherds w ith the w ill and the strength to defend their land from powerful invaders. T he play opens as a group o f shepherds take up arms to defend Judaea against a fearsome invading enemy. T hey are in ­ spired by the patriotic song o f the folksinger:


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater Bows and arrows— taught in the hand, Freedom must remain fo r our land. For our land and fo r our right, Judaea w ill not lack m ight.61

H alkin establishes in the very first scene the position that the Jew ish state must protect itself from enemies by force o f arms— a powerful and provocative assertion in the Soviet context o f the late 1930s. Like Goldfadn’s text, H alkin introduces the shepherdess Shulam is, w ho fol­ lows her father M onoyekh on his w ay to war. Upon reaching the desert, M onoyekh instructs his daughter to return home. But first, he and the folksinger warn her to beware o f the “w ell o f the beloved two”— an innovation o f H alkin’s. A ccording to the folksinger, a childless C anaanite man rich in sheep and cattle had come across a w ell in the desert while traveling w ith his veiled wife. W h en the two approached the w ell, his wife removed her veil to take a drink. As she was drinking, the shep­ herd caught a glim pse o f his w ife’s unveiled face in the w aters reflection and was so overcome by her beauty that he fell into the w ell.62T his folktale, which does not significantly contribute to the plot o f the play, was probably inserted as an allu­ sion to the biblical Abraham . Not only is Abraham recognizable as the childless shepherd from ancient C anaan, but the tale itself is borrowed from a popular fable that tells o f A braham s journey from C anaan to Egypt. According to fable, A bra­ ham was so pious that he never looked at his w ife’s face, until one day he caught a glim pse o f her face reflected in a stream and was overcome by her beauty.63 H alkin thereby surreptitiously brings Abraham into his play to prepare us for his next major innovation. Predictably, after departing from her father, Shulam is, dizzy w ith thirst, falls into a w ell. She is saved by the great hero himself, Avessalom, who is on his w ay to Jerusalem to fight the enemy. Upon gazing at the face o f Shulam is, the warrior im m ediately falls in love and pledges to return to m arry her after his cam paign. At this point, H alkin makes a drastic departure from both the Talm udic parable and Goldfadn’s play. Rather than make their oath before the weasel and the w ell, in H alkin’s version the two swear before the “heavens and the earth.”64T hus, the en­ tire ironic structure o f the narrative is removed. In H alkin’s play Avessalom w ill not have two children who are killed by a weasel and a w ell— it would be m eaning­ less. T his conspicuous alteration can be seen as an ellipsis, a marker indicating to those who are fam iliar w ith the parable that something is awry. Instead o f the ex­ pected oath, the audience is confronted w ith a far more serious oath; in fact it is the very oath about w hich Rabbi H anina warned in his com mentary on the parable — a vow before God. The oath before the heavens made in the C anaanite desert also alludes to the Biblical covenant between God and Abraham — the defining moment in Jew ish history in which God is said to have granted the Jew ish people the land o f Israel in return for their eternal allegiance. Indeed, the Covenant has often been com­ pared to a betrothal between Israel and God. In this case, God is represented by the heavenly witness to the oath and Shulam is, like her Biblical namesake, is a symbol


Where A rt the

Sbulamis, 1937. Left to right: S. Fabrikant as Tsingtang, Eda Bctkovakaia as Avigail, Mark Shekhter as Avessalom. Photo courtesy o f Ala Perclman-Zuskin.

for the people o f Israel. T he reference is strengthened by the folksinger’s earlier allusion to Abraham . T h e oath to the heavens and earth is also rem iniscent o f M oses’s song, “H a’azinu,” w hich begins the penultim ate w eekly portion o f the Torah w ith the phrase, “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; L et the earth hear the words I utter. "T he song, allegedly composed by M oses at the border o f the Prom­ ised L and, celebrates the return o f the Jew ish people to Zion and the fulfillm ent o f G od’s promise to Abraham . B y sim ultaneously alluding to both G od’s in itial covenant w ith Abraham and his ultim ate fulfillm ent o f the vow m any generations later, H alkin establishes a nationalist and religious subtext in his work. Seen in this ligh t, H alkin’s play is transformed into a w arning to those w ho believe that the Covenant in the C anaanite desert can be broken w ithout consequence. Further, in H alkin’s version Avessalom does not intentionally betray Shulam is by m arrying another, but is forced into an arranged m arriage w ith A vigail, a Jerusalem ite m aiden, against his w ill. W h ile this addition can be seen as an added attack on the strictures o f religious tradition, it can also be seen as a symbol for the Jew ish condition. Shulam is, as the betrothed, becomes a symbol for Zion—often portrayed as a bride—w hile A vigail represents any substitute for the Promised Land. L ik e Avessalom, the interpretation continues, the Jew ish people were force­ fully taken aw ay from their beloved Zion and made to pledge allegiance to another.


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

Ju st as Avessalom can never be content w ith his new bride, so the Jew ish people can never be content w ith the Diaspora or w ith a substitute for Zion— a possible reference to the Jew ish Autonomous Region in Birobidzhan. To underline this interpretation further, two characters were added to the text for its onstage performance— a talking dog and a talking cat—both o f whom served as a chorus, accentuating the action taking place on the stage. N either character is represented in H alkin’s published text; both appear only in an unpub­ lished addendum to the script. T he two were largely extraneous, adding little to the plot development. T h eir addition was severely criticized by countless critics. T heir presence in a production which was touted as a “historical” play—an already ab­ surd classification given that the play does not represent a genuine historical epi­ sode and does not even take place in any clearly defined historical era— seemed to be nothing more than a rejection o f the “historical” classification and an insin­ uation that the play had allegorical connotations. T he only major function o f the two animals in the plot was to remind Avessalom o f his oath and help convince him to return to Shulam is. W h en the two anim als hear o f his m arriage to A vigail in Jerusalem , the dog urges “W e must rem ind Avessalom o f the promise he gave to Shulam is. I am heading to Jerusalem ___ I don’t believe, I don’t believe that in his heart the w arrior can live as a traitor. I am going to Jerusalem to Avessalom. I suggest you follow me." The dog then proceeds to bark the musical “oath them e,” linking Jerusalem (Z ion) to the oath. T his scene, which ends the second act, fa­ cilitates the reunion o f the two lovers that forms the basis o f the third and final act.65T hus, the just conclusion o f the story is made functionally contingent on the journey to Jerusalem . Further, the simple utterance o f the phrase “I am going to Jerusalem . I suggest you follow m e,” can be seen as a subtle hint, directed not only toward the dog’s feline companion, but toward the entire audience. Indeed, it was common practice in Soviet Aesopian w riting to express taboos by attributing them to another through quotation. In this case, the phrase is further distanced from the author by being attributed to a dog. Shulamis exalted the freedom, romance, and heroism o f pre-exilic Judaic life. Yet the m ajority o f critics, failing to recognize the play’s significance, praised the theater for abandoning the national lim itations o f the productions that had filled the stage during Granovsky’s tenure. One critic wrote that “Shulamis has a pro­ found significance for the theater’s creative history. Shulamis signifies a novel im ­ provement in the M oscow State Yiddish T heater’s ideological and artistic growth. It is a new step on the path o f reconsidering and surm ounting its conception, w hich it inherited from its former director, Granovsky.”66 Izvestiia echoed this sentiment: “T his performance w ill no doubt take its place in the history o f Jew ish theater as a step on the path of overcoming the traditions o f national lim itations, characterized by the list o f its old plays.”1’7 T his dichotomy can be attributed to the theater’s publicists, who chose to deny the nationalist aspects o f the play and touted it instead as a historical representation o f the class struggle. Because the vast m ajority o f theater critics and censors lacked the linguistic and cultural tools re­ quired to understand the complete text, they were forced to rely on the synopses


Where A re the Maccabees?

provided by the theater, M ikhoels’ public statements, and the Russian translations o f each play that the theater subm itted to its censors. T h e only prominent critic w ith the linguistic and cultural tools necessary to appreciate the play’s varied meanings was Litvakov, who published the first seg­ m ent o f his two-part review o f the play over a month after its premiere— a suspi­ ciously long delay. H inting at the play’s dichotomous m eaning, he wrote: W h y not set down to produce a new play, and a new production on a Soviet them e, o r on a them e o f the Revolution, o f socialist construction, o f the partici­ pation o f Jew s in the greater revolution? . . . Shulamis is the first alarm for the M oscow State Yiddish Theater. It is noted that the theater and, above all, C o m ­ rade M ikhoels must pay heed to the alarm and draw from it the necessary conclusions.6*

A rguing that the “historical play” could ju st as easily be set in the days o f King David or in post-biblical Israel, Litvakov was the only critic to question the histo­ ricity o f the play. His review is punctuated w ith hints that he found the play in ­ appropriate and even subversive. It was probably his uncertainty which led to the delayed review; Litvakov perhaps debated the m erits o f publicizing his conclu­ sions. Alternatively, he could have been advised against such a course o f action by his superiors. Nevertheless, Litvakov was satisfied w ith the stylistic elements o f the production. He praised M ikhoels for discarding Granovsky’s “stereotypical posi­ tions, gestures and m im ics” and authoritarian methods, noting particularly the new director’s willingness to allow the actors greater freedom in their interpreta­ tions. “I n a word,” he declared, “M ikhoels’s system o f expression is entirely differ­ ent from that o f Granovsky.” H e also praised M ikhoels for preventing the music from dom inating the production: “T he M oscow State Yiddish Theater is becom­ ing a dram atic theater rather than an opera theater; it is a spoken theater, not a singing theater.”69 Indeed, stylistically the production was fresh and gratifying. On a simple level the play represented a return to a typical theme o f Jew ish literature: a betrothed couple becomes separated as a result o f an engagem ent made without their consent and are then reunited. M any actors were given their first leading roles, giving the troupe a new look, and M ikhoels’s willingness to allow the actors to develop in­ dividually was producing concrete results. One critic ascribed the superior acting to the training the troupe had received in performing Shakespeare.70 M any re­ viewers enjoyed the music and dance o f the play.71 Generally, the production was praised for being a refreshing return to the spontaneity o f Goldfadn, rehabilitat­ ing the playwright from the reputation he had earned through Granovsky’s styl­ ized interpretation o f The Sorceress.72 T h e new style was enhanced by the fact that the theater welcomed a new designer for the production. W h ile M ikhoels had wanted Tyshler to continue as designer, the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs had vetoed his decision, appointing instead Vadim Ryndin, an artist famous for his design o f Vsevolod Vishnevskii’s An O ptimistic Tragedy at the Kamerny theater in 1932. W h ile Ryndin’s colorful


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

architectural sets were a worthy feat, they were inappropriate for a production in w hich the action unfolds in a desert and at a w ell. Some, however, failed to appre­ ciate the irony. One critic wrote that Ryndin “was very successful in his laconic brevity and in painting the severe colors o f the legendary biblical desert landscape and the graphic stylization o f the ornaments in the foreground of the curtain.” Others were less enthusiastic. One critic wrote that Ryndin did not understand the legend o f Shulam is: “Everything [all the art] was done painstakingly but coldly; w ith talent but without em otion.”73 Despite these criticism s, the play had a long and successful run. H aving pulled off its first nationalist production, the theater became even more daring for its next performance.

B ar Kokhba In M arch 1938 the theater presented another production from G oldfadns “nationalist” phase: H alkin’s adaptation o f Bar Kokhba. T h e choice was ironic in and o f itself. It was G oldfadns 1882 performance o f this play w hich had purport­ edly led Alexander III to ban Y iddish theater. T he fact that the play had been recognized, even by Alexander III, as a dangerously nationalist production im m e­ diately made it a controversial production for the M oscow State Yiddish Theater. For centuries, the rabbinic tradition had m arginalized Bar Kokhba, em phasizing the failure o f his call to arms while highlighting the teachings o f his supporter, Rabbi A kiba. T h e emergence o f a Bar Kokhba hagiography was precipitated by the Zionists’ search for new national heroes. As one scholar has w ritten: T he transform ation o f B ar Kokhba from a dubious leader o f a failed revolt to a prom inent heroic figure from A n tiq u ity is an im portant feature o f the Z ionist reshaping o f the past___ W h ile the rabbinical tradition tends to project a neg­ ative image o f the leader o f the failed revolt and to highlight his controversial character, the new H ebrew tradition portrays a heroic image o f a courageous and resourceful man w ho succeeded in rallying the nation behind him in order to liberate it from oppressive Roman rule.74

T he heroism o f Bar Kokhba was revived by the Zionist movement and invoked repeatedly by prominent Zionists, from the Hebrew poet C haim N achman Bialik to the first prime m inister o f Israel, David Ben-G urion. T he Revisionist Zion­ ist youth movement even appropriated the name o f the site o f Bar Kokhba s last stand— Betar. The Zionist projection o f the hero was m aintained not only by Ka­ ganovich, who included Bar Kokhba in his call for new Jew ish heroes, but also by H alkin and M ikhoels. In order to emphasize the break w ith traditional interpre­ tations o f the failed rebellion, a conversation about Josephus Flavius was inserted into the first scene o f the text. Senator Lucius, an em issary from Rome, asks Bar Kokhba if he is fam iliar w ith Josephus’s negative interpretation o f Sim eon Bar G iora, a controversial Jew ish rebel who in 67 c.E. declared the freedom o f all Jew ­ ish slaves, to w hich Bar Kokhba replies: “[Josephus] spread lies about us through­ out Rome. H e wrote his book in Rome and for Rome. For us he is a Roman and for Rome he remains a Jew. I f you ask a child in the street he w ill know the name of Bar G iora.”75 Perhaps H alkin m eant to im ply that ju st as Josephus corrupted the 168

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heroic im age o f Bar G iora, so early rabbinical commentators had corrupted the im age o f Bar Kokhba. In his public statements, H alkin claim ed that his interpre­ tation o f the uprising debunked the “myth” that it was a national movement and showed instead that it was a class rebellion. H e claim ed that his text emphasized that the rebels were comprised o f lower-class artisans. H alkin claim ed that rath­ er than a Jew ish uprising against the destroyers o f the Temple, the uprising was fought on behalf o f all the downtrodden who were enslaved by the im perialist Romans. H alkin also claim ed to emphasize the internal conflicts w ithin the Jew ­ ish community, particularly the struggle o f the young fighters against the elders, who opposed the uprising for fear o f surrendering their w ealth and religious tra­ ditions.76“Bar Kokhba,” wrote M . Shekhter, who played the lead role,“is the spirit o f the people, reflecting their hopes and struggles for freedom. H e is close to the people, always w ith the people___H is personal life, the personal happiness o f Bar Kokhba, is dependent on the fate o f the people and subordinated to the happiness o f the people.”77 These themes were reiterated by many critics who wrote about the production in Soviet papers. “T he heroic poem o f S. H alkin is one o f the best dram atic works o f Soviet Jew ish literature and its high quality guarantees a successful production,” wrote one.78 Com mentators believed that the play was particularly successful in its reinterpretation o f the Bar Kokhba m yth. “H e [H alkin] strove not only to w rite a colorful episode o f remote history,” wrote another critic, “but also to present it to Soviet viewers through the prism o f a M arxist historical understanding. . . to free B ar Kokhba from the captivity o f lies put out by clerics and assim ilationists.”79 Sim ilarly, another warned that “the Zionists w ant to appropriate the glory o f Bar Kokhba for themselves,” but that thanks to H alkin the hero had been reinstated to his proper place in the M arxist canon.80 P ravda saw the play as an affirmation that “the theme o f the battle for freedom and independence is international.”81 T h e play begins in a city square as Bar Kokhba and H illel d rill themselves in preparation for battle. Pnina, the daughter o f Eliezer, an elderly rabbinical scholar whose submission to the Roman overlords is mocked by the younger generation, watches in adm iration. Eliezer and the Roman overlord Lucius then arrive. As he approaches Bar Kokhba, Eliezer states, “Your power, Bar Kokhba, would be fitting for the study o f Torah.”82 Lucius then questions Bar Kokhba, asking if it is true that he can catch stones, to which the warrior replies: “I dont only catch the stones, I throw back those stone that are aimed at me. You can be sure o f that!” A worried Lucius w aits until he is alone w ith Eliezer before assessing the situation: “He speaks against Rome and w ill not be satisfied w ith talk. He is leading the entire youth down that road; also many elders are among them .” W h en Lucius asks E liezer whether he, too, would fight w ith Bar Kokhba, the old rabbi replies: “M y good, sir, such accusations are groundless.”83 T h e first scene sets the tone for the rest o f the play: Bar Kokhba is portrayed from the start as a clever, well-educated warrior— self-assured and confident, yet still intent on training him self and others through vigorous physical exercise. In contrast, Eliezer indicates from his first words that he opposes the rebellion. H ow­ ever, the people side w ith Bar Kokhba. As one enthusiast explains to Eliezer: “Be­ 169

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tween you, Rabbi, and the people a w all has arisen.”84 Repeated references to both Eliezer s age and Bar Kokhba’s youth firm ly establish a generational conflict. A ntireligious themes also permeate the play. Eliezer, the rabbi, is portrayed as a traitor­ ous villain who prefers to retain his position under Roman sovereignty rather than risk his livelihood for his people s freedom. Bar Kokhba, on the other hand, gives no thought to God. W h en the rabbi blesses his troops, Bar Kokhba snaps: “God! O nly do not help our enemies. For us, we can do w ithout your help.”85 W ith the next scene, set in a blacksm ith shop, H alkin establishes the w ork­ ing-class origins o f the rebellion. T he audience is also introduced to a token nonJew who supports the rebellion. But the theme o f internationalism is never fully developed, despite the theater’s claim that it was radically reinterpreting the story as an ecum enical rebellion. Non-Jews play no significant role in the revolt. T his does not stop Bar Kokhba from defending the rights o f the non-Jews w ith in his kingdom , but they become beneficiaries o f the rebellion only through Bar Kokhba s justice and im partiality. T he victorious Jew ish leader grants equality to his nonJew ish subjects as a privilege; they do not earn it as a right. T his becomes evident after Bar Kokhba s initial victory, when one o f his assistants issues a decree order­ ing the expulsion o f the Syrians from the land. Bar Kokhba chastises him : “W here do you get the right to give this o rd er?. . . Not only Jew s are fighting w ith us, but also Greeks, Syrians, all those who are not content w ith Rome fight together with us___ T he Syrians and the Parthians and the Greeks, they w ant to be free from Rome ju st like we do."86 A lthough H alkin makes it clear that non-Jews w ill benefit from the rebellion, the crucial decision to take up arms is made solely by Jew s for the benefit o f Jews. Eliezer s assessment o f the situation is based on his impressions o f Jew ish suffer­ ing rather than class oppression. As he states in the second act, during w hich the decision to go to w ar is made: I have traveled the entire land From border to border. I have also been in foreign lands w here Jew s live— T here all is over: M an y w ho never even dream t o f war, A re now ready to take up swords.87

Bar Kokhba replies w ith the language o f war: T he tim e has come. Enough talk! Because i f not today, W h o knows i f tom orrow w ill already be too late? T he battle cry: the tim e has come To free ourselves from the Roman yoke.88

T h is call to arms is soon followed by a stage direction indicating the exclusive participation o f Jew s: “A struggle. Bar Kokhba arrives armed and throws him self directly into the m e le e .. . . From all sides armed Jew s enter.” Bar Kokhba then addresses the assembled Jews: 170

Where A re the Maccabees ? M y brothers! I look at you Perhaps in numbers w e are few Less men than the enemy, few er arms w e bear, O n ly w ith m y head and right hand I swear A n d let us all in a single voice vow : W ith our arms, we w ill defeat him now.89

As the assembled Jew ish fighters prepare to depart, Rabbi A kiba lays his hands upon Bar Kokhba and blesses him , to which Bar Kokhba responds: I swear by your name, Sim eon B ar G iora, I swear by all the holy beloved names. For you, fo r us— for all, w e w ill take revenge!90

B y alluding to Bar G iora and the other “holy beloved names,” H alkin places the Bar Kokhba rebellion w ithin the context and tradition o f Jew ish revolts against Roman oppression. T h e musical score, choreography, and art o f this scene emphasized that only Jew s undertook the rebellion. Tyshler, who returned to the theater after Ryndin’s brief tenure as designer, was condemned for constructing a simple set o f palm trees and ancient ruins, alluding to the destruction of the Jew ish Temple, the stimulus that provoked the Jew ish revolts.91 Pulver drew all his musical themes from East­ ern European Jew ish folk music rather than attem pt to reproduce music from the era o f the play s narrative, as he had done in several previous productions. “Pulvers m usic,” wrote Potapov, “was, as always, melodious, but the composer did not find his niche in this performance. It is difficult to blame him for relying on folklore, for hardly any m usical documentation is preserved from the period, but the music should be closer to the theme o f the production.”92 Zhivov suggested that the play would have been more successful w ithout music and dance altogether.93 Aron G urshteyn wrote that despite the success o f H alkin s text, the aesthetic presenta­ tion o f the play was somewhat “distasteful.” “W h y do Jews suddenly break into a dance when they are called upon to revolt?” he asked. “T he people call to rebellion, they prepare themselves for a battle, and suddenly a dance— this suggests that these are a strange people.”94 T his comment seems somewhat inappropriate for a musical based on song and dance. Perhaps G urshteyn, a specialist on Goldfadn who would have noticed the inconsistencies in H alkins “reinterpretation” o f the play, was using this general critique o f the musical genre to hint at a more substan­ tial criticism o f the production. O ther diatribes against the anachronism o f using folk m aterial in a historical production support the hypothesis that the song and dance were intentional non sequiturs w ith allegorical implications. The anachronistic song and dance could have served as a marker for the audience, indicating an ulterior message. W h ile Bar Kokhba calls upon all oppressed peoples to jo in in his rebellion, the distinctly Eastern European Jew ish dance that signifies inclusion in the group essentially excludes the participation o f non-Jews, m arginalizing their role in the rebellion. T he idea o f ancient Parthians jo ining in on the H asidic-style dance would have appeared absurd to any audience. Through this technique, the theater m ay have 171

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Aleksandr Tyshler’s sets for



Where A re the Maccabees?

sought to emphasize the Jewishness o f the uprising while m aintaining publicly that the uprising was ecumenical. T h e final scene, which depicts the melee between the rebels and the Romans, also emphasizes the national elem ent o f the uprising. The battle is fought between the Jew s and the Romans (there are no non-Jewish rebels present), while rich and poor Jew s alike die for the cause. Bar Kokhba’s last words, also the final words of the play, pay tribute to his people, his folk: “H e who dies for freedom for his people is destined to remain alive forever. In battle, in battle! T he battle is not yet over.” As the curtains close, a fellow rebel kisses the hero, alluding to the Biblical parable that recounts how God recalled M oses to heaven w ith a kiss.95 Bar Kokhba thereby is equated with M oses, the most im portant Jew ish prophet, who led his people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Land o f Israel. Once again, M ikhoels succeeded in using “national form” to promote nationalist content.

The Conscious Family In addition to patriotism , Soviet culture o f the m id-1930s sought to instill optim ism and a sense o f stability in the population. T he kinetic energy o f the revolutionary years, epitomized by the utopian projects o f the futurists and other avant-garde artists, was repudiated, as were the individuals who supported it. Sta­ b ility replaced dynamism as the overarching value o f the regime. The June 1936 prohibition on abortion, for instance, represented a return to conservative fam ily values that emphasized fam ilial responsiblity.96 Following Stalin’s famed state­ m ent that “life is getting better, life is getting happier,” the betterm ent o f life be­ came a dom inant theme in Soviet culture. Artists painted cornucopian images o f pastoral life, rife w ith m irthful peasants, while daring aviators conquered the sky on the silver screen. C itizens were encouraged to interpret their surroundings in ligh t o f the radiant images projected in novels and on stages while ignoring the view outside their own windows. Socialism , Stalin declared, had been achieved and won. In this m ythical best o f all possible worlds, there were no longer innately evil provocateurs and saboteurs. A ll individuals were capable o f goodness under socialism . Those who sinned did so sim ply because they had fallen under negative influences, often portrayed as the work of foreign agents. Everybody could be reformed— could reach a state o f revolutionary consciousness—w ith proper breed­ ing. Rapid pardons came to those who recanted their past transgressions— at least on the stage and screen. T h e Moscow State Yiddish T heater’s productions o f Peretz M arkish’s Family O vadis and Sholem Aleichem ’s T evye the D airyman both highlighted the opti­ mism o f the Jew ish people, but from a particularly Judaic philosophical and socio­ logical perspective. From a structuralist perspective, these plays resemble contem­ porary socialist realism. T heir plots parallel those o f Chapaev and Mother, as described by Katerina C lark: “the tale of how an ignorant, superstitious peasant progresses in ‘consciousness’ and knowledge under the tutelage o f a formed and ‘conscious’ mentor."97 Both plays, however, deal with human suffering from w hat is essentially a Jobian perspective, a philosophical quandary that has permeated


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Jew ish thought for centuries. Like the biblical Job, the lead characters accept their suffering and question its causes while retaining an essential faith in the goodness o f their world. Like Shulamis and BarKokhba, these productions exalted Jew ish life; but they differed from H alkin’s plays in that they drew from themes popular in pre-revolu­ tionary Yiddish secular w riting rather than ancient Hebraic lore. T hey centered on the conflict o f generations w ithin the fam ily rather than national uprisings and wars o f independence. On one hand, this shift can be seen as a w eakening o f na­ tional significance because the plays move away from the halcyon days o f Jew ish national existence. But on the other hand, it can also be interpreted as an even greater exclamation o f national endurance in its affirmation o f the continued dis­ tinctness o f the Jew ish community in modern times. It was one thing to portray a united Jew ish nation in antiquity but quite another to im ply that the Jew s re­ mained a distinct society in the contemporary Soviet Union. T he protagonists o f both plays were characters reared in the shtetl whose children choose instead to embrace the newer radical ideology o f socialism. T he older generation is confronted w ith the choice of either rejecting their children or accepting the deterioration of their time-honored traditions. Both plays em pha­ size the perseverance of the traditional Jew ish family. The emphasis on fam ily life in general and marriage in particular was representative o f Jew ish traditional val­ ues. Since the beginnings o f Yiddish literature, the fam ily had been the center o f nearly all narratives, while every great Yiddish story ended with a wedding. As David Bergelson wrote in 1945, “Am ong Jew s, a nation that has long been unable to enclose itself w ith territorial frontiers, the next value— that is the fam­ ily—has been strengthened even more. Hence the particular significance o f fam ily life among Jew s; hence the particular affectation w ith which they m arry o ff their children.”98 Peretz M arkish s Family Ovadis premiered on November 7 ,1 9 3 7 , the tw en­ tieth anniversary o f the Revolution. In 1936 M arkish had been urged by the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs to w rite a play on the topic o f Birobidzhan.99 The project o f establishing a Jew ish Autonomous Region in Birobidzhan, a region in the southeastern extreme o f Siberia, was initiated in 1928 by M ikhail K alinin, the president o f the U SSR . T he goal o f using the region as a solution to the 2,000year-old Jew ish exile was supported by Dim anshtayn and the Jew ish Section; it even got backing from some Am erican Jew ish organizations. Others, however, saw the project as a transparent attem pt to exile the Jew ish population to the m argins o f civilization and as competition for the Zionist project. Between 1928 and 1933 nearly 20,000 Jews m igrated to the region, 60 percent o f whom quickly returned to western Russia. In 1934 the region was officially designated a Jew ish A uton­ omous Region and attempts to encourage m igration increased. But the Jewish population never exceeded 20,000 and Jews remained a m inority in the region.100 Although M arkish’s play glorifies the region in accordance w ith contemporary propaganda, there are indications that the authors own sentiments were quite dif­ ferent. In 1934 M arkish visited the region but was unimpressed with w hat he saw:


Where A re the Maccabees?

“W h a t type o f stupid Jew would move to Birobidzhan from M oscow?” he asked during his 1952 interrogation. “I did not believe that any intelligent Jew would go to live in Birobidzhan when they have everything here.”101 Perhaps it was for this reason that M arkish set his original text in an unnamed borderland. For its perfor­ mance at the M oscow State Yiddish Theater, though, the action was moved to Birobidzhan. Once given the order to publicize Birobidzhan, Soviet Jew ish lum i­ naries were unanimous in their public support.102 T h e play revolves around Zayvl Ovadis, played by M ikhoels, and his five sons: M otka, a Party worker; Shleym ka, a border guard; Borukh, a factory worker; Kalman, a lumberman who works w ith Zayvl; and his eldest son, who has em i­ grated to Palestine. T he play begins as the fam ily prepares for Kalmans wedding. A s they anxiously await news from Shleym ka, they receive instead a letter from Zayvl’s eldest son, who wishes to return to his Soviet homeland. T he letter sparks a debate within the fam ily as Avram, Zayvl’s father, laments the hard life o f Jews in the Soviet Union, pointing to the fact that their town does not even have a train station. M otka reminds Avram o f the situation o f Jews in the rest o f the world: “Do you really think the Germans or Poles or Romanians are patting the Jews on the back? And in Palestine they don’t slaughter Jew s?”103 On the wedding day, the fam ily finally receives the long-awaited news o f Shleym ka. But the news is tragic— he has been killed in a border dispute while fighting for the Red Army. The w edding seems to be ruined and the newlyweds cursed until M otka justifies his brother’s martyrdom: “Shleym ka did not die, fath er.. . . Shleym ka gave his life for him self and for all o f us because tw enty years ago others gave their lives for him. H e is not dead___He w ill forever live in the hearts o f all.”104 M otka is right, the fam ily realizes, and the death turns into a blessing for the newlywed couple as they decide to enlist in the Red A rm y to begin a new and better life. In the final dra­ m atic scene—which takes place in the newly built local train station— the com­ m ander o f the Red A rm y hands Kalman his dead brother’s rifle w ith the words, “B y command of our people’s committee, the rifle o f the fallen hero o f the frontier guards, Ovadis, is given to his brother Kalman Ovadis to defend the border o f our socialist fatherland__ So, Kalman Ovadis joins in today’s patrol for Stalin.”105T he play ends w ith Zayvl coming to terms with the new socialist “truth.” T h e story exhibited many traits common to socialist realist fiction. M ost im ­ portant, it is ritualized to conform to the master plot identified by Katerina C lark. It is the tale o f how a naive simpleton gradually emerges into a state o f revolution­ ary consciousness w ith the guidance o f a mentor. Zayvl’s skepticism toward the changes occurring around him is assuaged as he comes to realize, w ith the help o f his sons, that he can be truly free only under socialism. Further, the heroic ending o f the play was a common structure o f socialist realist fiction o f the 1930s. As con­ struction on the long-awaited train station is completed, a ceremony is performed in w hich the torch carried by the m artyred Shleym ka is transferred to his brother Kalman, who in a graveside oath promises to continue his brother’s quest.106M arkish’s play also adheres to the Party line on Birobidzhan, despite the myth’s gross inaccuracy. T he actual arduous conditions and barren surroundings of the region


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are invoked only in the bitter ram blings o f d ie grandfather. Instead, d ie district, w hich over h alf o f all Jew ish colonizers had abandoned by the play’s premiere, is depicted in purely fantastical terms. W h ile deriving key elements from official paradigm s, however, the play forms its own independent master plot, derived prim arily from a Jew ish context. Ubiq­ uitous themes in Russian literature o f the period—epic quests, “tractor romances," and conflicts w ith nature—are notably absent from the play. M ost socialist realist literature w as structured around occupational units— the factory, the collective farm, or the m ilitary unit. M ost Jew ish contributions, on the other hand, followed the m odel o f fam ily sagas, in w hich the fam ily unit becomes a microcosm for so­ ciety. T h e character o f Zayvl was a complex psychological portrait. Brought up in

Solom on M ikhoels as Z ayvl O vadis in

Family Ovadis, 1937. P hoto from Solom on M ikhoels,

Statt, besedi, recbi


Where A re the Maccabees?

the former Pale of Settlem ent, Zayvl lacks the means to comprehend the changes occurring around him. A lthough he cannot blame his eldest son for being lured by Zionist promises, he sympathizes more w ith his younger sons, who seek a niche for themselves in their homeland. “For forty years I have been w alking on a path, on a foreign p a th . . . and the foreign path has become m y own, and my children have become foreign," he lam ents.107 Zayvl’s lam ent is clearly a reference to the forty years that the ancient Israelites spent in the desert before reaching the Promised Land. Like the Jews o f Exodus, Zayvl realizes that his life is a life of wandering. H is generation w ill not live to see the Promised Land— that privilege must await the next generation. Birobidzhan w ill never be Zayvl’s Promised Land; it w ill always remain a “foreign path.” T hus, the central them e, from a structuralist per­ spective, can once again be reduced to the conflict o f generations. T he Birobid­ zhan setting is merely a skeleton in which the universal theme o f alienation o f parents from their children is inserted. Seen from this perspective, the play’s struc­ ture resembles that o f K in g Lear more than that o f Chapaev. M arkish him self emphasized this point: “In a certain w ay he [M ikhoels] changed the idea o f the dram atic m aterial, stripping it down to the most base conception of the produc­ tion. Thus, the grandfather becomes the [head o f the] entitled nest, from where the son and grandchildren are separated. H e established the conflict o f genera­ tions.”108 Once again, the theater succeeded in preserving its favorite character type— the old shtetl Jew —while ostensibly embracing the revolutionary youth. As had been the case countless times before, the theater was faulted for its overly sympa­ thetic portrayal o f the dying generation. One reviewer wrote that “the basic de­ ficiency in The Family Ovadis is that the younger generation is reduced to a type, the young hero o f the play lacks individuality.”109 C learly M ikhoels’s poignant and lyrical portraits o f the old Jew ish life were not easily transferable to the new revolutionary youth. Even those who appreciated the play emphasized the pathos M arkish evoked for the Jew ish past: “Peretz M arkish is one of the most talented contemporary Jew ish poets___ He knows the Jew ish people very w ell, their past and present. . . and because M arkish feels and understands the past o f his people, he can sketch their future___ The Family Ovadis is one o f the best performances o f the M oscow State Yiddish T heater’s entire history, one o f the most meaningful productions by Soviet dram aturgists.”110 “W ith out doubt,” wrote another critic, “the honor goes to Peretz M arkish. On the stage o f the Jew ish theater he brought forth living people.”111 T his pattern was repeated the following year with the theater’s production o f Sholem Aleichem ’s Tevye the Dairyman, performed in honor of the eightieth anniversary o f the w riter’s birth. The epic-length play—it lasted nearly five hours —was to become one o f the theater’s most memorable performances in its history. A fter a ten-year hiatus, the theater returned to Sholem Aleichem and his poignant picture o f the Jew ish shtetl. The rehabilitation o f Sholem Aleichem can be at­ tributed prim arily to the newly raised status of the Yiddish hum orist’s supporter, M aksim Gorky, who once wrote of Sholem Aleichem that he is “an exceptionally talented satirist and hum orist.”112 Arm ed with Gorky’s quotations, Soviet literary 177

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critics reassessed their attitudes toward the w riter who was once criticized for ro­ m anticizing pre-revolutionary Jew ish life. Commentators apologized for errone­ ously labeling Sholem Aleichem a naive humorist, for only seeing the dreams of his shtetl heroes but none o f their sufferings, and for m issing the author’s satirical side, in which he embedded socialist messages into his work. One critic wondered how the w riter now recognized as a revolutionary prophet could have been inter­ preted m erely as “a good-natured humorist who stands on the sidelines o f the battle.”" 3 Now they saw in Sholem Aleichem's characters heroic models for the New Soviet M an. “Tevye,” M ikhoels explained, “is a profound example o f the people. . . . In our theater we searched for and found a healthy anim ated life, w hich we brought to this great folk presentation.”114The new approach to Sholem Aleichem was reflected not only in the plays o f the Yiddish theater, but also in the festivities and observances that surrounded the celebration o f w hat would have been Sholem A leichem ’s eightieth birthday in 1939.11S Tevye, one of Sholem Aleichem ’s most famous plays, was popularized con­ temporaneously in the United States through M aurice Schwartz’s motion picture o f the same name. T he play achieved world fame in 1964 when a musical version by Sheldon H arnick and Jerry Bock opened on Broadway under the title Fiddler On the Roof. T he well-known story line involves a poor dairym an, Tevye, living in a late nineteenth century Russian shtetl, whose daughters each choose to reject his traditional Jew ish lifestyle by m arrying for love outside the community. In the version performed at the M oscow State Yiddish Theater, H odl marries Perchik, a revolutionary whom she follows to Siberia; Khava marries a U krainian peasant; and Beylka marries a wealthy miser. The play ends w ith the eviction of the Jew ish community from the shtetl by tsarist police. The opening m ise-en-scène, devised by Isaak Rabinovich, depicted a pov­ erty-stricken peasant hut surrounded by a breathtaking pastoral setting. Tevye exits the hut through its splintery wooden door, stares at the clear blue sky long­ ingly and exclaims “Oh Lord!” before slowly m ounting his gaunt horse to begin his daily deliveries. T his scene became a recurring theme o f the play. The door o f the hut is repeatedly opened and closed as people come and go throughout the play; each o f Tevye’s beloved daughters w ill leave through that door. The door repre­ sents both a real and a metaphorical division between the poverty o f traditional Jew ish life, represented by Tevye’s decrepit home, and the prosperity o f the socialist future, represented by the pastoral scene outside. Tevye’s constant appeals to God simultaneously reflect his own doubts and hopes. W h ile he knows he w ill never get a reply, he persists in this futile exclamation. Tevye is not a dreamer; he expects nothing more from the world than his lot. H e is not a luftmentsh like his cousin, M enakhem M endl. H e is a fam ily man burdened with a real job. In the words o f one critic: “M enakhem M endl wanted to become like [Israel] Brodsky [1823— 1888, a rich Jew ish industrialist], but Tevye did not dream o f this. H e knew that Brodsky is Brodsky and Tevye is Tevye.”116 But Tevye and his simple faith did not make the transition to socialist real­ ism unscathed. Rather than using Sholem Aleichem ’s original text—he had turned the popular story into a play in 1915— M ikhoels used an adaptation o f the text 178

WhereAre the Maccabeest

Solom on M ikh o el* as T evye in Tcvye the Dairyman, 1938. S ets b y Isaak R abinovich. P hoto from Solom on M ik h o els,



composed by O yslender and Dobrushin. M . Zhivov once asked w hy the theater used an adaptation rather than the original text.117T he answer was d e a r Sholem A leichem ’s story o f Tevye was a humorous portrait o f shted life, not a m odd o f socialist realist art. It took Dobrushin and O yslender’s adaptation to turn it into one. A s Jacob W eitzner recendy noted, “Tevye’s amused and skeptical attitude toward the “whole they called revolution, the good o f the collective, the triumph o f the w orking class’ disappeared.”118 In Sholem Aleichem ’s version, Tevye’s love for his daughters and concern for their happiness obliges him to accept their decisions, h d p in g him overcome the traditions he values most in life. In Dobrushin and O yslender’s version, however, Tevye does not come to this dedsion through his own reflection. H e is not motivated by a love and respect for his daughters’ju d g ­ m ent; rather Perchik—the trained revolutionary and the vanguard o f the prole­ tariat—convinces him o f the merits o f dialectical m aterialism . T his new device firm ly places Sholem Aleichem ’s story w ithin the canon o f sodalist realist fiction as the protagonist achieves sodalist consciousness w ith the guidance o f a mentor. T evye also exemplified socialist realism in its staunch optimism. Faced w ith numerous obstades, both prosaic and dramatic, the sodalist realist positive hero 179

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Solom on M ik h o els and L eah R om in Tevye the Dairyman, 1938. P hoto from Solom on M ik h o els, Stati, besedi, recbi.

retains his confidence in the progress o f socialist construction. Tevye’s faith in hum anity is equally steadfast. Com paring Tevye to the biblical Job, who refuses to abandon his faith in God despite a series o f tragedies that befall him , the critic S. Nels wrote that he was inspired by "the inexhaustible folk optimism o f M ikhoels’s heroes who have sustained the deepest tragedies.”119 "O f course this optimism,” explained M ikhoels, "is not accidental. In this optimism is enormous strength, the strength o f the people.”130 Sholem A leichem aided the artist in his ultim ate goal: "to infect [the workers] w ith a flame o f passionate hope.”131 T h e new version also treated relations between Jew s and gentiles from a more Soviet perspective, em phasizing the "friendship o f nations.” M uch o f the prejudice in Tevye’s attitude toward the conversion o f Khava was removed from the play. For instance, as W eitzner observes, "Sentences that expressed the comical tension be­ tween Tevye’s traditional Jew ish outlook and the G entile world were cut.”133 Sim i­ larly, a new segment was added in w hich, after being evicted by the tsarist police, Tevye forms a friendship w ith his U krainian neighbors, and together they realize that the source o f their difficulties is the tsarist regim e. Pulvers music, which combined authentic U krainian motifs w ith traditional Jew ish tunes, also helped to emphasize the unity between the oppressed U krainian and Jew ish populations o f the Pale. In his composition, Pulver built upon the Jew ish ethnomusicological


Where A re the Maccabees ?

work o f M oshe Beregovskii, who had w ritten several articles on the affinities be­ tween U krainian and Jew ish folk m usic.121 By incorporating Beregovskii’s work into the play, Pulver emphasized the fraternity between the Jew ish and U krainian peoples. T his type o f synchretic structuralism that searched across ethnic bound­ aries for cultural and linguistic sim ilarities was a common attribute o f contempo­ rary Soviet academ ia, epitomized by the Japhetic theory o f the linguist Nikolai M arr (1 86 4-1 934).124 It was also a path often chosen by Soviet Jew ish artists who attem pted to balance themselves between the crime of “national nihilism ,” a denial of ones national history, and “bourgeois nationalism ,” undue emphasis on one’s national history.125 From its first performance, the response to the play was radically different than responses to the theater’s plays o f the previous five years.126 K h.Tokar wrote in Sovetskaia ukraina: This production does not resemble at all the old plays o f Sholem Aleichem or o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater. In the previous productions there were only attacks, even malice, insults to the old shtetl way o f life. In reading anew Sholem Aleichem, the theater spotted and picked out a close-up o f Tevye-----This pro­ duction, apart from the directorial success o f Mikhoels, brought creative satis­ faction to the entire collective. They are not the masks o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater on the stage; they are bring, lush, realistic types. People speak simply, honestly, warmly, and sincerely.127

M oshe Khashchevatskii called it “the Moscow State Yiddish T heater’s best work in years, one of the best efforts o f all Soviet theatrical art.”12®Eidelman echoed: “T h is production deeply touched the literary and theatrical society of Moscow and m et w ith the warm est reception among the mass audience___Tevye the D airyman is not only one o f the greatest successes o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, but o f all Soviet theatrical art.”129 M arkish wrote that w ith Tevye, M ikhoels “finally crowned the entire path o f his actorial and directorial art."110 Itzik Fefer, w riting in D er ernes, praised Dobrushin and O yslender for purging the play of its old inter­ pretation w hile retaining “the purity of Sholem A leichem ’s humor” and “the pro­ found lyricism of the work.”111The play was so popular that special performances were regularly given, including a radio m ontage112 and a special showing at the Palace o f Culture in Moscow.111 Both T evye the Dairyman and The Family Ovadis resemble the prototypical socialist realist novel o f the late 1930s. From a narratological perspective, they follow m any o f the structural elements typical o f the socialist realist novel. M ost im portant, the plays follow the development of their protagonist from naivete into a state o f revolutionary consciousness, as he gradually comes to understand and accept the new “truths.” Both plays also instill in the audience a profound opti­ mism both in hum anity’s potential to reform and in the “victory o f socialism.” Tevye manages to retain his faith in humanity, and particularly in Jew ish hum an­ ity, despite the series o f crises that mar his path. He is indeed comparable to the biblical Job, only his faith lies in the spirit o f the people rather than in God; the Jobian theme is transposed to a Soviet context. Both plays also underscore official


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

Solomon Mikhods as Tevye. Photo courtesy of Ala Ferelman-Zusldn.

interpretations o f the events they characterize. Ju st as Family O vadis echoed news­ paper accounts o f Birobidzhan, T evye the D airyman portrayed shted life as morally bankrupt and poverty-stricken. T he Jew s are given no respite from the afflictions o f tsarist Russia; their pathetic existence is made bearable only by the people’s optimism. Like Family Ovadis, though, T evye firm ly retains its “Jewishness." A gain the play was flam ed around the traditionally Jew ish fam ily unit. T he them e o f both plays, the conflict o f generations, allowed the theater to portray the otherwise taboo subject o f pre-revolutionary Jew ish life. T h e traditional Jew was portrayed w ith a pathos absent in the portrayal o f the younger generation. Both plays evoked sympathy for the elder generation and their traditional Jew ish lifestyle w hile por­ traying the youth as stick figures devoid o f psychological depth. T he poignant portraits o f Tevye and Zayvl, w hich were particularly acute in the sections o f the plays before they accepted the values o f the new world, were uncharacteristic o f die


Where A re the Maccabees ?

pre-conscious hero. W h ile the two eventually come to terms w ith the new w ay o f life, their characters remain firm ly w ithin the old lifestyle. O ther motifs common to Jew ish secular literature permeate both plays. For instance, a wedding, a ubiq­ uitous m otif in Yiddish literature, serves as the setting for the clim ax o f both plays: in Tevye, his daughter’s m arriage to Perchik introduces the hero to the mentor, w hile Shleym ka’s death before the wedding in Family Ovadis helps Zayvl realize the importance o f the cause for w hich his son was m artyred.

A Nation among Nations T h e M oscow State Yiddish Theater embraced Gorky’s call for folklorism. T h is license gave the theater the opportunity to move away from both stale de­ pictions of socialist construction and C ivil W ar in the Soviet Union and from translations o f European classics. A fter a brief period o f readjustment, the theater began celebrating pre-revolutionary Jew ish folk heroes and exalting the popular justice o f social bandits and pranksters. These plays, however, were merely kitsch — they divorced the folk motifs from the nationalist ideology behind them; they appropriated national signifiers, but left behind the signified. Ironically, it was one o f these productions— M oshe Kulbak’s Boytre the Bandit —that impelled Lazar Kaganovich to chastise the theater. Kulbak’s subsequent arrest, along w ith many other members o f the M insk group w ith which he was associated, forced the thea­ ter to remove the play from its repertoire and redirect itself. Kaganovich’s w arning to the theater, however, m ay have been motivated by politics as w ell as by aesthet­ ics. Perhaps Stalin’s closest associate had foreknowledge o f the arrest o f Kulbak and sought to warn M ikhoels to avoid any association w ith the doomed writer. In order to prevent the purge o f Kulbak and the M insk group from spreading to the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, Kaganovich had to put an im m ediate end to the production o f Boytre the Bandit. In the process, he heralded the theater’s new ap­ proach to Jew ish national themes. In 1936, Bolshevik artists and writers began probing pre-revolutionary epic m yths and tales for national heroes to be recast as Soviet prototypes. The Moscow State Y iddish Theater, for its part, was encouraged to introduce its audience to Jew ish national heroes who could serve as historical models to be emulated and adm ired— provided that their struggle for freedom was expanded to include all oppressed people. The Judaean desert, however, could not appear on the stage w ithout evoking the most profound national sentiments o f the Jew ish people. T he 2,000-year-old Judaean state had too many national associations to become merely another arena for the class struggle. A lthough structurally the plays can certainly be linked to the narratology o f socialist realism, their m eaning lies elsewhere. Audiences entrenched in Judaic lore could easily look past the theater’s platitudes that extolled the ecumenicism o f ancient rebellions and see instead the greatest moments in the Jew ish struggle for a national home unfold on the stage. Shmuel H alkin, who had already proven his nationalist sympathies, did his part to under­ line the national significance o f the historical episodes he recreated through the use o f m etonymy and irony. 183

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The theater did not lim it its defense o f Jew ish national distinctness to antiq­ uity; plays like The Family Ovadis and Tevye the Dairyman, in which contemporary Jew ish concerns were central to the narrative, tell a sim ilar story. B y addressing specifically Jew ish concerns— m igration to Birobidzhan and the conflict between socialism and rabbinicism— the theater was acknowledging the distinctness of Jew ish life. On the Yiddish stage, Jew ish heroes no longer lived in the same con­ text as their non-Jewish neighbors— they no longer rebelled against despotic mill owners, overcame arduous conditions to construct dams or flocked to collective farms w ith the general Soviet population. T hey were no longer sim ply Y iddish­ speaking Soviet citizens. T h ey now shared their own national history distinct from that o f the general population, and they confronted social conundrums o f their own. In short, they became a distinct nation.


One Generation Passes Away: The Great Terror

A t the twentieth jubilee celebration o f the M oscow State Yiddish T heater in M arch 1939, Jew ish and non-Jewish lum inaries celebrated w hat they claimed was a renaissance of Soviet Jew ish life— a victory made possible, they declared in plat­ itudes, by the triumph o f Stalin’s nationality policies and the realization of social­ ism. “O ur people,” declared Peretz M arkish, to whom the Great October [Revolution] gave a homeland, the right to life and a human existence, began constructing a new socialist culture-----On the fields o f Birobidzhan, the Crimea, Kherson, and the Caucasus, our Jewish collective farmers are living a cultured and prosperous life. Alongside others, the sons o f our people are leading an unyielding and joyous struggle for a new life in the factories, the plants, and the mines; in the unbounded space o f the great socialist homeland.'

Fefer echoed him: “You remember how they [the heroes o f Sholem Aleichem and M endele M okher Sforim] used to ask: W here is the road to the Land of Israel? . . . I am fortunate that I can say to our grandparents and great-grandparents: There is a road! The road has been found! It is the road to our socialist homeland, the homeland o f Lenin and Stalin.”2 Even local Stakhanovites were invited to submit their own feelings on the theaters victory to local papers and trade journals. One, m im icking contemporary propaganda, wrote: “T his event is only possible in our country, the country of Stalin’s constitution, where all nationalities have equal rights, where all people live happily in a civilized manner, where the people’s talent flourishes. I am o f the Jew ish nationality and cannot but voice my emotional hap­ piness on this occasion.”3Yet some, like M oshe Kulbak and M oshe Litvakov, could not address the assembled crowd: they had been killed, along with m illions o f other victim s, in w hat came to be known as the G reat Terror. On January 20,1936, an article entitled “M uddle Instead of M usic” appeared in Pravda that condemned D m itry Shostakovich’s opera Lady M acbeth ofM tsensk District. Over the next two months a series o f articles in Pravda made it clear that the state’s interest in the political content of art would henceforth extend to artistic form and style.4W ith in a year the Second M oscow A rt Theater and the Simonov T heater had been closed, while other theaters were “m erged,” a euphemism for firing h alf the employees of both theaters. W ith the approach o f the twentieth anniversary o f the October Revolution, all Soviet theaters were instructed to per­ form a production in celebration o f the event. M eyerholds pick for his theater, One Life, based on N ikolai Ostrovskii’s H ow the Steel Was Tempered —an archetypical socialist realist novel—was rejected by Platon Kerzhentsev, the director o f the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs. On December 17,1937, Pravda published an ar-


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater


toright: Solomon Mikhoels, Evgeniia Epstein, and Eda Berkovskaia at the twentieth jubilee celebration, 1939. Photo courtesy o f A la Perlman-Zuskin.

tid e entitled “A Foreign Theater,” denoundng M eyerhold for "formalism,” a term that originally denoted an emphasis on aesthetic form over political content but that had since expanded to include any artistic work deemed offensive by sodalist realist zealots. In early 1938, the M eyerhold T heater was dosed. M eyerhold was arrested in June 1939 and was executed the following year. Z inaida Raikh, M eyerholds star actress and wife, was brutally murdered in the couple's apartment soon after her husband’s arrest. Kerzhentsev him self was purged in 1938. The G reat Terror had invaded the theatrical space. M eyerhold’s fate was shared by countless others who perished in the Soviet prison system in 1937-1939. Because o f their disproportionate representation among d ie intellectual com munity and the Party elite, the Jew s bore a sp ed al fate. M an y o f the most prominent Jew ish members o f the Party were the first to be accused o f “anti-Soviet sabotage”—including Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, and Radek. T he latter three were executed after dram atic show trials, in w hich die tortured prisoners were forced to confess to outrageous crimes against the state they had helped found. W ith in the next two years the purges spread through the lower ranks o f the Party, w iping out nearly 60 percent o f the representatives to the Seventeenth Party Congress o f 1937 and nearly 80 percent o f the Party's Central Com m ittee. A ny Party organization w ith a semblance o f autonomy was viewed w ith suspicion, particularly those representing the national m inorities. For in­ stance, o f the eighty-six members o f the U krainian C entral Com m ittee in 1937, 186

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only three survived the purges. T he former members o f the Jew ish Section were no exception. In 1937 M oshe Litvakov was arrested as a Gestapo agent. He died in prison several weeks later. W ith in a year, the entire Jew ish Party apparatus had been liquidated and its members arrested: M oshe Rafes, M ikhail Levitan, Semen D im anshtayn, Aron Vaynshtayn, and Aleksandr C hem eriskii, along with many others, all shared Litvakov s fate. A t the same tim e, those Jew ish institutions at­ tached to the Party and its organs were shut down, including the Yiddish C om ­ m unist paper D er ernes, the Society for the Settlem ent of Jews on the Land, the C om m ittee for the Settlem ent o f Jews on the Land, the Com m unist childrens paper Yunge gvardia, and others. A lthough Party functionaries were targeted over cultural figures, the latter were not immune to the purges. As accusations o f foreign espionage engulfed the cultural intelligentsia, the Jew s, w ith their well-known international contacts, became an easy target. Over the summer of 1937 Soviet prosecutors fabricated a center o f Jew ish terrorism in M insk, purportedly aimed at the revitalization of the Bund w ith the support o f foreign powers. Am ong the first victims o f this purge were Yiddish literary critics Yashe Bronshtein (1906-1937) and M ax Erik (1 8 9 8 1937). Soon after, Izi Kharik (1898-1937), a prominent poet and editor of the Y iddish literary periodical Sbtern, was arrested. These developments have led m any scholars to identify a “policy o f state antiSem itism pursued over the years by Stalins totalitarian regim e.”5 Jew ish Party activists, however, were arrested en masse alongside their non-Jewish colleagues, and the purge of Jew ish cultural figures was largely restricted to the M insk group. D espite the calamitous effect the purges had on Jew ish culture and society, Soviet Jew ish culture was no more destroyed by the purges than was Russian culture. Indeed, the prim ary targets of the purges were not ethnic m inorities; rather they were Party functionaries, m ilitary officers, technical specialists, factory and collec­ tive farm managers, and the intelligentsia. Because o f both the disproportionate percentage o f Jew s in the latter category and the international prominence o f the intelligentsia, the impression that Jews were specifically targeted during the purges has become commonplace. In fact, if the purges did discrim inate against the national m inorities, then it was the peoples connected to neighboring states who were singled out. As Terry M artin has recently noted, “The terror did not target those stateless diasporas, whose coethnics did not live in concentrated communi­ ties adjacent to the Soviet Union, such as Jew s, Assyrians, and G ypsies.”6 A lthough the late 1930s saw the decline o f many aspects o f Jew ish life, par­ ticularly in the realms o f education and religious life, secular aspects o f Yiddish culture continued to flourish through the State Yiddish theaters, Der Ernes Y id­ dish printing press, and the rem aining Yiddish literary journals. The most impor­ tant o f these was probably the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, around which Jew ish artists, writers, actors, directors, musicians, and dancers from all over the country united. M ikhoels s role in fostering this miraculous development by bal­ ancing official demands with Jew ish national expression cannot be overstated. Be­ ginning in 1937, M ikhoels became the indisputable leader o f the Soviet Jew ish cultural community. As Bergelson aptly noted during his 1952 trial: “There was 187

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not a single evening o f Y iddish literature [at the Jew ish W riter’s Union] at which M ikhoels did not make a speech__ After [the death of] Litvakov, M ikhoels took all the reigns of power in his hands.”7 A lthough Bergelson made this statement as part o f a forced confession, the statem ent nevertheless accurately reflects M ik ­ hoels s prominence w ithin the Jew ish community. Not only did the staff o f the theater emerge from the purges relatively unscathed, but so also did m any other figures associated w ith the theater: writers Peretz M arkish, Shm uel H alkin, and David Bergelson; composers Lev Pulver, M oshe M ilner, and Aleksandr Krein; and artists Aleksandr Tyshler, Isaak Rabinovich, and Robert Falk were all saved, al­ though Falk, who had spent ten years in Paris before returning to the Soviet Union in 1937, was ostracized by the Union of A rtists. In fact, most of M oscow’s Yid­ dish cultural com munity was left untouched. The same w riters, such as David Hofshteyn, D er Nister, Lev Kvitko, and Itzik Fefer, who dominated the Yiddish literary scene prior to the purges continued to do so after. The M oscow Jewish cultural community in general and its State Yiddish Theater in particular miracu­ lously weathered the massive havoc that resulted in the murder of countless public figures and ordinary citizens during the Great Terror. The theater’s survival was a product o f both external and internal circum­ stances. Recent scholarship has shown that once Stalin awakened dorm ant social pressures with his initial show trials, the purges ballooned out o f control. T urf wars, political infighting, center-periphery competition, urban-rural friction, personal feuds, and even class antagonisms were all “settled” with grassroots denuncia­ tions— each o f which unmasked a whole new set o f “crim inals.” W h ile Stalin tacitly condoned the process and fueled it w ith spy m ania and paranoia, he was aided by spontaneous terrorism from below. A s the numbers o f victims mounted into the m illions, the purges lost any deliberate direction.The line between life and death was often drawn by chance alone.8 On several occasions, the storm approached the Yiddish theater, only to die out before engulfing it. W ith no guiding force, the tempest was unable to stay on course. M ikhoels’s own actions also contributed to his security. B y declining to participate in the rituals of denunciation and political flattery, M ikhoels remained largely alee from the tempest o f the purges. W h en necessary he condemned ideas and systems, but he refrained from im plicating individuals. Regarding his theater’s conduct, M ikhoels did w hat he could to avoid antagonizing the censors, w hile at the same time m aking no radical departures from his theater’s past that could indicate a need to hide previous indiscretions. He was indubitably aided by the murder o f Litvakov and other Yiddish scholars loyal to the Party, w hich left no­ body among the political censors capable of deciphering the theater’s nationalist codes.

Face the Music The continued existence o f the Yiddish theater throughout the purges was by no means pre-ordained. Like virtually every other organization that existed in the


One Generation Passes A w ay

Soviet Union, it too came under attack for ideological deviations during the late 1930s. T he attack against it, however, was half-hearted at best and never reached a critical momentum. Rather than begin w ith a direct attack on M ikhoels s theater itself—the most prominent bastion o f Jew ish identity in the Soviet Union— the brew ing cam paign against Jew ish culture began from the sidelines; it gradually encircled the theater but never engulfed it. T he same technique had been used on several other prominent institutions. P ravdds attacks on Soviet theater, for in­ stance, had been preceded by a campaign against music. Thus, when the C om m it­ tee o f A rtistic Affairs began to construct an assault on Jew ish music, there was reason for concern among all Jew ish artists. T h e early 1930s had seen a flowering of Jew ish music, epitomized by the ethnomusicological work of M oshe Beregovskii, the new a capella group Iudvocans (Jew ish Vocal Ensemble), the proliferation of Jew ish motifs in Russian popular music, and, o f course, the M oscow State Yiddish T heater s own music, which was achieving mass popularity through phonograph recordings. W ith the advent o f socialist realism, however, Jew ish composers began to be criticized for neglecting w hat David Bergelson called “the folk songs o f the new Soviet m an.” The debate on Jew ish music came to the fore w ith Iudvocanss February 1936 tour o f Moscow. Iudvocans had emerged in Kiev as a small a capella group with no Party ties. Its grow ing popularity and tour o f M oscow brought the troupe’s autonomy to the attention of the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs. M ikhoels and other Jew ish cultu­ ral activists were invited to attend a discussion on Jew ish music, during which Bergelson, Litvakov, and the composer Aleksandr Veprik each criticized the cho­ ral group for clinging to the music o f the shtetl over newer Soviet themes. M ikhoels was the solitary defender o f the troupe: “Artistic individuality is not doomed in the a capella. T his is its specialty and in this rests its greatness,” he declared.9 M ikhoels likely understood that any criticism s leveled against the music of Iudvokans would soon be used against his theater as well. Despite M ikhoels s objections, the discussion concluded w ith the declaration that Soviet musicians must work toward strengthening Soviet Jew ish music by establishing state patronage and by promoting dialogue between composers and lyricists. In other words, the state would work toward curbing the autonomy o f Jew ish musicians. The point was re-emphasized the following year when another m ajor conference on Jew ish music was held. T his time, discussion centered around the music o f the M oscow State Yiddish Theater, which was criticized for relying too much on Pulver, thereby ignoring other talented musicians. In more general term s, the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs announced that Jew ish music was not evolving satisfactorily as a result o f poor organizational work: “There is very good vocal and m usical craft, but it is all unorganized and has a scattered character. It is not regulated, not controlled, and not supported by the Com m ittee o f A rtistic A ffairs,” noted the Com m ittee s music inspector.10 Several months later, a special inspector was appointed to oversee the development o f the music o f national m i­ norities; he was given specific instructions to pay particularly close attention to Jew ish m usic.11


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

The Return of the Past The attack on music was soon followed by an attack on the theater’s art; it was criticized for displaying elements o f formalism. W h ile Granovsky’s w ork had long been regarded as formalist, in 1936 the first attacks on a performance pro­ duced under M ikhoels’s directorship began to appear. T he theater was criticized for allowing elements o f formalism to appear in the art for M idat ha-din}2 Once again, M ikhoels defended the production before the Com m ittee o f A rtistic A f­ fairs, arguing that its popular failure was not due to formalism: “1 also believe that this production was conventional, although it was unsuccessful.. . . It w as not understood. But the popularity o f a production still does not make it form alistic.” However, M ikhoels’s argum ent was not well received. A committee representative responded w ith the curt statement: “It is formalistic and symbolistic.”13 H aving warmed up w ith attacks on the music and art o f the theater, the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs next turned its attention toward the nucleus of Jew ish culture— the M oscow State Yiddish Theater. In 1936 the Com m ittee of A rtistic Affairs began evaluating the theater’s history and concluded that it had been tainted w ith formalism under Granovsky’s tenure. Over the next three years, as the campaign against formalism in art intensified, the committee sporadically turned its attention to the theater’s past transgressions. M ikhoels him self was not directly charged with any iniquities. In fact, he was praised for having repudiated Granovsky’s heritage. Nevertheless, he repeatedly defended his theater’s conduct, standing alone against both his accusers and those from w ithin the theater who chose to recant. The recurring charges, leveled at times direedy by Kerzhentsev, indicate that the committee was preparing the ground for a campaign against the Moscow State Yiddish Theater. However, M ikhoels’s refusal to provide the first­ hand evidence necessary to publicly disgrace the theater impeded the com m ittee’s progress. In many cases, Soviet prosecutors were greatly aided by confessions and recantations uttered by the victims in vain hopes of amnesty. W ith out such coop­ eration, the task was made more difficult—although it was by no means impos­ sible. On October 17,1 936, a discussion was held between the troupe and Boiarskii to discuss the future path o f the theater. The m eeting, described by Sovetskoe iskusstvo as “friendly and candid,” lasted longer than five hours. Boiarskii explained that the need for cultural construction was shared by all national theaters, includ­ ing the Jew ish theater, and that “the Moscow State Yiddish Theater must seriously contemplate its repertoire and the principles o f its creative work.” H e outlined three themes that he believed were appropriate subject m atter for the th eater 1) the portrayal o f historical Jew ish folk heroes, particularly between 1905 and 1917; 2) Jew ish folklore— “but they must be genuine folk plays and genuine folk mu­ sic”; and 3) didactic themes about the current state of Soviet Jewry, as expressed in Peretz M arkish’s works on Birobidzhan. H e also stressed that the theater was founded on the principles of formalism under Granovsky and that more o f an effort must be made to repudiate this past. In the discussion that followed, Gold-


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blatt and Dobrushin both defended the theater’s past, arguing that the theater had moved beyond the legacy o f C hagall and Granovsky long ago. However, the mes­ sage that the theater was still riding on the formalist reputation o f Granovsky was prevalent— and Boiarskii sought to make that clear.'4 Even after receiving this admonition, M ikhoels remained an apologist for Granovsky. Formalism, he contended, is defined as a "departure from re a lity . . . as Plekhanov said, ‘art for art’s sake.’”15 Granovsky’s plays, he continued, did not fit this definition. [Granovsky’s plays] infect the theater hall with optimistic happiness----- Many call The Sorceress a formalist production. I disagree with this. . . . W e have no productions full o f formalism, with the possible exception o f N ight in the Old Market. W e have productions with elements o f formalism---- W h at saved these productions from being engulfed by elements o f formalism, regardless o f the fact that there are even individual elements removed from reality? They were saved by the great intimacy o f the actors. I would say these productions were saved by their relation to the theater hall, they were saved by the popular spirit o f the produc­ tions, their connection to the people’s songs, to the people’s character.16

A llegations o f formalism continued to plague M ikhoels over the next two years. The theater’s twentieth jubilee, for instance, provided an opportunity for a reassessment o f its role in Soviet society; in various retrospectives and speeches delivered on the occasion its past was officially deemed to have been formalist. T his interpretation was formulated by Khrapchenko, the new head o f the C om ­ m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs, who was the keynote speaker at the theater’s twentieth jubilee gala. He feted the theater as “one o f the most outstanding and most in ­ teresting theaters in our country” and praised it for being “one o f the clearest affirmations o f the creativity o f the national politics o f Lenin and Stalin.” But at the same tim e, Khrapchenko inserted an ominous phrase, noting that the theater “went through a complicated and difficult road, not avoiding formalist influences and errors.”' 7 The official interpretation of the theater’s history was repeated in countless retrospectives. H alkin, for instance, wrote that “Granovsky was a formal­ ist director, a despotic director, freely and unceremoniously repressing every actor’s attem pt to gain creative independence.” H alkin, however, was careful to ensure that M ikhoels was spared any association with his former mentor: “M ikhoels and the other better actors o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater were already then striving toward realistic art in spite o f the influence and demands o f the theater’s director.” The entire Granovsky era, H alkin explained, could be interpreted as a “battle between the realist actors and the formalist director.”18 Nusinov echoed him: “The war for realism and popular spirit in the M oscow State Yiddish Theater ended with victory when M ikhoels, who from the theater’s origins had placed this principle in his creative art, became the theater’s director.”19 M ikhoels defended his mentor once again, both in his w ritten commentaries and his speeches. In one retrospective, he emphasized that the theater was founded on popular principles: “From its first steps the theater began to collect, cultivate, and popularize all types o f folk creativity. The music, dance, and ethos o f the


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

theater were drawn from the rich source o f Jew ish folklore.”20 In his speech at the gala he conspicuously ignored the accusations o f formalism: “Twenty years o f the M oscow State Yiddish Theater! If in 1916 someone were to suggest such a name for a theater, w ith such a collection o f adjectives—“Moscow,” “state,” “Y iddish” — this would surely not be believed.”21 M ikhoels deliberately cited the theaters most realist production under Granovsky to de-em phasize its formalism: “A fter only five months the students presented the production Uriel Acosta. T h e spirit struggled w ith the m ind for the liberation of the mind, for the creative m ind.”22 M ikhoels ended his speech by connecting the theater’s prosperity to the national policies o f Stalin— a m andatory conclusion. H is address was enthusiastically re­ ceived by the audience o f Jew ish lum inaries and other invited guests: “It is difficult to broadcast w hat took place in the theater when S. M ikhoels spoke inspiringly about the human genius— Stalin. A sheeps squall roared in the hall,” recalled one observer.23 Despite the obvious temptation to portray him self as a hero who liberated the theater from Granovsky’s formalism, M ikhoels continued to downplay any nega­ tive tendencies the troupe m ay have exhibited during its first decade. H is ardent defense o f his m entors talent and his recognition that Granovsky was being de­ nounced out o f political rather than artistic motivations are notable. M ikhoels was probably motivated by a combination o f genuine moral concerns and the under­ standing that once a clim ate o f denunciation permeates an organization, it quickly becomes contagious. H e likely believed, perhaps naively, that so long as he denied that Granovsky was a crim inal, he could not be prosecuted for his associations with his mentor. Further, the Soviet secret police were not known for their w illingness to forgive past transgressions. It was essential that M ikhoels avoid any admission o f prior guilt. T he cam paign against formalism in theater intensified at the First A ll-Soviet Conference o f Theater Directors, which was convened under the auspices o f the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs in June 1939. “The Soviet people,” declared M ikhail Khrapchenko in his opening address, are waiting for theatrical productions that reflect the great deeds o f the heroic people o f our country. W e need new dramatic material that will show the wealth o f the Soviet man’s internal world, the wealth and beauty o f the Soviet people’s life. W e need art o f a great idea, o f great feeling, bright and diverse art.24

In fact, the conference was convened prim arily to rout formalism out o f the the­ atrical space. Yet not everyone followed the Party line. M ikhoels, for instance, gave one of the most memorable speeches at the conference, criticizing the very foun­ dations o f socialist realism .25 In the words o f British theater director and author Joseph M acleod, the conference “was notable for the stand taken by the veteran Jew ish actor M ikhoels. H e thought too much emphasis was being laid on the ra­ tional, and not enough play being given to the im agination.”26 M eyerhold, who spoke on the second day o f the conference, took a more bellicose and ultim ately foolish position against the anti-form alist crusade. H e was arrested days later.


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T h e official order for the liquidation o f the M eyerhold theater, published in Teatr to serve as a w arning for all, accused it o f adopting “a position alien to Soviet art” and o f being “bourgeois and formalistic through and through.”27 Once the cam paign against formalism in theater was officially sanctioned, it unleashed a slew o f accusations from below: petty bureaucrats and provincial know -it-alls scrambled to prove their vigilance by being the first to find fault in art. For the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, renewed allegations came from the un­ likely site o f Dnepropetrovsk in the Donbas region o f southeastern Ukraine, where the theater had toured in the summer of 1939. A n article in the local press criti­ cized the theater for “national distinctness,” for playing only to Jew ish audiences, and for being incomprehensible to non-Jews.28 In the relatively provincial town o f Dnepropetrovsk, the local press did not shy away from anti-Sem itic innuendoes. T h e theaters adm inistrative director at the tim e, Abraham Baslavskii, responded to the attack w ith self-criticism by apologizing for the theater's past transgressions and anti-Soviet behavior: Several years ago in the Moscow State Yiddish Theater there was a single Com ­ munist. . . . In addition, the direction o f the theater was for a long time in the hands o f an enemy who tried to use the theater for the falsification o f Jewish history. As a result, plays such as Boytre the Bandit, which presents the rich rev­ olutionary Jewish people in an ugly light, appeared in its repertoire.29

M ikhoels, on the other hand, recognized that attacks on the theater’s cliqu­ ishness were merely veiled attacks on its Jewishness. He used his own pen to de­ fend his theater, arguing that his audience was not lim ited to Jews but included all Soviet citizens: No, our audiences reason differently. They say: No matter what language these actors use, i f it is a stage language, a Soviet language, we will understand them, just as in Moscow they are understood by Kyrghiz, Uzbeks and Kazakhs— Our audience is immediately pleased that the hearts o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater’s actors beat with the same rhythm o f their own hearts, that their breath is the same as ours. W ith this rhythm and breath they feel a great love toward the motherland and toward Soviet art.30

In essence, M ikhoels was right; in one week in neighboring Voroshilovgrad the theater played to an estim ated 7,000 spectators— hardly the size o f a parochial au­ dience. Clearly, the Yiddish theater was still attracting both Jews and non-Jews, as it had always done. Yiddish, he insisted, is a Soviet language and like all Soviet languages is capable of cutting across ethnic barriers. T his rhetoric was derived in part from M arr’s theory of linguistic internationalism , which argued for a typology o f language based on class rather than ethnicity.31 Baslavskii s statement indicates that M ikhoels’s vigilance was w ell merited. W hereas previous allegations had con­ centrated on Granovsky’s tenure, Baslavskii included Boytre the Bandit —one o f M ikhoels’s productions. It was indeed a sm all step from recognizing that G ra­ novsky had committed errors to asserting that M ikhoels was guilty as well.


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

Arrests In her biography o f her father, N atalia Vovsi-Mikhoels recalls the fear that permeated the fam ily during the year 1937: “T he anim ated conversations o f our nocturnal gatherings were beginning to know tense silences. W e listened to every unexpected noise in the staircase.. . . T h at year, we hardly s le p t.. . . Every day, we learned o f a new arrest o f our friends or acquaintances.”32 T he purges began to encircle the theater w ith the 1937 arrests o f Litvakov and Ida Lashevich, the theaters administrative director. Both were loyal members o f the Communist Party. Vovsi-Mikhoels remembers that “that night, after the arrest of Ida Lashe­ vich, Papa did not close his eyes.”33 The purges were also rapidly enveloping the Yiddish theater school. A t least four students were arrested, while others were constantly harassed and questioned about their comrades. One o f its students, Joseph Schein, describes his experience at the school during this difficult time: Today is Monday, the theaters day off, so Mikhoels is with us. Seven in the evening, everyone sits in their place in a semi-circle. W e look around and wait with impatience for his arrival. Suddenly we hear his patterned step. He arrives, bringing with him a celebration. Deliberately, he lays out the box o f Kazbek [cigarettes], smokes a cigarette and considers, through the smoke, his surround­ ings. Suddenly his eyes cloud and harden on one place. W e know what he is thinking: one o f us is absent again, having missed several days— an enemy o f the people— the third in the last few months. His short finger raps on his box, he goes to the window, opens it wide and stands a minute in thought. W e are all silent with him. Now, we are united in the same thought.34

M ikhoels, Zuskin, and probably many other members o f the troupe feared for their lives during this period, as was only natural, given the fate o f their close associates. Both M ikhoels and Zuskin suffered from severe insomnia, living in perpetual fear o f the dreaded m idnight knock on the door that signaled the arrival o f the secret police. H ints abound that the two were under suspicion— and that they knew it. For instance, Isai Belikov, a theater critic and close friend o f M ik ­ hoels, was in Birobidzhan in June 1939 when Polina Zhemchuzhina (the Jew ish wife of the Soviet Union s foreign minister, Viacheslav Molotov, and a leading Par­ ty official in her own right, as w ell as an acquaintance o f M ikhoels and Zuskin) visited the region. In a letter to M ikhoels s second wife, A nastasiia Potoskaia, he wrote: “Zhemchuzhina spent a day here on her w ay from Vladivostok to M os­ cow and I was w ith her for several hours. She asked about the health o f [M ikhoels] and o f Zuskin who, it turns out, visited her two days before her departure to the Far East, [and] complained o f insomnia, etc. I assured her that the insom nia had ended. I don’t know whether V. L. [Zuskin] w ill thank me for that.”35 O nly Zhem ­ chuzhina could have helped him with the type o f insomnia he and M ikhoels were suffering. M ikhoels and Zuskin had good reason to lie awake at night in 1939. Evidence recently released from the archives of the KGB has confirmed that Com ­ missar of Internal Affairs Lavrentii Beria was concocting a plot to connect M ik ­ hoels with Isaac Babel, who had been arrested in M ay for conspiring w ith foreign 194

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agents against d ie Soviet Union. A fter his arrest Babel was forced to sign a confes­ sion im plicating both M ikhoels and Sergei Eisenstein.36 B y spring 1939, however, the momentum o f the purges was slowing as the threat o f foreign enemies superceded the threat o f the enem y from w ithin. A s the Soviet state began to prepare for the possibility o f war, the purges fizzled out, giving those, like M ikhoels, who were lucky enough to have survived thus far some breathing space. Three months later, w ith the signing o f the Soviet-G erm an non-aggression pact, the Soviet leadership convinced itself that the danger o f w ar had been averted. T h e mass arrests and executions that had characterized the late 1930s did not begin again until after W orld W ar II. Notably, after the 1948 death o f M ikhoels, Zhem chuzhina m ay have been one o f the first to inform the rem aining members o f the theater that M ikhoels’s death had not been an accident. Perhaps she was passing on inside inform ation to the two theater activists even in 1939.

Benjamin Zuskin and Eda Beikovakaia (his wife), 1930s. Photo courtesy o f Ala Ferelman-Zuskin.


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

M otivated by fear o f repression, the theater was w illing in 1938 to m ake the concessions necessary to ensure the survival o f its members. T his included suc­ cum bing to the m orally hum iliating task o f denouncing one’s colleagues. In M arch the collective issued its only statement o f denunciation to the press, condemning those who had been “unm asked” as “enemies o f the people.”37 In private, however, M ikhoels discouraged such behavior. W h en his daughter tore up her Komsomol application after being told that she would need to renounce m any o f her friends whose parents had been arrested, M ikhoels applauded her.38 In public M ikhoels would not take such reckless risks. In October 1938, for instance, he delivered a radio address entitled “T h e L ie o f Religion” in which he applauded “the people of Russia—all nations in the country” for having “shown the world their superior­ ity over the Bible and God.”39 Nevertheless, the director continued to use biblical im agery in his speeches and continued to entertain his friends and acquaintances w ith biblical stories and Judaic parables. H e even kept a copy o f the Bible in his desk, w hich he carried in his pocket during his 1943 trip to A m erica.40 Even at the A ll-Soviet Conference o f Theater Directors, M ikhoels drew from a w ide range o f H ebraic sources, including the Bible, the Talm ud, and philosophy o f the H askalah. In addition to couching his arguments in Judaic parables, he had the audacity to present the Bible as a forerunner o f Soviet values. “I believe that there is no greater passion o f humans than the passion for understanding,” he declared. “T here is no greater jo y than the jo y o f comprehension. One old book very correctly speaks o f


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this. T h at book is the Bible. It speaks about understanding, about joy, and about intervention in the world.”41 T his Janus-faced attitude toward the Bible— reject­ in g it as a “lie,” w hile endorsing its values and wisdom—was typical of M ikhoels’s ambiguous position regarding the role o f religion, a dichotomy shared by many other Soviet Jew ish activists. W hen called upon to do so, he could prate antireligious platitudes, but his subsequent words and deeds betrayed him. A long with the intrusion o f politics into the theater’s backstage, a new m ili­ tancy and strictness appropriate to the era began to permeate the theater’s rehears­ als, stifling the previously creative environment. T he troupe’s schedule came to re­ semble that o f the early Granovsky era, when the workers had complained to the U nion o f Artists that their director was overly authoritarian. But this time the schedule was set by the very same organizations that had lent a sympathetic ear a decade before. T he informal atmosphere that had previously characterized many o f the rehearsals under M ikhoels was abandoned in favor o f strict regimentation. One worker, for instance, was put under scrutiny for coming four minutes late to a rehearsal, w hile another was docked nine days’ pay for coming thirty-five m in­ utes late.42 Each of these infractions was duly reported to the Com m ittee o f A r­ tistic Affairs by the theaters adm inistrative director, which in turn approved all discipline and kept close records o f all offenses. Thus, the theater came to resem­ ble, both onstage and offstage, a formal Party gathering rather than a creative environment.

Restless Old Age T he political clim ate in late 1938 required caution and compromise from those who were still left among the living. T he arrest of Litvakov and the liquida­ tion o f the M insk center foreboded a difficult time for Yiddish culture. M ikhoels m ade his biggest artistic concession by performing the theater’s first contemporary play w ith no connection to Jew ry whatsoever— L. Rakhmanov’s Restless Old Age, translated from Russian into Yiddish by H alkin. The play was prepared hastily upon the order of the Com m ittee of A rtistic Affairs, which had vetoed the thea­ ter’s planned repertoire— Der N ister’s translation of Gogol’s Wedding and a new play by M arkish on the C ivil W ar.43 Instead, the theater was given a month to pre­ pare Restless Old Age, a play which had already been performed in numerous R us­ sian theaters and had even been made into a motion picture entitled Baltic Deputy. T he production was a pre-ordained failure: there was little that the Yiddish thea­ ter could add to the mediocre script that had not already been done in other in­ terpretations o f the play, and M oscow audiences were already tiring o f the drama. T h e decision to perform the play was supported only by the Party and Komsomol organizations o f the theater, indicating the ascendancy of the theater’s Party orga­ nization.44 T he repertpry decision was justified by Baslavskii: “T his, the theater’s first presentation o f a translation of a Russian play, opens new creative possibilities for the th eater.. . . [The play] touches upon one o f the current problems regarding the participation o f the intelligentsia in the Revolution.”45 Sovetskoe iskusstvo ra­ tionalized the decision in more jaded terms: “The theater need not lock itself into 197

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the narrow circle o f national themes. It must produce plays from the life o f differ­ ent nationalities in our country.. . . It is necessary to put on the stage of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater plays about Lenin and Stalin."46T his was the most concrete denial of the theater’s national peculiarity to date. The Y iddish theater, w hich for tw enty years had entertained and educated Jews and non-Jews alike w ith plays drawn from national themes, was being forced to deny its heritage. Thankfully, the production of Rakhmanov’s play turned out to be only a short hiatus. Restless Old Age begins in Petrograd in 1916 at the house o f the great botanist D m itrii Polezhaev, who is working on a method o f com bating crop failure. As Polezhaev returns from an academic conference, his star student, M isha Bocharov, is arrested by the tsarist police, thereby threatening the completion o f Polezhaev s manuscript. The following year, Polezhaev receives a new assistant whose weak scientific work is coupled with a foolish distrust o f the new Bolshevik government. Polezhaev s project is finally saved from the new assistant’s incompetence when in February 1918, Bocharov, who has since become an esteemed Bolshevik Com m is­ sar, returns to Polezhaev and helps him complete and publish his work. However, the star student informs the professor that he has returned only tem porarily; he must return to the front to fight for Bolshevik power. Before departing, though, he sends the first copy o f the book to come off the press to L enin as a gift. A s the curtains close, the phone rings. It is Lenin himself, calling to personally congratu­ late the author o f the marvelous book he had ju st finished reading.47 T he play, with only five major parts, was performed without the participa­ tion o f either M ikhoels or Zuskin: it was staged by Isaak Kroll and starred D aniil Finkelkraut and Iustina M inkova, two longtim e members of the troupe. It is pos­ sible that M ikhoels’s absence from this new production was a deliberate decision on his part. H e had shown during the theater’s 1927 performance o f U prising that he would not take part in any production he believed was pure propaganda devoid o f artistic merit. The absence o f the theater’s traditional stars, however, gave some o f the troupe’s less visible members an opportunity to prove themselves. For in ­ stance, Finkelkraut, who had been a member o f the troupe since 1922, had never before been given such an im portant role. H e was received w arm ly by the press: “T he artist Finkelkraut can be congratulated on his triumph. H e entirely suc­ ceeded in the role o f Professor Polezhaev,” wrote Pravda .4R A fter the A ll-Soviet Conference ofT heater Directors, a cam paign was begun to increase Party membership among the troupe. Prior to the cam paign, only seven members o f the Com m unist Party were on the payroll o f the Yiddish theater, none of whom were members of the artistic personnel. However, within four months, four o f the troupe’s leading actors joined with great fanfare.49 Over the next few years, the theater and its school would recruit prim arily among Party members, and non-Party members adm itted into the school would be encouraged to join before graduation.50 Notably, neither Zuskin nor M ikhoels were among the new recruits. Both continued to resist membership in the Party, as they had done since the theater’s inception, despite all apparent benefits o f membership. Another means o f encouraging greater Party influence on the theater was the recruitment o f new cadres to the theater through the Yiddish theater school, which graduated 198

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a record eighty actors and five directors during 1938.51The push to join the Party in the M oscow State Yiddish Theater followed a sim ilar effort in the Yiddish W riter’s Union, during which Peretz M arkish had joined as well.

The Banquet Soon after the R estless O ld A ge fiasco, the Moscow State Yiddish Theater once again found common ground w ith the Com m unist Party and the Soviet state in their mutual hostility toward fascism. H itlers Reich inadvertently provided the Y iddish theater w ith a concrete mission, capable o f revitalizing and exciting both the Jew ish masses and the troupe itself. Speaking at the theater’s jubilee celebra­ tion, Zuskin anticipated the theater’s intended thematic direction for the coming season. He contrasted the victory o f socialism in the Soviet Union with the rise o f fascism in the W est: “D uring these days, when in the fascist countries Jews are being subjected to barbarian, brutal persecution, the jubilee o f the Jew ish theater in the country o f socialism is an especially joyous event, a celebration of great political significance.”52 As Europe prepared for the prospect o f a major confron­ tation w ith H itlers Reich, Soviet propaganda in general, and Jew ish propaganda in particular, took on a conspicuously anti-fascist tone. From the start, M ikhoels was an active participant in anti-fascist propaganda. Although the theater had made passing mention o f the rise o f fascism in W eim ar Germany as early as 1926 w ith T he T enth C om m an d m en t, M ikhoels s first significant anti-fascist role was in G rigori Roshal’s (1899-1983) 1938 film T he F am ily O ppenheim . Based on Lion Feuchtwänger’s 1933 novel The O pperm ans, the film follows a prominent German Jew ish fam ily as they are asphyxiated gradually by the anti-Sem itic clim ate o f their homeland. In a sim ilar vein, the theater began preparations for an anti-fascist and antiZionist play by M arkish, T he Oath, about a Jew ish fam ily that flees persecution in Germany, hoping to find a safe haven in Palestine. Soon after their arrival in the Promised Land, they realize that they have no future there either. Disappointed w ith the promise o f Zion, they flee to Spain to help fight in the C ivil War. The title o f the play referred to the oath taken b yjew s fleeing the Spanish Inquisition never to return to Spain.51The play, however, was never finished. In the summer o f 1939, anti-fascism became a taboo subject in the Soviet Union. Spring 1939 began with a purge o f Jew ish diplomats. On M ay 3rd, M aksim Litvinov, the Jew ish architect of the “collective security” alliance with W estern Europe against Germany, was dismissed as the Soviet Com missar of Foreign A f­ fairs. W ith in a month, his successor, Viacheslav Molotov, began m aking positive overtures to Berlin. Negotiations continued throughout the summer. On August 2 3 ,1 939, German Foreign M inister Joachim von Ribbentrop arrived at the Krem­ lin to sign a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. In the pact’s secret pro­ tocol, Stalin and H itler agreed to rearrange the map o f Eastern Europe between themselves. Stalin firmly believed that by sheltering Russia beneath H itler’s wings, he had guaranteed his people peace and security. Im m ediately after the conclusion o f the pact, all anti-fascist activity in the Soviet Union was banned. T he F am ily 199

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Oppenheim was removed from theaters, The Oath was canceled, and the Moscow State Y iddish Theater was left without a repertoire and w ithout a direction. The pact was a tremendous blow to the Yiddish theater, both for genuine ideological reasons and for having destroyed its repertoire overnight. As a result, the theater spent the next two years struggling for direction, unable to develop any specific themes. M ikhoels had been taught that the times were too tumultuous to settle into any single ideology. T he theater’s most ambitious production in the im m ediate pre-war period was The Banquet, based on a segm ent from M arkish’s 1929 novel One Generation Passes Away, Another Generation Comes. The tide o f the novel was drawn from the opening lines of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes: One generation passes away, another generation comes: but the earth abides forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to its place where it rises again___That which has been is that which shall be; and that which has been done is that which shall be done: and there is nothing new under the sun. . . . There is no remembrance o f things past, nor will there be any remembrance o f things that are to come among those who shall come after.

The reference to Ecclesiastes helps frame the novel w ithin the theme o f continu­ ity and tradition in spite o f external change. T his was a powerful theme in the con­ text o f revolutionary Russia, a state which claim ed to be the first to break w ith all traditions and continuities. M arkish’s reference to the cyclical nature of tim e re­ veals a covert or even subconscious skepticism regarding the Revolution’s poten­ tial to construct a new world. Perhaps it was for this reason that the reference to Ecclesiastes was abandoned for the production o f the play. W ith ou t this allusion, the pessimistic intonation o f the play is removed. M arkish’s original novel told o f the continuity o f generations, as the elder gen­ eration of the shtetl, represented by the character of M endel, passes its traditions and heritage to the new generation, represented by M endel’s son Ezra. T h e origi­ nal novel was filled w ith biblical references and allusions, prompting Am erican critic Nakhman M ayzel to w rite o f it: “The entire idea, the tendency o f the novel is thoroughly Jew ish, nationally Jew ish.”54 The novel is set in a U krainian shtetl in 1919, where the population is being terrorized by W h ites and U krainian bandits. Red partisans, Jew s, U krainians, and Russians alike flee into the forest for shelter. The villagers must fend for them ­ selves against the W h ite bandits while they await aid from the Red Army, which is approaching the village. In order to gain time while aw aiting rescue from the Red Army, the old man M endel invites the bandits to a banquet, hoping to keep them occupied until the rescuers arrive. The banquet is ruined, however, as the bandits terrorize the women o f the village. As M endel comes to the defense o f one woman, he is captured by the bandits. He is bound by his hands and feet (“ju st as Abraham bound Isaac at the A kedah,” as M arkish wrote in his original text, re­ ferring to Abraham ’s willingness to sacrifice his only son to prove his faith) and killed.55 However, by detaining the bandits until the arrival of the Red Army, M endel’s deed saves the village. 200

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M en d els death represents the culmination o f the novels theme. T he elder generation passes on and is m artyred by the grace of God for the sake o f the future o f the new generation. It is a structure that has permeated Jew ish history for cen­ turies, connecting M endel to Abraham , Bar Kokhba, the M accabees, and all other Jew ish heroes who gave their lives for the preservation o f the faith and its people. M arkish repeatedly invokes this chain o f continuity throughout the novel. Yet, as the reference to Ecclesiastes im plies, each sacrifice only begins another cycle. Ezra’s generation, the reader surmises, w ill once again be forced to sacrifice itself for its children. T his prophecy is proven true w ith the death o f Ezra at the end o f the novel— a segment absent from the stage production. T h e stage version completely abrogates the nationalist and religious im plica­ tions o f M endel’s martyrdom. Even M endel’s dying words were rewritten to give the play an optim istic and internationalist tone. In the novel, M endel leaves a tes­ tam ent for his son that reads in part, "there is no greater glory than to die for one’s people”— a strong statement o f national pride.S6 In the stage version, however, M endel addresses the Cossack atam an, his murderer, w ith the words: M y people have gone through centuries— they carry suffering on their path to a new bright life— they suffer, but humanity does not abandon them. You may think, Ataman, that it is terrible for me to die at the hands o f a bandit. W h o are you? You are hardly the son o f your people. Your people are great and glorious and became parents to our children, became parents to my Ezra— my people will live.57

T h us, in the words o f one critic, M endel fights for “genuine internationalism, organic harmony w ith the consciousness o f his national virtues, fearlessness, wise optim ism , and a belief in a better future, in the happiness o f all working people.”S8 W ith the removal o f the reference to Ecclesiastes and the cyclical nature o f time, the audience is perm itted to believe that a better future is truly dawning. O nly those fam iliar w ith M arkish’s original Yiddish novel—which was a best-seller in its tim e and was even reprinted in Moscow in 1938—could truly appreciate the skepticism im plied in the original title. Thus, the nationalist implications o f the sacrifice are not only removed, they are replaced with an internationalist theme— the brotherhood between Jews and U krainians. The hostility between the U krai­ nian bandit and the Jew ish villager is portrayed as an isolated incident with no historical precedent. Yet despite these revisions, the play retained much o f M arkish’s original bib­ lical and historical motifs. As Iogann A ltm an noted in Izvestiia, “Peretz M arkish, though in a barely perceptible way, took old heroic motifs: the stoicism of Job; . . . the bravery o f Bar-Kokhba, who rose up against the Romans; the great teach­ ings o f M aim onides, who enlightened the people.” Com paring M endel to the Conversos who died for their religious ideals in sixteenth-century Portugal, A lt­ man continued, “M endel dies like they [the Conversos] died earlier in Portugal. But he had found a new idea— internationalism .”59The plot was also reminiscent o f a H asidic legend told about the Gerer Rebbe, who allegedly invited Russian troops stationed in his town to a banquet in order to denounce two anti-Sem itic 201

The Moscow State Y iddish Theater Polish m ilitary engineers.60 Indeed, d ie structure o f inviting one's enem ies to a banquet in order to dupe diem is a recurring them e in biblical literature, appearing in both the Book o f Esther and the apocryphal Book o f Judith. Further; d ie play represented a return to d ie tim e-honored theme o f the conflict o f generations, the conflicting ideals o f fathers and sons. T h e play was a critical success. Izvestiia praised d ie theater for rew riting the story o f d ie Jew ish shted by replacing d ie htftmentsb w ith heroic individuals.61 P ravdavrrotc th a t“M arkish’s play The B anquets a passionate tale o f manhood and international brotherhood. A nd d ie M oscow State Yiddish Theater is successful in creating a passionate, exciting production.”63 For its next production, the theater returned to the theme o f Jew ish partici­ pation in the collective farm movement. W h ile hardly a novel subject—collective Burn romances had saturated Russian stages for over a decade—it promised little chance o f official objections on ideological grounds. Two plays were considered: Dobrushin’s Elka Rudner (about the founding o f a jo in t Jew ish-non-Jew ish collec­ tive form) and Halltin’s Hero (about Jew ish m igration to collective forms).63 The troupe eventually settled on H alkin’s Hero, the title of which was changed to Am Fridman. T h e plot revolves around three related conflicts. The first is between Am Fridman, a former teacher, and his son Lev, both of whom have abandoned the shted to become collective farmers. W h ile A m hopes to rebuild Jew ish life on the basis o f socialist activity and toil on the land, L ev in itially resents being to m away from the shted. T he second conflict is between Lev and his beloved Golde, w ho is turned off by Lev’s disdain for the collective form and is enchanted instead with the young poet and combine operator, Zem l, whose name is a play on the Russian word for land. T h e third conflict is between A m and Sender, Golde’s father and a former shopkeeper, who is causing trouble on the collective farm by insisting that he live only for himself. Essentially, all the conflicts are based on d ie fundam ental disagreem ent o f w hether Jew ish collective farm ing can provide a solution to the dilem m as o f Jew ish existence. In one representative exchange between A m and Sender, Sender posits that “a collective form is new work, it is not a new life.” A m counters him by explain­ ing, “No, a collective form is not ju st new work, but also a new life, a new page in history.” A m ’s defense o f the collective form as a "new life” becomes a recurring theme throughout the play, restated in virtually every scene. T h e conflict between the two models culminates when Sender threatens to abandon the collective form. A m confronts him : Sender does not understand dut yesterday, today, and tomorrow our people have only one goal in life and this goal must not be forsaken—freedom. This is what our people have sought for a thousand years. Our people have found themselves on the land, taken a new life away from slavery and the difficult life o f oppression and exploitation. The strength of our people must raise us to a new socialist reality. We must do it for our children, for otherwise what will become of diem? ... Sender works well, but his work is not for the service of the people, he thinks only of himself.


One Generation Passes A w ay

Benjamin Zuskin and Shapiro in Am

Fridman. Photo courtesy o f Ala PerelmanZuskin.

T h e play climaxes w hen a fire occurs in the wheatfield. W h ile A m heroically ex­ tinguishes the fire, Sender sits in the com er of the field embracing a sheaf o f grain. In the denouement, Lev joins the Red A rm y as A m provides him w ith some part­ in g words: “Be healthy, m y son. Serve your motherland faithfully and don’t forget that far away, far away in the C rim ea, Jew s live on your land, and among them, close to you, is A m Fridman."64 T h e play is based on a typical socialist realist structure and draws its form from classical epic drama. Once again, a naive simpleton (Lev) is convinced by a mentor (A m Fridman) to embrace the Revolution and jo in in its defense. The play pre­ sents the most stylized heroes and villains to appear on the Yiddish stage. A m ’s com m itm ent to the socialist cause is unwavering, w hile Sender’s utter selfishness


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provides an ideal obstacle to Lev’s enlightenm ent. The final scene in w hich the newly anointed hero leaves his fam ily behind to start a new life in the Red Arm y is the Soviet equivalent o f the Hollywood cliché o f w alking into the sunset. T he text was H alkin’s weakest play to date, likely a function both o f the rapidity with which the script was w ritten and the mundane theme about which the play was commissioned. H alkin had already proven that his dram atic strength lay in reinterpreting classics, and his poetic strength lay in his subtle ab ility to conjure images o f the Jew ish past. In A m Fridman, H alkin could not apply either of these skills. H aving just witnessed the height of the G reat Purges and the death of m any o f his close associates, H alkin probably presumed that this was not the time to test the censors lim its. The poet likely composed this play to prove his loyalty to the Soviet state; it certainly could not have been to impress his audience with a creative triumph. C ritics aptly complained that H alkin m erely m arked time in the crescendo leading up to the fire6S and that the play was bereft o f any detail or dramatic characterization.66T he productions only merits were the superb act­ ing o f Zuskin and Finkelkraut and the return o f Natan A ltm an as artist. H is back­ drop was a scenic painting of rows o f telephone lines that stretched past great mountains and a golden sun into the blue Crim ean horizon. The juxtaposition of electrification and nature reinforced the Promethean ideal of conquering nature while retaining a pastoral landscape, and alluded to Lenin’s dictum that commu­ nism equals Soviet power plus electrification o f the countryside. Heaps o f bread and stockpiles o f m achinery littering the stage also presented an idealized picture of a countryside that was in reality perpetually on the verge o f starvation. Despite two weak new productions from the 1939-1940 season, the theater continued during its 1940 summer tour to attract large audiences. In Leningrad, for instance, it played to over 50,000 people between M ay 10th and June 5th.67 W h en it returned to Moscow that fall, the theater had made little progress in its search for a means o f overcoming political difficulties. Solomon Maimon, the theater’s second production o f one o f M . D aniel’s plays, premiered in 1940. It told o f the eighteenth-century Jew ish philosopher o f the Haskalah who fought against rabbinicism in favor of secular knowledge and sci­ entific rationalism. Solomon M aim on (1754-1800) was recognized as a brilliant scholar from his early childhood in Lithuania, where the local rabbinical author­ ities offered to ordain him as a rabbi at the exceptional age o f eleven. M aim on refused the honor, instead m arrying the daughter o f a wealthy Jew at the age of fourteen. In search o f an alternative to rabbinical Judaism , M aim on turned toward the study o f the esoteric Kabbalah, and later briefly joined a Hasidic sect. However, he found both paths ultim ately unsatisfying. A t the age o f twenty-five, M aim on abandoned his fam ily and left for Königsberg, where he hoped to study medicine. His heretical criticism s o f rabbinical Judaism , however, alienated him from the community, forcing him to flee to Berlin, where he was treated with equal disdain. After flirting w ith apostasy, M aim on began w riting philosophical treatises, in which he championed the rationalism of the Enlightenm ent over w hat he saw as the pedanticism of Talmudic scholasticism. After several years o f wandering,


One Generation

Benjamin Zuskin as Solomon Maimon, Iustina Minkova as his wife, and Ena Kovenskaia as their daughter in Solomon Maimon. Photo courtesy o f A la Perelman-Zuikin.

M aim on eventually settled in Berlin, where he joined the circle o f M oses M en ­ delssohn, the most prominent figure o f the H askalah.6* D aniel’s play focuses on the disputes between M aim on, played by Zuskin, and the Jew ish community, both in its rabbinical and enlightened manifestations. T he central conflict focuses on the altercation between M aim on and his erstwhile m entor M oses M endelssohn. M aim on is disappointed w ith M endelssohn’s con­ tinued defense o f Orthodox Judaism as “revealed legislation.” In contrast to M en ­ delssohn, whose objective was the dissemination o f Hebraic knowledge to the G erm an public, M aim on hoped the intellectual current would flow in the opposite direction. W h ile the historical M aim on sought a fusion between the rational ele­ m ents o f Judaism and the philosophies o f the G erman Aufklärung, D aniel’s M a i­ mon seeks a more complete rejection o f Judaism . In D aniel’s text, M aim on re­ ceives his guidance not from the great philosopher o f Berlin but rather from a sim ple pauper in a hotel, who convinces him that man is his own m aster and the m easure o f all else in the universe. T he episode was based on a true story in which M aim on, after being banished from Berlin the first tim e, befriended a local beggar w ith whom he studied the art o f panhandling for six months. M aim on’s epiphany, im parted by the pauper, was D aniel’s own invention, probably inserted to portray


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M aim on’s enlightenm ent as a product o f working-class mentality. T he play por­ trays M aim on as a nascent revolutionary who struggles against the dominant authorities that seek to keep the Jews in the dark age. He confronts and discredits the rabbis, the kahal, the szlachta (Polish nobility), the Kabbalists, the Hasidim , and the philosophers o f the Berlin salons and their aristocratic patrons, only finding solace in near-total assim ilation.69 M ikhoels linked the play to the rationalism o f the French Revolution and Jew ish emancipation. He emphasized the theme o f “human understanding and the formation o f world views based on the true comprehension o f reality.”70 It was the theaters first attempt since Uriel Acosta in 1922 to animate the philosophical premises of Jew ish rationalism and the complexities o f apostasy. However, when compared to Acosta, the play fell short. “Daniel failed to find pathos in the battle between the hero’s spirit and mortal body,” wrote one reviewer.71 Both P ravda and Izvestiia complained that M aim on’s obsession w ith complex philosophical ques­ tions obscured his personal psychological struggles and, more im portant, his ma­ terial struggle against the bourgeois oppressors and rabbinical authorities.72 A n­ other reviewer wrote: “The historical hero is not b elievab le.. . . T he art is not convincing. Before us, in essence, we find abstract truths. It is difficult to discern who M aim on fights against and for w hat.”73 M aim on’s cause, however, was clear— he fought in the name o f Jew ish rationalism . A more forthright objection might have been that D aniel’s M aim on does not frame his battle in terms o f the class struggle. The poverty-stricken hero attacks his bourgeois and aristocratic enemies on the level o f abstract philosophy rather than social justice. In other words, one could say that the play was decidedly un-M arxist. D aniel ignored a perfectly suit­ able opportunity to depict the m aterialist bases o f the class struggle in historical perspective and chose instead to emphasize the prim acy o f ideology. T he play was also a popular disappointment. Philosophical debates in Berlin salons sim ply did not make for captivating entertainm ent. Pulver’s lyrical music, Robert Falk’s mass scenes, and superb acting by the troupe (including some new cadres who appeared in lead roles) did little to help the fundam entally w eak the­ atrical experience. Yet, in a way, M aim on exhibits many o f the same traits as the theater’s previous protagonists. H e exemplifies the same stubborn optim ism and faith in hum anity as Tevye and Zayvl Ovadis. As one reviewer noted, M aim on ex­ hibits an “independent search for truth, bravery and human rig h ts. . . the fearless­ ness and hum anity o f man, unbending in the battle to unravel the secrets o f the universe.”74

Goldfadn and Sholem Aleichem T he theater’s relatively shoddy productions o f the previous two seasons were beginning to have adverse effects on its popularity. As a result, the theater chose to return to the classics of nineteenth-century Yiddish literature, to Goldfadn and to Sholem Aleichem . Both had retained their charm through the years. T h e thea­ ter had, o f course, built its reputation on these writers, and M ikhoels’s portrayal of Sholem Aleichem ’s Tevye only a few years earlier had been the theater’s greatest 206

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achievem ent since K in g Lear. A lthough neither author possessed the impeccable revolutionary credentials required o f most authors under socialist realism, they were at least “men of the people” and instilled “the optimism o f the people” in all their work. Both also addressed themes that corresponded to Soviet mores— a so­ cial concern for the downtrodden masses and a sensitive disdain for the aristocratic and rabbinic upper classes. T h ey were regarded in Jew ish circles w ith the same esteem as pre-revolutionary Russian masters such as N ikolai Gogol and Aleksandr Ostrovskii, both o f whose plays also saw revivals in 1939. T h e one hundredth anniversary o f Goldfadn’s birth gave the theater an ideal opportunity to return once again to one o f its favorite playwrights. T his time, the theater performed a vaudeville based on Goldfadn’s T w o K u n i-L em ls. The play was revised for production at the Yiddish theater by Zalm an Shneer-O kun, a w ellknown collector o f Jew ish folk songs. According to Jew ish theater legend, when a rival o f Goldfadn’s in Romania wrote a play entitled T w o S ch m il Schm elkes based on the G erman play N athan S ch leim ieh lfor performance by his own troupe, Goldfadn hired the novice playwright, put him on salary, discarded his play, and wrote a new adaptation.75 The play was a simple tale about a young woman whose parents betroth her to a bum bling Hasid against her w ill. The woman, instead, falls in love w ith an uneducated commoner. T he two lovers are able to overcome all the ob­ stacles put in their way. T he play ends happily as the commoner appears at the w edding ceremony disguised as the groom, and convinces everybody—including the real groom!— that he is the bride’s intended.76 T he play satirized the fanati­ cism o f the H asidim and mocked the sway o f tradition, a point appreciated by sev­ eral critics.77 However, despite some popular success, it was a critical failure. Aron G urshteyn, for instance, wrote that “In the new Goldfadn production, the M os­ cow State Yiddish Theater unfortunately does not display the independence and originality that characterized its earlier performances___W e repeat again, we do not demand ‘philosophy’ from such plays, but we do legitim ately demand taste, culture, and some type o f united point o f v iew .. . . W e also legitim ately demand that the production reflect our tim es.”78The film director G rigori Roshal lamented that “in this play there is nothing new and nothing deep.”79 Others did note that “this vaudeville, o f course, is a light, colorful, happy production and is received w ell by the audience.”80The play was a distraction, ligh t entertainm ent. Unfortunately, the play failed to elicit the desired public response. T he theater’s return to Sholem Aleichem w ith his W andering Stars promised to rem edy the situation. Dobrushin’s adaptation o f Sholem Aleichem ’s play pre­ m iered in June 1941. It told the story of the development of Yiddish theater from its origins in late nineteenth-century traveling troupes. T he play follows a troupe o f eight actors who struggle to overcome the tradition o f melodrama, the so-called sh u n d (trash) theater. T h ey seek to raise the theater to a new level o f artistic m erit worthy o f “Shakespeare and his successor Goldfadn.” Im plicit in the battle against sh u n d w a s the struggle against the entire lifestyle o f the shtetl. Seeking to establish themselves as respectable “cultural tsars,” “pedagogues,” “philosophes,” and “phil­ ologues,” the enthusiastic artists em igrate from tsarist Russia to London and then to A m erica. T hey are disappointed to find that the conditions for the development 207

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o f a new art style are even worse in Am erica than in Russia; the “Land o f Oppor­ tunity” is rife w ith speculators, commercialism, and greedy corporations.*1 Tyshler’s art reflected the squalor o f the poor actor's lifestyle. T h e actors performed on a stage o f mud and lived in wretched hotels. In im itation o f the ad hoc curtains used by the w andering theaters, he constructed a curtain sewn from old bedding. T h is lifestyle contrasted sharply w ith the scenes o f N ew York, for w hich Tyshler painted a backdrop o f skyscrapers. I. Bachelis called Tyshler's art "the best he has done for the theater.”*3 Pulver once again returned to a symbolist interpretation o f old Jew ish melodies and utilized leitm otifs, such as his "Come, come to m e,” w hich opened the production. T he play starred Zuskin and intro­ duced Etel Kovenskaia, who at the age o f fifteen performed in her first m ajor role as ReysL T he press greeted the return to Sholem A leichem enthusiastically. "The

Benjamin Zuskin and Sonia Binnik in Wandering Sian. Photo courtesy o f Ala PerelmanZuskin.


One Generation Passes A w ay

director, S. M . M ikhoels, fully reflecting all the social depths and satirical point­ edness o f Sholem Aleichem ’s production, produced a colorful, dynam ic produc­ tion.”83 T he presence of several younger actors in lead roles was also a muchappreciated addition to the theater.84 B y 1947 Wandering Stars had been performed over 200 tim es.8S

The W inter of Discontent M ikhoels’s plans for the coming season, most o f which were not to reach fruition due to the Nazi invasion o f 1941, indicate both an attem pt to recreate an international success on a par w ith K in g Lear and a turn away from specifically Jew ish topics. As he had done several times before when confronted w ith a serious repertory crisis, M ikhoels considered adapting world classics to the Yiddish stage; plays by Gogol, Gorky, and M olière were considered. Additionally, D aniel was commissioned to w rite a play about Karl M arx.86 Eventually the theater settled on Kushnirov’s Yiddish translation o f The Span­ iards by the Russian romantic w riter M ikh ail Lermontov (1814^1841). T he play, a tragedy set during the Spanish Inquisition, tells o f the hum anist freethinker Fernando, and his love for Emilio, the daughter o f the noble Don Alvarets. W h en Don Alvarets refuses to allow his daughter to m arry Fernando, Fernando is forced by an Italian Jesuit in the service of the Inquisition to kill his beloved. Fernando later meets his own end at the hands o f the Inquisition authorities. The play’s c li­ max occurs when the suspicions o f Don Alvarets are borne out, and we discover that Fernando is him self a Jew. Although the play was not drawn from a Jew ish repertoire, Lermontov’s play displayed m any o f the Yiddish theater’s favorite thèmes: there is a generational conflict between the class-conscious and xenophobic parents and the innocent, lovesick youth; a young couple’s love is hindered by the forces o f tradition; and, finally, the truth o f international brotherhood is revealed as ethnic and religious barriers are overcome. T he play was also full o f contemporary relevance. As M ik ­ hoels explained, the social and national differences between Fernando and Em ilio continue “even in our day, when in the capitalist world a biological chasm exists between people [of different nationalities], a chasm that can separate loving indi­ viduals.”87 M ikhoels was indubitably referring to the plight o f Jew s under Nazi rule. Indeed, the entire play can be seen as a reflection o f Jew ish life under the Nazis, in which the T hird Reich became a m odern-day inquisition. A t a time when anti-fascist productions were taboo and the Soviet Union was allied in a non-ag­ gression pact w ith Germany, though, such an interpretation was dangerously pro­ vocative. In addition, one need not look too far to see the sim ilarities between the momentum o f the Inquisition and the momentum o f the Bolshevik Revolution, both o f which inspired overzealous supporters to unleash their fury on the in­ nocent. T h e play was greeted enthusiastically by the critics, many o f whom praised Robert and Valery Falk for their sets and the return of Aleksandr Krein as com­ poser. Krein’s recreation o f Spanish Renaissance motifs combined with vocals 209

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drawn from Jew ish folk music was particularly appreciated.88 Yet despite these positive reviews, the play failed to bring the theater the success it desperately needed. W h ile on tour in Leningrad in M ay 1941, M ikhoels wrote to his w ife com plaining, “Here in the m eantime things are joyless. A t T evye on the opening day o f the tour the hall was only fifty percent filled. A t M aim on , T he S paniards, and K u n i-L em ls there were even fewer.”89 M ikhoels firmly believed that his next project would finally bring the theater the attention he was craving. D rawing upon the success of K in g Lear, he began another attem pt at Shakespeare. A lthough he had often dreamed of playing H am ­ let, by the late 1930s he began to realize he was too old for the part.90 Instead, he once again chose a historical tragedy w ith uncanny contemporary relevance— R ich a rd III. In June 1940, he reassembled the same team that had produced K in g L ear: H alkin for the Y iddish translation91 and Radlov for the staging.92 M ikhoels him self decided to star as Richard— his first new role since Tevye in 1938. A s early as A pril 1939, M ikhoels wrote in L itera tu m a ia g a z eta o f his desire to tackle the problem o f evil epitomized by Richard III: “I would like to try my luck at the psychological dilem m a o f nature, at a character that is the spiritual example o f the enemy, o f the enemy o f all humanity, o f the enem y o f beauty, o f the enemy o f moral strength and stability, o f our current enemy."93 T he term “current enemy”— probably a reference to H itler—was equally ap­ plicable to Stalin. The evil Richard, duke o f Gloucester, who craves violence and viciously destroys enemies and friends alike in his megalomaniacal quest for power eerily resembled the Soviet dictator. The play begins as Richard plots to usurp the crown from his brother, King Edward IV, who lies ill. Richard succeeds in turn­ ing all other contenders for the crown against each other. The evil duke connives to have his other brother, the duke of Clarence, imprisoned and murdered, w hile blam ing the incident on internal enemies and saboteurs— the queen’s kin. H aving established a new threat, Richard succeeds in having the queens fam ily imprisoned and murdered. Banishm ent to the Tower of London becomes a metaphor for exe­ cution. Shakespeare informs us through dram atic irony that none w ill survive their sentence. Throughout his terror, Richard m aintains an aura o f piety, expressing surprise and outrage at the extent o f the growing bloodbath. Through such decep­ tion and intrigue, he is able to solicit the support of the people o f London, who prevail upon him to accept his leadership o f the realm. Despite this genuine pop­ ular support, Richard’s coronation only leads to an intensification o f the terror. Under the guise o f defending the realm against further killings, Richard hires Tyrrel, perhaps Shakespeare’s most evil creation, to complete his terrorizing purges by murdering his closest kin— his nephews and wife. As an arm y led by H enry of Tudor amasses to crush the new king and his reign of terror, Richard responds by intensifying the massacre. After the de-Stalinization of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Eastern Euro­ pean intellectuals began subtly to compare Richard III w ith Stalin. Khrushchev’s 1956 Secret Speech on the excesses of Stalinism made the publication o f these interpretations possible, but such interpretations may have informed earlier read­ ings of the tragedy as w ell. Jan Kott, a Polish professor o f dram a and one o f the 210

One Generation Passes A w ay

leaders o f the Polish an ti-Stalinist movement o f the 1950s, wrote in 1964 that “a reader or spectator in the m id-tw entieth century interprets Richard III through his own experience. H e cannot do otherwise.”94 Shakespeare’s “grand mechanism ,” Kott continued, in which the same tragedy is repeated in each historical play, is “the im age o f history itself.”95 It is, he asserted, “the world we live in.”96 Com m ent­ in g on the scene in which a messenger who appears at his door in the m iddle of the night urges H astings to support Richard’s bid for the crown, Kott hints at a com­ parison w ith the secret police, notorious for their m idnight arrests: “Shakespeare’s genius shows itself also in the w ay he depicts the events occurring at four A .M . W h o has not been awakened in this w ay at four A .M . at least once in his life?”97 He continued to detail the show trial of H astings, who, professing his love of the king and faith in royal justice, is nevertheless left alone with his executioners to meet his fate. More recently, Richard III has been interpreted onstage as an allegory for tw entieth-century dictatorship, most notably in the Royal N ational Theatre’s 1990 production.98 Given the play’s self-evident sim ilarities to Stalin’s reign o f terror, it is remarkable that the Yiddish theater’s preparations were perm itted to continue so long. Ultim ately, the play was never performed. It was stricken from the repertoire in 1942.

Theater of Survival The late 1930s were ambivalent years for M ikhoels and the theater. On one hand, it was during this period that the purges approached the Yiddish theater, causing M ikhoels and Zuskin numerous sleepless nights. On the other hand, though, it was during this period that M ikhoels truly emerged as one o f the great­ est representatives of Soviet art and was showered w ith praise by the state. A t the theater’s twentieth jubilee, M ikhoels was honored with the Order o f Lenin, the highest prize awarded to Soviet citizens. The Order o f the Red Banner was given to Zuskin and Pulver, and additional awards were distributed to other prom inent members o f the troupe. Additionally, M ikhoels was named a People’s A rtist o f the Soviet Union, Zuskin and Pulver became People’s A rtists o f the Russian Republic, and five other members o f the troupe were named honorary artists o f the Russian Republic.99The awards were coupled with monetary bonuses: 85,000 rubles were allocated for distribution to the troupe, o f which M ikhoels received 10,000. An additional 15,000 rubles was set aside for the convocation o f a gala celebratory ceremony.100In 1940, M ikhoels’s fiftieth birthday was celebrated w ith all the pomp due a first-class celebrity. The theater school was attracting an unprecedented number o f students. In the words o f the school’s director, “even parents enroll their children in theater school [to become an actor]. It is no longer ju st a rebellious act.”101 These honors, however, were accompanied by debilitating official responsi­ bilities. M ikhoels’s time was increasingly divided between his theater and his offi­ cial assignments, forcing him to leave much o f the day-to-day affairs of the theater in the hands of others and to absent him self from the stage. W h ile retaining ar­ tistic control o f the theater, M ikhoels did not appear on stage in any new play after 211

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T evye in 1938. Furthermore, M ikhoels’s personal life sustained several m ajor set­ backs. W aking up to find that one o f his close associates had been arrested was becoming increasingly routine, forcing him perpetually to be on guard for his own safety. As if this was not enough, his first w ife’s sister and surrogate m other to his children, Elsa Kantor, passed away in 1940, leaving him alone to take care o f his young children. H is only solace, as he confessed to Sergei Prokofiev, was in his w ork.102 It is no surprise that in this atmosphere the artistic creativity o f the thea­ ter suffered. M ikhoels’s remarkable ability to retain official favor throughout the purges and the seem ingly asylum -like stature o f his theater led to trum ped-up rumors that he had a preferential relationship w ith Stalin. H is friends and acquaintances were constantly seeking his protection, a favor M ikhoels was sim ply unable to provide. W h ile he tried to extend his theater’s shelter to as many different writers, musicians, and artists as possible, he knew that he could not save everybody. “Sometimes it seems to me that I alone am responsible for m y whole people," he once remarked to his w ife.102 M ikhoels, however, had no preferential relationship w ith Stalin. T his realization has prompted several scholars to attempt to account for M ikhoels’s survival and the perseverance of his theater by arguing that the theater was saved due to its importance as an instrum ent o f propaganda.104 It is alleged that Stalin propped up the theater as a “showpiece” to dispel criticism that the Soviet state was anti-Sem itic; Soviet propagandists could boldly point to M ikhoels’s visibility as evidence o f the prosperous state o f Jew ish national cul­ ture under Soviet rule. Although there is certainly evidence to suggest that Stalin considered the effect the Yiddish theater was having on the public opinion o f world Jew ry in the early 1920s, there is little to suggest that this incentive contin­ ued into the 1930s. A fter the establishm ent of the Jew ish Autonomous Region, Birobidzhan seems to have largely usurped this role. In fact, after the theater’s 1928 European tour there were few attem pts to pro­ mote the theater abroad. It was forbidden to continue its tour to A m erica, where a Soviet Yiddish theater o f its caliber would have greatly impressed anti-Soviet Jew ish circles, both socialist and otherwise. Further, Granovsky’s custom o f dis­ patching press releases to European and Am erican theatrical journals was abrupt­ ly discontinued under M ikhoels’s tenure. Indeed, the theater’s only production w idely publicized abroad was K ing Lear. T he Elizabethan classic, however, could have done little to convince foreigners that Jew ish culture was flourishing under Soviet rule. A variant o f the “showpiece” theory contends that prominent Jew ish figures were kept alive to elicit W estern support in the event of a w ar w ith Germany. This theory, however, implies that during the G reat Purges Stalin was planning strate­ gically for the eventuality o f a war with Hitler. But historians have shown that the N azi invasion of the Soviet Union caught Stalin unprepared in spite o f the many w arning signals he received.105 H is lack of strategic planning is evidenced most obviously by the purges o f the Red A rm y m ilitary command that decapitated its control center. Indeed, after the M olotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact, Stalin


One Generation Passes A w ay

had little reason to believe that war was im m inent. In the pre-war period, it would have been far more logical for Stalin to have targeted Jews to please his new ally. H itler, no doubt, would have been most pleased to hear o f the liquidation of the M oscow State Yiddish Theater. If the Soviet dictator had been motivated by antiSem itism , this would have provided an ideal time for the liquidation o f the Y id ­ dish theater and its participants. U ltim ately, any logical resolution to the paradox of why the theater survived during the G reat Purges implies that its survival can be explained through ration­ al reasoning, and consequently that those who did not survive were murdered for strategic purposes. Recent scholarship, however, has argued convincingly that the purges were directed less by an intentional policy and more by the chaos o f socio­ political forces.106 Once begun, the terror took on a momentum o f its own, en­ gulfing all those who crossed its path, while leaving many who stood in the eye o f the storm alive. The upper echelons of the Party, it has been contended, unleashed pent-up anger and frustration among lower ranks both inside and outside the Party, which led to a clim ate o f denunciation and self-criticism to which the secret police responded. It was this bottom-up momentum that facilitated the extent o f the G reat Purges. N either Stalin nor any o f his associates ever designed a blueprint that indi­ cated precisely who would be targeted and who would be saved. Stalin seems to have been no more concerned with the existence of the M oscow State Yiddish T heater than he was w ith the m illions o f petty bureaucrats, collective farm chair­ m en, factory foremen, and other ordinary citizens who were victimized. T he evi­ dence presented here that several campaigns against the theater were unleashed but ultim ately failed indicate that its survival was not part o f a grand design but was rather simply a product of the chaotic nature of the purges. After 1936 the theater was a subject o f official criticism because o f its history o f alleged formalism. Such criticisms were usually forebodings o f the im m inent doom o f an institution. In subsequent years the state cracked down on other Jew ish cultural products, particularly music and art, but never completely annihilated them. Simultaneously, M ikhoels was im plicated in the Babel affair and rightly believed him self to be in im m inent danger. Yet, in all cases, the process was never completed. Arm ed with a combination o f skill and luck, the theater managed repeatedly to deflect all at­ tempts to liquidate it until its temporary survival was ensured by the Nazi invasion. Despite their lack o f concern for legal processes, Soviet prosecutors were no­ toriously dogmatic in soliciting denunciations and self-criticism s of their victims. M ikhoels ardently refused to participate in this type o f ritual. On numerous occa­ sions in which he was expected to play his part by denouncing Granovsky and recanting previous “errors,” the director steadfastly refused. Somehow he under­ stood that once he became a participant in the ritual, he would not be able to excuse him self from subsequent performances. He m inim ally played the part required o f him by denouncing formalism in his speeches, but he refused to provide examples and never singled out particular individuals. He also prudently avoided the other extreme, resisting opportunities to make grandiose speeches defending him self


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and others. On the other hand, those who condemned him for deviations, such as Litvakov and Kerzhentsev, became victims themselves. M ikhoels took a great gam ble by opting out o f the ritual. T he director also possessed a remarkable ability to remain aloof from politics. M ikhoels repeatedly resisted political activity throughout his career, beginning w ith his refusal to join the theaters trade union in the early 1920s. M ikhoels had never been a member o f any organization w ith an explicit political program. He was more of a m ediator than an ideologue. By all accounts, this skill helped him gain the adm iration and cooperation o f his subordinates. T he incessant squabbling that had permeated the troupe during Granovsky’s tenure disappeared under M ik­ hoels. In contrast to his erstwhile mentor, M ikhoels actively sought to put lessexperienced members o f the troupe in lead roles and to use the works o f a wide variety o f Yiddish writers. H is subordinates had little reason to resent him . M ikhoels was not alone in this refusal to participate. Others, such as Isaac Babel, followed a sim ilar policy. In contrast to Babel, however, M ikhoels contin­ ued w orking as usual. H e neither participated nor remained suspiciously silent; he continued to work as though oblivious to the world around him. A lthough M ik­ hoels s refusal to participate in the ritual o f the purges may have helped buy the theater tim e, ultim ately the theater was saved only because the momentum of the terror was curtailed by the invasion o f H itler’s W ehrm acht.

2 14

Brother Jews: Mikhoels and the Jewish AntiFascist Committee


On the morning of June 2 2 ,1 9 4 1 , the Moscow State Yiddish Theater was perform ing a matinee of Shulamis at the Kharkov Red A rm y House while on tour. D uring the intermission, a messenger arrived to announce that the Soviet Union had been invaded by H itler’s W ehrm acht. Operation Barbarossa, as the onslaught was called, signaled the start o f nearly four years o f the most destructive war ever to be fought on Russian soil. W ith in the next two years, the vast m ajority o f the audience, which was mostly composed o f soldiers and officers, would be killed, along with an estim ated 27 m illion Soviet citizens. The agitated actors were or­ dered to finish the show before boarding a train to Moscow. Not far from Khar­ kov, the train was bombarded by enemy fire but managed to continue into the cap­ ita l.1The theater remained in Moscow, where it entertained a public deceived into believing that victory was at hand w ith revivals o f its most popular productions. In the im m ediate aftermath o f the w ar’s outbreak, political expediency was replaced by the need to keep the population calm and entertained. Since com m itting to a policy o f non-aggression w ith Germany, the Soviet U nion had accrued substantial territorial gains: the secret protocols of the M olotov-Ribbentrop treaty had allotted eastern Poland, Bessarabia (M oldova), Esto­ nia, Latvia, and Finland to the Soviet sphere of influence (later Lithuania was added). By June 1940, as France fell in the W est, the Baltic republics, Bessarabia, and eastern Poland had been annexed to the U SSR , while Finland had been forced to concede territory around Leningrad after a costly w inter war. A long w ith terri­ torial enlargem ent came a population increase of approximately 17 m illion people. T h e 1.4 to 1.5 m illion Jews inhabiting the newly occupied territories, including approximately 250,000-350,000 refugees from western Poland, constituted a sig­ nificant m inority in the region.2 The new citizens increased the number o f Jew s in the Soviet Union by over 30 percent. Although many residents o f the occupied territories, particularly ethnic Poles, looked upon the Red A rm y as a hostile in­ vading force, many ethnic m inorities, including many Jews, initially hoped that Soviet sovereignty would put an end to ethnically based discrim ination and halt further German advances into the regions of Eastern Europe densely populated w ith Jews. M eanwhile, in August 1940, H itler turned his attention to an aerial bombard­ m ent o f Britain, hoping for the quick collapse of British defenses. By December, however, he realized that Britain would not fall as long as Soviet forces remained poised to the rear. Thus, the following spring he turned, once again, to the East. A lightening attack on the Soviet Union, he believed, would force C hurchill to sue for peace. Despite repeated warnings o f an im m inent German invasion from the British and Am erican governments, German deserters, and even Soviet m ilitary 215

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intelligence, Operation Barbarossa caught Stalin by surprise. Stalin chose to ig­ nore all warnings, preferring to rely upon the pact he had made with H id er in 1939. Although the Five-Year Plans o f the 1930s had re-arm ed the Soviet Union and increased industrial and m ilitary production at great financial and human costs, the Red Army, the Russian people, and the Soviet economy were ill-pre­ pared to defend their land against Nazi invaders. Stalin had always expected war to break out some time in the future, perhaps w ith Japan, but had not anticipated a surprise invasion from the W est. T he invading W ehrm acht established air supremacy in hours, swept rapidly through the Baltic republics, and entered Belorussia and Ukraine w ithin weeks. A fter disappearing from public view for almost two weeks following the invasion, Stalin reappeared to deliver a radio address on Ju ly 3rd in w hich he called upon the Red Army, the Navy, and all Soviet citizens to defend every inch o f the Soviet land and to leave the invading arm y with only a “scorched earth." “A ll the strength of the people must be used to smash the enemy. Onward to victory!” he promised.-1 W ith in three and a h alf months, however, the W ehrm acht s three-pronged attack against Moscow, Leningrad, and Ukraine had largely destroyed the Soviet airforce, demolished thousands of tanks, taken prisoner or killed hundreds o f thousands of soldiers, and caused unprecedented civilian casualties. T he W ehrm acht had pen­ etrated central Russia, pulverized Soviet border defenses, swept through U krai­ nian villages, captured the ancient capital o f Kiev, and laid siege to Leningrad in a blockade that would last nearly 900 days. In late September, the German T hird Panzer Group was brought down from A rm y Group North and moved toward M oscow together w ith the Fourth Panzer Group from A rm y Group Center. D ur­ ing the second and third weeks of October the Soviet forces defending Vyazma and Bryansk had been destroyed, and the Kremlin was almost w ithin sight o f the Nazi held commanders. W h ile the Yiddish theater continued to function in theory during this period, the situation was chaotic. Sporadic air raids interrupted performances as the c iti­ zens o f Moscow took refuge beneath the city in the newly constructed M oscow subway. By October 15, the W ehrm acht was less than seventy-five miles away from Moscow, forcing the evacuation o f many M oscow institutions. The M oscow State Y iddish Theater, together with a number o f other Jew ish organizations, includ­ ing other Yiddish theaters and the Jew ish W riter’s Union, were evacuated to the Uzbek capital o f Tashkent, where it would remain until October 3, 1943.4 In Tashkent, the Jew ish actors became an integral part o f the Uzbek cultural commu­ nity, and M ikhoels guest-directed the Uzbek national theater in one o f its m ost successful seasons. M ikhoels s most im portant contribution to the war effort, how­ ever, was his role in unifying Soviet Jew ry as head o f the newly formed Soviet Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee (JA F C ). T he “national awakening” o f Soviet Jews under the guidance o f the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee during the w ar has been w ell documented; but it has usually been seen as a complete reversal o f previous trends rather than as part o f an ongoing cultural development that had been brewing on the Yiddish stage for over a decade.5W h en examined in isolation, the committee appears as “the sole Jew ish


BrotherJew s

organization in the co u n try. . . w hich succeeded in uniting, for the first time in the history o f the Soviet Union, the best writers, artists and researchers involved in Y iddish culture.”6 Shim on Redlich, for instance, the foremost scholar o f the A ntiFascist Com m ittee, notes that because “the JA F C was the only central Jew ish structure in Soviet Russia, it was inexorably connected to the fate o f Soviet Jew ­ ry.”7 C ertainly the A nti-Fascist Com m ittee emerged during the w ar as the most im portant Jew ish structure in Soviet Russia; however, it shared a stage w ith sever­ al other central Jew ish structures, including the Yiddish W riter s Union and the State Yiddish Theater, the latter o f which had united the best Yiddish writers and artists long before M ikhoels turned his attention to the Jew ish A nti-Fascist C om ­ m ittee. T he committee did not instigate an about-face in the political beliefs o f its activists, but it did license Jew ish writers, artists, and actors to proclaim national solidarity in a public and international forum for the first time in over a decade.

Brother Jews Soon after the Nazi invasion, it became evident to those at the apex o f power that the Soviet Union desperately needed international aid. Britain, however, was too busy fending off a Nazi attack o f its own to render sufficient assistance, while Roosevelt remained suspicious o f Stalins motives and w ary o f his proven aggres­ sion and violation o f human rights. But several Jew ish organizations, such as the W orld Jew ish Congress and the Jew ish A gency for Palestine, were w illing to en­ gage any resource available, including alliance w ith the Soviet Union, “to assure the survival and to foster the unity o f the Jew ish people.”8 Stalin hoped that by ad­ vertising the achievements o f Soviet Jew ry to the world he would be able to at­ tract contributions from world Jew ry in general and the W orld Jew ish Congress in particular. Solomon M ikhoels played a fundamental role in this mission, not only as director o f the M oscow State Yiddish Theater, but also as chair o f the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee. D uring and after the war, M ikhoels s activities as a pub­ lic figure became increasingly intertwined with his theatrical endeavors. His ac­ tivities both w ithin the Soviet Union and abroad on behalf of the Anti-Fascist Com m ittee were integral to the future o f the Yiddish theater. Two months after the German invasion, M ikhoels took the lead in organizing a Jew ish resistance movement w ithin the Soviet Union. H is first action was to organize a mass Jew ish rally in Moscow. In a letter to Solomon Lozovskii, deputy ch ief o f the Soviet Information Bureau, a department set up at the beginning o f the w ar to oversee all w ar-related propaganda, he wrote: W e, members o f the Jew ish intelligentsia, consider it appropriate to organize a Jew ish rally aimed at the Jew s o f the U S A and G reat Britain, and also at Jew s in other countries. T he purpose o f this rally would be to mobilize w orld Jewish public opinion in the struggle against fascism and for its active support o f the Soviet U nion in its G reat Patriotic W a r o f liberation.9

T h e letter was co-signed by several other prominent members o f the Jew ish intel­ ligentsia, many o f whom, like David Bergelson, Peretz M arkish, Benjam in Zuskin, and Shm uel H alkin, had previously been associated w ith the Moscow State Y id217

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

A group o f actors in die radio studio. Sitting, left to right: Solomon Mikhoels, Sara Rotbaum, unidentified radio announcer, unidentified radio announcer, Liia Rozina, Lev Pulver. Standing,from left to right: unidentified radio announcer, David Chechik, unidentified radio announcer, Iosif Shidlo, Daniil Finkelkraut, Iakov Kukles, unidentified radio announcer. Photo courtesy o f Ala Perelman-Zuskin.

dish Theater. D raw ing from lessons he had learned as early as 1923, w hen the Jew ish Section o f the Com m unist Party petitioned Stalin to subsidize the theater “before news o f this reaches A m erica,” M ikhoels formulated his request in terms o f its effect on A m erican audiences.The strategy worked. On A u gu st2 4 ,1 941, the radio rally was broadcast. T he speakers included the most prominent Jew s in die Soviet Union: M ikhoels, M arkish, Bergelson, Nusinov, Rabinovich, Tyshler, H alkin, Zuskin, Ilya Ehrenburg, Sergei Eisenstein, and others. In their remarks, the orators, headed by M ikhoels, appealed to the unity o f world Jew ry to continue the fight against fascism. T he speakers displayed a remarkable understanding o f N azi atrocities against the Jews in the German-occupied territories.10“M ountains o f murdered corpses and ashes remain o f every shtetl where Jews nested for nearly a thousand years,” declared M arkish, “Everywhere [the Nazis] bring death and destruction. Everywhere they carry despair and tears. Children and wom en and the elderly they cut like grass and rape and trample under foot.”11 A s the prophesies predicted in the early plays o f the theater, w hich eq u ated tile shtetls o f the former Pale o f Settlem ent w ith cem eteries, began to be realized


Brother Jew s

in the here and now, M ikhoels s rhetoric suddenly transformed those same shtetls into bastions o f genuine Jew ish culture. Bergelson even heroized an elder of Lodz — the very same type o f religious authority figure whom the theater had spent two decades denigrating and mocking. In stark contrast to the typical Soviet speech, M ikhoels made no reference to the unity o f the working class o f the world. A p­ pealing to the bourgeois Jew s of Am erica and England he warned: “Jews, my brothers, remember that here in our battlefields, your fate as w ell as the fate o f your countries is being decided.”12The next day P ravda devoted a full-page spread to the m eeting, w ith a banner headline that read: “Brother Jew s o f the Entire W orld.”» For the first time since the Revolution, Soviet Jew ish activists openly hailed the existence o f a united Jew ish nation whose people were scattered throughout the world. The brothers o f Soviet Jews were no longer U krainian peasants and Russian factory workers, but British and Am erican Jew ish philanthropists. A l­ though the unique status o f Jews w ithin the Soviet Union had been officially rec­ ognized since the m id-1930s w ith the establishm ent o f the Jew ish Autonomous Region and the toleration o f literature and theater dealing w ith national themes and Jew ish distinctness, never before had Soviet Jews been perm itted to openly assert their solidarity w ith Jew s beyond the borders o f the U SSR . On the surface the appeal to the Jews o f the entire world appears no differ­ ent than sim ilar declarations made to the “youth o f the entire world” and “scholars o f the entire w orld.” But neither world youth nor world scholars shared the same sense of com munity and solidarity as the Jews. Aside from sharing aspects o f a common culture, language, and religion, m any Jews in North A m erica were Rus­ sian émigrés themselves and still had relatives and friends in the Soviet Union. Additionally, neither youth nor scholars were threatened by Nazism to the same extent as the Jew s. The external threat was a strong unifying factor among Soviet Jew ry. For decades they had been kept isolated from their co-religionists around the world, forced to withstand any threat to their nationhood w ithout the support o f their kin. A fter the German invasion o f Poland, however, many Polish Jews fled across the river Bug into Soviet territory, reintroducing themselves to their Soviet “brethren.” T his first contact w ith their co-religionists beyond the Soviet pale in a quarter-century helped revive the national awareness o f Soviet Jews. A fter the August rally, M ikhoels was recognized w ithin the Soviet Union as the de facto leader of the Soviet Jew ish community, a position he used to foster a sense o f solidarity among Soviet Jews and to persuade the Soviet Information Bureau to indulge him. M ikhoels’s status as a public figure was institutionalized when he was appointed chair o f the newly formed Jew ish A nti-Fascist C om m it­ tee. M ikhoels would use this position to act as a liaison between the Soviet state and Jews both within and beyond the Soviet Union. W orld Jewry, including the Soviet Jew s, were thereby recognized as a distinct political interest group that m erited its own semi-autonomous institution that could provide them with politi­ cal representation. T he idea o f setting up such a committee, on the model o f Aleksei Tolstoy’s A ll-S lav A nti-Fascist Com m ittee, was initiated by H enryk Erlich and Victor 219

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Alter. Both were former leaders o f the Polish Bund who had fled their native Po­ land before the German invasion, only to be arrested and sentenced to death in the Soviet Union. A fter spending two years in prison, however, they were unex­ pectedly released in September 1941. Both were internationally renowned figures, respected by supporters and opponents alike, and the darlings o f the Am erican Jew ish labor unions. Upon their release they began negotiating w ith Lavrentii Beria and Stalin regarding the possibility o f establishing a Jew ish anti-fascist com­ m ittee.14 T hey suggested that Erlich serve as chair, M ikhoels as vice-chair, and A lter as secretary. W h ile he approved in principle o f the proposed organization, Stalin did not trust the two former Bundists. On December 4th, Erlich and A lter were arrested again and taken to Kuibyshev prison. Eleven days later, on Decem­ ber 15th, Lozovskii appointed M ikhoels as chair o f the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com ­ mittee and literary critic Shakhno Epshteyn (1883-1945) as secretary.15 The prime objective of the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee was to garner the support of Am erican and British Jew ry for the Soviet w ar effort. T his was accom­ plished through numerous appeals to the unity o f world Jew ry—even the com­ m ittee s newspaper was entitled Eynikayt (U nity). As M ikhoels said at the second radio rally: “Fellow Jews o f the entire world! Even though we are separated by the A tlantic and Pacific Oceans, the oceans o f blood for which the Nazis are respon­ sible— the blood o f our mothers and children, of our brothers and sisters— these oceans o f innocent blood have confirmed the blood ties between us.”16 W ith in weeks o f the August rally, it became apparent that the appeals were having the desired effect on foreign Jew ish organizations. Even the U.S. D epartment o f State interpreted the establishm ent o f the committee as “a rapprochement between So­ viet Russia and Zionist groups.”17 These sentiments were given further credence when the first secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Ankara visited Palestine w ith his press attaché, which represented the first official contact between the Yishuv (Jew ­ ish settlem ent in Palestine) and the Soviet Union. T he visitors were welcomed w ith a ceremony at which both the Internationale and Hatikvah were sung to­ gether for the first tim e at an official Soviet reception. One banner draping the stage read, “T he Land o f Israel is the citadel o f the national social renaissance o f the Jew ish people”— a m ighty challenge to the historical attitude o f the Soviet Union toward Palestine. W h ile no representatives from the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee were perm itted to attend the ceremony, a message from the com m it­ tee was read to the assembled guests.18 The rally also provoked a response from C haim W eizm ann, chair of the W orld Zionist Organization. In a letter to the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee dated September 8,19 41, W eizm ann wrote, “W e send our fraternal greetings. You may assure all your fellow citizens that the Jew s o f the world w ill not fail the common cause.”19 Sim ilarly, throughout A m erica, Jew s responded to w hat many saw as an end to Soviet anti-Zionism and anti-re­ ligious policies. T he Russian W ar Relief, headed by Edward Carter, and the Na­ tional Council o f Am erican Soviet Friendship, liberal organizations sympathetic to Soviet causes, utilized the atmosphere created by the M oscow A ugust radio call to rallyjew ish support for their cause o f soliciting m ilitary and medical supplies for the Soviet army. T he plan to send to Russia planes and tanks named after historical 220

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Jew ish heroes, such as Bar Kokhba, elicited a particularly strong response, even though such transactions were already covered by the Am erican Lend-Lease treaty that had been extended to the U SS R in September 1941— although w ithout the heroic names. As the C hicagoJewish Chronicle noted,“EveryTom, D ick and Harry, it seems, is now busily engaged in raising money for Russian war relief w ithout authorization and without sanction.”20 O ther Am erican Jew ish circles, particularly Orthodox, Revisionist Zionist, and labor organizations, however, were more skeptical o f the Russian government’s desire to m aintain amicable relations. For instance, the New Zionist O rganization o f A m erica, noting the large number o f Zionists imprisoned in Russia for their political beliefs, cautioned that “Russian diplomats expressed their sympathy for the sufferings o f the Jew ish people, but beyond that, nothing was forthcoming from the Russian government.”21 Sim ilarly, the Am erican labor movement refused to forgive the arrest o f Erlich and Alter. The Am erican Federation o f Labor, along w ith the Jew ish D aily Forward and the W orkm ens C ircle, petitioned Am erican Assistant Secretary o f State Breckenridge Long to intercede on behalf o f Erlich and Alter.22 W h ile Long took the m atter seriously, the Soviet embassy refused to discuss the matter with him , arguing that since Erlich and A lter were Polish citi­ zens, the United States had no jurisdiction over them .22 On February 2 3 ,1 9 4 3 , M aksim Litvinov, now the Soviet ambassador to the U nited States, wrote to W illiam Green o f the Am erican Federation of Labor in­ form ing him that “for active subversive work against the Soviet Union and assis­ tance to Polish intelligence organs in armed activities, Ehrlich [ jiV] and A lter were sentenced to capital punishment in August 1941,” and that the sentence had been carried out.24 In fact, Erlich had hanged him self in his cell several months earlier, w hile A lter had been executed on February 17th.25The execution shocked A m er­ ican Jew ish labor activists and reinforced their suspicions o f the Soviet Union. In response, the Am erican Federation of Labor and the Congress o f Industrial O rganizations held a protest rally against the Soviet Union on M arch 30,1943, in New York. T he assembly, which was addressed by New York M ayor Fiorello La G uardia, among others, was attended by an estim ated 2,500 people.26The ErlichA lter affair seriously threatened to disturb any Am erican Jew ish rapprochement w ith the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the appointment o f M ikhoels as chair o f the A nti-Fascist C om ­ m ittee was met w ith great skepticism on the part of British and Am erican orga­ nizations. W h ile Erlich and A lter were renowned political activists, trusted and adm ired around the world, M ikhoels s international fame was far more restricted. Few abroad knew him personally, and information regarding his theater was scant. For instance, the British Foreign Office was unable even to correctly identify M ikhoels’s name, let alone his qualifications, and erroneously held him responsible for the arrest o f Erlich and Alter: “It soon became obvious that the Soviet authori­ ties m eant to use the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee as a tool for their propa­ ganda” stated one British Foreign Office assessment. “The very same person who denounced V. A lter and H. Erlich to the Soviet authorities, a certain Hoels [«V], has been appointed Secretary General o f the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee.”27 221

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Not only was the representation o f M ikhoels libelous, but the report also incor­ rectly stated that the Soviet government had set up an anti-fascist com mittee in Palestine. Soviet authorities quickly realized that if the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com­ m ittee was to garner the trust o f foreign Jewry, M ikhoels would need to be intro­ duced to the world.

Menakhem M endl Meets die Archbishop of Canterbury In an effort to pressure the Am erican government to open a second Euro­ pean front and increase the flow o f m ilitary aid to the Soviet Union, the Soviet Information Bureau decided to send a delegation from the Jew ish Anti-Fascist Com m ittee to Am erica and Britain. It was hoped that the delegates would be able to deflect attention away from the E rlich-A lter affair and convince W estern Jew ry that racial discrim ination and anti-Sem itism had been eradicated in the Soviet Union. T he idea o f sending a Jew ish delegation abroad was discussed as early as A ugust 1942, when Epshteyn suggested that a member of the Jew ish Anti-Fascist Com m ittee be sent to England and Palestine.28 The proposal was rejected. Over the next year, however, as relations between W estern Jew ish organizations and the Soviet Union sharply deteriorated over the E rlich-A lter affair, the decision was re­ evaluated. The ideal opportunity for such a visit came when the A m erican Com ­ m ittee o f Jew ish W riters, Artists, and Scientists— headed by Albert Einstein and popular Yiddish columnist Ben Zion Goldberg (who was also the son-in-law of Sholem Aleichem )— together w ith the Jew ish Council for Russian W ar R elief invited representatives from the Jew ish Anti-Fascist Com m ittee to the United States. T his time the Soviet Information Bureau accepted the invitation. Soon after, Lozovskii and D eputy Com missar o f Defense A leksandr Shcherbakov met to decide on the delegation. Three names were in itially discussed: Ehrenburg, who was regarded as too essential to be sent away; M arkish, who was not believed to be trustworthy enough; and Epshteyn, whom Lozovskii believed was compro­ mised in foreign eyes by his Party activities. Shcherbakov suggested dispatching M ikhoels on the grounds that he was an effective orator with an understanding o f political language, and, most important, because he was not a member o f the Com m unist Party and therefore would be regarded w ith m inim al suspicion by his Am erican hosts.29 It was also decided to send the Yiddish poet, com mitted Com­ munist, and future Secret Police informant Itzik Fefer (1900-1952), who could be trusted to keep an eye on M ikhoels s activities abroad. The United States quickly granted the two visas. M ikhoels was im m ediately suspicious o f his companion. Before departing, he wrote to his wife: “I w ill find m yself practically alone . . . for the other colleague who is accompanying me can hardly be counted on for support and assistance. And the picture there is getting more complex every day.”30 M ikhoels s daughter has also testified that she recalls many allusive comments made by her father that indi­ cate he knew o f Fefer s m ission.31 According to historian G ennadi Kostyrchenko, however, it was not until 1944 that Fefer was recruited by the M in istry o f State Security.32 Regardless o f whether or not he was officially employed by the ministry 222

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at the tim e o f the Am erican excursion, he could certainly have been counted on to provide information about M ikhoels’s whereabouts. M ikhoels was given little forewarning o f the mission, probably to prevent him from m aking any subversive plans. As a result, the theater was left in disarray. Soon after his departure, the actor wrote to his wife: T he w ay they uprooted me, and didn’t give me a chance to get ready, is driving me crazy. I’ve left behind my infinitely precious and dearly beloved, my indispens­ able companion, and the children___I’ve left the theater behind, w ith hardly any plans, w ithout future prospects, w ithout a leader.31

Before they were dispatched; Lozovskii spoke to the two delegates: “You are Soviet men first and foremost, and then Jews. W hen you arrive in Am erica, you w ill be seen not only as Jew s, but also as Soviet men. Not only the Jew ish commu­ n ity and Jew ish papers, but the entire Am erican press w ill watch you because you w ill appear as Soviet men, regardless o f your national membership.”34 The two were warned to keep in close contact w ith the Soviet consulate and not to hold any m eetings w ithout the permission o f the consulate. According to Goldberg, the two were also instructed personally by Molotov, Stalin, and K alinin.3S The journey to Am erica in the midst of a world w ar was by no means a simple trip. Because o f flight restrictions over European airspace, the trek took the pair through sixteen countries on five continents before returning to Russia in De­ cember 1943. The two departed by air from M oscow in M ay 1943 and traveled to Teheran, where they stayed for over two weeks.36 It is possible that in Teheran M ikhoels came into contact for the first time with representatives from the Yishuv. Less than a w eek before M ikhoels’s arrival in Teheran, a Jew ish delegation from Palestine had presented the Red A rm y with m ilitary supplies at a ceremony in Teheran. Teheran remained a point o f contact between the Yishuv and the Soviet Union throughout the war. It is unclear, though, whether the representatives o f the Yishuv were still in Teheran at the time o f M ikhoels’s arrival. Following their stay in Teheran and a brief stopover in Iraq, M ikhoels and Fefer unexpectedly were forced to land at Lydda A irport in Palestine.37 A lthough the two were not perm itted to leave the airplane as it sat on the runway, the brief visit seems to have been profoundly meaningful to M ikhoels. According to the testim ony o f his daughter, M ikhoels m anaged to smuggle out o f the plane a brief note w ritten in Hebrew to fam ily friends who had settled on Kibbutz Afikim , in w hich he expressed his solidarity w ith the Zionists, w riting, “I w ant to kiss the air and land of Israel.”38 Abraham Sutzkever also recalled M ikhoels telling him how he was touched by this trip, and how he “kissed the air” o f Israel.39 From Palestine, M ikhoels and Fefer proceeded to Egypt, where they toured C airo and the G iza pyramids. D eparting Cairo, they followed the Am erican m ili­ tary airways routes south through the Sudanese desert to Khartoum, across cen­ tral Africa to British N igeria and the Gold Coast, then flew across the A tlantic to Brazil. From Brazil they proceeded north to Puerto Rico and then to the D om ini­ can Republic, where they stayed in Trujillo. The delegation finally arrived in M i­ am i in June. Both travelers often spoke of the duration o f the journey, which lasted 223

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exactly forty days, a number rich in Biblical imagery. As Fefer wrote in a letter to his fam ily: “T his number is mentioned more than once in Jew ish history in the Bible. The Jews wandered in the desert for forty years after their difficult departure from Egypt on their w ay to the Promised Land; the Flood lasted forty days and forty nights.”40 M ikhoels, too, was fond o f recalling the precise duration o f the journey, as if to link his mission to the Egyptian Exodus, w ith him self playing the role o f M oses. Both, he seemed to be saying, were historic journeys which would free the Jew ish people from slavery and lead them to the Promised Land. T he delegations first official stop was in W ashington, where they attended a ceremony at the Soviet embassy. T h ey then proceeded to New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, San Francisco, and H olly­ wood. T hey also visited M exico C ity and made several stops in Canada. Finally, on their w ay back home, the delegation spent several weeks in England. T hey returned to M oscow on December 10th. T he official segment o f the delegation commenced in earnest when they ar­ rived in New York. T he two repeatedly issued addresses to Am erican Jew ry, ap­ pealing to their “brother Jew s” for assistance in the Soviet war effort. Publicly, the delegates emphasized two themes: that racial prejudice and anti-Sem itism had been elim inated in the U SSR and that the Soviet arm y could defeat H itlerism with the support of world Jewry. T he most im portant event in their itinerary was a rally held at New York’s Polo Grounds on Ju ly 8th. The N ew York Times estim ated at­ tendance at 47,000 people.41T he event was most significant in that it was the first tim e Soviet Jews were perm itted to present a united front w ith world Jew ry in all its religious and Zionist manifestations. From the moment the ceremony began w ith singing of the Star Spangled Banner, Hatikvah, and the Internationale, the rally took on a blatantly nationalist tone. Besides M ikhoels and Fefer, other speak­ ers included such prominent Jew ish activists as w riter Sholem Asch, Ben Zion Goldberg, Rabbi Stephen W ise, Jam es Rosenberg (chairm an o f the Jo int D istri­ bution Com m ittee), and Nahum Goldmann (director o f the W orld Jew ish Con­ gress). Ecstatic greetings were also issued from the British Jew ish Fund for Soviet Russia.42 Reports in Pravda emphasized that the “friendly pronouncements toward the Soviet Union and the Soviet government were met with resounding approval. References to the name of Comrade Stalin and the Soviet people as an example o f a people united solidly around its leader evoked especially warm ovations.”43 T his interpretation was echoed in a report to the U.S. Office o f Strategic Services, which stated that “every mention of Russia, the Red Army, and Stalin was greeted w ith enthusiastic applause” and that “when the Soviet anthem was played, the ma­ jo rity o f the audience sang the words.”44 In addition to public appearances, M ikhoels held private audiences with a wide range o f prominent Jew ish and non-Jewish cultural figures. Few, if any, So­ viet citizens had rubbed shoulders with such an illustrious community, represent­ ing such a wide array of ideologies. T his would become a stigm a that would haunt M ikhoels in the post-war era. By the end o f his tour o f Am erica and B ritain, M ik­ hoels had had substantial m eetings w ith Sholem Asch, M arc C hagall, Charlie 224

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Left to right: Itzik Fefer, Albert Einstein, Solomon Mikhoels, U SA 1943. Photo courtesy o f Natalia Vovsi-Mikhocls.

C hap lin , Theodore Dreiser, A lbert Einstein, Lion Feuchtwanger, John G ielgud, Ben Zion Goldberg, Thom as M ann, Paul M u ni, M ax Reinhardt, Paul Robeson, and Upton Sinclair, to name but a few. M ikhoels also visited the grave o f Sholem A leichem , about w hich he wrote an article entitled “T h e Beloved Sholem A leichem Spoke to M e.*45 In addition, M ikhoels was given audiences w ith some o f the most prominent political and religious figures o f the tim e, including L a G uardia and the A rch­ bishop o f Canterbury.46 O fficial representatives o f the A m erican government, however, remained suspicious o f the delegation. A lthough the reception com mit­ tee had invited Franklin Delano Roosevelt to issue a statement, d ie president declined the offer.47 T h e Roosevelt adm inistration had rem ained aloof from the Russian w ar relief effort in general, on the grounds that the L end-L ease treaty covered all necessary aid to Russia.4* Furthermore, it was confused about d ie dele­ gation’s sponsorship. T he adm inistration received no official information from die Soviet embassy regarding the delegation prior to its arrival, and was therefore un­ derstandably confused when M ikhoels and Fefer suddenly arrived, claim ing to be on an official mission from the U SS R . T h e Foreign N ationalities Branch o f the Office o f Strategic Services reported on the delegation’s sponsorship: 225

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater Statem ents published in the Y iddish and A nglo-Jew ish press im m ediately after the arrival o f the tw o visitors asserted that they had been sent by the Jew ish A n tiFascist C om m ittee o f Soviet Russia, a group o f outstanding Jew ish Com m unist leaders and w riters o f w hich M ichoels [«V] is chairman. In daily press announce­ m ents and advertisem ents they are generally described sim ply as cultural ambas­ sadors o r artistic delegates___ Press announcements sent out by the C om m ittee o f Jew ish W riters and A rtists speak o f M ichoels and Feffer [«V] as an “official delegation from the U S S R ” and make no reference to the Jew ish A nti-F ascist C om m ittee. T he Information Bulletin o f the Soviet Embassy has made no m en­ tion o f their presence in this country.”4’

Yet the report notes that “they have been received at the Soviet Embassy in W ash­ ington and at the Soviet Consulate in New York.” In general, the report concluded that “the precise nature o f their mission here has been left obscure.”50T he admin­ istration received little enlightenm ent from established Jew ish organizations. One report, for instance, stated that since their sponsorship was unknown, “no orga­ nization w ith the prestige, standing, and tradition o f the Am erican Jew ish Com­ mittee can give its official recognition to this delegation from the U S S R .”51 The director o f the Jew ish Institute, w hich was associated w ith the Am erican Jewish Congress, contended that “there is no doubt these two men are trying to do a good Soviet propaganda job by endeavoring to [c]reate the impression that Jew ish life in Soviet Russia is a paradise.”52 M uch of the adm inistration’s information about the delegation came from hostile sources. For instance, one report characterized the Com m ittee of Jew ish W riters and Artists as a “communist front organiza­ tion."53T he Office o f Strategic Services also looked toward the Jew ish D aily For­ ward, which wrote that Fefer was a “100% communist and has taught the Soviet Jews to hate the Jews o f other countries.”54 Some Polish intellectuals, on the other hand, argued that “one o f the objects of the above two delegates [M ikhoels and Fefer] was to spoil the good relations between Poles and Jews in this country.”55 Given so little official intelligence on the delegation, the adm inistration had no choice but to ignore it. The British Foreign Office was sim ilarly skeptical. It also complained that British contributions to the war effort were being overlooked: W e seem to get small credit from them [M ikhoels and Fefer] for our own not inconsiderable share in the same enterprise, and as A m erican Jew ry is so p roZ ionist and the Soviet G overnm ent so firm ly opposed to Zionism , this dem on­ stration o f devotion strikes me as unusual, even allowing for some artistic license in the Soviet reports___ I f Jews in A m erica think that anything they can do w ill cause the Soviet G overnm ent to deviate from its settled policy on as im portant a m atter as the treatm ent o f Jew s here, they must rate their influence and powers o f persuasion uncom m only high.56

“So, we meet again, Dr. Weizmann” D espite being snubbed by the Am erican Jew ish Com m ittee and most Jewish socialist organizations, M ikhoels and Fefer did m anage to establish contact with 226

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a dizzying array o f Jew ish public figures and official representatives o f the Jew ish com munity.57 Some of these meetings would later be used as evidence of M ik hoels’s nationalist aspirations and the failure to report them would be used to con­ dem n Zuskin to death, even though Zuskin m ay not have even been informed o f the m eetings.58T he first such m eeting was w ith Jam es Rosenberg, the head o f the A m erican Jew ish Jo int D istribution Com m ittee. Rosenberg, who in 1926 had vis­ ited several Jew ish agricultural settlements in the Soviet Union, hoped to persuade the delegation to accept funds earmarked for distribution to Jew ish settlements. H e also suggested the creation o f a Jew ish autonomous region in the C rim ea and donated 500,000 dollars to the Soviet Union R elief Fund for this purpose. W hen M ikhoels returned to the Soviet Union, he raised the idea w ith Lozovskii, who approved in principle. Discussions to that end reached very high levels before be­ in g thwarted.59 The “Crim ean Affair” was later used as evidence o f the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee’s alleged anti-Soviet nationalist aspirations. T he most im portant m eetings the two held, however, were with leaders o f the Zionist movement. For instance, C haim W eizm ann, who spent much o f the w ar in the U nited States, spoke at a welcoming reception in New York and remained in contact w ith the delegation until his departure for London in Ju ly 1943.60 M eyer W eisgal, W eizm ann s personal representative in the U nited States and d i­ rector o f the Jew ish A gency for Palestine in New York, even managed to clandes­ tin ely arrange a private m eeting w ith M ikhoels. After injuring him self at a rally, M ikhoels was taken to a hospital in New York. W ith Fefer attending official en­ gagem ents, M ikhoels was left alone for the first time in his hospital bed. W eisgal took advantage o f this opportunity to sneak M ikhoels out of the hospital for a full evening o f candid conversation. In his memoirs, W eisgal recalls that the m eeting was arranged at the request o f M ax Reinhardt. H e later told N atalia Vovsi-M ikhoels, however, that W eizm ann w as also present. The omission o f this crucial fact in W eisgal’s published work can be attributed to concern for the welfare of M ikhoels s daughters, who were still livin g in the Soviet Union at the time o f publication. W eisgal’s published recollec­ tion o f the incident is also tainted w ith several other errors; most notably, he er­ roneously dates the encounter to 1942 and credits Reinhardt w ith having directed M ikhoels in The Travels o f Benjamin III. W eizm ann, who had met M ikhoels during the theater’s 1928 European tour, lik ely suspected that Fefer was acting as an im pedim ent to M ikhoels’s candor. His suspicions were proven correct. According to W eisgal, M ikhoels was in itially very tense and fearful o f being discovered, “but as the night wore on, and the alcohol produced its effect, he lost his way, began to weep, and to lam ent the lot o f the Jew s o f Russia___ Later he confided to Joe [Brainin, a member o f the Am erican C om m ittee o f Jew ish Artists, W riters, and Scientists] that he had only played the drunk, otherwise he could not have summoned up the courage to say w hat he d id .”61 In w hat was probably the most frank conversation M ikhoels managed to have during the entire trip, he expressed a great deal of pessimism about the future o f Soviet Jewry. “Jew ish culture has no future in the Soviet U nion,” he declared. “A t present it is difficult, but it w ill become worse.” In addition, the group spoke 227

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Solomon Mikhoek with his broken leg, U SA 1943. Photo courtesy o f Natalis VbvsiMikhoels.

at great length about Palestine, and M ikhoels showed great interest and knowl­ edge o f the debates regarding the foundation o f a Jew ish state.62T he Soviet secret police later found out about this m eeting and used it as evidence against W eizmann’s sister, M aria, during its 1952 investigation o f her.63 N ahum G oldmann, the director o f the W orld Jew ish Congress and an active Zionist, also played an influential role in the delegates’ trip by acting as a liaison between the A nti-Fascist Com m ittee and the U.S. State D epartm ent. H e met w ith the delegates on several occasions, during w hich he brought up a w ide range o f topics that were w ell beyond the delegates’ authority, including Jew ish em igra­ tion from the U SS R and Soviet treatm ent o f Jew ish P O W s.64 G oldm ann openly sought to use the visit as an opportunity to gain Soviet sym pathy for the establish­ m ent o f a Zionist state and publicly invited the two delegates to visit Palestine. Both W eizm ann and Israel M erim insky, a representative o f the H istadrut (Pales­ 228

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tinian labor union), later repeated the invitation. According to Shim on Redlich, who interviewed M erim insky about his m eeting w ith M ikhoels, Mikhoels was extremely moved by his direct encounter with a representative o f the Yishuv. Mereminsky reported that, while Mikhoels clearly indicated his personal feelings in regard to Palestinian Jewry, he kept hinting that neither he nor his Committee made the important decisions. Mikhoels repeated several times in the course o f the conversation that he was a “messenger only” and that the JA C was already “doing more than it could."65

Sim ilar responses are recorded in reports to the Office o f Strategic Services. For instance, one report states that uat a private and confidential m eeting w ith some Jew ish leaders, confronted w ith the question o f the Soviet attitude towards Palestine, the two delegates in a rather pathetic w ay begged the Am ericans to ‘leave them alone’ and not cause them any trouble with questions [about topics] w hich was [w ] none o f their business to discuss."66 Numerous reports state that M ikhoels became agitated when confronted w ith questions about Palestine, probably indicating his frustration at being unable to openly express his thoughts and feelings. Yet throughout the trip, M ikhoels gradu­ ally became more courageous in his responses. For instance, in Britain, when asked specifically about Soviet attitudes toward the possible establishment o f a Jew ish state in Palestine, M ikhoels was forthright. “I speak for myself,” he replied, “I am not qualified to speak in the name o f the U SSR . It is certainly a matter o f our common interest, o f the interest o f the Jew ish masses, that the union between our lands remain as tight forever as it is today.. . . A nd I could a d d . . . rest assured that if England decides to create a Jew ish republic in the Land of Israel, w ithout doubt there w ill be no obstacles on the Soviet side.”67 According to his daughter, the night before his return to the Soviet Union, .Mikhoels also met with an in-law who discussed w ith him the possibility of settling in Palestine.611 There are several indications, ranging from the aesthetic content of the the­ ater’s productions to his actions at the Lydda A irport that M ikhoels harbored Zionist sympathies even prior to his arrival in Am erica. His sudden outspokenness in England indicates that these sentiments were exacerbated by his experiences in A m erica. In addition to receiving numerous entreaties from the world’s leading Zionists during his tour, M ikhoels also made observations of his own which could have further convinced him that the only solution to the “Jewish question” lay in the foundation o f a Jew ish state. D uring the early twentieth century, four general ideologies were put forward as solutions to the “Jewish problem”: religion, social­ ism , democratic capitalism , and Zionism. M ikhoels’s rejection o f religion from an early age was complete; he clearly did not believe that a retreat into religion and isolationism was a solution to the Jew ish problem. As he lived through the Soviet purges, M ikhoels also became convinced that socialism as practiced in the Soviet U nion would fail to provide a shelter for world Jewry. T his left two options: dem ­ ocratic capitalism and Zionism. However, his firsthand glim pse into Am erican life and his subsequent observations reveal a genuine distrust o f the Am erican model. H is numerous official accounts o f the visit provided him w ith an opportunity to 229

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vent w hat seem to be carefully formed criticism s o f capitalist society. H is use of concrete examples indicate a genuine disgust with w hat he saw as a racist society obsessed w ith the excesses o f consumerism. He seems to have become convinced that democratic capitalism as practiced in A m erica could not provide an attractive solution to the “Jew ish question.” In numerous speeches, M ikhoels noted the effects o f Am erican racism and anti-Sem itism . From the beginning, M ikhoels, who spoke no English, found that he was better able to relate to African Am ericans, who, he wrote, were more like­ ly to be proficient in French. He was also attracted to African Am erican culture, noting that his favorite play was P orgy and Bess— written by the Jew ish composer George G ershwin, based on DuBose Heyward s novel.69 Needless to say, he was disturbed by the living conditions and segregation o f African Am ericans.70 Con­ versations w ith Paul Robeson, the African Am erican Shakespearean actor, con­ vinced him that racism was deeply rooted in A m erica. Sim ilarly, despite the high visibility of Jews in Am erican life, M ikhoels noticed a strong anti-Sem itism lurk­ ing beneath the surface. H e was particularly struck by the informal segregation of Jew s, noting that there were even separate hotels and vacation spots for Jew s. As O. Litovskii wrote, “H is stories about the life of Am erican Jew s, although there was nothing unexpected for me, conveyed how harsh and bitter nationalism and anti-Sem itism are.”71 M ikhoels was also disturbed by the excesses of capitalism. He commented that Am ericans treated their cars like gods and prayed in the lan­ guage o f dollars.72 As a trained lawyer himself, M ikhoels also took an interest in the Am erican legal profession: “A ju rist is not someone who attempts to observe the law. On the contrary, he is someone who devotes his life to getting around the law,” he quipped about Am erican judicial proceedings.7' He was perhaps most disturbed, however, by w hat he saw as the pitiful stature o f theater and art in the W estern world. He was amazed that there was no theater o f quality in either M iam i or W ashington. H is only real exposure to A m erican the­ ater was in New York, where he was shocked that even M ax Reinhardt, who had taken Am erican citizenship in 1941 after fleeing from Germany, was unable to recreate his European successes. According to M ikhoels, Reinhardt was so disap­ pointed w ith his Am erican efforts that he discussed w ith M ikhoels the possibili­ ty o f em igrating to the U S S R .74 Broadway, M ikhoels proclaimed, “is the street of sin.”75 He was particularly struck by the Am erican interest in the private lives of its actors—“in w hat [they are] like as [people], in [their] experiences, in w hat [they smoke], in w hat type of linen [they w ear], in w hat type o f toothpaste and tooth­ brush [they use].”76 He was further disturbed by the reluctance of A m erican actors to take political stands: “T he phrase: ‘I am not concerned w ith politics’ 1 heard from representatives o f the Am erican intelligentsia many tim es,” he lam ented.77 Even C harlie C haplin, whose political statements in the Great D ictator would lead to a congressional investigation against him, claim ed to M ikhoels that he had no interest in politics.7" Nevertheless, M ikhoels was fascinated by C haplin and the two spent a full day together in Hollywood. M ikhoels was further disturbed by w hat he saw as a lack of Shakespearean productions in Am erica; he was amazed when he visited the Folger Shakespeare Library in W ashington to discover that he 230

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was only the second actor to visit the library.79 Even in England, M ikhoels was am azed to discover that Shakespeare was no longer performed. W hen he met John G ielgud, the great actor complained to M ikhoels that the British no longer under­ stood Shakespeare. The Archbishop o f C anterbury repeated this comment when he m et w ith M ikhoels: “Shakespeare can no longer be understood because the Bible has been forgotten. W ith ou t the Bible, Shakespeare cannot be understood.” M ikhoels agreed, commenting on the influence o f the Bible on his own portrayal o f King Lear.80T he cultural life o f the W estern world, M ikhoels firmly believed, was hopelessly decadent.

A Nationalist Nation M ikhoels’s agreement w ith the archbishops estim ation o f the Bible reveals one o f the unorthodoxies in the Soviet representative’s thinking. D uring the war, M ikhoels became increasingly aware of the role that Jew s and Judaism played in both world politics and his own life. As the chairm an o f the Jew ish A nti-Fas­ cist Com m ittee, M ikhoels had unequaled access to information about the state o f Jew ry in Eastern Europe. Indeed, according to some sources, he was the first to make the claim that the Germans were m anufacturing soap from the flesh o f their Jew ish victims, and he often displayed bars o f soap allegedly made from hu­ m an fat at mass rallies in Am erica. He had unparalleled access to information being disseminated throughout the Soviet Union— through official and non-offi­ cial channels— and to Am erican and British intelligence as provided to him by his hosts. Letters from refugees constantly flooded the Jew ish A nti-Fascist C om m it­ tee headquarters, and M ikhoels m et w ith numerous refugees who survived the journey to Moscow—sometimes through M ikhoels’s personal intervention. M ik ­ hoels was one o f few Soviet citizens to have had an inkling o f the extent o f the H olocaust prior to the liberation of the concentration camps. A long with many others who were affected by the Jew ish condition during W orld W ar II, M ikhoels seems to have come to believe that the Jew ish people could only survive in a state o f their own. T his sentiment, which is consistent with the nationalist pride M ikhoels had alw ays demonstrated as director o f the Yiddish theater, gradually and surrepti­ tiously surfaced during his tour o f Am erica and Britain. The decadence and veiled racism that he perceived in Am erica convinced him that the golden e m edine (G ol­ den State) would ultim ately fail to protect the interests of European Jewry. Nu­ merous conversations w ith the world’s leading Zionists, including his old acquain­ tance C haim W eizm ann, further inspired him w ith Zionist convictions. A lthough M ikhoels was never able to assert Zionist ideologies openly, repeated references to his anxiety and uneasiness when the question of Palestine was broached indicate a sym pathetic, or at least a complex, disposition. A fter his departure from Britain, M ikhoels gave his most tangible endorsement o f the Zionist project by asserting that the Soviet Union would offer no resistance to the establishm ent of a Jew ish state in Palestine. Even w ithout any substantial statement o f Zionist sympathy, M ikhoels’s ac­ 231

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tivities abroad contrasted sharply w ith Soviet notions o f nationality. Although on one hand Stalin unleashed a flurry o f nationalist chauvinism, interpreting the war as a battle between Russians and Germans, on the other hand, internal Soviet propaganda endorsed the notion o f a superethnic Soviet nation formed upon the principle o f the “brotherhood o f all Soviet peoples.” M ikhoels s references to his “brother Jew s” across the ocean, however, professed a solidarity w ith a people be­ yond the Pale, thereby breaching the Soviet national paradigm . The appeal to world Jew ish unity im plied that the Jews were exempt from the prototype of So­ viet nationhood. The unity o f the Jew ish nation, he declared, cut across political and ideological borders—even the barrier between the Com m unist and capitalist worlds was penetrable. T he Soviet Information Bureau certainly encouraged M ikhoels and his as­ sociates to politicize and publicize their previously covert nationalism . Stalins sudden need for W estern support after the onslaught o f H itler’s W ehrm acht per­ suaded him that his own Jews could be used as sirens, attracting ships o f Jewish w ealth and assistance to Com m unist shores. M ikhoels, therefore, was entrusted w ith the task o f collecting information about Nazi atrocities against the Jew s and was sent abroad to solicit support for the Soviet w ar effort. The knowledge and experiences he obtained through these missions bolstered M ikhoels s long-felt na­ tional awareness. The official sanction he received, however, did little to help him promote overt nationalism w ithin his theater during the war.


O ur People Live: The Yiddish Theater during W orld W ar II


In stark contrast to the information being disseminated abroad, internal Sovi­ et propaganda sought to dim inish both Jew ish achievements and Jew ish victim hood in the war. T his phenomenon was intricately connected to a general revival o f Russian national chauvinism and patriotism. On November 6,19 41, Stalin de­ livered his famous “H oly Russia” speech, in which the ethnically Georgian leader embraced the national heritage o f “M other Russia.” He spoke of “the great Rus­ sian nation— the nation of Plekhanov and Lenin, o f Belinsky and Chernyshevsky, o f Pushkin and Tolstoy, or Gorky and Chekhov, of G linka and Tchaikovsky, of Sechenov and Pavlov, of Suvorov and Kutuzov.”1 Increasingly, Stalin would speak o f the Russian people as “the elder brother in the fam ily of the equal Soviet peo­ ples”2 a slogan later parodied by George O rw ell’s farcical maxim, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Henceforth, official Soviet culture aspired to revive previously taboo nationalist sentiments among its popu­ latio n .’ The unofficial order to invoke nationalism and patriotism was a logical and effective means o f inspiring the population during the crisis o f war. Love o f one’s country and fellow people, the desire to emulate historical heroes and to defeat age-old foes, devotion to religious symbols, and sentimental longings for serenity all encouraged civilians and soldiers alike to make great sacrifices for the common good o f the nation. Stalin’s open declaration of Russian national chauvinism was echoed in the cultural sphere. Playwrights such as Vladim ir Soloviev, Aleksandr Afinogenov, the Tur Brothers (Leonid Tubelskii and Petr Ryzhei), and Konstantin Simonov, to name but a few, sought to instill hope and patriotism in Russian citizens while em phasizing the excitement of war over the devastating havoc it brings. Plays, like Sim onov’s spy story The Russian People, embodied all the essential ingredients for a bombastic, patriotic, wartim e drama: heroic Russians, romantic love, deathdefying exploits, secret missions, and villainous traitors. Others, like Soloviev’s F ield M arshall K utuzov inspired viewers w ith examples o f historical m ilitary he­ roes who overcome the odds to lead the Russian people to victory.4 Documen­ tary newsreels, radio broadcasts, and newspaper reports all worked to ensure that, w hether defending the frontier or m inding the home front, modern Russians were portrayed as giants standing on the heads of giants. It did not take long for anti-Sem itic undertones to emerge from the national fervor. Rumors of Jew ish intrigue and self-interest helped Soviet propaganda ac­ count for Stalin’s dire misjudgment o f August 1939. The Russian people needed to be convinced that Stalin had not erred but rather had been betrayed. Yet a betrayal by H itler would have im plied that Stalin’s decision to trust the Führer had been erroneous in the first place. Thus, the Russian people were perm itted to believe 233

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that they had been forced into the war by the one group w ith the most to gain from a second front against the Germans— the Jews. Unchecked rumors were permitted to spread that the Jews had somehow betrayed Stalin and forced Russia into the war for their own parochial interests. The same Jew s, it was contended, then re­ treated into the Soviet interior, forcing Russian soldiers to fight their war. These reports were fueled by Nazi propaganda, broadcast throughout the occupied ter­ ritories and spread into the heartland by hearsay. Soviet news bureaus did little to stifle the rumors and even sustained them by belittling Jew ish involvement at the front. T he notion that Jews were contributing little to the Soviet w ar effort was given some rationalization by the fact that several major Jew ish organizations had been evacuated to the Soviet interior. It was o f little consequence that countless non-Jewish governmental, adm inistrative, industrial, and cultural organizations had also been evacuated.5 Prior to its evacuation, the Moscow State Yiddish Theater was reorganized, both artistically and adm inistratively, to convert it into an instrum ent o f Soviet wartim e propaganda. In October 1941, the Com m ittee of A rtistic A ffairs re­ moved the theater s adm inistrative director and his deputy. W h ile both were Party loyalists, both had had previous connections to the theater before their appoint­ ments. T hus, the committee could have had suspicions that their loyalties were to the theater first and the committee second. T h ey were replaced with G . B. Fish­ man and A . B. V itis, who served as adm inistrative director and deputy director, re­ spectively.6 Fishman was a long-tim e member o f the Party and had served in the Odessa Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs before taking on the directorship o f the Yiddish theater. T he two were to remain loyal overseers o f the theater on behalf o f the government and would fulfill their future role as directors o f the Com m is­ sion to Liquidate the State Yiddish Theater w ith equal zeal. Next, the theater was rewarded w ith financial compensation. W h ile the State Bank had turned down a request for a loan on December 1, 1941, on the flimsy grounds that the loan application failed to follow the proper channels, the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs intervened on December 31st to ensure that the theater received its required stipend.7 Next, the theater s repertoire was modified to reflect contemporary concerns connected w ith the war. Productions that had been in the works for several years, such as Shakespeare’s Richard III, M arkish’s KolN idre, and H alkin’s The M usician (about a bright young musician who was murdered by monarchists), were deemed “out o f date" and canceled on account o f “the artistic demands o f the war.”®A ddi­ tionally, the film Prestige o f an Empire, based on the notorious anti-Sem itic Beilis trial of 1913, was canceled by Agitprop in 1941. T he film was w ritten by L ev Sheinin, the famous detective novelist and chief of the D epartment o f the Office of Investigation. It was to be directed by Eisenstein, and Zuskin was to play the role o f Beilis. Eisenstein had even spent several months in 1940 working on the film.9 Now that a new threat had emerged from the W est, however, it was considered counterproductive to dwell on the threats o f the tsarist past. The theater had also planned to perform a stage adaptation o f Lion Feuchtwanger’s The Oppermans .I0 M ikhoels had already played the role in G rigori R oshals 1938 motion picture. As 234

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N azi crimes against the Jews intensified during the war, however, Feuchtwanger’s 1933 portrait of the persecution o f Berlin Jews seemed inappropriately tame. Even at his most pessimistic, the author was sim ply unable to im agine the extent of Nazi brutality. “Today,” wrote M ikhoels in a letter to Feuchtwanger, “the heart demands still more. It demands still more fervor.”" T he play was more likely canceled be­ cause it drew attention to the distinct plight of Jews under Nazi rule— a major Soviet taboo during the war. The theater s repertoire was instead forced to mirror Soviet interpretations o f the war. T he theaters portrayal o f the war provides an early example o f the official m yths that would come to characterize Soviet interpretations o f the Holocaust in the occupied territories. Based on a study o f articles on the Holocaust from the Soviet Yiddish journal Sovetish heytnland, which began to appear in 1961, Zvi G itelm an outlined four recurring themes: “(1) G entiles frequently saved Jew s in occupied territories; (2) the Jew s who resisted did so for universal, not parochial, reasons; (3) there was much cooperation among all nationalities against the Nazis; (4) the only collaborators w ith the Nazis were fascists.”12Additionally, the fact that the Nazis targeted Jews over all other nations was hidden from the Soviet people. Soviet propaganda showed, in Ilya Ehrenburgs words, “the solidarity o f the Soviet population, the rescue o f individual Jews by Russian, Belorussians, U krainian, and Poles___ Such stories help heal terrible wounds and raise the ideal o f friendship am ong peoples even higher.” A t the same tim e, Ehrenburg continued, “It is essen­ tial to show that Jew s died bravely, highlighting all the instances o f active or passive resistance; the underground organizations o f the ghetto; the escapes and uprisings; and the Jew ish partisans, who, after escaping death, took vengeance on the mur­ derers o f their loved ones.”13These motifs, which all serve to underline the theme o f interethnic unity in the Soviet Union, can be found in most o f the Yiddish the­ ater’s wartim e productions. The theater idealized the fraternity o f all nations in the Soviet Union. However, the flip side o f Jew ish-gentile unity was a dim inution o f Jew ish-gentile distinctions. Soviet theater— in contrast to some W estern-oriented Soviet propaganda— ignored the fact that the German fascists were motivated by anti-Sem itism . The enemy, it was contended, made no distinction between Jew s and non-Jews.

Tashkent T he relocation o f the Jew ish cultural institutions to C entral A sia provided an ideal setting for the construction o f a myth o f national friendship between the Jew ish and C entral Asian peoples. In reality, the people o f Tashkent were far from unanimous in welcoming the nearly 400 Jews associated with the Yiddish theater who converged on the city during the period of evacuation.14The arriving Jew s were often greeted w ith anti-Sem itic taunts and even occasional acts o f vio­ len ce." Uzbeks were not alone in their anim osity toward the Jew ish evacuees. As the news spread that so many Jew ish intellectuals were safe in C entral A sia, other Soviet citizens came to resent the Jew ish evacuees, characterizing them as “draft dodgers”— a term that was sometimes extended to include all Soviet Jew s, despite 235

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the fact that Jews served in disproportionately high numbers in the Red Arm y.16 However, the troupe contributed more than its fair share to the w ar effort. M any members o f the Yiddish theater chose to abandon their Tashkent haven to vol­ unteer for m ilitary service, while others volunteered to be dispatched to the front in brigades that entertained the troops.17 Those who remained in Tashkent did their best to contribute to the Uzbek community. For instance, M ikhoels delivered several lectures, served as a consult­ ant for the Tashkent theater, and even guest-directed an Uzbek play w ritten by Khamid Alim dzhan, one of the new Soviet Uzbek writers who emerged in the late 1920s.18 In return, the Uzbek government lauded the theater: the C entral Com ­ m ittee o f the Com m unist Party o f Uzbekistan and the Council o f Peoples M in­ isters o f Uzbekistan honored M ikhoels w ith the title People’s A rtist o f Uzbeki­ stan; Zuskin andT yshler were made Honorary A rtists o f Uzbekistan; and several other artists were given distinctions.19 In addition to introducing itself to Uzbek culture, the Yiddish theater introduced the Uzbeks to Jew ish culture. In January 1942, the theater began regular performances in Tashkent, presenting selections from its past repertoire, including Tevye the Dairyman, Shulamis, K ing Lear; Wan­ d erin g Stars, and Two Kuni-Lemls. 20The Yiddish theater played an integral role in the wartim e flowering o f the cultural life o f Tashkent. In the words of Aleksandr Deich, “M ikhoels, it can be said, was the chief o f all Tashkent theaters."21T his fact was even recognized by Alim dzhan himself. In his farewell article to the thousands o f evacuees, he wrote in Pravda vostoka: T he people w ill never forget the w inter o f 1 9 4 1 - 1 9 4 2 in T a sh k e n t. . . [when] people o f science, literature, and art lived and worked in Tashkent in an atm o­ sphere o f Stalinesque friendship o f peoples. T he Yiddish theater in Tashkent for the first time presented an Uzbek p l a y . . . [and] Zuskin at the Yiddish theater enraptured audiences w ith the role o f the Fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear. The public was delighted by high examples o f stage art.22

T he theater also continued its own creative development in Tashkent. By its first spring in evacuation, it had already begun planning for new productions.21 The plays that the theater premiered in Tashkent celebrated, in M ikhoels s words, the “new ideological patriots o f our great country” and aimed to show how “the Stalinist epoch strengthened the creative spirit o f [different] peoples.”24 Its first production, Khamza, demonstrated the m yth o f fraternal relations between Jews and Uzbeks. The play was written by Am in Umari and Kamil Iashen, who, after his first play, Two Communists (1928), was recognized as one of the foremost Uz­ bek playwrights. Khamza Khakimzade N iiazi (1889-1929), the play’s hero, was a real-life Uzbek poet, playwright, and composer. Khamza was most famous, how­ ever, for founding the first serious Uzbek theater, which emerged out o f an amateur troupe he assembled in 1915. Iashen’s play concentrated on this aspect o f Khamza’s life. The flowering o f Khamza’s troupe and its subsequent emergence as a pro­ fessional theater, the M uslim Youth M usical-D ram atic Troupe, was portrayed in much the same terms as the emergence of the Yiddish theater: as a consequence of the October Revolution and of Soviet support for the culture o f its national mi­ 236

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norities.25 Like many o f the seminal figures in Soviet Yiddish literature, Khamza received a typical religious education— in his case through the M uslim madrasa rather than the Jew ish kheder. Like the Yiddish theater, Khamza’s early produc­ tions drew from pre-revolutionary vernacular literature. Later, he helped create a Soviet Uzbek repertoire that extracted contemporary political significance from local folklore. H is most important dram atic works included L andowner and Farm­ hand (1918) and The Secrets o f Yashmak (1927), a defense o f the M uslim women’s liberation movement. A fter Khamzas death the Tashkent theater was named in his honor. In addition to being one o f the founders of modern Uzbek culture, Khamza was also portrayed as a genuine revolutionary. Iashen’s play follows the Uzbek hero as he builds canals, fights for international socialism and the full em ancipation o f women, and challenges religious fanaticism, bourgeois national­ ism, and feudal-era laws and rituals. The final scene depicts Khamza’s tragic death at the hands o f a mob o f religious fanatics. The play ends w ith the lines: “W e w ill transform the arid earth into a blossoming orchard! M usic! W h at more than m u sic!.. .T h e songs o f Khamza w ill forever live in the hearts o f the people.”26The production was received positively, and the Yiddish theater’s hagiographical por­ trait o f the Uzbek hero was held up as a shining example of the “people’s strength.”27 Structurally, the play repeated many of the themes the Yiddish theater had addressed over the preceding decades, merely substituting M uslim for Jew ish tra­ dition. For instance, Khamza advocated emancipation from the strictures of reli­ gious fanaticism ju st as Boytre, M aim on, and Arn Friedman had done in the Y id ­ dish theater’s earlier productions. Furthermore, Khamza’s championship of secular culture and theater as a means o f liberating the population from religious scholas­ ticism paralleled the theme of Wandering Stars as well as the State Yiddish T h e­ ater’s own history. Both served as examples o f the flowering o f national culture under the Soviet regime. Finally, both Khamza and M ikhoels used their public stature to promote broader social awareness among their people. W h ile Khamza’s epitaph could w ell serve for M ikhoels’s own epitaph several years later, the means o f their final defeat were entirely different. T he theater also adopted a syncretic approach to national cultures, consciously draw ing parallels between modern Uzbek and Jew ish history and demonstrating the kinship among all Soviet peoples. For instance, as Pulver had incorporated U krainian and Jew ish musical motifs in Tevye, the musical score o f Khamza found common themes in Uzbek and Jew ish folk music. The incorporation o f Uzbek cultural motifs demanded mutual cooperation between Uzbek and Jewish artists, whose ability to work harmoniously together was held up as an example to be em ulated by all. For instance, the Yiddish poet and novelist Der Nister (Pinhas Kahanovitz, 1884-1950) worked closely w ith Iashen in his translation o f the text; Sarra Ishanturaev, the star actress o f the Khamza theater, and M annon Uiger, the celebrated actor and co-founder o f the Uzbek T R A M , assisted Efraim Loiter in the staging of the production;28 and the Uzbek folk artist M ukkary Turgunbaeva worked with Iampolskii to put Uzbek dance to Jew ish music.2VThus, offstage as w ell, the play exemplified Uzbek-Jewish unity, and by extension, the unity o f all Soviet peoples benefiting from Stalin’s nationality policies. 237

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An E yefir An Eye, 1942. Left to right: Iu stin a M in ko va, B en jam in Z u skin , N ina S iro d n a. P hoto co urtesy o f A la P erelm an -Z uskin .

E da B erkovskaia in Kbamza* 1942. P hoto co urtesy o f A la P erelm an-Z usldn.


O ur People L ive

These themes continued into the theater’s next production— Peretz M arkish’s

An Eyef o r an Eye, w hich premiered in the fall o f 1942. The play was a passionate attack on fascism, arguing that the Nazis can only be defeated by the solidarity o f all oppressed peoples, backed by the strength o f the Soviet army. T he first scene opens as a Nazi soldier forcibly marches a group o f Poles into the town square, yell­ in g “Faster, swine!” “The order is fulfilled,” he heartlessly announces to his supe­ rior. “T h ey are all in the square. There is no resistance! It can begin!” T he Nazi colonel then addresses the Poles: “E ight hundred years ago this town belonged to the German knights o f the Teutonic order. A fter that the city was befouled by the black Slavs, who rose against the good w ill o f the Northern G erman race.”30As the gathered masses look on, the colonel removes a statue o f Adam M ickiew icz, the greatest Romantic poet o f Poland, from the town square, symbolizing the G er­ m an destruction of Slavic culture. In the next scene, the oppression o f the Poles is juxtaposed with the oppres­ sion o f their Jew ish neighbors. M arkish takes the audience into the Jew ish ghetto, where a fam ily huddles together in their living room. Tyshler’s sets depicted rick­ ety broken portraits in the fam ily room, which represented the destruction o f the fam ily’s heritage. T he fam ily watches as night falls on the street and a Jew is beaten by a Nazi soldier, who, w atching the Jew fall to the ground in pain, yells, “G et up, verm in!”31 T he repulsive spectacle is interrupted as the Pole Stanislaw enters the house, explaining that he is working for the Polish underground against the fas­ cists: “Not one Pole w ill die before biting through the throats o f three fascists,” he promises.32 H e has come to recruit partisan fighters, and convinces the Jew ish children, Binyomin and his sister V igda, to join them. “W e no longer need the halo o f the laws o f M oses and Israel!” declares Binyomin, W e need to tie our lives to the battle___ W e must swear to ourselves not to die until we pay back our ruin, until w e settle accounts fo r our pain and shame, until we die o ff from hanging, and are dangling in the windows, until our unburied corpses litter the street. For our dishonored sisters and destitute children. A n eye for an eye!! T his must be our vow !33

O n the surface, Binyomin’s impassioned speech asserts the goals of the parti­ san movement as portrayed in Soviet lore. True to Soviet propaganda, he openly discards the “laws o f M oses and Israel” and the traditions from which they emerge. Yet at the same tim e, his battle cry is drawn from the very same tradition he re­ nounces— the biblical injunction o f “an eye for an eye.”T his incongruity illustrates the torn identity o f m any Soviet Jews during the war. On one hand, they recog­ nized the m ilitary benefits o f Soviet power and felt a loyalty to the state they called home; but on the other hand, the shared experience o f oppression under Nazi ide­ ology united them w ith their co-religionists abroad, and the emergence o f Rus­ sian nationalism excited their own national identity. Ju st as m any Russians invoked the vicious laws o f Ivan Grozny to nourish a sense o f historical continuity and fuel modern bellicosity, m any Jews turned to a reinterpretation o f the laws o f L eviti­ cus to justify their own pugnacity. T he play provides a perfect illustration o f the ways in w hich the propaganda 239

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themes identified by G itelm an were staged. First, the Jews resist the fascists for universal rather than parochial reasons— they do not fight for the survival of the Jew ish people; but rather for the victory of the interethnic forces of communism over fascism. Second, for all their evil characteristics, the Nazis are ironically por­ trayed to be racially blind— they make little distinction between Jew s and Poles. T h eir world is divided only between Com munists and Fascists. T he Jew ish and Polish responses are sim ilarly juxtaposed; they fight together for their common purpose. The partisan movement is portrayed as a glorious example o f Jew ishPolish cooperation. T hird, the Jews are saved only through the kindness o f the gentiles, who graciously invite them into the partisan movement. Finally, the So­ viet arm y is depicted in nearly messianic terms. It is a deus ex machina, in antici­ pation of which the mortals on stage aw ait w ith an unwavering faith. Although the play conceals any Polish-Jewish discord, the Jew ish com muni­ ty itself is sharply divided along generational lines. T he elder maskilim are con­ vinced that the German rationalism o f Kant and the Auflkärung w ill eventually triumph over the madness o f the T hird Reich, while the elder Orthodox Jew s have faith that God w ill not allow them to suffer any longer. O nly the youth are drawn to the partisans, convinced that their salvation lies in their own m ilitary m ight. T his generational conflict tied M arkish’s newest play to the theater’s favor­ ite theme, one o f the most durable subjects o f Jew ish literature. However, in con­ trast to M arkish’s earlier portraits o f the old generation, this time the audience is given little reason to pity those who w ait in vain for G ods help while the youth risk their lives in battle. Dobrushin’s M arvelous H istory provides another example o f Soviet wartim e propaganda as reflected on the Yiddish stage. T he play emerged from a commis­ sion Dobrushin received from the Yiddish theater in 1942 to write a play about the partisan w ar in U kraine.34T he text was approved by the Com m ittee o f A rtis­ tic Affairs in February 1944.35 T he play follows a Jew ish fam ily in U kraine, the Grossmans, as their town is surrounded by Germans. W h ile Esther Grossman and her son are captured by the enemy, her husband Shim on escapes. B y accident, Shim on manages to cross enem y lines and stumbles into a Red A rm y camp, where he finds his daughter Leah and her fiancé, Lieutenant David Novak. A fter Shim on reveals how he managed to cross the front line, the Russian commander sends Leah into the German camp to steal the enem y’s operational plan. Leah completes the mission successfully, stealing the relevant documents from the G erman com­ m ander’s residence. On her w ay back to the camp, she is aided by a group o f par­ tisans, who shoot the German commander.36 T he play reflects only a partial view o f the reality o f Nazi atrocities. T h e co­ operation o f Jew s and gentiles in the face of their shared (and identical) experience o f oppression was once again highlighted as the theme o f the play. Jew s and nonJew s are lumped together both as victims and as anti-fascist fighters. Certainly, this was one aspect o f reality; but at the same time it conceals the greater part o f the whole in which Jew s were singled out for annihilation. W ith the exception o f one episode, in which Shim on relates a story about the destruction of the Jew ish Tem­ ple, im plicitly comparing the event to the Nazi invasion, the play makes no refer­ 240

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ence to the singling out o f Jews for special treatment by the enemy. Not only are Jew s and non-Jews lumped together as victims, but no distinction is made between their responses; gentiles risk their lives to save their Jew ish neighbors. The Grossm ans, for instance, are saved by a broad coalition o f nationalities, including the Russian commander of the Red A rm y and the U krainian partisans. On the other hand, not a single U krainian collaborates w ith the Fascists against the Jew s. The falsehood o f this paradigm was w ell documented by M ikhoels and the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee at the tim e.T he committee had been receiving numerous letters from the occupied territories in which the collaboration o f “friendly” na­ tions was described. For instance, one letter from a collective farm in the Stalin­ d o rf district stated “135 Jews were killed by the German fascists w ith the collabo­ ration o f local police and traitors from the local population. T h eir entire inventory and property was plundered by several ‘kind’ neighbors.”37 Rather than put such atrocities on stage, M ikhoels and the Yiddish theater instead celebrated the role that gentiles played in saving Jew ish lives. Once again, the Nazis were portrayed as being blind to any racial or ethnic differences among people; their battle was ideological rather than racial in the play.

The Lighter Side of War Theater audiences were also entertained w ith more light-hearted and senti­ m ental plays drawn from the canon of pre-revolutionary Yiddish classics. In the words o f M ikhoels, “From time to time the theater returns to the classical legacy o f hum anity and the classical legacy o f our folk, falling back on them as living sources from which new strength, new understanding, new knowledge, and new skills are extracted.”38 M ost im portant, however, these humorous productions pro­ vided a much-needed outlet for a w ar-w eary audience. One such production was Dobrushin’s adaptation o f Sholem Aleichem ’s “The Enchanted Tailor” (written in 1900). The play starred and was staged by Zuskin, who took over as artistic director when M ikhoels was preoccupied with the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee.39The story was first introduced to Russian audiences in 1928 w ith the motion picture Laughter through Tears, directed by G rigori G richerCherikover. It tells the story o f a poor tailor, Shim en-E li, whose penchant for m isquoting Talmudic and biblical sayings and stern criticisms o f the wealthy and respected members o f the town earn him the derision o f the community, including his wife. After she nags the tailor to buy a goat so that the children can have m ilk for supper, Shim en-E li agrees, pointing out: “A wife has to be obeyed, you know. It says so in the Talm ud in black and w hite,” and he recites A ram aic-sounding gibberish in im itation o f the language o f the Talmud. On the way to the neighbor­ in g village where he is to buy the goat, he stays at an inn where the keeper is put o ff by his pretensions. On the return trip, having purchased a fine goat, the inn­ keeper decides to play a trick on the pseudo-talm udic scholar and replaces his shegoat w ith a male. Upon arriving home, his wife is furious to see that Shim en-E li has allowed him self to be tricked. The poor tailor returns to the neighboring vil­ lage; but on the way, the innkeeper switches the goats back, so that when Shim en241

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E li accuses the vendor o f tricking him , he is instead accused o f slander. O nce again Shim en-E li returns to his native village, and once again the innkeeper switches d ie goats. In the end, d ie two villages, each vouching for the honesty o f their own, decide to take up arms against each other, and poor Shim en-E li, convinced that he is cursed by a spirit, becomes m ortally ill w ith insanity.40 T he play’s social message was more akin to the themes the theater had tried to impress upon its audience in the early 1920s than to socialist realist structures. L ike Two H undred Thousand, The Sorceress, in d Art E vening o f SbolemAleicbem, the play was a simple light-hearted attack on the notorious luftmentsben. Once again, Zuskin aimed to portray the hopeless poverty-ridden shteds o f the form er Pale. Shim en-E li, unsatisfied w ith his simple pauper’s lifestyle, allows him self to be per­ suaded to try to enlarge his sm all fortune by investing in a goat—a move that would greatly enhance his prestige. However, like m any o f Sholem Aleichem ’s

Benjamin Zuskin as Shimen-Eli in The Enchanted Tbilor, 1944. Photo courtesy o f Ala Ferclman Zuskin.


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other characters who try to get ahead in life, the poor tailors attempts are doomed to failure. The subtle mockery o f rabbinical learning, talm udic scholarship, and naive mysticism are also typical o f Sholem Aleichem , and had been one o f G ra­ novsky's favorite themes. A t the same tim e, the production allowed an orthodox M arxist interpretation: the goat can be seen as the means o f production— Shim enE li’s attempts to gain the means o f production for him self are doomed to failure because the proletariat cannot gain access to the means o f production w ithout rev­ olution. However, w hile M arxist notions certainly can be extracted from the plot, the play is far from the socialist realist productions o f the 1930s, epitomized by The Deaf, M idat ha-din, and Four Days. Like Tevye, the production evokes pathos more than laughter. It was presented as a lyrical and realist tragedy rather than as a hu­ morous anecdote.41 Its performance is indicative o f a relaxation o f pedagogical requirements from the state and a newfound tolerance for sentim ental tales from folk traditions. According to TA SS, the performance was m et w ith great success.42 W hen it returned to M oscow in fall 1943, the theater continued w ith its ligh t­ hearted programs, presenting Dobrushin’s adaptation o f Goldfadn’s Capricious B ride (written in 1877) and a collection o f short Isaac Leyb Peretz sketches, which was presented in conjunction w ith the Soviet State Y iddish Theater School. Ca­ pricious Bride told o f a young woman whose ideals o f romance give way to a deep­ er appreciation o f love and companionship when she falls for an older man. T he play was representative o f the type o f sentim ental m iddle-class values that came to dom inate much post-war Soviet culture as the regime satisfied the people s de­ mands for relaxation, stability, and conservatism.41

Holy Alliances As M ikhoels and the A nti-Fascist Com m ittee strove to solicit international support for the Soviet w ar effort, the Yiddish theater sought to delve into the past for other instances o f Jew ish-C hristian alliances. David Bergelson s P rince R euven i was one such example. M ikhoels hoped to turn R euveni into the theater s greatest trium ph, surpassing even K in g Lear. “No mise en scène, w ith the exception o (Lear, occupied my father for such a long tim e,” wrote M ikhoels’s daughter.44 However, despite the theater s best efforts, it was never performed. Indeed, the last few years o f M ikhoels s life were dedicated almost exclusively to the production of this illfated play. The Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs gave permission for the theater to commission the play in February 1944,45 and Bergelson was given the commission the following September.46Two months later the theater began rehearsals,47 and in February 1945 the production was given an official go-ahead by Khrapchenko.48 However, by December it had not yet premiered, and it was once again approved for the 1946 season.49The play continued to be included in the theater’s plans for the remainder o f its existence, and rehearsals were held just days before M ikhoels s death. The play is about David Reuveni, a controversial sixteenth-century advocate o f Jew ish-C hristian unity, regarded by many as ah impostor. David Reuveni was a popular subject for Jew ish writers, appearing in novels by M ax Brod and Joseph 243

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Opatashu and in a play by David Pinski. Reuveni belonged to a group o f Kabbalists who were convinced that the messianic age had begun and the world was on the verge of redemption. M ost o f our sources on Reuveni come from his contempo­ rary, Yosef Hakohen (1496-1578), who chronicled Reuveni’s remarkable life, al­ legedly based on Reuveni’s diary. According to his biographer, in 1524 Reuveni appeared in Europe, claim ing to be a princely em issary from a Jew ish state in A ra­ bia. H e appealed to Pope Clem ent VI and the H oly Roman Emperor Charles V to ally w ith the Jew s for a war against the Turks w ith the goal o f liberating Palestine from M uslim rule. W h ile both rulers were suspicious o f the self-styled prince and his purported kingdom, they greeted their guest with all the pomp worthy o f a visiting head o f state and entertained his proposal. In Portugal Reuveni also met w ith a Converso named Diego Pires, who was so enraptured with Reuveni’s plan that he reconverted to Judaism and changed his name to Shlomo M ulkho (King Solomon). However, their plan to save European Jew ry from the Inquisition and to liberate Palestine ultim ately failed. Both were eventually arrested by C harles V; M ulkho was burned at the stake in 1532 and Reuveni died in a Spanish prison several years later.50 Bergelson’s version makes no apology for its nationalist significance and re­ peatedly stresses the theme o f Jew ish perseverance in the face o f potential disas­ ter. It exhibits, in the words o f Shm uel Rozshansky, “a stirring lyricism o f a national vision.”51 The Jew ish people, Bergelson’s Reuveni contends, w ill survive only by taking up arms: “T he people w ill continue to l i v e ! . . . You fight, my people, that means—you live, my people,”52 commands Reuveni. On the surface, though, Bergelson's interpretation downgraded the religious and messianic significance o f the Reuveni story. For instance, Reuveni scoffs at the rich Jew ish merchants w ho seek martyrdom by the grace o f God and who die w ith a prayer o f God’s Oneness on their lips. It is much more fruitful, he contends, to die w ith a sword in one’s hand. “T his is the war ideology o f the Soviets,” wrote one Am erican critic. “T h is is also Reuveni’s ideology.”53The theme of Jews and non-Jews uniting against a common foe also conformed to w hat G itelm an identified as one of the recurring them es of Soviet interpretations o f the Holocaust. A t times, however, the subtext o f the play contradicts its overt anti-religious stance. The play’s anti-religious significance, for instance, becomes ambiguous when Reuveni dies w ith the Hebrew words o f a Yom Kippur prayer on his lips: “W h o w ill live and who w ill die.” Once again, the am biguity o f Soviet Jew ish existence surfaces as the protagonist in his final breath symbolically returns to the faith he rejected in life. The entire play can also be seen as a roman à clef in which Reuveni is an allegorical representation o f M ikhoels, who had recently returned from his own quest for C hristian support abroad. Like Reuveni, M ikhoels had suddenly ap­ peared in the W estern world as an emissary from a forgotten Jew ish com m unity in the East. Seeking W estern support against a common enemy, both M ikhoels and Reuveni pledged that their own people would fight in unison with the W est and promised an end to anim osities and differences between their own kingdoms and


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their potential allies. Only through Jewish unity and Jewish-Christian coopera­ tion, they contended, could the evil foe threatening Europe be defeated. Indeed, many o f Reuvenis impassioned speeches closely resemble the appeals Mikhoels made at the anti-fascist radio rallies. Both also railed against religious fanaticism and passivity. Could, then, Reuveni s final monologue, with its prayer and implicit return to the Jewish faith, have been a clandestine declaration o f Mikhoels s epi­ phany? If so, it was a confession he would never be able to make. Despite his best efforts, the play was never performed. W h ile such a messianic theme may have been acceptable during the war, once the war was finished, blatant nationalism was no longer acceptable. By the time the play was ready to be performed, in early 1945, the Soviet army was advancing well into Europe toward the Am erican forces. As the two armies prepared to meet, the Soviet Union no longer sought cooperation w ith its erstwhile W estern allies. The w orld Jew ish unity that the Soviet regime had sought to promote during the w ar had lost its strategic imperative. Nevertheless, M ikhoels continued rehearsals and repeatedly received official permission to keep the play in the theaters repertoire. W h en M ikhoels departed Moscow for his ill-fated journey to M insk, he left on his desk the script o f Prince R euveni and M achiavelli s The Prince, which he was reading for background on Renaissance Europe.54M ikhoels, the modern Reuveni, w as about to fall to the M achiavellian trap of the modem Prince Stalin.

W ar in the Post-war World As the m ilitary w ar drew to a close, theater was catapulted into a new front: “T h e war continues in the ideological front,” stated M ikhoels.55 In February 1944, the C om m ittee of A rtistic Affairs m et to approve the theater s future repertoire. It was decided that the theater should henceforth deal with themes relating exclu­ sively to “The Great Patriotic W ar.”56 The importance o f wartim e themes was further enhanced several months later when in connection with the twenty-sev­ enth anniversary o f the October Revolution, the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs ordered all theaters to present for approval plays about “the historical victory o f the heroic Red Arm y over the fascist aggressors.”57 In 1944 alone, the M oscow State Yiddish Theater commissioned Shmuel H alkin, Aleksandr Borshchagovskii, Abraham Sutzkever, David Hofshteyn, and David Bergelson to write plays glorifying the victory of heroic Jews who unite w ith non-Jews to defeat the enemy.58 In addition, over the next few years, the theater w ould either commission or adapt plays on w ar themes by Peretz M arkish, M oshe Pinchevskii, Vasili Grossman, M oshe Broderzon, Itzik Fefer, G rigori Linkov, and Isaak Hoberman.59 M ost o f these plays were never performed, some for ideologi­ cal reasons, some on account of poor aesthetic quality, and others simply because the authors did not complete the text before the theater was destroyed. T h e victorious campaigns o f the Red A rm y during 1944 genuinely impressed upon Soviet citizens a new hope. T he unbounded enthusiasm that overtook Sovi­ et Jew ish culture as the Red A rm y marched toward Berlin was not merely man­


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dated by the state, but in fact seems to have genuinely permeated the thinking and attitudes o f many Soviet Jews after their country’s victory over Nazi forces. Soviet Jew ish writers and citizens celebrated the triumph o f the Jew ish people over Na­ zism and the perseverance o f the Jew ish nation. Since the mass graves, the crema­ tories, and the annihilation o f sue m illion Jew s was not yet common knowledge, the strength of life and dignity could still be celebrated. Ben Zion Goldberg describes the mood of the theater at the tim e o f his 1946 visit: The house was always sold out in advance. I had to reserve my seat a few days beforehand, and when I failed to do so, I had to be accommodated by an extra chair in the aisle. Backstage, the atmosphere was devotional as well as theatri­ cal. The actors were votaries in a service. They spent six to ten months rehearsing and studying a new play. I was present at one such session; it might have been a graduate seminar in dramatic arts where professor and students analyzed the inner meaning o f every line and movement.60

M ikhoels, too, could hardly contain his excitement. Y itzhak Rosenberg, a member o f the Czechoslovakian government delegation to the W orld Jew ish Congress, commented on his impressions o f M ikhoels in November 1944: “He was a charm­ ing person, hospitable, generous w ith his time and a very good listen er.. . . M ik­ hoels expressed an optimistic oudook on the future o f the Jew ish people, and this boundless optimism combined w ith his excellent personality left a m arked in­ fluence on m e.”61 T he M oscow State Yiddish Theater appeared to be heading for another victorious post-war decade. New personnel were hired, the continuing staff were given pay raises,62 and the theater school accepted sixty young hopefuls to help carry the troupe into a post-war world. T he theater also began preparing new productions to entertain the next generation. In the two years after the con­ clusion o f the war, the M oscow State Yiddish T heater commissioned nearly twen­ ty different plays, enough to last at least ten years in the best o f times.63 T h e tides o f some plays the troupe planned to present speak volumes for the opdm istic mood o f Yiddish playwrights: Pinchevskii’s I Live, Bergelson’s I Will L ive (which was performed at the New Yiddish Folk Theater of New York in 1945), Fefer’s To Life, Hoberman’s Life Is Worth L iving, H alkin’s For Life and Unto Death, and others. T his proliferation o f life-affirm ing plays can be attributed to both official pressure and genuine enthusiasm on the part o f the writers. T his euphoria was expressed in the theater’s first post-war production— Freylekhs [Jo y], an allegorical celebration o f Jew ish perseverance. The prize-w in­ ning production was commissioned to the Yiddish folklorist Zalm an ShneerO kun in January 1945.64 T he theater once again turned its attention to that time-honored symbol of life and renewal, the Jew ish wedding. The production was a symbolist recreation o f the traditional wedding ritual, virtually devoid o f any narrative. The play can most appropriately be described as a succession o f images. Its opening scene recalled the creation myth, particularly in its Kabbalistic inter­ pretation, as seven dim lights— evoking the seven days o f creation—emerge from


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Benjamin Zuskin in Fnylekbs, 1945. The Hebrew words, 6kol khasan ve kol khalahö, are part o f a traditional wedding song. The photo was partially burnt during the fire set in the Yiddish Theater archives by the Secret Police in 1950. Photo courtesy o f A la Ferelman-Zuskin.

the void. The lights then reveal human forms, just as the light o f the Divine Pres­ ence created Adam Kadmon (Primal Man), and suddenly burst into a flurry o f color. Tyshler set the prologue in complete darkness. The audience gazes at the void in expectation and contemplation, until “in the black square o f the stage, seven solitary lights bum.* Their dim light falls on faces and hands, holding these lights. The faces are tense, their appearance is of concentration. Above shines a single star. Its bluish shining twinkle fights with the quiet melancholy of the wandering lights. The * sound of a requiem fills the expanse. This Yortsayt—a ceremonial rite for the remembrance of the dead—expresses sorrow and vows to be a grateful and eter­ nal memorial. But suddenly a badkben appears—the spirit of a wedding. His ringing voice breaks the ceremonial melody—“extinguish the light, blow out the melancholy.* The Requiem melody transforms itself. Joyful, ceremonial music is heard. A bright light bursts into flame. It lights up the entire stage. A demand for light. Faces are revealed with heads proudly raised. They wear bright clothing. This, the voice of the folkjester, who moves, writhing like quicksilver, and who sees the wisdom of the people’s faces. W ith great agitation he speaks of the sorrow which


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater envelopes every blessed person with thoughts o f the dead, who were tom from life in the war o f liberation. Let us share in a pre-eminent memorial which will be the joy o f life, an affirmation o f victory, and a celebration o f the new life, which was fought for by the victorious people, who are immortal.'’5

The stage then fills w ith jesters, dressed in costumes that are com pletely black on one side and a patchwork o f colors on the other. “O ur people live!! L e t’s cel­ ebrate a w edding!” declare the badkhens, as they usher in a carnival o f song and dance. The wedding guests then begin to arrive: an officer returning from the front, a mother who has lost her only child, and an old soldier who had been re­ cruited into the tsarist army.66 A series o f dances follow, beginning with the dance o f the elders and ending w ith the dance of the future grandchildren, symbolizing the revitalization of the Jew ish community through the next generation. Even the old soldier’s beard was a symbol o f rejuvenation. T he long, scraggly beard he wears in the first scene gradually becomes shorter throughout the play, until at the end of the wedding he shaves, revealing a youthful visage.T he play ends in a polar image o f its beginning. G radually a rainbow o f colors merges, as in a prism, into a single shaft of w hite light. Once again, the theater emphasized the new themes of universalism and world unity. Pulvers music incorporated a wide range o f international rhythms— klezmer merged w ith flamenco, African Am erican, and Arabic motifs— many of which M ikhoels had picked up on his Am erican tour. T his eclectic flavor was both an affirmation o f the new expanded post-war world, and a lam ent for the destruc­ tion o f the old world. Klezmer music and all that it symbolized was a phenomenon o f the past. The Eastern European shtetl, which the theater had satirized and condemned for decades, was finally defunct. But contrary to early utopian visions, the shtetl Jews had not been converted into New Soviet M en in the factories o f the future. Instead they were burned to ashes in the furnaces of Auschwitz. But M ikhoels sought to emphasize that Jew ish life would renew itself as it had done so many times before. As new centers o f Jew ish life emerged in South America, North Am erica, and even Palestine, the community, like its music, would adapt. Like Jew ish life, the spirit o f the music perpetually fluctuates between mourning and joy, between death and life, until at the w edding banquet life triumphs in a festival o f song, dance, and laughter. The play was a celebration of life in the face o f death; it was M ikhoels s affirmation of the strength of human dignity and free­ dom; it was a commemoration o f the people’s victory over H itler, enlarged into a victory o f hum anity over inhumanity. One reviewer wrote o f the play that “in my opinion, the only production in which this [Jew ish national] form can be sensed, seen, and felt is the M oscow State Yiddish T heater’s most recent production.”67 Boris Shimelovich, a prominent doctor and member o f the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee, praised the production in a letter to M ikhoels, w riting, “A fter the greatest tragedy in the history o f the Jew ish people, there is a theater in the U SSR w ith a full house—w ith the call, ‘Freylekhs.’ You know, my friend, this is highly significant and very promising. T his means that our people live, we are living, and we shall live—we, its sons and 248

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daughters.”68 T he show was awarded the Stalin Prize, the country’s most presti­ gious theatrical award. By September 1948, it had been performed over 200 times and had been seen by an estim ated 140,000 people.69 M oshe Broderzon’s (1890-1956) Holiday E ve, presented at the Yiddish the­ ater in 1947, once again celebrated the perseverance o f the Jew ish spirit in the afterm ath of the world war. Broderzon had been commissioned in October 1946 to w rite a play about the Soviet people s victory over the Fascists.70 The play had been approved by the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs in late January 1947 and pre­ m iered the following spring.71 Broderzon was born in Moscow in 1890 to a wealthy religious family. A t the age o f nine he had moved to Lodz, where he attended kheder and became a bookseller w hile w riting poetry w ith a group o f young Y id ­ dish poets who called themselves, appropriately, “The Young Ones.” Broderzon’s political satire, w ritten for Yiddish cabaret theaters, helped make him one o f the leading Yiddish humorists in Poland. By the age o f tw enty-eight the “Prince o f Young Yiddish” was known throughout Poland. Returning to M oscow before W orld W ar II, he sought membership in the Union o f Soviet W riters, to which he was not adm itted until 1945. T his made it possible for his play Holiday E ve to finally be performed, under Zuskin’s direction, at the M oscow State Yiddish T heater.72 Like M arvelous Story, the play tells o f a Jew ish woman, Nekhama, who is caught behind enemy lines and finds herself confined to a ghetto. Through the in­ tervention o f the Red Army, she is saved from being deported to a concentration camp, but the rest of her fam ily does not share her fortune; they perish in the Holocaust. A fter the German retreat, Nekhama meets a fellow Jew who has also lost his family. W h ile Nekhama has lost her faith in hum anity and succumbs to a suicidal depression, her new companion is full o f energy and a thirst for creative activity. Eventually, Nekhama learns that life must be permitted to emerge victo­ rious. In the words o f one critic, “O ur Soviet accomplishments save this woman, and return her to the world o f living people and living feelings.”73 Like Freylekbs, the play affirms life and sends the message that the people must rebuild and move beyond the atrocities of the war. T his message was not only apt for the Jew ish survivors of the Holocaust, but would also become a mantra o f post-war Soviet objectives in general. H aving lost an estim ated 27 m illion citizens during the war, and witnessed the devastation o f more than 70,000 villages and the destruction o f the state s economic infrastructure, the need to rebuild was paramount in the post-war Soviet m entality.74 Itzik Fefer’s Sun Doesn't Set, which premiered on February 15, 1947, again celebrates war heroism.75T he play was about “the struggle o f Soviet Jew ish people in the difficult conditions o f German occupation.”76 Fefer wrote of the play: Along with the spirit o f suffering in the [Jewish] people lives a spirit o f resis­ tance, a spirit o f struggle for life and freedom, a spirit o f war for justice against their enemies. The spirit o f struggle for life and freedom, which has lived in the people for a thousand years, was made especially clear during the days o f the Great Patriotic W ar— and not only in the ranks o f the heroic Red Army, but also


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater deep in the interior and in partisan forests. Even in the sheltered ghetto, sons and daughters o f the Jewish people heroically struggled against the enemy. Here a Stalinist friendship o f peoples played a decisive role, at the head o f which stood the great Russian people. Here a great role was played by the Soviet Union, which stood as a new land for an ancient people.77

A short review in Eynikayt heralded the play’s “great success,” a bland phrase which came to be used increasingly to describe the theater’s productions during the period o f its deterioration.78 In June 1947 the theater presented Peretz M arkish’s new play, U prising in the Ghetto , about the A pril 1943 W arsaw ghetto uprising. Soviet propagandists hoped to use the Nazi razing o f the W arsaw ghetto, in which over 30,000 Jew s were annihilated, as a means o f diverting attention away from the newly discovered Katyn mass grave, containing the bodies of thousands o f Polish officers murdered by the Soviets.79 The heroism of the ghettos was a popular theme among Soviet Jew ish writers: “The Ghetto o f Vilnius” by Abraham Sutzkever and the poem “Shadows o f the W arsaw Ghetto" by Fefer all glorified the uprisings. A s early as Ju ly 1944, the M oscow State Yiddish Theater began work on a play about the W arsaw ghetto uprising. Initially H alkin was commissioned to w rite the play;80 however, the theater chose instead a text w ritten by M arkish. M arkish’s text once again followed m any of the wartim e propaganda themes as w ell as some more traditional themes o f the Yiddish theater. First, the text emphasizes the cooperation among different nationalities in the fight against the German enemy, particularly the role o f righteous gentiles in helping save Jews. T he play focuses on one underground division led by two young Bolsheviks, one Jew and one non-Jew—H irsh G lik and Andrei Sem ibrat. Second, the play argues that the Nazi war was motivated by fascist ideology rather than racism. T h ird, the play emphasizes the internal dissension w ithin the Jew ish com munity; the pri­ m ary conflict o f the play is not between the Jew ish underground fighters and the Nazis, but rather between the fighters and the Judenrat, led by H irshs father, W olf G lik, and a conglomeration o f elder Jew ish oligarchs. W h ile the fighters seek con­ frontation with the enemy, the Judenrat pleads patience and accommodation with the German overlords o f the ghetto. The tragic conclusion of the play depicts the liquidation of the ghetto. The play was intended as a reaction against the new Jew ish literary tendency to portray the Jews under H itler’s domination as “a mass o f people, w eak and subdued, inclined toward their tragic fate.” M arkish sought to show that the Jews of the ghettos retained their strength and perseverance against a seem ingly indestructible enemy. “T his strength,” stated one critic, “is the idea of communism, which inspires all peoples.”81 Unbeknownst to the theater, on October 7, 1946— several months before the play’s premiere— Aleksandr Shcherbakov, the head o f the Soviet Information Bureau, wrote a secret report to Aleksandr Kuznetsov, secretary o f the Central Com m ittee, in which he criticized M arkish’s text for being too nationalistic and for im plicitly arguing for the establishm ent o f a Jew ish state. According to the report,


O ur People L ive

In a play by the same author, Uprising in the Ghetto, sent for publication in the U.S.A. by the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, the girl Naomi declares: “Everything has been taken away, except our sight, so that we can see everywhere that we are different___ Every threshold burns you with inhospitality.. . . ” Naomi explains this “homelessness" o f the Jews. “A piece o f our own coun­ try," evidently national territory, would change the situation.“

T h e same letter noted the nationalist im plications o f P rince R euveni, on which M ikhoels was still working: “The thought runs throughout the play that the sal­ vation o f the Jew ish people lies in organized strength, supported by their own state.”83 T he letter was subsequently sent to Secretary o f Ideology Andrei Zhda­ nov, who could not have been pleased w ith the information it provided. Later, H oliday E ve would also be singled out for nationalist im plications;84 although not u n til after Broderzon had been arrested.85 Indeed, as the warm th o f Yalta chilled into the C old W ar, “Brother Jew s” became “Rootless Cosm opolitans,” and those suspected o f the crime o f promoting international harmony during the war were prom ptly silenced. D uring and after W orld W ar II, the M oscow State Yiddish Theater utilized all its resources to excite anti-G erm an sentiments among its audience and to inspire the people with tales of heroism, escape, and triumph. Soviet audiences and foreign observers were assured that the Red A rm y would emerge victorious due to the feelings o f brotherhood that Stalin had inspired among all Soviet peoples re­ gardless o f race or creed. It was this unity, the m yth asserted, that motivated Poles, U krainians, and Russians to risk their lives to save Jews and that induced Uzbeks to welcome Jews and Russians into their haven away from Nazi aggression. Yet, in the real theater o f war, Jew s fell victim not only to Nazi genocide, but also to Polish collaborators, Cossack brutality, and Russian discrim ination. Even Uzbek hospitality often gave w ay to taunts and assaults. Soviet citizens were taught that the invading Nazis would make no distinction between Russians, Uzbeks, or Jews in their murderous campaign. Yet in W annsee and Berlin, the Nazis planned the total annihilation o f the Jew ish race, and in Birkenau and M aidanek their Final Solution was implemented. In the aftermath o f the war, the M oscow State Yiddish T heater celebrated life, w hile the A llied armies liberating the camps somberly uncovered mounds o f mass graves revealing the remains of m illions o f emaciated human beings.


This Is a Bad Omen: The Last Act


The G reat Patriotic W ar, as W orld W ar II was known in Soviet parlance, unleashed a flood o f patriotism and national pride among Soviet citizens. N ational m inorities in general and Jews in particular were initially led to believe that they could share in the post-war exultation, as they had shared in the burdens of the war. However, Secretary of Ideology Andrei Zhdanov and his cohorts cultivated their own version o f racial intolerance, drawing upon the people’s latent chauvinism, and elim inated the national m inorities from the Soviet ideal o f nationhood. T h eir task was facilitated by the resurgence o f conventional patriotism toward “M other Russia,” which had supplanted Com m unist ideological convictions during the war as the defining factor of Soviet identity. Although the Moscow State Yiddish Theater sought to elevate the role of ideology in the war by drawing battle lines between fascism and communism and by showing Jew s, Russians, Poles, U krai­ nians, and Uzbeks fighting side by side, these im ages were effectively countered by Stalins speeches, Solovievs films, and especially Ehrenburg’s articles, which painted a historic and bifurcated struggle between Germans and Russians. D e­ spite the fact that the most efficient spokesman for this model was him self a Jew, Ehrenburg s readers often chose to exclude his co-religionists in their ideal o f Rus­ sian identity. Thus, when the tank battles ended, the dust settled, and the ashen remains o f human lives were buried, Stalin pledged a “Big D eal” w ith the m iddle class o f Russian extraction: in return for their acquiescence to the ruling regime, they would be permitted to enjoy the fruits o f their victory within their own value system .1 By the time M ikhoels and his associates realized that they had been ex­ cluded from the deal, it was too late. Russian national chauvinism, Nazi propaganda, and rumors o f Jew ish treach­ ery during the w ar all helped unleash a latent anti-Sem itism in the post-war Soviet Union. The first inkling of what was to come could already be seen in the months after the Nazi invasion, when on August 17,1942, G eorgii Aleksandrov, director of Agitprop, prepared a report entitled “The Selection and Promotion of Person­ nel in the A rts,” in which he argued that many institutions o f Russian art “turned out to be filled by non-Russian people (m ainly Jew s).”2 In particular, the report cited the disproportionate number o f Jews represented in the Bolshoi Theater, the Moscow and Leningrad State Conservatories, and the Moscow Philharm onic. In­ deed, Jews were overrepresented in the arts.3 As Ju ri Jelagin explains, the arts was “the only Russian profession which had not been subjected to the cruel class and social discrim ination prevalent during the first two five-year plans of the Stalin era.”4 M any children of the déclassé and “class enemies,” two other groups in which Jews were overrepresented, were able to find careers in the arts when other doors were closed. In response to Aleksandrov’s report, the Com m ittee o f A rtis252

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tic Affairs responded by “purifying” artistic institutions o f Jews, beginning w ith the Moscow State Conservatory’s director, Aleksandr Goldenweizer.5 It did not take long for other national m inorities to be affected by Stalins new chauvinism. O ver the summer o f 1944, for instance,Tatar, Bashkir, and Kazakh historians were warned against expressing excessive nationalism .6 As the world war gave w ay to the Cold W ar, Russian national chauvinism emerged as a dom inant legitim izing factor for the regime. Russians were taught to redirect their hatred o f fascism toward a general hatred o f the W est and o f all things foreign. In A ugust 1946, Zhdanov began a campaign to rid Soviet culture o f “foreign” (non-Russian) influences. Over the following winter, numerous m ea­ sures were enacted to ensure that Soviet citizens relinquish their contacts w ith the W est. Soviet prisoners o f war, who were forcibly repatriated in accordance w ith agreements reached at Yalta, were sum m arily shot by NKVD troops or shipped to w ork camps in Siberia for the crime o f having seen the W est, ethnic minorities in the borderlands were system atically “resettled,” and on February 1 5 ,1 947, m ar­ riage between Soviet citizens and foreigners was prohibited by law. As had been the case countless times before, attacks on foreign elements in music presaged a general attack on culture. Beginning in 1948, composers D m itry Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, and Aram Khachaturian were criticized for using non-Russian ethnic musical motifs. In its most absurd form, the purge o f non-Russian national motifs even permeated the sciences. The Soviet Academ y o f Sciences decided that Russians were responsible for the invention o f virtually every technological inno­ vation from the radio to the airplane. By 1950, Trofim Lysenko’s phony genetics had been endorsed by Stalin to the exclusion o f all others, leading to the perse­ cution o f all those who continued to believe in the results o f W estern bourgeois “experim entation.” M any o f the persecuted scientists, like Lina Shtern, were Jew ­ ish. T his fact was by no means accidental, as evidenced by the official criticism o f their scientific methodology—that it was plagued by a “perfidious Zionist charac­ ter.”7 In 1952 Shtern stood side by side with Zuskin, Bergelson, M arkish, Fefer and others during their trial for anti-Soviet sabotage. The Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee’s Yiddish-language newspaper quickly jum ped on the bandwagon, supporting w hat amounted to a denial of its own po­ sition. On September 24 an article in Eynikayt criticized several Jew ish authors, including H alkin, for overt nationalism .8 M ikhoels once again refused to mouth government platitudes; rather, he was a vocal opponent o f Zhdanov’s anti-cos­ mopolitan campaign. Inebriated w ith hubris, M ikhoels accused some of the most revered plays o f the wartim e period o f exhibiting Russian chauvinism in a speech to the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs. He criticized Russian People, for instance, o f speaking only o f Russian patriotism rather than of Soviet patriotism which in­ cludes, he wrote, “Russians, U krainians, Georgians and Uzbeks,” notably leaving out the Jew s.’ W hen criticized for having a lack of Soviet productions in his the­ ater’s repertoire, M ikhoels was unapologetic: “I ask, ‘Haven’t we presented our So­ viet authors? Haven’t we presented Soviet plays? W e have. But we have not pre­ sented enough, and the most im portant defect is that the classic plays continue in the repertoire for ten to fifteen years, but the contemporary Soviet plays are quickly 253

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removed from the repertoire.’”10 In other words, the theater could not be blamed if contemporary Soviet productions failed to attract audiences that were as large as the audiences for Yiddish classics. As he had done so m any times before, M ikhoels responded to pressure defensively, refusing to act the part expected of him. Rather than demean him self w ith self-criticism s and apologies, M ikhoels refused to ad­ m it any wrongdoing. T his tim e, however, his status had changed. He was no longer merely a Jew ish actor; now he was the head of the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com mittee with extensive contacts around the world and an em erging political agenda of his own. It was for this crime that he was summoned to M insk in January 1948.

The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the Post-war World After his return to the Soviet Union from his expedition to the W est, M ikhoels continued to use the A nti-Fascist Com m ittee to undertake a wide range o f projects in support of his people. Essentially, he sought to turn the committee into a Jew ish cultural-political center. One of the first projects in which he participated under the auspices o f the committee was the compilation o f a Black Book o f Nazi atroc­ ities against the Jews. T he project, which anticipated the publication o f the book in Yiddish, English, Spanish, French, G erman, and Russian, was undertaken with the assistance o f several Am erican, British and Palestinian Jew ish activists, in­ cluding Albert Einstein, Dr. Stephen W ise, Lion Feuchtwanger, C h ie f Rabbi of the British Empire Dr. Joseph Herman H ertz, and Sholem Asch. T he Russian side included H alkin, Bergelson, M arkish, Ehrenburg, Grossman, and Abram Efros, in addition to M ikhoels.11 However, it soon became apparent that the Black Book Com m ittee was unw illing to follow the conventional Soviet interpretation o f W orld W ar II. Some of its members expressed a desire to break the taboo against em phasizing Jew ish victimhood. For instance, in one m eeting Efros declared: “The book must tell that there was a murder o f an entire people. Germans killed a large number of other people too, but w hat we had here was total annihilation.” Grossman’s response was that “if the book as a whole is about Jew s, then we should avoid the use of the word ‘Jew .’ . . . W e can write ‘they assembled people,’ or ‘people w ent to the square,’ or ‘five people fell,’ w ithout w riting the word ‘Jew .’”12 But by the time the English version o f the book was published (the only version to be released in M ikhoels’s lifetim e) Grossman had acquiesced. The second chapter of the book openly emphasized the distinct fate o f Jews under Nazism: “T he Ger­ man fascists plotted the destruction o f the Jew s as an integral part of their pro­ gram to enslave the world. From the very outset of their bloody adventure, the Nazis schemed to tear up the roots o f German and world Jew ry.”13 In contrast to the im age projected in M ikhoels’s theatrical productions, the Black Book empha­ sized the racial elements of the Holocaust. The battle was no longer between fascists and Communists as on the Yiddish theaters stage; it was now between Germans and Jews: A ll this the Germans— we must speak o f Germans as a whole and not purely o f the Nazis— did wantonly and deliberately.. . . The plan to exterminate a whole


This Is a B ad Omen

people numbering millions, to do so not as an act o f war, but as part o f an effort wholly unconnected with war, to wipe out systematically a group o f human beings with whom the murderers had been living in close association and from whose association they had derived substantial advantages— such a plan was un­ known in history up to the attempted extermination o f the Jews.14

Further, the book valorized the role o f the Palestinian Yishuv in saving Jews. T he chapter on resistance began by describing how the “shock troops from Tel-Aviv . . . quietly entered the continent and spread out through the occupied countries to organize Jew ish resistance groups, to train them in sabotage, and to set up an un­ derground railw ay to smuggle Jews to safety.”15T his was anathema to Soviet sen­ sibilities, which preferred to assert the Soviet Union’s unique status as the savior o f the Jews. In June 1947, just as the D er ernes printing press was preparing 50,000 copies o f the book for publication in Russia, the presses were stopped by order o f the C en tral M anagem ent o f Literary and Publication Affairs. Justifying the decision, Aleksandrov wrote: Running through the whole book is the idea that the Germans plundered and murdered Jews only. The reader unwittingly gets the impression that the G er­ mans fought against the U SSR for the sole purpose o f destroying the Je w s.. . . The idea itself o f some kind o f non-existent order o f priorities is incorrect. In documents o f the Special State Commission for ascertaining and investigating the heinous crimes o f the German fascist aggressors, it was convincingly shown that H itlers ruthless slaughters were carried out equally against Russians, Jews, Belorussians, Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and other peoples o f the Soviet Union.16

Once again, M ikhoels played the foreign press card, appealing to Zhdanov to reverse the decision o f the D epartm ent of Propaganda and to hasten the publica­ tion o f the book on the grounds that “the reactionary press is attem pting to remove responsibility from the German fascists for the annihilation of the Jew ish popula­ tion in the tem porarily occupied territories, placing heavy blame for these crimes upon the local non-Jewish population.”17 But his appeal was rejected. T he second project w ith which M ikhoels involved him self was the distribu­ tion o f foreign aid w ithin Russia. M ikhoels had been receiving many appeals for help from Jew ish communities and individuals throughout the country who felt they could not turn to any other organization.18 M ikhoels chose to take their con­ cerns to M olotov himself, w riting: “The Jew ish population, w ith rare exception, is being completely ignored by local authorities in the distribution o f this kind o f aid .” As usual, M ikhoels did not appeal to M olotovs hum anitarian instinct; rather he asked for assistance because “the Jew ish pro-fascist F orward [Y iddish daily newspaper] in New York is calling on Jew ish organizations to stop the cam paign to send assistance to the Soviet U nion.”19 As a solution to the distribution prob­ lem , M ikhoels suggested that the Jew ish Anti-Fascist Com m ittee supervise distri­ bution. Although Molotov recommended that a committee be set up to investigate the irregularities, he was reluctant to augment the authority o f the committee in domestic matters: “The JA F C was not created to handle such matters and the 255

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committee apparently does not have a completely accurate understanding o f its functions.”20 Its function was to raise money, not to allocate it. Later requests by M ikhoels to allow Am erican donations to be earmarked for certain destinations were categorically rejected, officially on the grounds that “singling out Jew s from the general population o f the Soviet Union for special treatment w ill create con­ ditions for anti-sem itism .”21 M ikhoels also sought to use the A nti-Fascist Com m ittee as a liaison between the Jew ish population and the Soviet government. T he most pressing problem was the resettlement of Jews who had fled the western provinces in advance of the Nazi invasion. M any seeking to return to their homes were m et w ith hostility' by the local inhabitants, who were fearful o f retribution for their w artim e conduct or who had profited from the Jew ish absence by usurping abandoned Jew ish property. Once again, M ikhoels was informed o f the situation through numerous letters which poured into the offices o f the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee.22 According to one report from a committee m eeting, “Peretz M arkish m aliciously declared that ‘the Jews are once again in a ghetto.’ . . . Unfortunately, S. M . M ikhoels, who was chairing the session, never spoke out about it.”23 Later, the 1920s proposal to resettle Jew s in the C rim ea was revived under M ikhoels s name, although M ikhoels s actual contribution to the project remains unclear. In February 1944, in the so-called C rim ean B rief (actually two slighdy different letters sent to Molotov and Stalin), M ikhoels, Epshteyn, and Fefer sug­ gested “the creation o f a Jew ish Soviet Socialist Republic on the territory o f the C rim ea.”24 The appeal represented an about-face for M ikhoels, who had long voiced his objection to the establishm ent o f a Jew ish autonomous region in Biro­ bidzhan. H e justified the change in approach by calling attention to the “insuffi­ cient mobilization o f [Birodidzhan’s] full potential.” He also pointed out that “for a great part o f the Jew ish population . . . their places o f origin were turned by the fascists into cemeteries that can never be brought back to life, where their families and friends lie___ D uring the war certain capitalist vestiges became intensified in the psyche o f certain strata o f various nationalities, including their intelligent­ sia. One o f the most striking expressions o f these relics is new outbursts o f antiSemitism.”25 M ikhoels also retained his foreign ties after the war and continued to rep­ resent him self as a Soviet delegate to world Jewry. Between 1944 and 1948 he re­ quested permission to attend a m eeting o f the W orld Jew ish Congress in New York (1944), a Jew ish Conference in H elsinki (1946), a W orld Congress o f Jew ish Culture (1946), a conference on Jew ish Culture in Poland (1946), an International Conference o f A nti-Fascist O rganizations in Paris (1947), and a m eeting o f the Jew ish Democratic Com mittee of Romania (1947).26 Lev Sheinin, who had served as an assistant to the Soviet prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, also requested that M ikhoels accompany him to Nuremberg. Each o f these requests was rejected by M ikhail Suslov, the head o f the C entral Com m ittee s Foreign Policy Department. Mikhoels s public actions demonstrated a profound interest in the reconstruc­ tion o f Jewish life in the Soviet Union after the war. His private statements, on the other hand, reflected both his growing pessimism in the fate o f Soviet Jew ry and 256

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his increasing Zionist sympathies. Abraham Sutzkever, for instance, recalls one evening in 1946 when he was a guest at M ikhoels’s home. A fter the other guests retired for the night, Sutzkever and M ikhoels were left alone. M ikhoels filled two glasses with vodka, handed one to Sutzkever and gave a toast: “Lekhaim , Abraham, to the people o f Israel.” Sutzkever then took out a letter he had brought with him that was w ritten by Isaac Leyb Peretz to the w riter Yehoash (Solomon Bloomgarten), who had translated the Bible into Yiddish before his departure for Pales­ tine. Sutzkever read the letter: W e wish you wholeheartedly a fortunate trip and we wish you health. Take us with you in your heart and your thoughts___ And say our names to the hills o f Judaea, the Cedars o f Lebanon and all that remains— there is no land we would rather live in. Zion is our path. The world with Zion at its peak is our future.

A fter a pause, Sutzkever w rites, M ikhoels repeated the words, “‘there is no land we would rather live in’ with a quivering lower lip, as though he were studying a role.” A fter a moment in silence, M ikhoels continued, “You know, when I was flying to A m erica in Ju ly 1943, flying over the land o f Israel, I kissed the air.” T he conver­ sation then turned to M ikhoels’s trip to Am erica. W hen Sutzkever asked M ikhoels w hat he had talked about with Einstein, M ikhoels replied that Einstein had asked if there was any anti-Sem itism in Russia. “And what, Comrade M ikhoels, did you answer?” Sutzkever describes M ikhoels’s response: “‘I answered him’— and a bitter ironic smile filled his face— ‘that our constitution, as everyone knows, prohibits anti-Sem itism .’”T his exchange gives an idea o f M ikhoels’s ability to overtly state one thing while covertly com municating another— a skill he used adroitly both on and off the stage.27

American Spy and Zionist Agent As the Soviet Union braced for the Cold W ar by demonizing the W est and beginning its cam paign against “rootless cosmopolitans” who “kowtow to the W est,” M ikhoels’s travel requests were used as evidence o f crim inal activity. Like the m illions of repatriated Soviet PO W s sent to Siberian camps upon their return, M ikhoels was tainted by having seen the W est. For this reason V iktor Abakumov, an agent o f the M inistry o f State Security, was put in charge o f the M ikhoels case. Abakumov had made his reputation heading Smersh (D eath to Spies), the depart­ m ent responsible for im prisoning those who had come in contact with the W est during the war. He was a close confidant o f Stalin and would soon be appointed M in ister o f State Security. Before Stalin intervened and transferred the M ikhoels case to Abakumov, the C entral Com m ittee o f the Com munist Party debated the future o f the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee. Since as early as 1946, the C entral Com m ittee had been discussing the possibility o f disbanding it on the grounds that it had overstepped its boundaries by continuing to promote the interests o f Soviet Jews and by re­ taining extensive foreign contacts w ith Zionist and bourgeois Jew ish organiza­ tions.2®Further, the C entral Com m ittee began to receive reports alleging nation­ alist motifs in Soviet Yiddish literature, including M arkish’s Uprising in the Ghetto 257

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and Bergelson’s P rim e R euveni? Due in part to personal antagonisms and turf wars w ithin the C entral Com m ittee, however, no direct action was taken against either the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee or its chairman. It seems that A leksan­ drov and Suslov wanted the committee disbanded, but were opposed by Molotov and Aleksandr Kuznetsov, the C entral Com m ittee’s secretary. Zhdanov, for his part, sought to restructure the committee rather than com pletely destroy it. As the C entral Com m ittee was debating the A nti-Fascist C om m ittee’s fu­ ture, however, the M in istry o f State Security under Abakumov’s direction had already begun to act independently (although w ith Stalin’s approval) against it. W ith the eventual liquidation o f the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee in m ind, the M in istry planted G rigori Kheifetz in the organization as a spy. Together w ith Itzik Fefer, who was already reporting on the committee’s activities to the M inistry o f State Security, he helped the prosecutors formulate a case against M ikhoels and his associates. The M in istry of State Security was acting in total isolation from the C entral Com m ittee, as evidenced by one proposal that circulated w ithin the C en­ tral Com m ittee that recommended the removal o f Fefer from the Jew ish A ntiFascist Com m ittee on the grounds that he was a former Bundist. H ad the Central Com m ittee been aware that Fefer was a stooge o f the M in istry o f State Security, such a recommendation would not have been permitted. Rather than dabble in Yiddish literary criticism , as the C entral Com mittee was attem pting to do, Abakumov preferred to fabricate a case against M ikhoels based on the actor’s personal connections. Indeed, the Russian secret police had known for centuries that the simplest w ay to indict an individual was to establish associations between the accused and known crim inals. T his type o f “evidence’’ had sent countless loyal Bolsheviks and ordinary citizens to their deaths during the 1930s and would soon be used against M oscow’s leading Jew ish intellectuals. The “crim inal” w ith whom Abakumov decided to link M ikhoels was Evgeniia A llilueva, the ex-sister-in-law o f Stalin’s ex-wife Nadezhda. Abakumov charged that Allilueva had used M ikhoels and the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee to sub­ m it incrim inating information on Stalin’s private life to U.S. intelligence officers. Stalin was able to connect Allilueva to M ikhoels through Isaak G oldshteyn, the nephew o f I. L. Peretz and an acquaintance o f A llilueva. A lthough Goldshteyn and M ikhoels had only m et twice, once at the theater in 1945 and again in the autumn o f 1946, Goldshteyn was a friend o f Z. G. G rinberg, who in turn was a close associate o f M ikhoels in the A nti-Fascist Com m ittee. The connection was sufficient for Stalin’s henchmen to construct a charge o f conspiracy against the trio. On December 10, 1947, Allilueva was arrested and accused of spreading slander against Stalin. Five days later, Goldshteyn was also arrested. According to trial records and rehabilitation reports from the KGB archive, w hich were col­ lected by G ennadi Kostyrchenko, throughout December Goldshteyn was con­ tinuously beaten and tortured until on January 9 ,1 9 4 8 — less than a w eek before M ikhoels’s murder— he signed a confession stating that he was acting as an agent o f M ikhoels and was entrusted w ith collecting information on Stalin’s private life from A llilueva and passing it on to M ikhoels, who in turn was passing it on to antiSoviet Am erican Jew ish organizations.30 It is worth noting that there was a far 258

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more direct connection between Allilueva and M ikhoels in the person o f Polina Zhem chuzhina, M olotovs wife, who had been a close friend o f Nadezhda A lli­ lueva before the latter’s death in 1932 and was an associate o f M ikhoels. The new purge, however, had not yet reached the level o f M olotov’s wife. H er arrest did not occur until the following year. The perseverance with which Abakumov fabricated a case against M ikhoels seems bizarre, given that the actor would be killed in secret. T he intelligence­ gathering operation would have been more in keeping w ith a show trial than a clandestine murder. T his has led some observers to conclude that a show trial was being planned but was abandoned at the last m inute.11 Kostyrchenko counters this argum ent on the grounds that a show trial would have brought publicity to Stalin’s personal life, complicated Soviet diplomacy, and turned M ikhoels into a m artyr and could therefore not have been contem plated.12 Stalin, however, had never be­ fore feared m aking martyrs o f individuals. H is murderous purges were never be­ fore softened by diplomatic concerns, and w ith ultim ate control over the testimony o f defendants, he had little to fear about w hat the discovery process would reveal o f his private life. Kostyrchenko’s explanation implies that the process was w ell thought out in advance. T his, however, does not seem to be the case. According to the time schedule constructed by A rkady Vaksberg, the decision to kill M ikhoels was made after the arrest o f G oldshteyn.11 Thus, some event must have occurred that discouraged the prosecutors from continuing the investigation and hastened the need to murder M ikhoels. T his defining event was probably a speech M ikhoels made in which he gave voice to his long-held Zionist sympathies. On November 2 9 ,1 9 4 7 , after Britain announced its intention to end its mandate in Palestine, the future o f the region was put to a vote in the U nited Nations. The Soviet Union, represented by Andrei Gromyko, joined with thirty-tw o other nations to approve the establishm ent o f a Jew ish state in Palestine. In the ensuing euphoria, M ikhoels overcame his usual caution to openly celebrate the United Nations resolution. According to M ik hoels’s daughter, in December 1947 during a jubilee ceremony for M endele M okher Sforim, M ikhoels and Zuskin performed a segment o f their 1927 play The Travels o f Benjam in III. M ikhoels spoke: “Benjam in departed in search o f the Promised Land and asked a villager he met along the w ay how to get to Eretz [the Land o f] I sra e l. . . and right here, not very long ago, since the debate o f the U nited Nations, Com rade Gromyko has answered this question.”14T he tum ultu­ ous applause lasted a full ten minutes. According to M ikhoels’s daughter, the next day they heard a recording o f the ceremony on the radio, but M ikhoels’s speech had been deleted. “T his is a bad omen,” M ikhoels remarked. Indeed, a newspaper advertisem ent confirms that on Saturday, December 27th, the Union o f Soviet W riters sponsored an evening at the Politechnical M useum dedicated to M endele M okher Sforim on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of his death. M ikhoels, along with Bergelson and Dobrushin, were listed as the speakers.15 According to the time line established by Vaksberg, the decision to send M ikhoels to M insk was taken sometime between December 31st and January 2nd.16 Vaksberg, however, is unable to find the precise stimulus that led Stalin to make the final decision. 259

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Although it seems that M ikhoels s increasing outspokenness and the apparent en­ couragement he was receiving from the Jew ish com munity as a whole had come to Stalin's attention earlier, the M endele affair was probably the last straw. A fter such a provocative statement in favor o f Jew ish nationalism and Zionism, Stalin likely decided that the time had come to act. The fact that the statement came from M ikhoels was particularly im portant because it lent credence to the assumption that M ikhoels harbored Z ionist sym­ pathies and gave new m eaning to his contacts w ith W estern Zionists. Further, by linking his endorsement to one of the theaters earliest productions, M ikhoels contradicted years o f denying that the M oscow State Y iddish Theater s plays could be interpreted as nationalist. In a single statement, M ikhoels undermined years of public denials and confirmed that the plays o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater could be given nationalist interpretations sanctioned by M ikhoels himself. M ore important, M ikhoels s statem ent o f support for the partition plan was the first time that any Soviet Jew had publicly endorsed the establishm ent of a Jew ish state in Palestine before a Soviet audience. It was a serious misjudgment. Soviet diplom atic support for the United Nations partition plan was by no means intended as an official endorsement o f Zionism. The decision to support the par­ tition plan was based solely on the diplom atic imperative o f forcing the British out of the Near East. The Jew ish state, Stalin and Gromyko believed, would act as a counterweight to the pro-British leanings o f the region’s Arab populations. Fur­ ther, they hoped that the new Jew ish state would look toward the Soviet Union for support and give the U SS R a beachhead in the region. Soviet recognition o f the State o f Israel was no more intended as an endorsement o f Zionism than Stalins wartim e alliance w ith Britain and Am erica was intended as an endorsement of democratic capitalism . W h ile M ikhoels was astute enough to refrain from cel­ ebrating the American Dream during the war, he failed to display the same com­ mon sense in 1947. The tumultuous applause that greeted M ikhoels s statement doubtless indicated to the Soviet authorities that Zionism was striking an emo­ tional chord w ithin the Jew ish population. In order to prevent Zionist euphoria from getting out o f hand, it was imperative that M ikhoels be silenced as soon as possible. Thus, the planned show trial on the charge o f “Am erican espionage" was abandoned in favor o f a quick clandestine assassination. M ikhoels, though, could not have been so naive as to have thought that such a statement was permissible. Perhaps, therefore, his statement was a deliberate provocation. Knowing that his days were numbered, M ikhoels could have decided to use w hat he believed would be his last public appearance to its utmost effect. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that M ikhoels suspected he was under inves­ tigation prior to the M endele evening. L idiia Shatunovskaia, a theater historian and friend o f the Alliluev family, for instance, recalls that on December 27th— the day o f the M endele celebration— she bumped into M ikhoels onTverskaia Street, and he said to her: “T his is the beginning o f the end.”37 T h at night Shatunov­ skaia and her husband Leonid Tumerman were arrested. Shatunovskaia was later charged with passing sensitive information about the A lliluev fam ily to M ikhoels,


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who in turn passed the information to “A m erican-Z ionist” intelligence.38 It is difficult to determine whether M ikhoels somehow knew about Shatunovskaia’s im pending arrest, or if their brief encounter on the street was observed by secret agents and thereby provided a necessary link between M ikhoels and the A lliluev family. In other words, M ikhoels’s remark to Shatunovskaia could have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Indeed, Shatunovskaia and M ikhoels were not such close friends. It seems to be too much o f a coincidence for the two to have accidentally m et on the street hours before Shatunovskaia’s arrest for conspiring w ith M ik ­ hoels. It is far more likely that M ikhoels was being followed by agents searching for “evidence” to be used in a show trial against him. But after M ikhoels’s reckless speech that night, the authorities must have realized that a show trial would be too risk)'. Around January 2, 1948, M ikhoels was instructed to travel to M insk as a member of the Stalin Prize Com m ittee to review a play that was nominated for the Stalin Prize. T he testimonies o f several of M ikhoels’s acquaintances indicate that M ikhoels suspected he would never return to Moscow. According to Zuskin’s tes­ tim ony at his trial, about two or three days before the trip to M insk, M ikhoels m ade Zuskin sit at the director’s desk and said, “Here, you w ill be sitting in this chair soon, very soon.”39 The academician Petr Kapitsa, an old acquaintance o f M ikhoels w ith whom he had not spoken in several months, also recounts how he received a farewell call from M ikhoels the day before he left for M insk.40 Prior to his departure for M insk, M ikhoels was informed that his companion would be V ladim ir Golubov-Potapov, the executive secretary o f the theater journal Teatr and a man w ith connections to the Soviet security apparatus. On January 7 ,19 48, the two boarded a train from M oscow’s Belorussian Station. On January 1 1 ,1 948, M ikhoels called his fam ily in Moscow and informed them that he had seen Fefer in the M in sk hotel where he was staying, but that Fefer had mysteriously hidden to avoid being spotted. Fefer was supposed to be in Moscow continuing work at the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee. His sudden appearance in M insk was an ominous sign and provided early evidence o f the poet’s involvement in the sinister plot. M ost of our information regarding the events of the night of January 12th and 13th comes from testimonies by Abakumov and his deputy Sergei Ogoltsov, w hich were given to Lavrentii Beria during his 1953 investigation into the M ik ­ hoels incident. Abakumov recalled: It was then well known that Mikhoels had arrived in Minsk together with a friend, whose name I can’t remember. W hen this fact was reported to I. V. Stalin, he immediately gave the order to carry out the liquidation in Minsk itself under the guise o f an accident, that is, that Mikhoels and his companion were to die in an automobile accident.

T h e story is continued by Ogoltsov: It was decided that agents would invite Mikhoels to visit an acquaintance at night, send a car to the hotel where he was staying, take him to the suburban


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

country house of L. F. Tsanava, liquidate him there, transport his body to a remote street in a thinly populated area of the city, lay it on the road leading to the hotel, and have it run over by a truck.. . . That’s the way it was done.41 On January 2 7 ,19 4 8 , Lavrentii Tsanava, a high-ranking member o f die Belo­ russian NKVD, was awarded the Order o f Lenin "for exemplary execution o f a special assignment from the government.”42

The Show M ust Go On The two bodies were found the next morning lying face down in the snow on a deserted M insk road. The bodies were soon brought back to Moscow. Boris Zbarsky, the director o f the Lenin Mausoleum laboratory and a professional embalmer, was entrusted with the task o f preparing Mikhoels’s body. Beginning on January 15th at four in the afternoon, die body lay in state at the auditorium on

The last photo o f Solomon Mikhoels. 11 January 1943. Photo from Solomon Mikhoels, Stati,

besedi, itcbL


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M alaia Bronnaia Street. Visitors crowded into the theater until m idnight to catch a last glim pse o f M ikhoels, and the following m orning the body was displayed again until the funeral began at noon. D uring those two days over 10,000 people cam e to pay their respects, and over 100 telegrams were sent to the theater from all over the world.43 T he outpouring o f emotion after M ikhoels’s death was remarkable. Eynikayt dedicated two full issues to publishing the thoughts and reminiscences o f M ik ­ hoels’s friends and admirers. Ilya Ehrenburg, for instance, wrote a tribute to "a great actor and a wonderful person” entitled “H e Lived for his People.” In a less genuine article, Fefer wrote: “M ikhoels came from the people, lived w ith the peo­ ple, and wanted to stay w ith the people. M ikhoels was always connected to the people, and it is not by accident that he revealed him self to everybody on the the­ ater’s stage. He sought a tribune and he found one___M ikhoels loved his people w ith an open and pure heart.”44 O ther contributors included Yekhezkel Dobrushin, Alexander Fadeev, Nakhum Oyslender, Boris Zbarsky, Benjam in Zuskin, Peretz M arkish, and M oshe G oldblatt, to name but a few.45 T he following week two memorials for M ikhoels were conducted at the theater. The director’s brother spoke about their childhood together and about M ikhoels’s early love of theater, A zarkh spoke about their early days in Petrograd and about her companionship w ith M ikhoels at the Petrograd School o f Theater, and Dobrushin spoke about M ikhoels’s first attem pt at directing w ith The Travels o f Benjam in III.46 In M ay 1948, scholarships were established by the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs in honor o f M ikhoels at the Soviet State Yiddish Theater School and the Lunacharskii Institute.47 A llegedly to ensure that M ikhoels’s death did not have a negative im ­ pact on the ongoing revival o f Jew ish culture, on February 17,1948 the C om m it­ tee o f A rtistic Affairs officially appointed Zuskin as director o f the M oscow State Y iddish Theater.48 The official deification o f M ikhoels after his death was a ploy designed to hide official com plicity in the murder. Soviet prosecutors were relentless in their efforts to conceal the anti-Sem itic nature o f their cam paign behind the myth that Stalin’s nationality policy provided for the triumph o f all national cultures. Yet this pub­ lic adoration, in both official and unofficial quarters, was coupled w ith messages passed along behind closed doors as the M inistry o f State Security began prepar­ in g for the total destruction o f Jew ish culture in the Soviet Union. The liquidation o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, ostensibly for “financial reasons,” was a carefully contrived procedure, designed to hide any anti-Sem itic motivation. Two months after M ikhoels’s murder, Abakumov prepared his final report on the Jew ­ ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee in which he wrote, “M ikhoels and his like-m inded colleagues, as revealed by intelligence work and an investigation of Jew ish nation­ alist m atters, used the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee as a cover for carrying out anti-Soviet activity.” M ikhoels was accused o f engaging in anti-Soviet activity after his return from Am erica and o f trying to establish a Jew ish state in the C ri­ m ea.49 W ith the intensification o f the Zhdanovshchina (the campaign o f Rus­ sian chauvinism named after Andrei Zhdanov) and the veiled anti-Sem itic cam ­ paign against “rootless cosmopolitans,” the M oscow State Yiddish T heater’s fate 263

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater was sealed. A s die year progressed and die Zhdanovshchina intensified, manyJews “in the know” began to suspect that Mikhoels was actually murdered. Rumors to that effect began circulating among the theater staff just days after the murder; stimulated by an anonymous phone call to the theater and statements made by Zhemchuzhina at the funeral. However, die majority o f Moscow’s Jews continued to believe that Mikhoels’s death was a tragic accident. The American Embassy in Moscow, on die other hand, doubted d u t the death was accidental. Noting the preponderance o f clandestine Zionists in Belorussia, the embassy suggested in a dispatch to die Department o f State that Mikhoels may have been murdered fay Jewish Zionists who opposed his and-Zionist stance.50 Although one would expect the sudden attention lavished upon the theater after Mikhoels’s death to have stimulated an increase in the public's attendance at the Yiddish theater, the opposite was the case. The decline in the Yiddish theater’s attendance, however, was not a product o f popular lack o f interest, but rather a product o f die Committee o f Artistic Af& ir’s calculated decision to force the the­ ater into bankruptcy. First, the committee revised the theater’s repertoire for die coming year. Radier than perform a series o f plays by some o f the most noted con­ temporary Jewish writers, including Grossman and Fefer, as previously planned,51 the committee ordered die theater instead to rework two o f its former classic pro­ ductions: H enbele Ostropoler and Tbe Sorceress,52 both o f which were popular fail­ ures due to the fact that few potential audience members had missed previous versions during their long runs. Second, the committee ordered the theater to per­ form Yiddish translations o f contemporary Russian plays, a policy that had actu­ ally begun in the months preceding the murder o f Mikhoels. This indicates that the decision to force the closure o f the Yiddish theater was actually taken in tan­ dem with the stillborn decision to try Mikhoels for anti-Soviet sabotage. The theater’s final production before Mikhoels’s murder was Aleksei Brat and Grigori Linkov’s Tumultuous Forest, which premiered in November o f 1947. The play was a revised version o f Linkov s Warto tbe Home Front o f tbe Enemy, a Russian play about a Jewish partisan who dies in battle. The play drew its name from the “legendary valor” o f die partisans who turned the forests into a staging ground for battle.53 This weak production repeated many o f the theater’s wartime themes, particularly its emphasis on the unity o f all Soviet peoples in the free o f fascism. Similarly, the theater’s first new production after Mikhoels’s murder was a Yiddish translation o f Vitenzon and Zinger’s Zoria Belinkovicb, again originally written in Russian. Structurally, the play was almost identical to Tumultuous Forest; it told of a Jew during W orld W ar II who is killed fighting fascism, only this time the hero was the commander o f a submarine rather than a partisan. Both plays retained a semblance o f Jewish content by featuring Jewish heroes, but they had little else “Jewish” about them. These two translations o f Russian works were an ominous sign o f the decline o f Yiddish culture. A t a time when Yiddish writers were at their most productive— the theater had just commissioned numerous prominent Yid­ dish writers to compose promising plays— die theater was forced to bypass its tra­ ditional sources and perform bland Russian plays by obscure writers instead.


T h is

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Tumultuous Forest, 1947. Left to right: I . Gross, Benjamin Zuskin, and Etta Koven&kaia. Photo courtesy o f A la Perelman-Zuskin.

T h e only new play by a Y iddish playwright was Isaak Hoberman’s Life Is Worth L iving, a comedy about a man who talks incessantly, thereby revealing his stupidity. Little information is available on this production other than two reviews, one o f w hich lam ented an unfortunate choice o f repertoire and a bland script.54 Eynikayt, on the other hand, reported in an unusually short review that the pro­ duction w as m et w ith “great success.”55 T h e Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs also took a number o f administrative measures to ensure the theater’s financial failure. In early 1948, in an effort to boost ticket sales, the theater had begun offering subscription tickets, entitling the sub­ scriber to buy a set o f ten tickets for reduced prices.56 However, when rumors spread that the list o f subscribers was being handed over to the M inistry o f State Security, subscriptions dwindled. T he project was finally canceled when ticket dis­ tribution for all theaters was centralized on November20,1948, leaving individual theaters w ith no discretion to conduct their own promotions.57T he central ticket cashier subsequently was able to fabricate attendance: potential patrons could be told that the production was sold out when in fact no tickets had yet been sold or a h ill house could be reported as “empty.” Unable to force the troupe into bank­ ruptcy, M in istry o f State Security officials finally resorted to hiring people to loi­ ter conspicuously on the sidewalk o f the M alaia Bronnaia to spread the rumor


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

that audiences were being photographed for the State Security records. T h is was enough to em pty the auditorium for good.58 T he theater, however, proved to be more resilient than the Com m ittee o f A r­ tistic Affairs and the M inistry o f State Security expected. A lthough attendance fell significandy and the theater exceeded its allowed losses,59 it m anaged to stay afloat by drastically reducing its staff and adding performances to its already gruel­ ing schedule.*0 But the committee was relentless in its efforts to force the theater into bankruptcy. In the summer o f 1948 it ordered the theater to tour Leningrad and Odessa,61 where it would perform thirty-four times during June and July.62 The theater’s regular summer tour was an integral component o f its artistic and political mission but was inevitably a financial failure because o f the costs associ­ ated w ith travel. T he theater was custom arily reimbursed for its losses by the state, which regarded these tours as essential propaganda. T his tim e, however, the the­ ater was given no financial relief.

Next Year in Jerusalem In the fall o f 1948, a series o f events again connected w ith the establishment o f Israel unleashed the final storm that would ultim ately destroy the M oscow State Yiddish Theater, the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee, and the last remnants of Jew ish cultural life in the Soviet Union. By October 1948, it was obvious that M ikhoels was by no means the sole advocate of Zionism among Soviet Jew s. The revival o f Jew ish cultural expression during the war had fostered a general sense of boldness among the Jew ish masses. M any Jews remained oblivious to the growing Zhdanovshchina and the threat to Soviet Jews that the brewing cam paign against "rootless cosmopolitans” signaled. Indeed, official attitudes toward Jew ish culture were ambivalent during this period. On the surface, Jew ish culture seemed to be supported by the state: public efforts had been made to sustain the Yiddish theater after M ikhoels’s death, Eynikayt was still publishing on schedule, and, most im­ portant, the Soviet Union recognized the establishm ent o f a Jew ish state in Pales­ tine. To most M oscow Jew s, the state o f Soviet Jew ry had never been better. T his general euphoria became most evident after the establishm ent o f the State of Israel on M ay 14,1 9 4 8 .The first open declaration o f solidarity w ith Israel appeared on M ay 20th, when Eynikayt published an open letter o f congratula­ tions to C haim W eizm ann, the new provisional president o f Israel.63 Soon after, the offices o f the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee were flooded w ith letters of support from ordinary Soviet Jew ish citizens; some asked for help to emigrate to Israel, some offered financial assistance, some offered to enlist in the Israeli army, and others sim ply expressed support. M an y letters suggested using the Jew ­ ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee as a central organ to coordinate em igration, financial aid, and arms shipments to Israel.64 Kheifetz passed on the names o f all signato­ ries to the C entral Com m ittee o f the Com m unist Party.65 One report stated that "a series o f letters clearly reflect nationalist sentiments. The authors o f these letters do not distinguish between Jew ish citizens o f the U SSR and Jew s living in capi­


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talist countries and, apparently, consider Israel to be their true homeland, tending to put it above the U S S R .”66 T h e situation spun out o f control w ith the arrival in M oscow o f G olda M eir (M eyersohn) and the first Israeli mission to the Soviet Union. T hey arrived on Septem ber 2nd, one month before the Jew ish H igh Holidays. On Rosh Hashanah (O ctober 2nd), M eir attended religious services at M oscow’s Choral Synagogue. In her autobiography, M eir described the scene in front o f the synagogue: It [the street] was filled with people, packed together like sardines, hundreds and hundreds o f them, o f all ages, including Red A rm y officers, soldiers, teenagers and babies carried in their parents’ arms. Instead o f the 2,000-odd Jews who usually came to synagogue on High Holidays, a crowd o f close to 50,000 people was waiting for us. For a minute, I couldn’t grasp what had happened— or even who they were. A nd then it dawned on me. They had come— those good, brave Jews— in order to be with us, to demonstrate their sense o f kinship and to celebrate the establishment o f the State o f Israel.67

Because most o f the crowd was unable to fit inside the synagogue, a spontaneous street celebration erupted, forcing the closure o f much o f downtown Moscow for the afternoon as jubilant Jews celebrated the first New Year o f the Jew ish State. Ten days later the scene was repeated for Yom Kippur services. As the services concluded w ith the traditional blowing o f the shofar and the chant o f “Next Year in Jerusalem ,” the crowd erupted into a frenzy: “A tremor went through the entire synagogue,” recalled M eir.68 On September 16th, M eir also attended the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, where an Israeli flag was being displayed. As a gesture o f support, she bought several season tickets to distribute to those who could not afford them. M eir also brought out the most nationalist sentiments among those w ith whom she met. For instance, Polina Zhem chuzhina spoke with M eir in Y id ­ dish— much to the chagrin o f the State Security trying to report on her conversa­ tions— and expressed solidarity with the Israeli state. The exuberant reception o f the Israeli mission was unprecedented in Stalin’s Russia. Spontaneous assemblies were unacceptable in Stalin’s ritualized society. T he fact that this gathering was focused on both a foreign nation and a religious holiday only added to the anath­ em a. T he Jew ish reaction to M eir’s visit firmly convinced Stalin that the Jews were a fifth column who would betray the Soviet M otherland for the Zionist homeland.

The Liquidation of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater On November 2 0 ,1 9 4 8 , just over a month after Yom Kippur, the C entral Com m ittee o f the Com m unist Party ordered the M in istry o f State Security to disband the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee. W ith in days, the committee’s offices were closed down, Eynikayt ceased publication, the Der Ernes Yiddish printing press was destroyed, and Yiddish radio broadcasts were discontinued. The M os­ cow State Yiddish Theater, for its part, was ordered by the Com m ittee o f A rtis­ tic Affairs to embark upon a return engagem ent to Leningrad for an unprece­ dented December tour—a move the committee expected would firmly bankrupt


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

the theater.69 A sim ilar ploy was used to liquidate the U krainian State Yiddish Theater. After the war, the U krainian State Yiddish Theater was ordered not to return to Kiev but instead to relocate to Chernovtsy in former Rum anian territory. T he move was expensive, requiring an entire restructuring and the purchase of a new auditorium. Just when the theater was getting settled in its new home, it was ordered to go on tour. A fter all tour expenses had been paid, bringing the theater into a debt which could only be recovered through a highly successful tour, the theater was ordered to cancel the tour and return to Chernovtsy. A fter three per­ formances of, appropriately, Sholem Aleichem s Wandering Stars, the troupe was liquidated.70 Some probably recognized the Leningrad tour ploy for w hat it was. Zuskin, who had fallen ill at the height o f the G reat Purges, once again succumbed to illness. He was hospitalized on December 20th and never returned to his post at the theater.71 On December 2 4 ,1 9 4 8 , he was arrested in his hospital bed by the M inistry o f State Security for attem pting to promote “Jewish nationalism” and “anti-Soviet behavior.” T he evidence presented by the M in istry of State Security after a search of his apartment at 9Tverskaia Street consisted o f a French Jewish journal, several documents listed in the report sim ply as “documents," an “autobi­ ography,” notes on the staging of plays for the Yiddish theater, and a notebook in Yiddish. Apparently, the fact that the director o f the M oscow State Y iddish T he­ ater had notes on staging and a notebook in Yiddish was sufficient evidence for his arrest. On December 29, 1948, the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs officially released him from the staff o f the theater retroactively as of December 24th .7: The same day, the committee issued a declaration to the theater ordering it to produce a repertoire that reflected “im portant real-life Party-oriented them es on current Soviet affairs, demonstrating aesthetically the basic character traits o f So­ viet people, the high moral and aesthetic principles of Soviet so ciety. . . the great victory o f the Soviet people and the Bolshevik Party in the Patriotic W ar . . . the heroism o f post-war construction. . . the Soviet intelligentsia and their patriotism, and the struggle against the servility o f bourgeois W estern culture.” T h e theater was given less than a month to turn over a new repertoire.73The order to prepare for the future was a charade. Behind the scenes, the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs was already preparing for the theaters ultim ate destruction even as it approved new scripts for the theater.74 Two days after issuing its repertory directives, the committee issued regulations for the “liquidation o f the M oscow State Yiddish Theater,” calling for the im m ediate convocation o f a liquidation com mittee to be appointed by the Com m ittee o f Artistic Affairs in conjunction with the M inistry' o f Finance and the Union o f Artists. The order was signed by F. V. Evseev, the deputy director of the C h ie f M anagem ent o f D ram atic Theaters of the C om m it­ tee of A rtistic Affairs, and by N. Bespalov, assistant director o f the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs.75 The M in istry of State Security simultaneously embarked upon its own m is­ sion to arrest the most prominent rem aining representatives o f Soviet Jew ish cul­ ture. Fefer was arrested the same night as Zuskin, the night of December 23rd and


This Is a B ad Omen

24th. T he following month, between December 24th and January 28th, David Bergelson, Yekhezkel Dobrushin, Shm uel H alkin, Solomon Lozovskii, Peretz M arkish, Der Nister, Isaac Nusinov, and other members o f the Jew ish A nti-Fascist C om m ittee were arrested. Soon after, the Yiddish theater school was closed, and its director, M oshe Belenkii, arrested. In early 1949, the Jew ish W riter s Union was closed, along with most rem aining Yiddish publications. By the summer of 1949, the last rem aining bastions o f Jew ish culture were the State Yiddish Theaters. However, one by one, they too were closed: the Belorussian State Yiddish Theater, the Birobidzhan State Yiddish Theater, and the U krainian State Yiddish Theater. T h e Moscow State Y iddish T heater was the last to be closed. W ith its most prominent authors in prison, the theater was ordered by the C om m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs to remove all works by the arrested authors from the repertoire and to refrain from using any m aterial from their works for new produc­ tions or educational purposes.76 On M arch 9 ,1 9 4 9 , the theater was ordered to balance its books by cutting expenses77 and further reducing its already emaciated s ta ff78 On February 23,1 9 4 9 the Com m ittee of A rtistic Affairs informed the C en­ tral Com m ittee that “the M oscow State Yiddish Theater causes the state great losses and cannot work in the future in self-sufficient conditions”; it recommended that the theater be closed w ithin the w eek.79T he attached documents showed that attendance in 1948 was less than 50 percent o f capacity and that in the first two months of 1949 it had dropped to less than a quarter o f capacity. The stated reason was that “the children and youth, almost without exception, do not attend Yiddish plays.”80 In preparation for the liquidation o f the theater, all members o f the troupe were required to fill out forms listing their travels abroad and nam ing any relatives they had who lived abroad. T his information was then passed on to the M inistry o f State Security.81 The Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs also drew up negative re­ views o f several plays and passed the information on to A gitprop,82 which in turn wrote a report for Stalin and M alenkov: Lately the theater has fallen into a complete ideological and artistic decay. The theater’s repertoire is extremely unsatisfactory with regard to its ideologicalartistic quality and is limited by the narrow frames o f its national subjects. The theater has not staged the works o f the classic Russian playwrights or the plays o f modern Soviet authors. Its repertoire is littered with ideologically defective plays by nationalist playwrights. (The theater has produced plays by the re­ pressed authors Fefer, Markish and Dobrushin.) . . . The theater personnel is littered with people who are not good artists and are not worthy o f political confidence. A fter S. Mikhoels s death, V. Zuskin — now repressed— was appointed artistic director o f the theater. Neither the producer nor the actors who are cast are great masters. Out o f 55 artists there are only 4 Communists and 6 Komsomol members. M any artists are immigrants from abroad and through their relatives have connections abroad. . . . The Department o f Propaganda and Agitation considers it expedient to accept the suggestion o f the Committee o f Artistic Affairs o f the Council o f Ministers o f the U SSR (Comrade Lebedev) regarding the liquidation o f the


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater Moscow State Yiddish Theater. W e ask that the Decree o f the Central Com m it­ tee o f the Communist Party o f the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) on this question be approved.*3

The Central Committee, however, declined to decide the matter at that time. On June 30,1949, the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs issued a report conclud­ ing that the theater had failed to complete the plan. The attached statistics, how­ ever, indicated that the theater was faring significantly better than im plied in the committee s charges; it had exceeded its performance plan by 8 percent, perform­ ing 309 rather than the required 286 shows; and its revenue for the 1948 season was 2,080,000 rubles, significandy higher than the 1947 intake o f 1,154,000 ru­ bles. The report concluded that “as a result o f not completing the plan, the theater shall withhold salaries.”84 Truly, the theater had not fulfilled the financial plan, w hich called for an absurdly high intake; but considering that over the course of the year it had lost its star and director and had been forced to undergo a complete restructuring, it is remarkable that it was still able to surpass its intakes from the previous year. However, even though the theater had lost its second director in two years, its chief writers were gone and their m aterial no longer allowed to be per­ formed, and a general atmosphere o f fear and terror kept audience members away, during the first h alf o f 1949 the theater lost only 446,000 rubles,85 compared with a loss o f 682,000 rubles the previous year86— this from a theater which even in its best days ended seasons w ith a deficit. On A ugust 10,1949, a new circular was re­ leased to all of M oscow’s theaters stating that the management o f the Yiddish theater had not followed its instructions to present an estimate for the coming year, and thus “for the manifested lack o f discipline and breach of financial esti­ mates, the assistant director of the theater, Comrade V itis, A . B., w ill be placed under observation.”87 On September 12th, nevertheless, the committee permitted work to begin on a new production—A. Vitov s Near Another's Estate.98 But the effort was in vain. On November 14th the committee issued its final order to liquidate the theater as o f December 1st on account o f its unprofitability. By that date, the Com m ittee o f A rtistic Affairs had apparently received approval from the Central Com m ittee. The order stated: Order no. 959 Committee o f Artistic Affairs o f the Council o f People s Ministers o f the U SSR November 1 4 ,1 9 4 9 The Moscow State Yiddish Theater finished the 1948 year with losses o f 1,247 thousand rubles and for the ten months o f 1949 has allowed losses o f the sum o f 815 thousand rubles. Attendance at the theater, both in the years 1948 and 1949 has been at a com­ pletely unsatisfactory level, and is currently at 13.7 percent capacity. For many performances only thirty to forty spectators are at the theater. The opening o f a new production did not raise the audience s interest. The allocation o f subscrip­ tion tickets for the theaters performances in the same period has brought a general debt in excess o f one million rubles.


This Is a Bad Omen

I order: 1) The liquidation o f the Moscow Yiddish Theater as o f December 1 ,1 9 4 9 on account o f its unprofitability. 2) The formation o f a liquidation committee, consisting o f M . M . Zorin as chair, G . B. Fishman, F. B. Rainov, and A . B. Bekman, to implement the liquidation o f the Moscow Yiddish Theater. 3) The liquidation commission to direct the liquidation o f the theater as o f 15 December o f this year; to present a liquidation balance to the Head Manage­ ment o f Dramatic Theaters; to organize with the Moscow Yiddish Theater a sys­ tematic tour and farewell show; to secure the maintenance o f the theater’s build­ ing, administration and service personnel; and to pay its way in full without any subsidy.89

The following day, the C h ief M anagem ent o f D ram atic Theaters issued a declaration to the Moscow State Yiddish Theater ordering the cessation o f all theatrical activity.90 A ll workers in the theater were paid in full until December 28 , 1949.91 Alternative jobs were found for many o f the theater’s former actors, w hile others were refused jobs. Some directors, however, such as Yurii Zavadskii, the director of the Mossoviet Theater, defied government orders and accepted a few actors, such as Etel Kovenskaia, who had fallen into disgrace after the Yiddish theater’s closure. Kovenskaia was later fortunate enough to be able to em igrate to Israel, where she performed on both the Hebrew and Yiddish stages. According to her friends, however, her heart always remained w ith the M oscow State Y id ­ dish Theater.92 A ll playwrights under commission who had not yet been arrested were partially paid for their work through the intervention of the Union o f Soviet W riters. Special considerations were taken to help members o f the orchestra find employment in other theaters.93 Throughout the next year, the liquidation committee sold the theater’s assets to pay off its debts. The inventory o f assets, encompassing 203 pages, ranged from a cupola valued at 25,000 rubles to fake moustaches valued at two and a half rubles each.94 On January 21,1 950, the liquidation committee, which had been working out o f the M alaia Bronnaia Theater, was ordered to vacate the premises w ithin two days.9S One of its last acts, on M ay 29,1 950, was to turn the buildings on 2 and 4 M alaia Bronnaia, which had housed the Moscow State Yiddish Theater and served as a Jew ish community center for Moscow’s Jew s since 1923, over to the Theater o f Satire.96The liquidation committee was itself liquidated by order of the C om ­ m ittee o f Artistic Affairs on Ju ly 1 , 1950.97

August 12,1952 T he former heroes of Jewish culture were received in prison with interroga­ tion and torture before being left to languish in solitary confinement for three years. Some, like D er Nister and Isaac Nusinov, perished from the harsh condi­ tions. A s for the others, they were left alone until Ju ly 1951, when Abakumov was arrested and the investigation was turned over to M ikhail Rium in, the new M in ­ 271

The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

ister o f State Security. Unbeknownst to the prisoners, Rium in approved a set of accusations in M arch 1952, which were formally approved by Stalin in A pril. Due to severe illness, H alkin was excused from trial and sentenced to ten years’ im ­ prisonment. He survived to be rehabilitated after Stalin’s death. As for the other prisoners, on M ay 8th they were recalled from their cells and brought before a m ilitary collegium o f the Soviet high court. A fter being convicted of having con­ spired w ith M ikhoels to engage in active anti-Soviet nationalist activity, all but one o f the defendants were put to death. The verdict was pre-ordained by direct order of the Politburo. In 1955 the Soviet Supreme Court established that the charges were blatantly falsified,9®and in 1988 direct responsibility for the fabrication was placed on G eorgy Malenkov, chair of the People’s Council of M inisters: “It has been established that direct responsibility for the illegal repressions o f persons accused in connection with the ‘Case o f the Jew ish A nti-Fascist C om m ittee’ lies w ith G. M . Malenkov, who was direcdy connected w ith the investigation and the court examination.”99 On August 12,1952 Benjam in Zuskin, Peretz M arkish, David Bergelson, Itzik Fefer, and nine other prominent Jews were executed for engaging in “antiSoviet nationalist activity.” Dobrushin perished in prison the following year. All o f Fefer’s efforts to save him self by cooperating w ith the authorities and empha­ sizing his own credentials as an informant were in vain.T he massacre was preceded by a six-week secret trial in which the defendants were forced to confess to the crime o f “collaboration with the nationalist M ikhoels.” M ikhoels, the prosecutor asserted, was “a nationalist who dragged theater and art down into the swam p of Zionism .” “In 1937,” the prosecutor continued, “the activity of the theater took on a nationalist character.” “From this one can draw the conclusion that M ikhoels led the theater toward nationalism .”100The transcript, however, contains no concrete evidence o f a nationalist direction in the theater. Indeed, references to the Yiddish theater are few and far between. The trial was not about theater. In fact, Zuskin's futile defense rested prim arily upon the proposition that he was an actor: “I am an actor, and my fault is that all m y attention concentrated on this actorial w ork.”101 B y the time Zuskin was interrogated, he had learned that his prosecutors had little interest in the aesthetics or ideology of the Yiddish theater. Even if they cared to investigate, they had little hope of discovering any evidence, having killed o ff the only loyal Communists w ith the linguistic and cultural tools necessary to interpret the Yiddish theater’s plays. Thus, rather than deconstruct the theater’s repertoire, the prosecutors preferred to take M ikhoels’s guilt for granted and sim ply spend the six weeks of the trial establishing each defendant’s relationship w ith M ikhoels or with other defendants. For instance, rather than delve into any detail regard­ ing M arkish’s artistic output, they proved the playw right’s guilt with the fact that Fefer, a self-confessed enemy of the state, had visited M arkish’s apartment. The Moscow State Yiddish Theater and its writers had exhibited nationalist sentiments in their works since the late 1920s. Yet despite this “crim e” they had managed to survive the G reat Purges intact. As long as expressions o f national identity remained on stage and in Yiddish they were rarely noticed and thus pro­ voked little official opposition. Once these sentiments were taken off the stage 272

This Is a B ad Omen

Solomon Mikhoels memorial plaque on the Malaia Bronnaia Theater today. The plaque reads: “In this building, Grom 1922 to 1948, People’s A rtist o f the USSR Solomon Mikhailovich Mikhoels worked as an actor and artistic director o f the State Yiddish Theater, Goset.” Photo by author.


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

and into the public sphere, however, they could no longer be ignored. T he eventual downfall o f M ikhoels and his theater can be attributed to both the ideological changes brought about by the war and the participants’ own politicization o f their nationalist feelings. M ikhoels and others flaunted their national convictions both w ithin the Soviet Union and abroad, declared their solidarity with world Jewry, and established and maintained contacts w ith the world’s leading rabbis and Z i­ onists. Jew ish expressions o f national pride were most publicly represented in the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee. Thus, the committee served as the linchpin around which the trials o f 1952 were conducted. It was alleged that the Jewish Anti-Fascist Com m ittee “became the center of Jewish nationalist activity.”102 A c­ cording to a statement Zuskin was said to have signed on M arch 4,19 5 2 , the Jew ­ ish Anti-Fascist Com m ittee “was converted into a nationalist espionage center, leading a struggle against the U SS R .”103 It was based on connections to the JA FC that the list o f defendants was officially drawn, although some, like Zuskin, had only m arginal roles. Yet many o f the theater’s stars and writers played an integral role in wartim e propaganda through the Jew ish A nti-Fascist Com m ittee. During the war and for several years afterward, the Yiddish theater became institutional­ ly, personally, and ideologically associated w ith the JA F C . Indeed, it was this in­ trusion into politics which ultim ately led to the theater’s destruction. Thus, M ikhoels and others involved w ith the Jew ish Anti-Fascist C om m it­ tee and the Yiddish theater genuinely overstepped their boundaries during and after W orld W ar II by openly asserting their Jew ish identity and expressing ap­ proval for their state’s recognition o f a Jew ish homeland in Palestine. M ikhoels had broken the unstated pact he had made w ith the Soviet regime by m aintaining extensive contacts w ith the W est, by insinuating an identification w ith Zionism, by acting as a liaison between the Jew ish citizens of the Soviet Union and the state, by glorifying Jew ish participation in W orld W ar II, and by asserting Jew ish dis­ tinctness w ithin the Soviet Union. W h ile these expressions would not have been a crime under any ju st system o f law—and would not have merited death under the post-Stalin Soviet regime— they were deemed the most heinous of crimes under Stalin’s ruthless tyranny. Yet to those who knew M ikhoels, his loyalty to both his people and his state were not contradictory. “Yes, he was Jewish," wrote O. Litovskii o f M ikhoels: He performed in the Jewish language, but he performed emotionally. He was comprehensible and accessible not only to the Jewish public, but also to the Rus­ sians and not only because he spoke the language o f art, but also because this Jewish actor did not know any homeland other than R ussia.. . . Mikhoels was a Russian Jew, and he belongs simultaneously to Jewish and to Russian theater. .. .There he sits before me, together with his wife and friend Anastasiia Pavlovna Pototskii, chuckling, criticizing the Committee o f Artistic Affairs, and telling stories about some type o f utterly unusual drink to which a Georgian treated him.This is how he remains in my memory.... Solomon Mikhailovich Mikhoels, a great figure in Jewish, Russian and world culture.104


Conclusion: The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

T he Soviet State Yiddish Theater was characterized throughout its existence b y an inherent tension between its socialist principles and its nationalist yearnings. T h e Jew ish activists who established a Yiddish art theater in pre-revolutionary R ussia hoped to “enlighten” the Jew ish masses by im parting their own secular notions o f B ildung and social justice through legal channels. Soon after the Bol­ shevik Revolution, these theater activists found a w illing partner in the C om ­ m unist Party and its Jew ish Section. W ith official state patronage, Com munist dogmas could be fused w ith national symbols and artistic talent to create a potent instrum ent of agitational propaganda and public awareness. The theater and its supporters hoped to transform traditional and provincial Jews into collective farm­ ers, proletarians, and Soviet citizens. The honeymoon was short-lived. T he newly accessible archives o f the thea­ ter reveal that after only a few years o f partnership, discord emerged between the theater, its trade union, the state, and the Party. A lready by 1925, Aleksandr G ra­ novsky, the theater’s director, found him self inundated with bureaucratic im ped­ im ents and petty squabbles. Self-satisfied Party activists and cocky young stars showed themselves to be more interested in self-promotion than in “civilizing” the pious Jews of the provinces— a sentiment shared by the theaters director himself. A s disagreements emerged over finances and administrative matters, disgruntled cliques sought Party mediation and intervention. H aving established a measure o f adm inistrative leverage, the Party proceeded to extend its influence to the the­ ater’s them atic and aesthetic content by dem anding realist plays that promoted socialist construction and revolutionary consciousness. The theater responded by presenting plays that on the surface conformed to the Party’s demands, but which could also be interpreted as surreptitious tributes to Jew ish nationalism and pro­ tests against w hat was becoming an oppressive regime. The theater’s censors failed to detect any ulterior messages but continued to pressure the troupe into confor­ mity. D uring the theater’s 1928 European tour, Granovsky, frustrated that his ar­ tistic judgm ent was being overruled by Party bureaucrats, defected to Germany. W hen the troupe returned to Moscow in late 1928, Solomon M ikhoels, its star actor, was named to succeed Granovsky as director. A t the same time, the the­ ater’s adm inistration was reorganized to enhance Party influence, m aking forth­ right disagreements w ith the state more difficult. Fresh interpretations o f the thea­ ter’s forgotten and suppressed plays, however, reveal that the tension between the theater’s national heritage and socialist ideology was merely pushed beneath the surface. Hindered by a lack of appropriate dramatic m aterial, M ikhoels and the theater’s literary directors reworked pre-revolutionary plays into tim ely political satires and encouraged contemporary writers to produce suitable material. W ith in


The Moscow State Yiddish Theater

M ikhoels’s first four years as director, the theater acquainted M oscow audiences w ith the works o f some o f the finest contemporary Yiddish writers: David Bergelson, Peretz M arkish, M . D aniel, Yekhezkel Dobrushin, and Hershl O rliand. W ith a series of plays glorifying the Revolution, the C ivil W ar, and socialist construc­ tion, the theater garnered significant Party patronage. M ikhoels, however, refused to turn the Yiddish theater into a clone o f M oscow’s other theaters. He insisted on interpreting contemporary events through the prism o f Jew ish history, assim ilat­ ing Judaic lore into his productions and alluding to nationalist Jew ish archetypes. A ll these symbols were hidden from the censors, who were unfam iliar w ith both the Yiddish language and the Judaic heritage. In the m id-1930s, faced w ith criticism that the theater was failing to pro­ duce successful socialist productions, M ikhoels retreated to Yiddish translations of European classics. Although his rendition o f Shakespeare’s K ing Lear met w ith popular and critical acclaim, M ikhoels feared that the theater was forsaking its national orientation. W ith the proclamation of the slogan, “national in form, so­ cialist in content,” M ikhoels was given license to return to Jew ish folk traditions. Notes from the director’s personal archives, however, show that the Yiddish the­ ater faced a unique quandary in applying the slogan. In contrast to the history' o f the U SSR ’s other national m inorities, the halcyon days of Judaic lore lay in the ancient state of Judaea, well beyond the Soviet realm. Alone among the Soviet na­ tional m inorities, the Jews possessed a heritage that could not be shared w ith other Soviet citizens— their homeland lay beyond the Soviet border. Revivals of Jewish national lore, therefore, could be construed as assertions of lost Jew ish sovereign rights in Palestine, especially w ith the rise o f Zionism as a viable political move­ ment. The theater initially restricted itself to the nineteenth-century folk tradi­ tions of the Eastern European Jew ish masses living within the Russian Empire. O nly in 1937, as Kaganovich and others began calling for the resurrection of historical heroes, did the theater begin to celebrate the lore of Judaea on its stage. Suddenly Jew ish revolts against foreign rule became appropriate m aterial. A l­ though the theater publicly proclaimed that these productions should be seen as examples of the class struggle in historical perspective, its audiences could be in­ spired by scenes o f Jews taking up arms to defend their sovereignty from oppres­ sive regimes. W hether or not these scenes pertained to the modern predicament of Soviet Jew ry was left up to the interpretation of the audience. The Yiddish theater’s efforts to integrate national awareness into its art was not unique. Sim ilar efforts were put forward by other Jew ish figures unconnected with the theater, including the novelist Der Nister (in his epic work The Family Maskber) and the ethnomusicologist M oshe Beregovskii. A glance at the cultural output of some o f the Soviet Union’s other m inority nations reveals sim ilar ambi­ tions. The Arm enian theater’s 1940 presentation of D eremik Demirchyan’s play N ative Land (about the tenth-century Arm enian ruler G agik’s heroic defense o f Catholic Arm enia against Byzantine invaders) can be seen as a metaphor for modern Arm enia’s resistance to Russian hegemony—the characterization o f Rus­ sia as the “T hird Rome,” the heir to Byzantium , was a commonplace in Russian



historical thought.1W artim e products of local patriotism also abound. The 1942 Stalin P rize-w inning Georgian film Giorgi Saakadze (about the seventeenth-cen­ tury nationalist hero) was one such example. The patriotic pride that Russian historical art inculcated in its audience has been w ell documented,2 but the notion that local heroes instilled sim ilar sentiments among the m inority nations has only begun to be explored. Indeed, as George Liber has shown in his intriguing study o f the effects o f korenizatsiia (indigenization) in the Ukraine, the policy o f nurtur­ ing local cultures often led to the genesis of nationalist movements.3 T his phe­ nomenon has even prompted at least one scholar to declare that “it was Stalin who became the true ‘father o f nations.’”4 D uring W orld W ar II, as Soviet patriotism gave w ay to Russian chauvinism, the theaters two roles as Soviet agitator and Jew ish advocate collided. In the late 1930s, the theater’s efforts to find a new raison d ’être w ith its promotion o f anti­ fascism was thwarted by the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact o f August 1939. T h e anti-fascist theme was revived again soon after the German invasion o f the U S S R in June 1941. W h ile M ikhoels, as chairman o f the Soviet Jew ish A ntiFascist Com m ittee, promoted Jew ish unity around the world and raised aware­ ness of the European Jew ish predicament, his theater downplayed Jew ish victim hood and championed Soviet nationality policies on its stage. Initially, the two facets coalesced only in their mutual support o f the Soviet war effort as the sole means of liberating world Jew ry from fascist hands. However, recent testimonies indicate that during M ikhoels’s 1943 tour o f North Am erica and Britain, he began to explore alternative solutions to the “Jewish problem,” including the establish­ m ent o f a Jew ish state in Palestine. After the A llied victory, M ikhoels and the theater firmly rooted themselves on the side of Jewish nationality issues. The archives of the Jew ish Anti-Fascist Com m ittee reveal that M ikhoels sought to use his newfound political influence to engage the Soviet government in Jew ish national issues, such as the resettlement o f Jew ish war victims, distribution o f Am erican aid, and geopolitical support for the Zionist cause. Sim ilarly, the theater celebrated peace with a production glori­ fying Jew ish perseverance, survival, and unity. Soviet patriotism among the Rus­ sian majority, however, had degenerated during the war into a Russian chauvinism that firmly excluded the Jews. Soviet Jew ish activists, recently liberated from the threat o f Nazism, found themselves victims o f discrimination and anti-Sem itism on the part of a society trying to stabilize and redefine itself. Not realizing the extent to which the tide had changed, M ikhoels, the theater, and the Anti-Fascist Com m ittee flaunted their national pride, striking emotional chords among the Jew ish minority. A distinct society of Jew s, however, proved to be incompatible w ith Soviet collective mores as they developed during the regime’s final stab at totalitarianism and mass conformity. W ith their extensive international contacts and vested interest in Near Eastern geopolitical affairs, the Soviet Jew ish leader­ ship was one o f several groups who straddled the new binary division o f the world between East and W est. W hen the final curtain was lowered on the Yiddish stage, it fell with the force o f iron.


N o tes

Abbreviations Used in Notes Central Archives for the History o f the Jewish People, Jerusalem, Israel Center for Research and Documentation o f East European Jewry, CRDEEJ Jerusalem, Israel Diaspora Research Institute, Tel-Aviv, Israel DR1 Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv rossiskoi federatsii GARF State Archive o f the Russian Federation, Moscow, Russia G PB Gosudarstvennaia publichnaia istoricheskaia biblioteka, rukopisnyi otdel State Public Historical Library, Manuscript Division, St. Petersburg, Russia Gosudarstvennyi teatralnyi muzei im. A . A . Bakhrushina, rukopisnyi GTsTM otdel Bakhrushin State Theater Museum, Manuscript Division, Moscow, Russia IG TA M Israel G oor Theater Archives and Museum, Jerusalem, Israel NARA National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, M ary­ land National Sound Archives, Jerusalem, Israel N SA Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv literatury i iskusstva R G ALI Russian State Archive o f Literature and A rt, Moscow, Russia Rossiiskii tsentr khraneniia i izucheniia dokumentov noveisheiistorii RTsKhIDNI Russian Center for the Preservation and Study o f Modem History, Moscow, Russia T sG AO R Ukr Tsentralnyi gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Oktiabrskoi rcvoliutsii, Ukraina Central State Archive o f the October Revolution, Kiev, Ukraine C AH JP

Introduction 1. Shmuel Halkin, Bar-Kokbba (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1939), 50. 2. Ibid., 52. 3. Ibid., 58. 4. V. I. Lenin, Sochineniia, 38 vols. (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 19 5 3 -19 5 5 ), 19 :4 9 0 .


Notes to pages 2 - 6

5. Kommunisticbeskaia p a rtita sovetskogo soiuza v rezoliutsiiakb i resheniiakh sez d ov, konferentsii ip len u m o v TsK (Moscow: Izdatelstvo politicheskoi literatury, 1970), 2: 252. 6. For recent discussions o f Soviet nationality policies and their role in nation build­ ing see Yuri Slezkine, “The U SSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism," S lavic R ev iew 53, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 4 1 4 -5 2 ; Terry M artin, “The Origins o f Soviet Ethnic Cleansing ? Jou rn a l o f M odern H istory 70 (Decem­ ber 1998): 8 1 3 -6 1 ; and Francine Hirsch, “Toward an Empire o f Nations: Border-Making and the Formation o f Soviet National Identities,** Russian R ev iew 59, no. 2 (April 2000): 2 0 1-2 6 . 7. J. V. Stalin, Works, 13 vols. (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1 9 5 3 1955), 5: 4 8 -4 9 . 8. For some o f the better works o f this type on Soviet Jew ry see Benjamin Pinkus, The J ew s in the S oviet Union : The H istory o f a N ational M in ority (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni­ versity Press, 1988); Solomon M . Schwarz, The J ew s in the S oviet Union (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1951); Salo W ittm ayer Baron, The Russian J e w u nder Tsars a n d Soviets (New York: Macmillan, 1964); Jacob Frumkin, Gregor Aronson, Alexis Goldenweiser, and Joseph Lewitan, Russian J e w r y (1917-1967) (New York: Thomas Yaseloff, 1969); Lionel Kochan, ed., The J ew s in S oviet Russia since 1917 (London: Oxford Univer­ sity Press, 1970); Yaacov Ro*i, The S truggle fo r S oviet Jew ish E m igration, 1948-196 7 (Cam­ bridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Zvi Gitelman, A C entury o f A m bivalence: The J ew s o f Russia a n d the S oviet Union, 1881 to the P resent (New York: YIVO Institute, 1988); and Nora Levin, The J ew s in the S oviet Union since 1917 : Paradox o f S urvival, 2 vols. (New York: I. B. Tauris, 1990). 9. An average o f over 450 Yiddish-language books were published a year between 1928 and 1935 (the years for which statistics are available). M ost were probably published by Der Ernes printing press. See Schwarz, The J ew s in the S oviet Union, 139. Some o f the most widely known Yiddish writers working during this period include David Bergelson, Peretz Markish, Der Nister, Shmuel Halkin, Leyb Kvitko, David Hofshteyn, and Moshe Broderzon. 10. Some o f the more prominent Yiddish singers included Zinovii Shulman, Marina Gordon, SidiTal, Clara Vaga, and the a capella group Iudvokans. Some o f their recordings can be found at the National Sound Archives o f Israel in Jerusalem. 11. For some o f their published works see Moshe Beregovskii and Itzik Fefer, Yidishe folk s-lid er (Kiev: Melukha farlag far di natsionale minderhaytn in USSR, 1938); Yekhezkel Dobrushin and A . Yuditskii, Yidishefolk s-lider (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1940); Moisei Khashchevatskii and Der Nister, Yidishefo/kslider (Odessa: Kinderfarlag, 1940). 12. The largest Jewish research institutes were the Institute o f Jewish Culture in Kiev, which was active from 1929 to 1948, and the Jewish Section o f the Belorussian Academy o f Science, which functioned from 1924 to 1935. 13. According to statistics compiled by Benjamin Pinkus, there were 800 Yiddishlanguage schools in the Soviet Union in 1927 with 107,000 pupils. In 1939, there were 75,000 pupils in Yiddish schools. See Pinkus, The J ew s in the S oviet Union, 109. 14. For more on Birobidzhan see Robert Weinberg, Stalins Forgotten Z ion: Birobid­ zhan a n d the M aking o f a S oviet J ew ish H om eland—An Illustrated History, 1928-1996 (Ber­ keley: University o f California Press, 1998). 15. Ella Perlman, “Introduction** in Beth ha-tefutsot, The Closed C urtain: The M oscow Yiddish State Theater, catalogue from exhibit at Diaspora Museum, Tel Aviv. 16. For recent works dealing with the execution o f Mikhoels and the post-W orld War II liquidation o f Jewish cultural and social institutions see Arkady Vaksberg, Stalin against 280

Notes to pages 6 - 8

the J e w s , trans. Antonina W . Bouis (New York: Alfred A . Knopf, 1994); G . Kostyrchenko, Vplenu u krasnogofaraona (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia, 1994); Shimon Red­ lich, War, H olocaust a n d Stalinism: A D ocum ented Study o fth e J ew ish A nti-Fascist C om m ittee in the USSR (Luxembourg: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995); Mordechai Altshuler, “The Agony and Liquidation o f the Jewish State Theater o f Belorussia (1 9 4 8 -19 4 9 ),"/mv in Eastern Europe 3, no. 25 (W inter 1994): 6 4 -7 2 ; V. P. Naumov, N epravedn yisud. Pos/ednii sta/inskii rasstrel (Moscow: Nauk, 1994); Aleksandr Borshchagovskii, O bviniaetsia krov (Moscow: Kultura, 1994); and Fedor Liass, Pos/ednii politicheskii protsess stalina Hi nesostoiavshiisia gen otsid ( Jerusalem: F. Liass, 1995). 17. The terms “intentionalist” and “functionalist,” borrowed from the discourse o f historians o f Nazi Germany, are equally useful in describing two approaches to the devel­ opment o f Stalin's Great Terror. In German historiography intentionalists maintain that the Holocaust derived from a concrete plan devised by Hitler himself prior to W orld W ar II, whereas functionalists believe that the Holocaust gradually evolved as a consequence o f Nazi-inspired anti-Semitism and Germany’s changing fortunes during the war. In the Soviet context, intentionalists argue that the Great Terror was planned by Stalin in ad­ vance, whereas functionalists posit that the purges were impelled by the changing socio­ economic forces o f the 1930s. For a functional approach to the Holocaust, see M artin Broszat, The H itler State: The Foundation a n d D evelopm ent o f the In tern a l Structure o f the T hird Reich (London: Longman, 1981). For an intentionalist approach to the Holocaust see Eberhard Jäckel, H itlers W eltanschauung: A B lueprint f o r P ow er (Middleton, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1972). 18. Ch. Shmeruk “Jewish Culture in the Soviet Union in Historical Perspective,” in

J ew ish Culture in the S oviet Union: P roceedings o fth e Symposium H eld by the Cultural D epart­ m en t o f the WorldJ ew ish Congress (Jerusalem: W orld Jewish Congress, 1973), 20. 19. Naomi Blank, “Redefining the Jewish Question from Lenin to Gorbachev: Terminology o f Ideology?” in Yaacov Ro’i, ed., J ew s a n d Jew ish Life in Russia a n d the S oviet Union (Essex: Frank Cass & Co., 1995), 5 1 -6 6 ; Thomas E. Sawyer, The J ew ish M in ority in the S oviet Union (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1979), 1 0 -1 5 . 20. Lester Samuel Eckman, S oviet Policy tow ards J ew s a n d Israel (New York: Shengold Publishers, 1974), 29. 21. Joseph Stalin, M arxism a n d the N ational an d C olonial Q uestion: A Collection o f A rticles a n d Speeches (London: Lawrence and W ishart, 1936), 8. 22. Vaksberg, Stalin against the J ew s , 3 -1 4 . 23. Pinkus, The J ew s in the S oviet Union , 14 3 -4 4 ; Louis Rapoport, Stalins War against th e J ew s (New York: Free Press, 1990), 1-4 0 ; Vaksberg, Stalin against the Jew s, 15 -3 3 . 24. Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalins P urge o f the Thirties (London: Mac­ millan, 1968), 7 6-7 7. See also Isaac Deutscher, Stalin: A P olitical B iography (1949; 2nd ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 605-606. 25. Conquest, The Great Terror ; Adam Ulam, Stalin: The M an an d His Era (New York, 1973); Richard Pipes, The Russian R evolution (New York: Vintage, 1990); Robert Tucker, Stalin in P ow er: The R evolution fro m A bove (New York: Norton, 1990); L. B. Schapiro, The Com m unist Party o f the S oviet Union (1960; 2nd ed., New York: Vintage, 1971); Hannah Arendt, The O rigins o f Totalitarianism (1951; reprint, New York: Meridian Books, 1958); Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ideology a n d P ow er in S oviet Politics (New York: Praeger, 1962); John Armstrong, The Politics o f Totalitarianism : The Communist P arty o f the S oviet Union fro m 1934 to the P resent (New York: Random House, 1961). 26. Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin a n d the Bolshevik R evolution (London: W ildwood House, 1974); Robert Vincent Daniels, The Conscience o f the R evolution: Communist Oppo281

Notes to pages 8 - 9

sition in S oviet Russia (1960; reprint, New York: Clarion Books, 1969); Sheila Fitzpatrick, Alexander Rabinowitch, and Richard Stites, eds., Russia in the Era o/NEP: Explorations in S oviet Society a n d Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991); Diane P. Koenker, W illiam G . Rosenberg, and Ronald Grigor Suny, eds., Party, State, a n d Society in th e Russian C ivil War: Explorations in Social H istory (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989); Moshe Lewin, L enins Last S truggle (London: Faber 8c Faber, 1969). 27. W illiam G. Rosenberg, Bolshevik Visions: First Phase o f the Cultural R evolution in Bolshevik Russia (Ann Arbor: University o f Michigan Press, 1984). 28. Peter Kenez, The B irth o f the P ropaganda State: S oviet M ethods o f M ass M obiliza­ tion, 1917-1929 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). 29. Richard Stites, R evolu tionary D reams: Utopian Vision a n d E xperim ental L ife in the Russian R evolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Lynn Mally, Culture o f th e Future: The Proletkult M ovem en t in R evolu tionary Russia (Berkeley: University o f Califor­ nia Press, 1990); James von Geldern, Bolshevik Festivals, 1917-1920 (Berkeley: University' o f California Press, 1993); Abbott Gleason, Peter Kenez, and Richard Stites, eds., Bolshe­ vik Culture: E xperim ent a n d Order in the Russian R evolution (Bloomington: Indiana Uni­ versity Press, 1985); Katerina Clark, P etersburg: Crucible o f C ultural R evolution (Cam­ bridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995). 30. Konstantin Rudnitsky, Russian an d S oviet T heater 1905-1932 (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988); A . Anastasev, Istoriia sovetskogo dramaticheskogo teatra (Moscow: Insti­ tut istorii iskusstv, 1966); J. Douglas Clayton, P ierrot in P etrograd: The Commedia D ellA rtt/ Balagan in T w en tieth-C en tu ry Russian Theatre a n d D rama (Montreal and Kingston: M cG ill-Q ueens University Press, 1993); Lynn Mally, “The Rise and Fall o f the Soviet Youth Theater T R A M ,” S lavic R ev iew 51, no. 3 (Fall 1990): 4 1 1 -3 0 ; A . V. Lunacharskii, O teatre i dram aturgii (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1958); Lars Kleberg, Theatre as A ction: Soviet Russian A vant-G arde Aesthetics, trans. Charles Rougle (London: Macmillan, 1993). 31. Zvi Y. Gitelman, J ew ish N ationality a n d S oviet Politics: The J ew ish Sections o f the CPSU, 1917-1930 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), 3 2 1 -7 1 . 32. For a modern approach to the Hebrew-language Habima theater, see Vladislav Ivanov, “Poetika metamorfoz: Vakhtangov i Gabima,” Voprosy teatra 13 (1993): 188-222; and Vladislav Ivanov, “Teatr Gabima v Moskve: na vesakh lova," Znamia 12 (1995): 16892. For Yiddish film see J. Hoberman, B ridge o f L ight: Yiddish Film b etw een Two Worlds (New York: Museum o f Modern A rt, 1991), 87—102; and J. Hoberman, “The Crooked Road o f Jewish Luck," A rtforum 28 (September 1989): 12 2 -2 5 . For inquiries into Soviet Jewish art in the 1920s see Ruth Apter-Gabriel, ed., Tradition a n d R evolution: The Jew ish R enaissance in Russian A vant-G arde Art, 1912-1928 (Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 1988); and Susan Tumarkin Goodman, ed., Russian J ew ish Artists in a C entury o f Change , 1890-1990 (Munich: Prcstel, 1995). For surveys o f the Soviet Yiddish theater see Béatrice Picon-Vallin, Le théâtre j u i f S oviétique pen d a n t les années v in g t (Lausanne: Editions la cité, 1973); Mordechai Altshuler, ed., H a-teatron ha-Yehudi bi-Verit ha-M oatsot (Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1996). For a post-structuralist analysis o f Soviet Yiddish litera­ ture see Régine Robin, U am our du Yiddish: écritu re j u i v e et sen tim en t de la lan gu e (18301930) (Paris: Editions du Sorbier, 1984), 17 5 -2 4 5 . 33. Ch. Shmeruk, “Yiddish Literature in the U. S. S. R.," trans. Miriam and Alfred A. Greenbaum, in Kochan, The J ew s in S oviet Russia, 244. 34. The term Cultural Revolution was first applied to the era o f 1 9 2 8 -19 3 1 in Sheila Fitzpatrick, Cultural R evolution in Russia, 1928-1931 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), and was expanded in her collection The C ultural Front: P ow er a n d Culture in R evolutionary Russia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992). Recendy some scholars have 282

Notes to pages 9 - 1 0

sought to expand the term to include the entire 1920s, arguing that the third front o f culture was an integral aspect o f Soviet educational policies after 1920. Stalin’s Great Break is thus seen as the culmination o f a decade-long process o f education and upbringing. See, for instance Michael David-Fox, R evolution o f the M ind: H igher L earning am ong the Bolshe­ viks, 1918-1929 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997). 35. Leon Trotsky, The R evolution B etrayed: What Is the S oviet Union a n d Where Is It G oing ? trans. Max Eastman (New York: Harcourt Sc Brace, 1937); Isaac Deutscher, The P rophet Outcast: Trotsky, 1929-1940 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963); Deutscher, Stalin ; Roy Medvedev, Let H istory Ju d ge: The O rigins a n d Consequences o f Stalinism, ed. D. Joravsky and G . Haupt, trans. C. Taylor (New York: Alfred A . Knopf, 1971); Nikolai Timasheff, The Great R etreat: The G rowth a n d D ecline o f Communism in Russia (New York: Dutton, 1946). 36. Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalins Peasants: R esistance a n d S u rviva l in the Russian Village a fter C ollectivization (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Moshe Lewin, Russian Peasants a n d S oviet P ow er (London: Allen Sc Unwin, 1968); W illiam G . Rosenberg and Lewis H. Siegelbaum, eds., Social D im ensions o f S oviet Industrialization (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993); Stephen Kotkin, M agn etic M ountain: Stalinism as a C ivi­ lization (Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1995); Lewis Siegelbaum and Ronald G . Suny, eds., M aking Workers S oviet (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994). 37. Régine Robin, Socialist R ealism : An Impossible Aesthetic, trans. Catherine Porter (1986; reprint, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992); George Lukâcs, The M ean in g o f C ontem porary Realism, trans. John and Necke Mander (1963; reprint, London: Merlin Press, 1979); Katerina Clark, The S oviet N ovel: H istory as R itual (Chicago: University o f Chicago Press, 1981); Boris Groys, The Total Art o f Stalinism : A vant-G arde, A esthetic D ic­ tatorship, a n d Beyond, trans. Charles Rougle (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992); Hans Günther, ed., The Culture o f the Stalin P eriod (London: Macmillan, 1990); C. Vaughan James, S oviet Socialist R ealism : O rigins an dT heory (New York: St. Martin s Press, 1973); and John E. Bowlt and Olga Matich, eds., Laboratory o f D reams: The Russian A vant-G arde a n d C ultural E xperim ent (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996). 38. Richard Stites, Russian Popular Culture: E ntertainm ent a n d Society since 1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 6 4 -9 7 ; James von Geldern and Richard Stites, eds., Mass Culture in S oviet Russia: Tales, Poems, Songs, M ovies, Plays a n d Folklore, 1917-1953 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 123-330. 39. The New Economic Policy (NEP), which lasted from 1921 to 1928, allowed for private enterprise in small industry while the state retained control o f finance and large industry. It was accompanied by a relaxation o f cultural policies. 40. Robin, L am our du Yiddish, 191. 41. Michael Stanislawski, “The Jews and Russian Culture and Politics,” in Goodman, R ussian J ew ish Artists, 23. 42. David G. Roskies, A B ridge ofL on gin g: The Lost Art o f Yiddish S torytelling (Cam­ bridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995), 229. 43. Eckman, S oviet Policy, 3 8-3 9. 44. Rapoport, Stalins War, 54. 45. Eckman, S oviet Policy, 38-3 9 . 46. Levin, The J e w s in the S oviet Union, 324; Frumkin, Aronson, Goldenweiser, and Lewitan, Russian J e w r y (1860-1917), 181. 47. Smeruk “Jewish Culture in the Soviet Union,” 20. 48. Eckman, S oviet Policy, 44. 49. J. Arch G etty and Roberta Manning, eds., Stalinist Terror (New York: Cambridge


Notes to pages 1 1 - 1 3

University Press, 1993); J. Arch Getty, O rigins o f the Great P urges : The S oviet C om m unist Party Reconsidered\ 1933-1938 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); C on­ quest, The Great Terror; Gabor Tamas Rittersporn, Stalinist Simplifications a n d S oviet Com­ plications: Social Tension an d P olitical Conflicts in the USSR, 1933-19S3 (Chur, Switzerland: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1991); M artin,“The Origins o f Soviet Ethnic Cleansing." 50. Tucker, Stalin in Power, 4 9 0 -9 1. 51. Igor Krupnik, “Soviet Cultural and Ethnic Policies toward Jews: A Legacy Reas­ sessed,” in Ro’i yJ ew s a n d Jew ish Life, 6 8 -6 9 . See also M artin, “The Origins o f Soviet Eth­ nic Cleansing,” 853. 52. Beregovskii and Fefer, Y idishefolks-lider; Dobrushin and Yuditsky, Y idishefolks lider; Khashchevatskii and Der Nister, Yidishefolkslider. 53. Shmeruk, “Yiddish Literature,” 256. 54. Pinkus, The J ew s in the S oviet Union, 106. For similar interpretations, see Baron, The Russian J e w under Tsars a n d S oviets ; Schwartz, The J ew s in the S oviet Union ; Levin, The

J ew s in the S oviet Union; Ro\, J ew s a n d Jew ish Life. 55. Jack Miller, cd ., J ew s in S oviet Culture (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1984), 73. 56. Miller, J ew s in S oviet Culture; Joachim Braun, J ew s in S oviet M usic (Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1977); Efraim Sicher, J ew s in Russian L iterature a fter the October R evolution: Writers a n d Artists betw een Hope a n d Apostasy (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer­ sity Press, 1995). 57. For some examples o f Judaic motifs in the writings o f Ehrenburg see Anatol Goldberg, “Ilya Ehrenburg” in Miller, J ew s in S oviet Culture, 18 3 -2 1 3 ; Joshua Rubenstein, Tangled Loyalties: The L ife a n d Times o f Ilya E hrenburg (New York: Basic Books, 1996); W illiam Korey, “Ehrenburg: His Inner Jewish Conflict,”Jew ish F rontier (March 1968): 2 5 -3 1 . For some examples on Babel see Efraim Sicher, “The Jewishness o f Babel,” in Miller, J ew s in S oviet Culture, 16 7 -8 2 ; Walenty Cukierman, “Isaak Babels Jewish Heroes and their Yiddish Background,” Yiddish 2, no. 4 (1977): 15 -2 7 ; Alice Stone Nakhimovsky,

R ussian-Jew ish L iterature a n d Identity;Jabotinsky, Babel, Frossman, Galich, Roziner, Markish (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 7 0 -1 0 6 . For the Jewish roots o f the mass song see Joachim Braun, “Jews in Soviet Music,” in Miller, J e w s in Soviet Culture, 6 5 -1 0 6 : 7 8 -8 1. 58. Gregor Aronson, “The Jewish Question during the Stalin Era,” in Frumkin, Aronson, Goldenweiser, and Lewitan, Russian J ew ry , 193. 59. Ruth R. Wisse, “By Their Own Hands,” N ew Republic, February 3 ,1 9 9 7 ,3 8 . 60. Ibid., 35. 61. Ibid., 43. 62. Shmuel Niger, Yidishe shrayber in sovet-ru sla n d (New York: S. Niger Book Com­ mittee, 1958); Shmuel Niger, D i tsveyskprakkikaytfu n undzer Literatur (Detroit: Louis La Med Foundation for the Advancement o f Hebrew and Yiddish Literature, 1941). 63. Nakhman Mayzel, D osyiddisheshafn un der yid ish er shrayber in sovetn fa rb a n d (New York: Yidisher Kultur Farband, 1959). 64. Irving Howe, and Eliczer Greenberg, eds., Ashes Out o f Hope: F iction by SovietYiddish Writers (New York: Schocken Books, 1977), 25. 65. David Bergelson, The Stories o fD a v id B ergelson: Yiddish Short F iction fr o m Russia, ed. and trans. Golda Werman, foreword by Aharon Appelfeld (Syracuse: Syracuse Univer­ sity Press, 1996), xxiii. 66. Abraham Zebi Idelsohn,/ra;ijA M usic in Its H istorical D evelopm ent (1929; reprint, New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1944), 358.


Notes to pages 1 4 - 2 0

67. Cited in Nakhman Mayzel, Yidishe tematik u n yid ish e m elodies bay bavuste muziker (New York: Yidishe Kultur Farband, 1952), 13. 68. Michael Brenner, The R enaissance o f Jew ish Culture in Weimar G ermany (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 1 6 -1 7 . 69. Baal-Makhshoves, “One Literature in Two Languages," in Hana W irth-Nesher, ed., What Is J ew ish L iterature? (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1994), 74. 70. Robert N. Goldman, E insteins God: A lbert E insteins Quest as a Scientist a n d as a J ew to R eplace a Forsaken God (Northvale, N. J.: Jason Aronson, 1997); Alexander L. Ringer, A rnold Schoenberg: The C om poseras J e w (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). 71. Josephine Zadovsky Knopp, The T rial o f Judaism in Contem porary Jew ish W riting (Urbana, Chicago, and London: University o f Illinois Press, 1975), 6 -2 9 . 72. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: J ew ish H istory a n d Jew ish M em ory , foreword by Harold Bloom (1982; reprint, Seattle and London: University ofW ashington Press, 1996); Robert Alter, A fter the Tradition: Essays on M odem J ew ish W riting (New York: Dutton, 1969); Irving Howe, World o f Our Fathers (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanonich, 1976). 73. Roskies, A B ridge o f L onging. 74. Irving Malin, and Irwin Stark, eds., Breakthrough: A Treasury o f C ontem porary A merican J ew ish L iterature (New York: M cGraw Hill, 1964). 75. W irth-Nesher, What Is J ew ish L iterature? 76. For reviews, background information, and exhibition catalogues o f Marc Chagall's artistic work with the Moscow State Yiddish Theater see Jüdisches Museum der Stadt W ien , Chagall: B ilder-T räum e Theater 1908-1920 (Vienna: Brandstätter, 1994); M arc C hagall a n d the J ew ish Theater (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1992); and Matthew Frost, “Marc Chagall and the Jewish State Chamber Theatre," Russian History 8, no. 1 - 2 (1981): 9 0 -9 9 . For analyses o f other selected productions o f the theater see M el Gordon, “Granovsky’s Tragic Comedy: N ight in the Old M arket ," D rama R ev iew 29 (W in ter 1985): 9 1 - 1 2 2 ; Picon-Vallin, Le théâtre ju if; and Altshuler, H a-teatron. 77. Yekhezkel Dobrushin, Mikhoels derak ter (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1940); Aliah Folkovitsch, Mikhoels , 1890-1948 (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1948); Matvei Geizer, Solomon Mik­ hoels (Moscow: Prometer, 1990); Iakov Grinvald, M ikhoels: kratkii kritiko-biograficheskii ocherk (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1948); Osip Liubomirskii, Mikhoels (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1938); Peretz Markish, Mikhoels (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1939); Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels, M on p ère Salomon Mikhoels: souvenirs sur sa v ie et sur sa m ort , trans. Erwin Spatz (M on­ tricher, Switzerland: Les Editions Noir sur Blanc, 1990); M . Zagorskii, Mikhoels (Moscow: Kinopechat, 1927). 78. Yerushalmi, Zakhor, 36. 79. James, S oviet Socialist Realism. 80. For more on resistance see Kritika: Explorations in Russian a n d Eurasian H istory , New Series 1, no. 1 (W inter 2000).

1. “Let’s Perform a Miracle” 1. For more on the history o f the Jewish Sections see Zvi Y. Gitelman, Jew ish N ationality a n d S oviet Politics: The Jew ish Sections o f the CPSU \ 1917-1930 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972). 2. Nora Levin, The J ew s in the S oviet Union since 1917: Paradox o f S u rviva l (New York: I. B. Taurus, 1990), 47. 3. For more on the reform o f the Yiddish language see Gennady Estraikh, S oviet Yiddish: L anguage P lanning an d L inguistic D evelopm ent (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999).


Notes to pages 2 1 - 2 5

For a discussion o f the rationale behind Soviet national linguistic reform in general see Yuri Slezkine, “The U SSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism,” Slavic R eview 53, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 4 3 0 -3 2 . 4. For a discussion o f German symbolism and theater see Peter Jelavich, M unich and Theatrical M odernism: Politics, P layw riting and Performance, 1890-1914 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985), 2 -3 . 5. Viacheslav Ivanov, Rodnoe i vselenskoe (Moscow: Respublika, 1994), 2 6 -5 1 . 6. A . V. Lunacharskii, O teatre i dram aturgii (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1958), 129. 7. Moshe Litvakov, F ünfy o r me/ukhisher yidisher kunst tea ter, 1921-1925 (Moscow: Shul un bukh, 1924), 21. See also his “Der tsushtand un di oyfgabz fun der sovetish yidisher literatur," Literarishe bleter, January 1 3 ,1 9 2 8 , 3 7 -3 9 ; and Moshe Katz, “Di vegn fun dem yidishn teater,” Baginen (1919): 69. 8. Lunacharskii, O teatre i dramaturgii, 12 7 -5 0 . 9. Leon Trotsky, Literature and R evolution (Ann Arbor: University o f Michigan Press, 1960), 237. 10. Abram Efros, “Evreiskii teatr,” Teatr i muzyka 9 (November 2 8 ,19 2 2 ): 1 1 0 -1 1 . 11. Solomon Mikhoels, “Mikhoels-Vovsi vegn dem teatr,” Literarishe bleter 17 (April 2 7 ,19 2 8 ): 3 18 -2 0 . 12. Marc Chagall, M y Life (New York: Orion Press, 1960), 159. 13. See especially, D. Burliuk, Aleksandr Kruchenykh, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Viktor Khlebnikov, “Poshchechina obshchestvennomu vkusu,” in Vladimir Mayakovsky, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Moscow: Gosvdarstvennoe izdatelstvo khudozhestvennoi literatury, 1955), 244. The most comprehensive monograph on the Futurists is Vladimir Mar­ kov, Russian Futurism: A History (Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1968). For a more specific analysis o f Futurist eschatologies, see Michel Aucouturier, “Le Futurisme Russe ou l’art comme utopie,” R evue des études slaves 56, no. 1 (1984): 5 1-6 0 . For discussion o f the various forms o f iconoclasm in the Russian Revolution, see Richard Stites, “Icono­ clastic Currents in the Russian Revolution: Destroying and Preserving the Past,” in Abbott Gleason, Peter Kenez, and Richard Stites, eds., Bolshevik Culture: Experiment an d Order in the Russian Revolution (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), 1-2 4 . For a discus­ sion o f pre-revolutionary hooliganism as iconoclasm, see Joan Neuberger, Hooliganism: Crime Culture and Power in St. Petersburg, 1900-1914 (Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1983). 14. GTsTM, f. 584, d. 4 (goals o f Jewish Theater Society). 15. For a general discussion o f god-building, see Richard Stites, R evolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (New York: Oxford Univer­ sity Press, 1989), 37-4 6. 16. See Zylbercwaig, “Iz dos yidishe teater gegrindet in Berditshev, Iosi, gor in Konstantinopol?”Li/^rtfrij^^/e/^r8 (February 2 4 ,19 2 8 ): 14 9 -5 0 ; L. Dushman,“Iz dos yidishe teater gegrindet in Varshe?” Literarishe bleter 13 (March 3 0 ,19 2 8 ): 269. 17. For more on the early history o f Yiddish theater see Nahma Sandrow, Vagabond Stars: A World History ofYiddish Theater (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 1 - 1 3 1 ; Lulla Adler Rosenfeld, The Yiddish Theatre and Jacob P. Adler (1977; reprint, New York: Shapolsky Publishers, 1988); B. Goren, Di geshikhte fu n yidishn teater (New York: Max N. Mayzcl, 1923); and Hershel Zohn, The Story ofY iddish Theater (Las Cruces: Yucca Tree Press, 1979). 18. See for example Voskhod20, nos. 1 7 ,3 6 ,6 1 ,9 3 (1900); 22, nos. 4 5 -4 8 (1902); and Budushchnost 12, no. 28 (1900); 13, no. 12 (1901); and 14, no. 32 (1902). 19. Voskhod 20, no. 93 (1900): 14.


Notes to pages 2 5 - 3 1

20. Voskhod 20, no. 17 (1900): 18. 2 1. Budusbcbnost 13, no. 12 (1901). 22. Iulii Engel, “Evreiskaia truppa v Berline,” Voskhod 20, no. 61 (1900): 30 -3 2 . See also R. Brainin, “Evreiskii teatr v Berline,” Budusbcbnost 12, no. 28 (1900). 23. M . Sukennikov, “Lembergskaia dramaturgiia,” Voskhod22, no. 45 (1902): 36; See also Voskhod 22, nos.47-48 (1902). 24. Teatr i iskusstvo 1905 no. 1; Teatralnaia Rossiia 1905 no. 1. 25. Cited in Nakhum Oyslender, Idisbe teater, 18 8 7 -19 17 (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1940), 59. 26. Ibid., 58. 27. For some recent work on Habima in Russia see Vladislav Ivanov, “Poetika metamorfoz: Vakhtangov i Gabima,” Voprosy teatra 13 (1993): 18 8 -2 2 2 ; Vladislav Ivanov, “Teatr Gabima v Moskve: na vesakh lova,” Z nam ia 12 (1995): 16 8 -9 2 ; and Zippora ShehoriRubin, “Habimah in Russia: Theater with a National-Zionist Mission, 1 9 1 8 -1 9 2 6 ,” S bvut: Studies in Russian a n d East European J ew ish H istory an d Culture 6, no. 22 (1997): 7 9 103. 28. Raikin Ben-Ari, H abima (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1957), 1 5 -1 6 . 29. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 530 (protocols o f the dramatic section o f the Jewish Theater Society, 1 9 1 6 -1 9 1 8 ), 1.1. 30. For more on Jewish organic work in early twentieth-century Russia, see Christoph Gassenschmidt, J ew ish L iberal Politics in Tsarist Russia , 19 0 0 -19 14 : The M odernization o f Russian J e w r y (New York: New York University Press, 1995). 31. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 529 (founding principles o f Jewish Theater Society, 1916), 11.1-5. 32. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 5 3 0 ,1 .1 . 33. Ibid., 11.17 -2 1. 34. Ibid., 1.27. 35. Ibid., 1.46. 36. Ibid., 1.47. 37. Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels, M on p ère Salomon Mikhoels: souvenirs sur sa v ie et sur sa m ort , trans. Erwin Spatz (Montricher, Switzerland: Les Editions Noir sur Blanc, 1990), 39. 38. GTsTM , f. 584, d. 7 (list o f Granovsky’s work, 19 2 0 -19 3 0 ). 39. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 5 3 0 ,1.4 8 . 40. Ibid., 1.49. 41. GARF, f. 2306, op. 24, d. 5 1 0 (correspondence between Collegium o f National Minorities and Theatrical Section o f Commissariat o f Enlightenment, October 1 9 1 8 M ay 1919), 11. 3 -4 . 42. Ibid., 11. 5 ,1 0 . 43. Ibid., 11.3 -11. 44. Ibid., 1.35. 45. For an explanation o f this process in general, see Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Commis­ sa riat o f E nlightenm ent (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 13 9 -6 1. 46. Béatrice Picon-Vallin, Le th éâ treju ifso viétiq u e pen d a n t les années v in g t (Lausanne: Editions la cité, 1973), 53. 47. The Jewish Section was, in fact, directly subordinate to the Communist Party, not the Commissariat o f Jewish Affairs. The Commissariat was an organ o f the state while the Section was an organ o f the party. 48. Sandrow, Vagabond Stars, 226.


Notes to pages 3 1 - 3 8

49. Nakhman Mayzel, Dos Yiddisbe shafn un d er yid isb er sbrayber in S ovetnfarband (New York: Yidisher Kultur Farband, 1959), 38. 50. For Proletkult, see Lynn Mally, Culture o f the Future: The Proletkult M ovem en t in R evolutionary Russia (Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1990). For T R A M , see Lynn Mally, “The Rise and Fall o f the Soviet Youth Theater TRAM ," S lavic R ev iew 51, no. 3 (Fall 1992): 4 1 1 -3 0 . 51. Irina Avanesian, “Master," Teatralnaia zhizn 10 (May 1990): 17. 52. Mally, “The Soviet Youth Theater Tram," 415. 53. Osip Liubomirskii, Mikhoels (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1938), 8. 54. Efim Mikhailovich Vovsi,“Vospominaniia," IGTAM , uncatalogued manuscript, 3. 55. Ibid., 19 -2 0 . 56. GTsTM, f. 584, d. 128 (autobiography o f Solomon Mikhoels). 57. Efim Vovsi, 5. 58. GTsTM , f. 584, dd. 1 2 9 -1 3 2 (contract o f E. B. Abramovich). 59. GTsTM , f. 584, d. 129. 60. R G ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 436 (posters, 19 1 9 -19 2 3 ). 61. Ibid.; Avanesian, “Master," 17. 62. GTsTM, f. 584, d. 51 (Stroitel, a play by Solomon Mikhoels). 63. Rosenfeld, The Yiddish Theatre, 101. See also, Dalia Kaufmann, “Uriel Acosta lekarl gutzkov al ha-bimah ha-yehudit (1881-1922)," in Mordechai Altshuler, ed., Hateatron ha-Yehudi bi-Verit ha-Moatsot (Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1996), 2 0 5 24. 64. CAHJP, P 166, t. 2 (unpublished anonymous review o f Uriel Acosta). 65. GTsTM , f. 584, d. 77 (program for concert performance, Moscow 1920). 66. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 11 (letter from Vitebsk Bund on visit o f Jewish theater, August 2 6 ,1 9 1 9 ). 67. Abram Efros, “Khudozhniki teatra Granovskogo," in Felix Dektor and Roman Spektor, eds., Kovcheg: almanakh evreiskoi kultury (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura; Jerusalem: Tarbut, 1991), 226. 68. Abram Efros, K a m em yi teatr i ego khudozhniki, 1914-1934 (Moscow: Nauka, 1996), xvi. 69. GTsTM , f. 584, d. 1 (Granovsky’s manuscripts). 70. Vovsi-Mikhoels, M on p ère Salomon Mikhoels, 28. 71. GTsTM, f. 584, d. 1. 72. Ibid., 1.2. 73. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 15 (correspondence between Granovsky and Narkompros, 1 9 2 1 -19 2 8 ), 1 1.114 -15 . 74. A later call for auditions outlining the requirements can be found in “Tsum oyfnom in melukhishin yidishn teatcr tekhnikum," D er ernes, September 2 3 ,1 9 2 3 . 75. GTsTM, f. 584, d. 127 (autobiography o f Benjamin Zuskin). 76. Efros, “Khudozhniki," 223. 77. Cited in Ruth Apter-Gabricl, ed., Tradition a n d R evolution: The Jew ish Renais­ sance in Russian A vant-G arde Art, 1912-1928 (Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 1988), 148. 78. Abram Efros, Iskusstvo Marka Shagala (Moscow: Gelikon, 1918). 79. J. Douglas Clayton, P ierrot in P etrograd: The Commedia D ellA rte/Balagan in Twen­ tieth -C en tu ry Russian Theatre a n d D rama (Montreal and Kingston: M cG ill-Q ueens Uni­ versity Press, 1993), 235. 80. For an analysis o f the role o f carnival in the Moscow State Yiddish Theater sec Picon-Vallin, Le théâtre ju if, 126 -3 7 . 288

Notes to pages 3 8 -4 6

81. Solomon Mikhoels, Statt , besedi , recht (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1981), 152. 82. Maksim Gorkii, “M Gorkii— Sholom Aleikhemu," in U. A . Guralnik, cd., Sholom Aleikhem. P isatel i chelovek (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel, 1984), 8. 83. A . V. Lunacharskii, “Genii smekha i pevets bednoty," in ibid., 37. 84. For an English translation sec M arc Chagall a n d the J ew ish T heater (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1992), 16 4 -7 1 . 85. M . Zagorskii, Mikhoels (Moscow: Kinopechat, 1927), 14. 86. A. Colin W right, “‘Superfluous People’ in the Soviet Drama o f the 1920s," Cana­ dia n S lavonic Papers 30, no. 1 (March 1988): 2. 87. Zagorskii, M ikhoels , 11. 88. Rudnitsky, Russian a n d S oviet T heater 1905-1932, 4 4 -4 5 . 89. Jüdisches Museum der Stadt W ien, Chagall: B ilder-T râum e T heater 1908-1920: Jüdisches M useum d er Stadt Wien (Vienna: Brandstätter, 1994); M arc Chagall a n d th eJew ish

Theater. 90. See, for example, E. Iantarev, “Vecher Sholom Aleikhema," Teatr i muzyka 11 (December 1 2 ,1 9 2 2 ): 236. 91. Efros, “Khudozhniki," 227. 92. See David S. Lifson, The Yiddish Theatre in A merica (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1965), 92. 93. “Drama vertepa," Svoboda i ra ven stvo 22 (April 12 ,19 0 7 ): 2 2 -2 4 . 94. Efros, “Khudozhniki," 2 32-33. 95. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 52 (correspondence between Jewish Section and Narkompros regarding Habima, July 1920-M arch 1921), 1.15. 96. Ibid., 1.16. 97. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 60 (correspondence between Jewish Section and Moscow State Yiddish Theater, September 1920-D ecem ber 1925), 1.1. 98. Ibid., 1. 8. 99. Ibid., 1.15. 100. Ibid., 1.19. 101. Ibid., 1.18. 102. Ibid., 1.17 . 103. GARF, f. 2306, op. 1, d. 1232 (petition to Sovnarkom to include Jewish theater among state academic theaters), 1.1. 104. Zagorskii, Mikhoels , 21. 105. James von Geldern, Bolshevik F estivals , 1917-1920 (Berkeley: University o f C ali­ fornia Press, 1993), 9 3 -1 0 2 . 106. Boris Ignatevich Arbatov, Natan Altman (Berlin: Petropolis, 1924). 107. Daniel Reznik, “Natan Altman," Di r o y tev elt 15 (October 1925): 1 1 5 -2 1 . 108. Abram Efros, P ortret Natana A ltmana (Moscow: Shipovnik, 1922), 40. 109. Efros, “Khudozhniki," 240. 110 . Efros, K am ernyi teatr, ix. 1 1 1 . Ibid., xxviii. 112 . R GALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 459 (librettos); RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, dd. 2 9 9 -3 0 0 ( The

Sorceress). 113 . Yekhezkel Dobrushin, “Teater un kunst: Goldfadn in yidishn kamer teater," D er

ernes, December 2 ,1 9 2 2 . 114 . Solomon Mikhoels, “Goldfaden i evreiskii kamernyi teatr," Zre/isha (October 17, 1922). 115 . Yekhezkel Dobrushin, “Dray datn," D i royte v elt 4 (April 1926): 9 1-9 4 .


Notes to pages 4 6 -5 5

116. Rosenfeld, The Yiddish Theatre , 217. 117. Mikaelo, “Evreiskii kamernyi teatr Koldunia” Teatr i muzyka 11 (December 12, 1922): 2 3 4-35. 118. A . Kushnirov, Zrelishcha 17 (1922); See also M . Bleiman, “Kolduniia,” L enin gradskaia pra vd a (August 2 2 ,19 2 6 ); Andrei Sobol, “Novyi den evreiskogo teatra,” Teatr i muzyka 12 (December 19 ,19 2 2 ): 297 -9 9 . 119. “Di oyslandishe teater-kritik vegn dem melukhishn yidishn teater,” D er emes , January 8 ,1 9 2 7 . 120. Yekhezkel Dobrushin, “Teater un kunst,” D er emes, January 2 1 ,1 9 2 3 . 121. uDer 4-tn yortog (un melukhishn yidishn kamer teater,” D er emes, January 24, 1923. 122. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 439 (foreign-language librettos, 19 2 2 -19 4 4 ); RGALI, f. 2307, op.2, dd. 3 0 2 -3 0 3 (T w o H undred Thousand ). 123. GTsTM , f. 580, d. 545 (biography o f I. B. Rabichev). 124. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 98,11. 7 -2 3 (biographical information on Lev Pulver). 125. N SA, uncatalogued recording. 126. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 6 0 ,1.4 0 . 127. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 12 (list o f theater employees), 1.16. 128. R GALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 26 (material regarding conflict between trade union and Moscow State Yiddish Theater, 19 2 6 -19 2 9 ), 1.16. 129. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 6 0 ,1.4 2 . 130. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 176 (T hree R a isin g ), 11.24-28. 131. Em. Beskin, “Tri iziuminki,” N ovyi z ritel 15 (1924); See also A . Gvozdev, “3 iziom inki-10ia zapoved,” Krasnaia gaz eta 23 (August 1926). 132. R. D .,“Tri iziuminki v evreiskom kamernom,” Izvestiia, April 8 ,1 9 2 4 . 1 3 3 .I. T , “Evreiskii kamemyi teatr,” Pravda, April 3 ,1 9 2 4 . 134. “Brambilla na bronnoi,” Pravda, February 1 4 ,1 9 2 3 . See also “200,000,” Izvestiia, October 8 ,1 9 2 3 . 135. Sandrow, Vagabond Stars, 238. 136. M el Gordon, “Granovsky’s Tragic Comedy: N ight in the Old M arket ,” Drama R ev iew 29 (W inter 1985): 92. 137. James de Coquet, “200,000, comédie musicale interprétée par le théâtre aca­ démique ju if de Moscou,” L efigaro [Paris], January 1 3 ,1 9 2 8 . 138. G\xt\xmn, Jew ish N ationality, 382. 139. Peter Kenez, The Birth o f the P ropaganda State : S oviet M ethods o f M ass M obiliza­ tion, 1917-1929 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 254. 140. Louis Lozowick,“Russia’s Jewish Theatres,” Theatre Arts M onthly XI (June 1927): 4 1 9 -2 2 .

2. Comrades from the Center 1. Richard Stites, Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Lynne Mally, Culture o f the Future: The Proletkult Movement in Revolutionary Russia (Berkeley: University o f Califor­ nia Press, 1990); W illiam G. Rosenberg, Bolshevik Visions: First Phase o f the Cultural Revo­ lution in Bolshevik Russia (Ann Arbor: University o f Michigan Press, 1984); James von Geldern, Bolshevik Festivals, 1917-1920 (Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1993). 2. Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (Ann Arbor: University o f Michigan Press, 1960), 5 6 -1 1 5 .


Notes to pages 5 5 -6 2

3. Ibid., 22 1. 4. M artin Malia, The S oviet T ragedy (New York: Free Press, 1994), 233. 5. Zvi Gitelman, Jew ish N ationality a n d S oviet P olitics (Princeton: Princeton Univer­ sity Press, 1972), 3 2 4 -2 5 . 6. Ibid., 330. 7. GTsTM , f. 584, d. 142 (protocols o f Society for Friends o f the State Yiddish Theater, December 2 2 ,19 2 6 ). 8. Teatr i m u z yia 35 (October 9 ,19 2 3 ): 1 1 1 9 . 9. Teatr i m u z yia 8 (April 17 ,19 2 3 ): 721. For the most comprehensive study o f these theaters see Mordechai Altshuler, ed., H a-teatron ba-Y ebudi bi-Verit ba-M oatsot (Jerusa­ lem: Hebrew University Press, 1996). 10. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 15 (correspondence between Narkompros and G ra­ novsky, 1 9 2 1 -1 9 2 8 ), U. 1 6 ,1 8 . 11. Ibid., 1.25. 12. Ibid., 1.26. 13. Ibid., 11.37-38. 14. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 438 (posters from tours, 1 9 2 1 -19 2 4 ). 15. Ibid. 16. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 60 (correspondence between Jewish Section and Moscow State Yiddish Theater, September 1920-D ecem ber 1925), 1 1 .2 4 -2 5 ,5 7 -5 8 ,8 2 . 17. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 12 (list o f theater employees, 19 2 0 -19 3 7 ), 1.15 . 18. G ARF, f. 406, op. 12, d. 1460 (financial plans for state theaters for 19 2 5 -19 2 6 season), 1.37. 19. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 6 0 ,1 .3 1 -3 3 . 20. G ARF, f. 259, op. 8b, d. 12 (protocols o f Sovnarkom RSFSR, September 19, 1924-O ctober 7 ,19 2 4 ), 11.1-3. 2 1. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 52 (correspondence between Jewish Section and Narkompros regarding Habima, July 1920-M arch 1921), 1.9. 22. Ibid., 1.4. 23. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 60,11. 52-5 4. 24. Ibid., U. 4 5 -4 6 . 25. The Union o f Artists was composed primarily o f non-artistic workers from the former municipal and private theaters. See Richard G . Thorpe, “The Academic Theater and the Fate o f Soviet Artistic Pluralism, 1 9 1 9 -1 9 2 8 ,” S lavic R ev iew 5 1, no. 3 (Fall 1992): 4 0 5 -4 0 6 . 26. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 6 0 ,1 .1 6 0 . 27. Ibid., 1.162. 28. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 26 (material regarding conflict between trade union and Moscow State Yiddish Theater, 19 2 6 -19 2 9 ), 11.14 -18 . 29. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 183 (correspondence from Jewish Section regarding Jewish theater, 19 2 6 -19 2 7 ), 1.65. 30. Thorpe, “The Academic Theater,” 398 -9 9 . 3 1. For recent evaluations o f this play see M el Gordon, “Granovsky’s Tragic Comedy: N igbt in the O ld Market ,” D rama R ev iew 29 (W inter 1985): 9 1 - 1 2 2 ; and Khone Shmeruk, “Be-lailah ba-shuk ha-yashen me-at Y. L. Peretz be-teatron ha-yehudi be-Moskvah,” in Altshuler, H a-teatron, 2 3 9 -5 3 . 32. “In melukhishn yidishn kamer-teater,” D er ernes, December 1 8 ,1 9 2 3 . 33. Gordon, “Granovsky s Tragic Comedy,” D rama R ev iew 29 (W in ter 1985): 9 2 -9 4 . 34. Osip Liubomirskii, M ikhoels (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1938), 101.


Notes to pages 6 2 - 7 0

35. Abram Efros, “Khudozhniki teatra Granovskogo," in Felix Dektor and Roman Spektor, eds., K ovcheg: Almanakh evreisk oi kultury (Moscow: Khudozhstvennaia literatura; Jerusalem: Tarbut, 1991), 238. 36. R A. Markov, “Noch na starom rynke v evreiskom teatre,” Pravda, February 13 and 14 ,19 2 5 ). 37. Er., “Noch na starom rynke," Izvestiia, February 1 3 ,1 9 2 5 . 38. V. B., “Noch na starom rynke," K rasnaiagazeta (Leningrad), September 11,19 2 5 . 39. Simon Dreiden, “Noch na starom rynke,” L eningradsk aiapravda , December 12, 1926; “Noch na starom rynke,” N ovyi z ritel 50 (1924); Em. Beskin, “Dosadnaia opechatka," Vecberniaia Moskva, Feburary 1 1 ,1 9 2 5 . 40. Dreiden, “Noch na starom rynke.” 41. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 3 (Lunacharskii on awarding Granovsky honorary tide, February 1926). 42. Denise J. Youngblood, S oviet Cinema in the Silent Era, 19 18 -19 3 5 (1980; reprint, Austin: University ofTexas Press, 1991), 2 4 0 -4 1 . 43. J. Hoberman, B ridge o f Light: Yiddish Film b etw een Two Worlds (New York: Mu­ seum o f Modern A rt, 1991), 92. Incidentally, the honor was shared with Habima, which had been invited to appear in a film adaptation o f Sholem Aleichems The D eluge. However, facing more pressing problems, Habima declined the offer. 44. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 15 ,1 .6 7 . 45. Hoberman, B ridge o f Light, 191. 46. Viktor Shklovskii, review o f Evreiskoe Schaste, reprinted in Iskusstvo K ino 5 (1992) 35-3 6 . 47. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 2 6 1 1 .1 - 2 . 48. Ibid., 1.1. 49. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 6 0 ,1 .1 5 7 . 50. Ibid., 1.68. 51. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 1 5 ,1 .1 1 6 . 52. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 2 6 ,1 1 .1 -2 . 53. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 6 0 ,1 .1 8 0 . Shteiger was arrested in 1937 and pre­ sumed shot. 54. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 1 5 ,1 .6 2 .; RTsKhIDNI, f. 455, op. 1, d. 6 0 ,1 .1 3 7 . 55. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 60,1. 70. 56. G ARF, f. 406, op. 12, d. 1 4 6 0 ,1.9 . 57. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 6 0 ,1 .9 1 . 58. Ibid., 11. 77-7 8. 59. Thorpe, “The Academic Theater," 396-97. 60. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 6 0 ,1 .1 7 3 ; See also Ibid., 1 1.13 9 ,14 7 . 61. Ibid., 1.172. 62. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 1 8 3 ,1 .1 3 6 . 63. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 6 0 ,1 .1 7 8 . 64. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 1 5 ,1 1 .1 3 4 -3 5 . 65. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 1 8 3 ,1.9 3 . 66. Ibid., U. 9 4 -9 5 . 67. Ibid., 1.102. 68. Ibid., 11.97-98. 69. Ibid., 1.10. 70. Ibid., 11.2-4. 71. Ibid., 1.5.


Notes to pages 7 0 -7 5

72. Ibid., 1.9. 73. Ibid., U. 1 2 -1 3 . 74. Ibid., 1.14 ; G ARF, f. 406, op. 12, d. 1 4 6 0 ,1.9 8 . 75. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 1 8 3 ,1 .1 8 . 76. Ibid., 1.24. 77. Ibid., 1.55. 78. Ibid., 11.60-61. 79. Ibid., 1.62. 80. Ibid., 1.64. 81. G itelm an,/fw «6 N ationality a n d S oviet Politics , 382. 82. A. Vaynshtayn, “Fraynt funm mclukhishn yidishn teater,” D er ernes, December 16, 1926. 83. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 183,11. 72-7 4. 84. Ibid., 1.75. 85. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 2 6 ,1 .4 . 86. Ibid., 1.5. 87. Ibid., 1.8. 88. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 183, U. 1 0 8 ,1 1 5 . 89. Ibid., 1.47. 90. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 2 6 ,11.6 -7 . 91. Ibid., U. 1 4 -1 8 . 92. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 18 3 ,1.4 3 . 93. Ibid., 1.46. 94. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 2 6 ,1 .1 3 . 95. Michael David-Fox, R evolution o f the M ind: H igher L earning am ong th e Bolsheviks, 1918-1929 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997); Mally, Culture o f the Future, 24 3 -4 5 . 96. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 177 ( Tenth C om m andm ent), 1.28. The Second Interna­ tional was regarded by Lenin as a hotbed o f nationalism and syndicalism. It equated the German Social Democratic supporters o f the Second International with both the religious and the nouveaux riche Jews o f contemporary Europe. 97. Ibid., 1. 7. 98. Ibid. 99. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 1 8 3 ,1 .1 4 2 . 100. G . Ryldin, “Desiataia zapoved," Izvestiia, January 2 6 ,1 9 2 6 . 10 1. A . Tsenovskii, “Desiataia zapoved," Trud, January 2 1 ,1 9 2 6 . 102. S. Margolin, “Desiataia zapoved,” Vechermaia Moskva, January 2 9 ,1 9 2 6 ; M . Bleiman, “Desiataia zapoved, “ Leningradskaia pravda, August 2 4 ,1 9 2 6 . 103. Boris Gusman, “Desiataia zapoved,” P ravda (February 16 ,19 2 6 ). 104. A. Gvozdev, “3 Iziuminki-10ia zapoved," Krasnaia gazeta, August 2 3 ,1 9 2 6 . 105. Moshe Litvakov, “Truadek," D er ernes (February 5 ,19 2 7 ). 106. Moshe Litvakov, “In moskver melukhishn yidishn teater dos tsente gebot," D er ernes (February 3 ,19 2 6 ). 107. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 126 (137 Childrens Homes), 1. 71. 108. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 183, 1. 142; Kh. Tokar, “Tovarishch iz tsentra," P ravda, July 2 ,1 9 2 6 . 109. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 1 8 3 ,1 .1 4 2 . 110 . M. Zagorskii, “137 detskikh domov v Gosete," N ovyi z ritel 40 (October 5, 1926): 4. 1 1 1 . P. M. “137 detskikh domov,” Pravda, October 9 ,1 9 2 6 .


Notes to pages 7 5 -8 3

112 . G . Ryklin, “Sto tridtsat scm detslcikh domov,” Izvestiia * October 2 ,1 9 2 6 . 113. See also A . Gvozdev, “137 detskikh domov,” Krasnaia gaz eta (Leningrad), Aug­ ust 26, 1926; Mikaelo, “137 detskikh domov," Vechemiaia Moskva* October 1 ,1 9 2 6 ; M. Bleiman, “137 detskikh domov,” Leningradskaiapravda* August 2 7 ,1 9 2 6 . 114 . Moshe Litvakov, “Vegn tsvey oyfirungen,” D er ernes* December 4 ,1 9 2 7 . 115. “Khronika,” N ovyi zritel AS (November 3 0 ,19 2 6 ): 17. 116. IG TAM , G l (Goset collection). 117. GTsTM, f. 584 ( Trouhadec libretto), d. 55. 118. “Truadek,” Kharkov vesti * August 1 7 ,1 9 2 7 ; M . Sheliubskii, “Truadek," Kievskii pro/etarii * August 27, 1927; “Truadek v gosudarstvennom evreiskom teatre,” Prozhektor* February 1 5 ,1 9 2 7 ; V. A . Pavlov, “Sobesedovanie o Truadeke,” Vechemiaia Moskva* January 2 7 ,1 9 2 7 ; G. Ryklin, “Truadek,” Izvestiia *January 1 6 ,1 9 2 7 ; N. Volkov, “Truadek,” Trud* January 14, 1927; A. Tsenovskii, “O muzyke Truadek,” Trud* January 14, 1927; Milch. Levidov, “Spektakli teatralnoi kultury,” Vecherniaia Moskva* January 13 ,1 9 2 7 . 119. Mikhail Koltsov, “Truadek v Goset,” P ravda * February 1 7 ,1 9 2 7 . 120. M. Zagorskii, “Truadek v gosete,” N ovyi z ritel 1 (1927). 121. K. N., “Sobesedovanie o Truadeke,” Vecherniaia Moskva* January 2 7 ,1 9 2 7 . 122. Moshe Litvakov, “Truadek,” D er ernes* February 5 ,1 9 2 7 . 123. Béatrice Picon-Vallin, Le th éâ treju ifso viétiq u e p en d an t les années v in g t (Lausanne: Editions la cité, 1973), 147. 124. R GALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 450. An English translation o f Mendele s short story is available in S. Y. Abramovitsh, Tales o f M endele the Book P eddler: Fishke the Lame an d Ben ja m in the Third* ed. Dan Miron and Ken Frieden, trans. Ted Gorelick and Hillel Halkin (New York: Schocken Books, 1996), 2 9 7 -3 9 1. 125. Konstantin Rudnitsky, Russian a n d S oviet T heater 1905-1932 (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988), 195. 126. Grinvald, Mikhoels * 42. 127. A. Tsenovskii, “Veniamin Tretii,” Trud* May 7, 1927; See also G . Ryklin, “Puteshestvie Veniamina Tretego,” Izvestiia * M ay 4, 1927; Iak. Eidelman, “Puteshetvie Veniamina Tretego,” Komsomolskaia pravda* M ay 7, 1927; Em. Beskin, “Don-Kikhot iz Tuneiadovki,” Vecherniaia M oskva *April 2 7 ,19 2 7 . For slightly less enthusiastic reviews see la. M ., “Puteshestvie Veniamina Tretego,” L iteraturnaia gazeta* M ay 1 ,1 9 2 7 . 128. A. S. Lirik, “Izrael shpielt mit zayn shaten,” H aynt * May 2 4 ,1 9 2 8 . 129. These figures are given in a report the theater submitted to the Jewish Section. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, d. 18 3 ,1.14 1. Considerably higher attendance figures (57,000 for the season) were reported in D er ernes* May 2 6 ,1 9 2 7 . 130. N ovyi z ritel AS (October 1927): 21. 131. Moshe Goldblatt,“Der ufkum un umkum fun der yidisher teater-kultur in Sovetnfarband,” DRI, P -5 1-2 1 (Goldblatt papers), 103. 132. A. G idion,“Kolonialnye postanovki,” S ovrem ennyi teatr 15 (December 13,1927): 22 8 -3 0 . 133. Moshe Litvakov, “Tzvey oyfirungen,” D er ernes* December 7 ,1 9 2 7 . 134. A .T s.,“Vosstanie,” Trud* November 18 ,19 2 7 ; A . Z .,“V osstznie" Pravda* Decem­ ber 1 4 ,1 9 2 7 ; Ian. Roshchin, “Vosstanie,” Komsomolskaia pravda* November 1 8 ,1 9 2 7 ; Iv. Astrov, “Vosstanie,” N ovyi zritel 3 (1928). 135. Em. Beskin, “Vosstanie v Gosete,” Vecherniaia Moskva* December 4 ,1 9 2 7 . 136. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 2 6 ,11.2 8 -2 9 . 137. Ibid., 11. 30-3 2. 138. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 1 2 ,1 .1 7 .


Notes to pages 8 3 - 9 0

139. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 26, U. 3 0 -3 2 . 140. Ibid., U. 2 4 -2 7 . 14 1. R G A U , f. 2307, op. 2, d. 1 2 ,1 .2 5 . 142. R G A U , f. 2307, op. 2, d. 2 6 ,1 .3 4 . 143. Ibid., U. 3 7 ,4 8 . 144. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2. d. 45 (Imenitova’s legal suit). 145. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 2 6 ,1 .4 9 . 146. Ibid., 1.57. 147. Goldblatt, “Der ufkum,” 105. 148. Volosova, “Mnogo uslovnogo,” unidentified newspaper clipping in IG TAM G l. 149. Cited in Max Erlik, “Menakhem-M endl,” D er shtern 5 -6 (1935): 18 0 -2 0 2 ; 8 (1935): 8 2 -9 0 . 150. Liubomirskii, Mikhoels, 44. 1 5 1 . 1. Kruti, “Chelovek vozdukha,” S ovrem ennyi tea tr (15) 1928. 1 5 2 .0 . Litovskii, “Chelovek vozdukha,” Pravda, April 3 ,19 2 8 . For similar reviews see A . Tsenovskii, “Chelovek vozdukha,” Trud, March 3 1 ,1 9 2 8 ; D. Bukhartsev, “Na novuiu stupen,” Komsomolskaia pravda, March 2 3 ,1 9 2 8 . 153. G . Ryklin,“Chelovek vozdukha,” Izvestiia, March 1 0 ,19 2 8 . See also U riel,“Chel­ ovek vozdukha v Gosete,” Vecberniaia Moskva, March 2 6 ,1 9 2 8 . 154. Sh. Shamis, “Mikhoels— Menakhem Mendel,” D er ernes, July 1 2 ,1 9 2 9 . 155. E. H. Carr, Socialism in One Country, 1924-1926 (London: Macmillan, 1965), 2: 7 6 -8 7 ; E. H. Carr, Foundations o f a P lan ned Economy, 1926-1929 (London: Macmillan, 1971), 2 :3 9 9 -4 1 8 . 156. Sheila Fitzpatrick, Alexander Rabinowitch, and Richard Stites, eds., Russia in the Era o f NEP: Explorations in S oviet Society a n d Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991). 157. Michael S. Fox, “Glavlit, Censorship and the Problem o f Party Policy in Cultural Affairs, 1922-28," S oviet Studies 44, no. 6 (1992): 1 0 4 9 -10 5 0 . See also Roger Pethybridge, “Concern for Bolshevik Ideological Predominance at the Start o f NEP,” Russian R ev iew 44, no. 4 (1982): 44 5 -5 3 . 158. TsGAO R Ukr, F. 166, op. 6, d. 8233 (repertoire o f Jewish theater). 159. Gitelm an, J ew ish N ationality a n d S oviet Politics, 14 1 -4 8 .

3. Wandering Stars 1. P. A . Markov, The S oviet Theatre (London: V Gollancz, 1934), 19. 2. Teatr i muzyka 35 (October 9 ,19 2 3 ), 1160. 3. Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels, M on p ère Salomon M ikhoels: souvenirs sur sa v ie et sur sa mort, trans. Erwin Spatz (Montricher, Switzerland: Les Editions Noir sur Blanc, 1990), 39. 4. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 15 (correspondence between Narkompros and G ra­ novsky, 1 9 2 1 -19 2 8 ), U. 3 7 -3 8 . 5. Ibid., 1 1 .6 ,9 ,1 0 . 6. Ibid., 11.28-30. 7. Ibid., 1.34. 8. Ibid., 1. 78. 9. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 18 (correspondence regarding foreign tour, December 1 3 , 1923-M arch 1 5 ,1 9 2 6 ), 1.115 . 10. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 1 5 ,1 .9 ; RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 1 8 ,1 .1 2 .


Notes to pages 9 0 -9 5

11. R G A U , f. 2307, op. 2, d. 18, U. 2 9 -3 2 . 12. Zalman Zilbercwaig, cd., Leksikonfitn y id ish n teater (Warsaw: Alisheve, 1934), 2: 57 2 -7 6 . 13. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 18, U. 1 2 ,2 1 - 2 2 ,2 5 - 2 8 . 14. Nahma Sandrow, Vagabond Stars: A World H istory o f Yiddish T heater (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 302. 15. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 60 (correspondence between Jewish Section and Moscow State Yiddish Theater, September 1920-D ecem ber 1925), 1.64. 16. R G A U , f. 2307, op. 2, d. 15, U. 6 5 ,7 4 . 17. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 1 8 ,1 .3 9 . 18. Ibid., 1.47. 19. Ibid., U. 6 3 -6 5 . 20. Ibid., 11.29-32. 21. Ibid., U. 10 2 -10 3 . 22. Ibid., 1.98. 23. Ibid., 11.66-71. 24. Ibid., 1 .1 1 9 . A fter returning to the Soviet Union as a journalist, Talmy became active in the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and was executed with many o f his colleagues in August 1952. 25. Ibid., 1.13 5 . 26. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 183 (correspondence from Jewish Section regarding Jewish theater, 19 2 6 -19 2 7 ), 1.67. 27. R G A U , f. 2306, op. 2, d. 27 (Granovsky’s correspondence regarding foreign tour, 19 2 6 -19 2 8 ), 11. 8 -42 . 28. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 1 5 ,1 .1 2 2 . 29. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 18 3 ,11.6 9 -7 1 . 30. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 185 (correspondence between Jewish Section and the Moscow State Yiddish Theater regarding foreign tour, February 1928-O ctober 1929),

1. 11. 31. R G A LI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 2 7 ,1 1 .1 1 7 -2 2 . 32. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 2 7 ,1 .1 6 3 . 33. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 33 (certificate from Narkompros RSFSR to Moscow State Yiddish Theater artists). 34. R G A LI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 26 (material regarding conflict between trade union and Moscow State Yiddish Theater, 19 2 6 -19 2 9 ), 1. 52. 35. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 185,1. 97. 36. Ibid. 37. Moshe Goldblatt, “Der ufkum un umkum fun deryidisher teater-kultur in sovetnfarband,” DRI, P -5 1-2 1 (Goldblatt papers), 109. 38. L iterarishe bleter 17 (April 2 7 ,19 2 8 ). 39. Goldblatt, “Der ufkum," 112. 40. Ibid., 120. 4 1. Ibid., 123. 42. Ibid., 121. 43. Alfred Kerr, “Moskauer jüdisch-akademisches Theater," B erlin er Tageblatt , April 1 2 ,1 9 2 8 . 44. Herman Swet, “Der ershter aroystreyt fun moskver yidishen learner teater in Berlin," D er m om ent (Warsaw), April 2 2 ,1 9 2 8 . 45. A . S. Lirik, “Shmuel Soroker als revoliutsioner," H aynt (Warsaw), A pril 20 ,19 2 8 .


Notes to pages 9 6 -1 0 3

46. Bernhard Diebold, “Folkstück mit gesang,” Frankfurter Z eitung, M ay 1 9 ,1 9 2 8 . 47. Goldblatt, “Der ufkum,” 129. 48. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 1 8 5 ,1 .1 0 . 49. Ibid., 1.100. 50. Ibid., 1.10 1. 51. Ibid., 1.12 52. Ibid., 1.13 . 53. Ibid., 1.99. 54. Ibid., 1.53. 55. Ibid., 1.10 1. 56. Ibid. 57. Ibid., 1.102. 58. “Moskovskie teatry gastrolnykh poezdkakh,” Pravda, June 2 6 ,1 9 2 8 . 59. Nakhman Mayzel, “M ir un di velt," Haynt, July 6 ,1 9 2 8 . 60. Chaim Weizmann, The Letters a n d Papers ofC haim Weizmann, 25 vols. (Jerusalem: Israel Universities Press, 1 9 6 8 - ), 1 3 :1 3 6 . D er ernes had also begun a campaign to discredit Weizmann’s scientific research. See p. 27. 6 1. Ibid., 160. 62. L iterarishe bleter 30 (July 2 7 ,19 2 8 ): 595. 63. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 18 5 ,1.2 0 . 64. Ibid., 1.2 1. 65. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 1 8 5 ,1 .1 0 2 . 6 6 . “Dos moskveryidishn akademishn teater in Vien,” D er mom ent, October 15 ,19 2 8 . 67. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 185, U. 5 7 -6 1 . 68. Ibid., 11.68-70. 69. Ibid. 70. Ibid., 1.7 1. 71. Ibid., 11. 4 6 -4 9 in Russian; 4 2 -4 5 in Yiddish. 72. Anatolii Lunacharskii, “Goset za granitsei,” Vechemiaia Moskva, October 6 ,19 2 8 . 73. L iterarishe bleter 42 (October 1 9 ,1 9 2 8 ): 833. 74. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 185,1. 76. 75. Ibid., 1. 75. 76. Ibid., 1.76. 77. Ibid., 1.77. 78. Ibid., 1.84. 79. Ibid., 11. 8 5-8 6. See also Aleksandr Granovsky, “Pismo v redaktsiiu,” Izvestiia, October 2 1 ,1 9 2 9 . 80. Herman Swet, “Fun Tuneiadovke keyn M onte-Karlo,” D er mom ent, October 12, 19 2 8 . 81. Literarishe bleter 44 (November 2 ,19 2 8 ): 874. 82. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 1 8 5 ,1.9 3 . 83. Ibid., 1.108. 84. Ibid., 11.95-96. 85. “The Great W orld Theatre,” T heatre Arts M onthly XIII (January 1929): 5. 86. C . Hooper Trask, “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme,” N ew York Times, March 24, 1929. 87. Nakhman Mayzel, “A. Granovski,” Haynt, March 1 9 ,1 9 3 7 . 88. Yosef Sheyn, Arum moskver yidishn teater (Paris: Commission du plan d’action culturelle, 1964), 102.


Notes to pages 1 0 5 - 1 1 3

89. Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Cultural Front: P ow er a n d Culture in R evolu tionary Russia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 1 - 1 5 ; Lewis Siegelbaum, Stakhanovism a n d the Politics o f P rod u ctivity in the USSR, 1935-1941 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); J. Arch G etty and Roberta Manning, eds., Stalinist Terror (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Hiroaki Kuromiya, Stalins Industrial R evolution: Politics a n d Work­ ers, 1928-1932 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Stephen Kotkin, M agn etic M ountain: Stalinism as a C ivilization (Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1995); David Hoffman, Peasant M etropolis: Social Iden tities in M oscow, 1929-1941 (Ithaca: C or­ nell University Press, 1994). 90. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 1 8 5 ,1 .1 3 2 . 91. Ibid., 1.133. 92. “Di efnung funm vinter sezon in moskver melukhisn idishn teater,” D er ernes , Septem berll, 1929. 93. I. Lashevich, “Evreiskii teatr i ego zritel,” unidentified newspaper clipping in IG TAM G 2 (Goset collection). 94. “Rabkory v evreiskom teatre,” (1935), unidentified journal clipping iin IGTAM G 1 (Goset collection). 95. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 12 (list o f theater employees, 19 2 0 -19 3 7 ), 11.17-18. 96. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 4 ,1 .1 . 97. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 12 (correspondence between RABIS and Goset, 1 9 2 9 1935), U. 1 7 -1 8 . 98. R GALI, f. 2308, op. 1, d. 44 (curriculum o f Moscow Jewish Theater School), 11. 1 ,4 3 -4 4 . 99. Cited in Sheyn, Arum m osk veryidishn teater, 12 0 -2 1 . 100. “Inem moskver melukhishn idishn teater,” D er ernes, August 2 2 ,1 9 2 9 . 101. Peretz Markish, Mikhoels (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1939), 24. 102. See Aharon Steinberg, “Mayn Dvinsker khaver Shlomo Mikhoels,” D i goldene kayt, 43 (1962), 14 2 -5 2 . 103. Erwin Piscator, “Dos teater fun haynt un fun morgn,” L iterarishebleter 8 (February 2 4 ,19 2 8 ): 15 3 -5 4 . 104. John W illett, The T heatre o f E rw in Piscator (New York: Holmes 8c Meier, 1979), 79. 105. “Gezegenung mitn moskver idishn melukhishn teater in Kiev,” D er ernes, M ay 30, 1928. 106. RTsKhIDNI, f. 445, op. 1, d. 1 8 5 ,1 .1 4 4 . 107. “Pismo v redaktsiiu,” Izvestiia, October 2 6 ,1 9 2 9 . 108. “Pismo v redaktsiiu,” Rabochii i iskusstvo, September 3 0 ,1 9 2 9 . 109. “V mosgubrabis,” unidentified press clipping in IG TAM G l. 110 . “Tvorcheskii mctod Goseta,” RABIS 3 (1931). 1 11 . Solomon Mikhoels, “Navstrechu novomu zriteliu,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, November 7 ,19 3 3 . See also Benjamin Zuskin, “Put evreiskogo teatra,” K om som olskaiapravda, March 3 0 ,1 9 3 9 . 112. “Vystuplenie v komitete po delam iskusstv 19 3 6 -3 7 g,” IG TAM , uncatalogued.

4. The Court Is in Session For more on Soviet censorship see Herman Ermolaev, Censorship in S oviet Litera­ ture, 1917-1991 (Lanham, Md.: Rowman 8c Littlefield, 1997); and Arien V. Blium, Za 1.


Notes to pages 1 1 3 - 1 1 8

kulisami mM inisterstva pravdy*: tainaia istoriia sovetskoi tsenzury* 1917-1929 (St. Peters­ burg: Akademicheskii proekt, 1994). 2. Norris Houghton, M oscow Rehearsals: The Golden Age o f S oviet Theatre (1936; reprint, New York: Grove Press, 1962), 81. 3. See, for instance, Richard Stites, Russian Popular Culture: E ntertainm ent a n d So­ ciety since 1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 6 4 -9 7 ; Régine Robin, Socialist R ealism : An Im possible Aesthetic* trans. Catherine Porter (1986; reprint, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992), 18 3 -9 0 ; George Lukacs, The M ean in g o f C ontem ­ p o ra ry Realism * trans. John and Necke Mander (1963; reprint, London: Merlin Press, 1979); Katerina Clark, The S oviet N ovel (Chicago: University o f Chicago Press, 1981). 4. Houghton, M oscow Rehearsals* 19 5 -9 6 . 5. Liubomirskii, “Der idisher teater in rekonstruktion period,” P rolit (Kharkov) 1 0 11 (1930): 12 7 -3 7 . Similar articles appeared in S ovietsk iiteatr9 -1 0 (1930); and N ayerd7 8 (1930). 6. See Arien V. Blium, Evreiskii vopros p o d sovetskoi tsenzuroi (St. Petersburg: St. Petersburg Jewish University, 1996), 64 -7 7 . 7. See, for instance, “Alfarbandishe baratung fun di yidishe teaters,” D er ernes* Janu­ ary 9 ,1 9 3 5 ; “Di alfarbandishe baratung di yidishe teaters,” D er ernes* January 1 2 ,1 9 3 5 . 8. Cited in Robin, Socialist Realism* 34. 9. Iakov Grinvald, M ikhoels: kratkii kritiko-biograficheskii ocherk (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1948), 47. 10. Dobrushin and Zuskin, “L. Pulver: fardinstpuler kunst tuer,” D er ernes* April 18, 1 9 3 4 ,4 . 11. Yekhezkel Dobrushin, D er gerik ht g e y t (Moscow: Tsentraler felker farlag fun FSSR , 1930),19. 12. Ibid., 32. 13. Nojach Prylucki, Yidishe Folkslider (Warsaw: Bikher far ale, 19 11); Ruth Rubin, Voices o f a People: Yiddish Folk Song (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1963). 14. For the normalization o f language see Robin, Socialist Realism* 16 5 -8 3 . 15. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 178a ( The C ourtis in Session). For a published version see Dobrushin, D er gerik ht geyt. 16. “Sud idet,” R abochii i iskusstvo* January 1 5 ,1 9 3 0 .This sentiment was echoed in a wide variety o f reviews: “Sud idet,” RABIS 49 (1929); “Sud idet,” Komsomolskaia pravda* December 1, 1929; V. Mlechin, “Sud idet v Gosete,” L iteraturnaia gaz eta (Leningrad), October 1 6 ,1 9 2 9 ; “Sud idet,” S ovrem ennyi teatr 43 (1929). 17. G . Ryklin, “Sud idet— sut prishel,” unidentified newspaper clipping in IG TAM , P26 (Sud idet). 18. “Der ershter ovnt fun der gezelshaft fraynt funm moskver melukhishn yidishn teater,” D er ernes* October 2 4 ,19 2 9 . 19. M . Zagorskii, L iteraturnaia gazeta* October 2 8 ,1 9 2 9 . For similar comments see O. Liubomriskii, “Der gerikht geyt,” D er ernes* October 1 6 ,1 9 2 9 . 20. George Lukacs, The M ean in g o f C ontem porary Realism* trans. John and Necke M ander (1963; reprint, London: M erlin Press, 1979), 94. 21. This argument was also put forward by Osip Liubomirskii, “Der idisher teater in rekonstruktion period.” P rolit (Kharkov) 1 0 - 1 1 (1930). See also Sovetskii tea tr 9 - 1 0 (1930) and N ayerd 7-S (1930). 22. Liubomirskii, “Sud idet,” N ovyi z ritel 4 (1929); see also his “Der gerikht geyt,” D er ernes* October 1 6 ,1 9 2 9 .


Notes to pages 1 1 8 - 1 2 8

23. “Sud idet," R abochii i iskusstvo , January 1 5 ,1 9 3 0 . 24. For anti-Semitism in the workplace see Nora Levin, The J ew s in the S oviet Union since 1917: Paradox o f S u rviv a l (New York: I. B. Tauris, 1990), 2 5 9 -6 5 . 25. See, for instance, Lukacs, The M ean in g o f Contem porary R ealism , 129. 26. “Di gastroln fun moskvcr melukhisn idishn teater," D er ernes, May 1 7 ,1 9 3 0 . 27. ttVi azoy zeynen durkh di gastroln fun vaysruslandishn melukhishn idishn teater," D er ernes, May 13 ,1 9 3 0 . 28. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 454 (libretto for The Dams). 29. M A groyser idielogisher un kunstlerisher zig," D er ernes, July 1 8 ,1 9 3 0 . 30. M . Zagorskii, “Grebles," Vechemiaia Moskva, October 2 9 ,1 9 3 0 . 31. For more on Markish see Esther Markish, The L ong R eturn (New York: Ballantine Books, 1978). Markish was arrested as part o f the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in 1948 and executed on August 1 2 ,1 9 5 2 . 32. Uriel, “Vchera i segodnia," Sovetskoe iskusstvo, March 2 9 ,1 9 3 1 . 33. Em. Beskin, “Novyi shag Goseta k sovremennoi tematike," Vechemiaia Moskva, February 2 6 ,1 9 3 1 . 34. Levin, The J e w s in the S oviet Union, 227. 35. Ibid., 238. 36. Konstantin Rudnitsky, Russian a n d S oviet T heater 1905-1932 (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988), 185. 37. See “Little Heroes and Big Deeds: Literature Responds to the First Five-Year Plan,” in Sheila Fitzpatrick, Cultural R evolution in Russia, 1928-1931 (Bloomington: In­ diana University Press, 1978), 189 -2 0 6 . 38. This scene was published in D ek lam aterfun d er sovetish eryid ish er literatu r (Mos­ cow: Der Ernes, 1934), 3 7 5 -7 9 . For a synopsis o f the play see R G ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 453 (libretto for The D ea f). Bergelsons short story can be found in David Bergelson, Oysgevay/te verk (Moscow: Melukhe farlag fun kinstlerisher literatur, 1961), 2 1 - 5 4 . 39. Osip Liubomirskii, Mikhoels (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1938), 66. 40. V. Mlechin, “Glukhoi," Vechemiaia Moskva, January 2 0 ,1 9 3 0 . 4 1 . 1. K rugi,“Novye postanovki Glukhoi," R abochii i iskusstvo, September 5 ,1 9 3 0 . 42. Cited in Liubomirskii, Mikhoels, 96. 43. See, for example Solomon Mikhoels, Stati, besedy, rechi (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1965), 15 7-58. 44. “Moskovskii gosudarstvennyi evreiskii teatr," Izvestiia , October 1 7 ,1 9 3 1 . 45. R. Imenitova, “Zaem i . . . kolduniia," Sovetskoe iskusstvo, October 3 ,1 9 3 1 . 4 6 .1 am grateful to Joshua Rubenstein for directing me to this information. 47. M. Daniel, 4 teg (Minsk: Melukhe farlag fun vaysrusland, 1932). 48. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 439 (foreign-language librettos, 19 2 2 -19 4 4 ). 49. Peretz Markish, Mikhoels (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1939), 2 5 -2 6 . 50. M. Shteingauzr, “V evreiskom teatre," Elektrozavod, March 3 ,1 9 3 5 . 51. “4 teg in moskver melukhishn idishn teater," D er ernes (November 1 5 ,1 9 3 1 ) . 52. Iakov Grinvald, “Chetyrie dnia," Vechemiaia Moskva, November 1 7 ,1 9 3 1 . 53. V. Z .,“Zlobodncvoe i ik tu d n o t ” L iteraturnaiagazeta, December 3 ,1 9 3 1 . See also G . Ryklin, “Chetyrie dnia," Pravda, November 28, 1931; V. Mlechin, “Put tvorcheskoi perestroiki. Iulis v Gosete," Sovetskoe iskusstvo, November 2 5 ,1 9 3 1 . 54. Mlechin “Put tvorcheskoi perestroiki." 55. M 4Teg (Iulis) in moskver melukhishn yidishn teater," D er ernes, November 5 ,19 3 1. 56. Flavius Josephus, Toldot milkhamot ha-Yebudim im ba-R om aim , trans. Naftali Simchoni (1923; reprint, Tel-Aviv: Shtibel, 1938).


Notes to pages 1 2 8 - 1 3 7

57. Flavius Josephus, D i idisbe milkhomes (Vilna: B. A . Kletskin, 1923). 58. Yael Zerubavel, R ecovered Roots: C ollective M em ory a n d the M aking o f Israeli Na­ tion a l Tradition (Chicago: University o f Chicago Press, 1995), 6 0 -6 4 . 59. “Teater un kino,” D er ernes, February 1 7 ,1 9 3 2 . 60. uMoskovskii gosudarstvennyi evreiskii teatr,” Izvestiia , October 1 7 ,1 9 3 1 . 61. “Teater un kino,wD er ernes, February 1 1 ,1 9 3 2 . 62. “10-letnie gos. evreiskogo teatra,” Izvestiia , January 5 ,1 9 3 1 . 63. “Sheferishe baratung bam moskver melukhishn yidishn teater,” D er ernes, January 1 5 ,1 9 3 2 . 64. “Ongehoyben arbetn der kunst-politrat bam moskver yidishn melukhishn teater,” D er ernes, February 2 4 ,1 9 3 2 . 65. B. Rozentsveig, “Pered otkrytym semaforom,” Komsomolskaia pravda, April 17, 1932. 66. Iakov Grinvald, “Protivorechiia rosta,” Vechemiaia Moskva, April 3 ,1 9 3 2 . 67. Markish, Mikhoels, 26. 68. “Chto pokazhet goset,” Vechemiaia Moskva, September 1 0 ,19 3 2 ;“Erevdem nayem teater-sezon,” D er ernes, September 2 0 ,1 9 3 2 . 69. “Moskver melukhisher yidisher teater,” D er ernes, February 3 ,1 9 3 3 ; “Der moskver melukhisher yidisher teater shpilt vider in zayn gebayde,” D er ernes, April 2 0 ,1 9 3 3 . 70. See, for example, “Der groyser Oktober ovnt in klub komunist,” D er ernes, Novem­ ber 1 1 ,1 9 3 2 . 71. Nosn Beker fo r t aheym, directed by Shpis and Milman, U SSR. 1932 (film). 72. Felix Cole to Secretary o f State, September 1 5 ,1 9 3 2 , N ARA, RG 59,861.40 61/

88 . 73. “A fardislekher durkhfal,” D er ernes, November 2 0 ,1 9 3 2 . 74. “Khronik,” D er ernes, January 2 2 ,1 9 3 3 . 75. “Haynt hoyb zikh on di spekteklen fun moskver melukhishn yidishn teater midat hadin,” D er ernes, October 8 ,1 9 3 3 . 76. Liubomirskii, Mikhoels, 106. 77. “Geefnt zikh der sezon fun moskver melukhishn yidishn teater,” D er ernes, October 10, 1933; see also “Novyi spektakl Goset,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, November 2, 1933; Iakov Grinvald, “Mera strogosti,” Vechemiaia Moskva, October 1 3 ,1 9 3 3 . 78. Moshe Litvakov, “Midat hadin,” D er ernes, October 2 4 ,1 9 3 3 . 79. Raphael Mahler, Hasidism a n d the J ew ish E nlightenm ent: T heir C onfrontation in Galicia a n d P oland in the First H a lf o f the N ineteenth C entury (Philadephia: The Jewish Publication Society o f America, 1985), 1 1 - 1 3 . See also Gershom Scholem, On the M ystical Shape o f the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah (New York: Schocken Books, 1991), 6 1 -6 4 . 80. O. Liubomirskii, “Sovetskaia evreiskaia dramaturgiia,” unidentified newspaper clipping, IGTAM , G 1 (Goset collection), 36. 81. Cited in Vitaly Shentalinsky, The KGB's L iterary A rchive, trans.John Crowfoot (London: Harvill Press, 1995), 47. Mikhoels expressed a similar sentiment to Abraham Sutzkever. Abraham Sutzkever, “M it Shlomo Mikhoels,” D i gold en e keyt 43 (1962): 156. 82. “Novyi zritel— novyi teatr,” Sovetskoe iskuustvo, December 2 6 ,1 9 3 3 . 83. Ibid. 84. Ibid. 8 5 .0 . Liubomirskii, “Der krimer kolvirtisher yidisher teater,” D er ernes, June 2 ,19 3 5 . 86. Mikhoels, “Put vysokogo realizma” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, M ay 5 ,1 9 3 5 . 87. Leon Mussinak, “Frantsuzskii vodevil v Gosete,” Izvestiia, October 2 4 ,1 9 3 4 .


Notes to pages 1 3 7 - 1 4 6

88. Albert Gran, “Parizh v Gosete,” L iteratum aia gazeta, November 1 6 ,1 9 3 4 . 89. Iakov Grinvald, “Labish v Gosete,” Vechemiata M oskva , November 1 1 ,1 9 3 4 . See also A . Petrovich, “M illioner bedniak i dantist,” Trud, November 2 7 ,1 9 3 4 ; A . Gambrunis, “M illioner dantist i bedniak v Gosete,” K rasnaiagazeta (Leningrad), June 1 1 ,1 9 3 5 ; and V. Potapov,“Vodevil v Gosete,” Izvestiia, November 1 4 ,1 9 3 5 . 90. Juri Jelagin, Taming o f the Arts, trans. Nicholas Wreden (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1951), 81. 91. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, dd. 8 6 -1 0 4 (personal files o f employees). 92. Jelagin, Taming o f the Arts, 18. 93. Houghton, M oscow Rehearsals , 236. 94. Ibid., 238. 95. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 12 (list o f theater employees, 19 2 0 -19 3 7 ), 11. 5 5 -5 6 . 96. Ida Kaminska, M y Life , M y T heater (New York: Macmillan, 1973), 134. 97. “Inim moskver yidishn melukhe-teater König Lir,” D er ernes, March 1 8 ,1 9 3 4 . 98. For more on Shakespearean productions in the 1930s see Joseph Macleod, The N ew S oviet Theatre (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1943), 2 0 8 -2 18 . 99. Grinvald, Mikhoe/s, 56. 100. Komitet po delam iskusstv pri SNK soiuza SSR, R ezhisser v sovetskom teatre (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1940), 75. 101. N. A. Ravich, R epertuarnyi ukazatel GRK (Moscow: Teatr-Kino, 1929), 12 4 -2 5 . 102. See Vladimir Markov, “An Unnoticed Aspect o f Pasternaks Translations,” S lavic R ev iew 20, no. 3 (October 1961): 5 0 3 -5 0 8 ; Anna Kay France, Boris Pasternak's Translations o f Shakespeare (Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1978). 103. Cited in Lev LosefF, On the B eneficence o f Censorship: Aesopian L anguage in M odem Russian L iterature (Munich: Verlag Otto Sagner, 1984), 49. 104. Ibid., 46. 105. Mikhoels, Statt, besedi, rechi, 1 0 4 -10 5 . 106. Grigori Kozintsev, Shakespeare: T im e a n d Conscience, trans. Joyce Vining (New York: Hill and Wang, 1966), 6 0 -6 1 . 107. Ibid., 65. 108. Liubomirskii, Mikhoels, 80. 109 .K in g Lear, 1.5.36. 110 . Cited in Liubomirskii, Mikhoels, 97. 1 1 1 . Ibid., 83. 112. Cited in M arvin Rosenberg, The Masks o f K in g Lear (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), 21. 113 . Grinvald, Mikhoels, 57. 114 . Rosenberg, The Masks o f K in g Lear, 130. 115. E. Dobin, “Korol Lir,” L eningradsk aiapravda , April 9 ,1 9 3 5 ; see also B. S., “Korol Lir v Gosete,” Za industrializatsiiu, February 1 4 ,1 9 3 5 . 116. O. Litovskii, “Korol Lir,” Pravda, February 2 7 ,1 9 3 5 . For other reviews see M. Zagorskii, “Dva aktera,” Vecherniaia Moskva, March 4, 1935; Adr. Piotrovskii, Krasnaia gaz eta (Leningrad), May 28, 1935; V. Morskoi, “Korol Lir,” K rasnoe znam ia (Kharkov), July 1 1 ,1 9 3 9 . 117. Karl Radek, “Bolshaia pobeda sovetskogo teatra,” Izvestiia, February 2 7 ,1 9 3 5 . 118 . Grinvald, “Korol Lir.” 119. B. Rozentsveig, “Korol Lir,” Kom som olskaiapravda, February 1 4 ,1 9 3 5 . 120. Radek, “Bolshaia pobeda.”


Notes to pages 1 4 6 - 1 5 3

“200 i spektakl Korolia Lira v Goscte” Sovetskoe iskusstvo , December 1 0 ,1 9 3 8 . “15 yor moskver melukhisher yidisher teater,” D er ernes, March 5 ,1 9 3 5 . Robin, Socialist Realism, 292. Zvi Gitelman, A C entury o f A m bivalence: The J ew s ofR ussia a n d the S oviet Union, 1881 to the P resent (New York: YIVO Institute, 1988), 42. 125. According to Judel Mark, there were approximately 160,000 Jewish students attending Yiddish schools in the Soviet Union in 1931. Jacob Frumkin, Gregor Aronson, Alexis Goldenweiser, and Joseph Lewitan, Russian J e w r y (1917-1967) (New York: T ho­ mas Yoseloff, 1969), 253. For more on clandestine religious education see David E. Fish­ man, “Preserving Tradition in the Land o f the Revolution: The Religious Leadership o f Soviet Jewry, 1 9 1 7 -1 9 3 0 ,” in Jack Wertheimer, ed., The Uses o f T radition:Jew ish C ontinuity in th e M odem Era (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary o f America, 1992), 2 3 -8 4 . 126. Sutzkever, “M it Shlomo Mikhoels,” 158. 127. Markish, Mikhoels, 15. 12 1. 122. 123. 124.

5. W here Are the Maccabees? 1. Richard Stites, Russian Popular Culture: E ntertainm ent a n d Society since 1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 78; Boris Groys, The Total Art o f Sta­ lin ism : A vant-G arde, A esthetic D ictatorship, a n d Beyond, trans. Charles Rougle (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 37. 2. Régine Robin, Socialist R ealism : An Impossible Aesthetic, trans. Catherine Porter (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), 74. 3. For an analysis o f kitsch in the Soviet context see Svetlana Boym, Common Places: M ythologies o f E veryday Life in Russia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994), 15 -19 . 4. Edward W . Said, Culture a n d Im perialism (New York: Knopf, 1993). 5. Although the party never officially accepted the existence o f a Jewish nation, it did, in many ways, treat the Jews as a national minority in practice. The establishment o f the Jewish Autonomous Region in 1934 and the Jewish designation on passports are just two examples o f the means by which Jews were treated as a nation. 6. Katerina Clark, The S oviet N ovel (Chicago: University o f Chicago Press, 1981), 162. 7. Cited in Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels, M on p ère Salomon Mikhoels: souvenirs sur sa v ie e t sur sa mort, trans. Erwin Spatz (Montricher, Switzerland: Les Editions Noir sur Blanc, 1990), 125. 8. “Tsum 15 iorikn iubili funem moskver yidishn melukhishn teater,” D er ernes, M arch 4 ,1 9 3 5 . 9. “Der iubili ovnt funem moskver idishn teater,” D erem es, March 6 ,1 9 3 5 . 10. M. Zinenberg, “Piatnadtsatiletie Goseta,” G ovorit SSSR, M ay 1935. 11. Unidentified press clipping, IG TAM , G 2. 12. “15 yoriker iubili funem moskver melukhishn yidishn teater,” D erem es, March 6, 1935. 13. Solomon Mikhoels, “Put vysokogo realizma,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, M ay 5, 1935; “Piatnadtsat let moskovskogo gosudarstvennogo evreiskogo teatra,” Krasnaia gaz eta (Len­ ingrad), March 5 ,1 9 3 5 ; “X V let gosudarstvennogo evreiskogo teatra,” Rabochaia Moskva, M arch 5 ,1 9 3 5 ; “Piatnadtsat let evreiskogo teatra,” L eningradskaiapravda, November 11, 1935.


Notes to pages 1 5 3 - 1 5 8

14. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 439 (foreign-language librettos, 19 2 2 -19 4 4 ). 15. “Novyi zritel— novyi teatr,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo , December 2 6 ,1 9 3 3 . 16. Zinenberg, “Piatnadtsatiletie.” 17. Osip Liubomirskii, Mikhoels (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1938), 103. 18. Ts. Fridliand, “Teatr tragicheskikh komediantov,” L iteratum aia ga z eta (Lenin­ grad), March 6 ,1 9 3 5 . 19. “O iubileinom slavoslovnii,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo , March 1 7 ,1 9 3 5 . 20. “100 spektaklei Goseta,” Vechemiaia M oskva , July 2 3 ,1 9 3 5 . 21. “Plany evreiskogo teatra,” Teatralnaia dekada , M ay 1935; “Repertuarnye plany goset,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo , M ay 23, 1935; “Postanovski Goseta,” Izvestiia , October 10, 1935; “Premery evreiskogo teatra,” Vechemiaia M oskva , November 1 5 ,1 9 3 5 ; “Novye postanovki evreiskogo teatra,” Vechemiaia Moskva, January 1 1 , 19 3 6 ;“V Gosete,” L iteratum aia gazeta, February 1 4 ,1 9 3 6 ; “Shefstvo teatra,” K rasnaia zvezda , February 5 ,1 9 3 6 . 22. Barukh A. Hazan, S oviet P ropaganda: A Case Study o f the M iddle East Conflict (Jerusalem: Keter, 1976). 23. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 460 (libretto for Wailing Walt). 24. G . Ryklin, “Stena placha,” P ravda , November 2 5 ,1 9 3 5 . 25. Em. Beskin, “Stena placha,” Rabochaia M oskva , November 2 9 ,1 9 3 5 ; S. Levman, “Stena placha,” Sovetskaia torgovlia , December 1 3 ,1 9 3 5 ; V. Potapov, “Stena placha,” So­ vetskoe iskusstvo , December 5 ,1 9 3 5 ; A . Moiseev, “Stena placha,” Leningradskaia pravda , M ay 1 6 ,1 9 3 5 ; Is. Kats and la. Sinelnikov, “Stena placha,” R abochiiput (Smolensk), June 6, 1936. 2 6 . 1. Berezark, “Stena placha,” Krasnaia gazeta, M ay 1 4 ,1 9 3 5 . 27. E. J. Hobsbawm, B andits (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969), 13. 28. Jeffrey Brooks, When Russia L earned to R ead (Princeton: Princeton Uni vers it)' Press, 1985), 16 6 -2 13 . 29. See Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, “Contraband: Performance, Text and Analy­ sis o f a Purim -Shpil,” The D rama R eview , 24, no. 3 (September 1980): 8-9. 30. Hobsbawm, Bandits, 3 4 -3 6 . 31. Matvei Geizer, Solomon Mikhoels (Moscow: Prometei, 1990), 13 8 -3 9 . 32. Moyshe Kulbak, Oysgeklibene shriftn (Buenos Aires: Ateneo Literario, 1976), 1 5 7 226: 205. 33. Ibid., 15 7 -2 2 6 ; R GALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 439,11. 76-7 9. 34. For some works dealing with the social strife within the kahal see Jacob Katz, Tradition a n d Crisis:Jew ish Society a t the E nd o fth e M iddle Ages (New York: New York Uni­ versity Press, 1993) and Raphael Mahler, Hasidism a n d the J ew ish E nlightenm ent . 35. Solomon Mikhoels, “Razboinik Boitre,” Izvestiia, October 9 ,19 3 6 . 36. Iakov Grinvald, “Razboinik Boitre,” Vechemiaia Moskva, October 1 3 ,1 9 3 6 . See also O. Litovskii, “Razboinik Boitre v Goset,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, October 1 7 ,1 9 3 6 . 37. A . Gofman, “Razboinik Boitre,” Z vezda, July 7 ,1 9 3 6 . 38. Isidor Kleiner, “Razboinik Boitre v evreiskom teatre,” Za kom m unisticheskoepro sveshchenie, October 2 0 ,19 3 6 . See also S. Levman,“Razboinik Boitre,” Sovetskaia torgovlia, October 2 1 ,1 9 3 6 ; A. Moiseev, “Razboinik Boitre” Leningradskaia pravda, M ay 2 2 ,1 9 3 6 ; V. Golubov, “Razboinik Boitre,” Izvestiia, October 1 4 ,1 9 3 6 ; and E. Dobin, “Radostnoe dostizhenie goseta,” L iteratum aia L eningrad, May 2 4 ,1 9 3 6 . 39. Grinvald, “Razboinik Boitre.” 40. Levman, “Razboinik Boitre.” 41. Golubov, “Razboinik Boitre.”


Notes to pages 1 5 8 - 1 6 6

42. I. Berezark, “Razboinik Boitre,” K rasnaia gazeta, M ay 9, 1936; O. Litovskii, tfRazboinik Boitre.” 43. Vechemiaia gazeta (Petrograd), March 1 6 ,1 9 1 8 . 44. Iakov Grinvald, “Gershele Ostropoler,” Vechemtaia Moskva, M ay 1 0 ,1 9 3 7 . See also “Gershele Ostropoler,” Kurskaia pravda, June 2 2 ,1 9 3 7 . 45. A . Khasin, “Hershele Ostropoler,” D erem es , June 6 ,1 9 3 7 . 46. For Kaganovich’s biography see Stuart Kahan, The W olf o f the K rem lin (New York: W illiam Morrow and Company, 1987). 47. Cited in Yosef Sheyn, Arum moskver yidishn teater (Paris: Commission du plan d’action culturelle, 1964), 148. 48. Ibid., 14 8 -4 9 . 49. Irving Howe, Ruth R. Wisse, and Rhone Shmeruk, The P enguin Book o f M odern Yiddish Verse (New York: Viking Penguin, 1987), 379. 50. Gennadi Kostyrchenko, Vplenu u krasnogo fa ra on a (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia, 1994), 14. 51. Solomon Mikhoels, “Undzer grunt problemen,” D er ernes, March 2 2 ,1 9 3 8 . 52. Iakov Grinvald, M ikhoels: kratkii kritiko-biograficheskii ocherk (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1948), 72. 53. See, for instance, George L. Mosse, The Im age o f M an: The Creation o f M odern M asculinity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 10 7 -13 2 . 54. For the Zionist creation o f the New Jewish Man see Michael Berkowitz, Z ionist C ulture a n d West European J e w r y before the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni­ versity Press, 1993). 55. Nakhman Mayzel, Dos Yiddishe sh a ft un der y idisher shrayber in S ovetnfarband (New York: Yidisher Kultur Farband, 1959), 253. 56. A . Gurshtein, Izbrannye stati (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel, 1959), 181. 57. Ch. Shmeruk, “Yiddish Literature in the U. S. S. R.,” in Lionel Kochan, ed., The J e w s in S oviet Russia since 1917 (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), 2 5 0 -5 1. 58. Tamar Alexander, “‘The Weasel and the W ell’: Intertextual Relationships Be­ tween Hebrew Sources and Judeo-Spanish Stories Jew ish Studies Q uarterly 5, no. 3 (1998): 257. See also Zipora Kagan, M e-agadah le-siporet m odernit b i-yetsira tB erd its’e vski (Kibbutz hameuchad: Kibbutz hameuchad publishing, 1983), 9 5 -1 1 4 . 59. W hile the legend itself never appears in the Talmud, a reference is made to it in Ta’anit 8a o f the Babylonian Talmud. The Hebrew version o f the legend tells o f a rat and a well. However, in English it has conventionally been changed to a wildcat or weasel. The earliest written version o f the fable was composed by Nathan ben Jehiel o f Rome in the eleventh century. A new version was later written by Goldfadn’s grandfather, Eli Mordecai W erbel, in 1852. 60. Taanit 8a. 61. Shmuel Halkin, Shulamis (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1940), 4. 62. Ibid., 9 -1 0 . 63. See the commentary on Lekh Lekha in M idrash Tanhuma and S efer ba-yasbar. Also Louis Ginzburg, Legends o f the Jew s, Book 1 ,2 2 1 -2 2 . 64. Halkin, Shulamis, 18. 65. “Stenogramma,” “Sulamif.” IG TAM , uncatalogued. 66.1a. Eidelman, “Sulam if vgosudarstvennom evreiskom teatrz ” L iteraturnaia gazeta, M ay 1 0 ,1 9 3 7 . 67. M . Zh[ivov], “Sulamif,” Izvestiia, April 16 ,1 9 3 7 . See also I. Bachelis, “Sulamif,”



Notes to pages 1 6 7 - 1 7 3

unidentified press clipping from IG TAM , P. 27; and A . Anastasev, et al., eds., Istoriia sovetskogo dramaticheskogo teatra%6 vols. (Moscow: Institut istoriia iskusstv, 1966), 4:636. 68. Moshe Litvakov, “Shulamis,” D er ernes , M ay 2 0 ,1 9 3 7 . 69. Moshe Litvakov, “Shulamis,” D er ernes, M ay 1 5 ,1 9 3 7 . 70. Em. Beskin, “Sulamif,” Vechemiaia M oskva , April 1 3 ,1 9 3 7 . 71. Efim Dobin, “Goset na novykh putiakh,” unidentified press clipping from IG TAM , G. 1. 72. V. Vitebskii, “Sulam if v Goset,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo , February 1 1 ,1 9 3 7 . 73. V. Potapov, “Proshloe i nastoiashchee Goset,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo , June 11,19 3 7 . Incidentally, prior to the murder o f Mikhoels a decade later, when the M inistry o f State Security was working out a scenario for a show trial instead o f a murder, the directors preference for Tyshler over Ryndin was to be one o f the central pieces o f evidence proving his Jewish nationalism. Lidiia Shatunovskaia, who was arrested in 1947, recounts how during her interrogation, she was asked to confirm this. Shatunovskaia replied to her interrogator with the question, “Are you sure Ryndin is Russian?” to which the surprised interrogator replied, “You think he is Jewish?” Having no idea whether this was indeed the case, Shatunovskaia silenced her adversary by remarking, “I am not sure, but it sounds very close to the Jewish names, Gyndin and M yndin.” Lidiia Shatunovskaia, Zhizn v kremle (New York: Chalidze, 1982), 342. The author incorrectly identifies Ryndin as an artist for the Bolshoi theater and incorrecdy identifies Shulamis as the first production directed by Mikhoels. 74. Yael Zerubavel, R ecovered Roots : C ollective M em ory a n d the M aking o f Israeli Na­ tion a l Tradition (Chicago: University o f Chicago Press, 1995), 96. 75. Shmuel Halkin, Bar-Kokbba (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1939), 8. For Josephus s inter­ pretation see War o f the J ew s , Book IV, Chapter IX. 76. R GALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 462. 77. M . Shekhter, “Obraz Bar-Kokhby,” Dekada Mosk. zrelisbch (1938), no. 19. 78. M. Zhivov, “Pesa o Bar Kokhbe,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo , March 2 4 ,1 9 3 8 . See also B. Borisov, “Bar-Kokhba,” Voroshilovgradskaia pravda, , August 3, 1939; Gr. Slutskii, “Bar K o b h b a ” K rasnoe znam ia (Kharkov), July 16 ,19 3 9 ; A . Gurshteyn,“Bar Kokhba,” D er ernes, March 2 4 ,1 9 3 8 and March 2 7 ,1 9 3 8 . 79. Iakov Grinvald, “Bar Kokhba,” Vechemiaia M oskva, n.d. 1938. 80. V. Potapov, “Bar Kokhba,” Izvestiia , May 2 8 ,1 9 3 8 . 81. G . Ryklin, “Bar-Kokhba,” P ravda , March 2 6 ,1 9 3 8 . 82. Halkin, Bar Kokhba, 5. 83. Ibid., 6. 84. Ibid., 49. 85. Ibid., 54. 86. Ibid., 107. 87. Ibid., 50. 88. Ibid., 52. 89. Ibid., 58. 90. Ibid. 91. Zhivov, “Pesa”; Potapov, “Bar-Kokhba.” 92. Potapov, “Bar Kokhba.” 93. Zhivov, “Pesa.” 94. Gurshteyn, “Bar Kokhba.” 95. Halkin, Bar-Kokhba, 127. Halkin had used this same parable before to express his ambivalence toward his Soviet homeland. The pledge o f allegiance in his 1923 poem Russia


Notes to pages 1 7 3 - 1 8 0

is tempered by the final line which declares: “But now we have fallen in step with you / Though o f your kisses we die.” 96. W endy Goldman, Women, the State a n d R evolution: S oviet Fam ily Policy a n d Social L ife, 1917-1936 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 296 -3 4 3 . 97. Clark, The S oviet N ovel, 86. 98. David Bergelson, “Freylekhs,” D er ernes, August 3 0 ,1 9 4 5 . 99. “Puti goseta,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, October 2 3 ,1 9 3 6 . 100. For more on Birobidzhan see Robert Weinberg, Stalins Forgotten Zion : B iro -

bidzhan a n d the M aking o f a S oviet Jew ish H om eland—An Illustrated H istory, 1928-1996 (Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1998). 10 1 . V. P. Naumov, N epravednyi sud. P oslednii stalinskii rasstrel (Moscow: Nauk, 1994), 6 4 -6 5 . 102. See for example Solomon Mikhoels, “Novaia zemlia,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, October 1 7 ,1 9 3 7 . 103. Peretz Markish, Semia Ovadis, translated from Yiddish by M . A . Shambadal (Moscow-Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1938), 42. 104. Ibid., 70. 105. Ibid., 79-8 0. 106. Clark, The S oviet N ovel, 8 7 ,1 1 6 . 107. S. N els,ttTema Mikhoelsa,” T eatr2 -3 (February-March) 1 9 3 9 :1 6 3 . 108. Peretz Markish, Mikhoels (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1939), 27. 109. Dobin, “Goset na novykh putiakh.” 110 . M. Zhivov, “Semia Ovadis,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, December 1 7 ,1 9 3 7 . See also M . Anatolev, “Semia Ovadis,” V oroshilovgradskaiapravda, September 5 ,1 9 3 9 ; I. Levi, “Semia Ovadis,” K rasnoe znamia, July 6 ,1 9 3 9 ; A . Zorin, “Semia Ovadis,” K omsomolets donbassa, A pril 1 2 ,1 9 3 9 ; S. Dorminov, “Semia Ovadis,” Rabochaia Moskva, December 1 6 ,1 9 3 7 ; I. K., “Semia Ovadis,” Vechemiaia Moskva, November 16, 1937; S. Z., “Semia Ovadis,” Iz vestiia , November 1 5 ,1 9 3 7 . 1 1 1 . Iakov Goroskoi, “Semia Ovadis,” Sovetskaia Ukraina (Kiev), July 5 ,19 3 8 . Despite this praise, after Markish was arrested in 1949 he was forced to renounce the play for “nationalist deviations,” a crime for which the author was executed. Naumov, N epravednyi sud, 70. 112 . Cited in M . Zhivov, “Mechty i stradaniia Teve-Molochnika,” Teatr 1 (January) 1 9 3 9 :1 1 7 . 113 . Ibid., 118. 114 . “Blizhaishie zadachi goseta,” Bo/shevistskoe znam ia (Odessa), July 2 3 ,1 9 3 8 . 115 . See Zachary M . Baker, “Yiddish in Form and Socialist in Content: The Obser­ vance o f Sholem Aleichem s Eightieth Birthday in the Soviet Union,” YIVO A nnual 23 (1996): 2 0 9 -2 3 1. 116 . Zhivov, “Mechty i stradaniia,” 122. 117 . Ibid. 118 . Jacob Weitzner, Sholem Aleichem in the T heater (Madison, W is.: Fairleigh Dick­ inson University Press, 1994), 89. 119 . Nels,“Tema Mikhoelsa,” 169. 120. Mikhoels, “Tevye Molochnik,” Vechemiaia Moskva, October 2 1, 1938; See also Ogonek no. 35/36 (1938). 121. “Doklada narodnogo artista SSSR tov. Mikhoels na zasedanii delegatov evreiskoi konferentsii organizovannoi vsesoiuznym domom narodnogo tvorchestvo. 13 X3I 1939,” IG TAM , uncatalogued.


Notes to pages 1 8 0 - 1 8 9

122. Weitzner, Sholem Aleichem, 89. 123. Moshe Beregovskii, “Kegnzaytike virkungen tsvishn dem ukrainishn un idishn muzik-folklor,” Visensbaft un revoliu tsie 2, no. 6 (April-June 1935): 7 9 -1 0 1 . 124. Katerina Clark, P etersburg: Crucible o f Cultural R evolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995), 2 12 -2 3 . 125. See Boris Groys, “From Internationalism to Cosmopolitanism: Artists o f Jewish Descent in the Stalin Era,” in Susan Tumarkin Goodman, ed., Russian J ew ish A rtists in a C entury o f Change, 1890-1990 (Munich: Prestel, 1995), 8 1-8 4 . 126. For glowing reviews see B. Liberman, uZamechatelnii spektakl,” Komsomolskaia p ra vd a , December 3 0 ,1 9 3 8 ; A . Gurvich, “Tevye Molochnik,” Trud, December 2 6 ,19 3 8 ; Iakov Grinvald, “Tevye Molochnik,” Vecherniaia M oskva , December 2 ,1 9 3 8 ; B. Rozanov, “Tevye Molochnik,” Izvestiia , December 1, 1938; Bor. Valee, “Tevye M olochnik,” Leningradsk aiapravda , March 2 9 ,1 9 3 8 . 127. Kh. Tokar, “Tvorcheskaia udacha,” Sovetskaia Ukraina (Kiev), July 1 5 ,1 9 3 8 . 128. M . Khashchevatskii, “Tevye Molochnik,” K rasnoe znam ia , June 5 ,1 9 4 1 . See also B. Borisov, “Tevye der milkhiker,” Voroshilovgradskaia pravda, July 2 7 ,1 9 3 9 ; V. Morskoi, “Tevye molochnik,” K rasnoe znam ia , July 4 ,1 9 3 9 . 129. Ia. Eidelman, “Tevye Molochnik vgosudarstvennom evreiskom teatre,” Robocbaia Moskva, January 6 ,1 9 3 9 . 130. Markish, Mikhoels , 27. 131. Itzik Fefer, “Premiere Tevye der M ilkhiker inem moskver melukhisn yidishn teater,” D er ernes, July 1 6 ,1 9 3 8 . 132. “Tevye Molochnik,” R adio-program m y, November 2 3 ,1 9 3 9 . 133. A . S. Baslavskii, “Evreiskii teatr v dvortse kultury,” D ognat iperegn at, Februar)' 24, 1940.

6. One Generation Passes Away 1. “Stenogramma torzhestvennogo zasedaniia posviashchennogo dvatsatiletniiu gosudarstvennogo evreiskogo teatra,” IG TAM , uncatalogued, 10. 2. “Ibid.,” 18. 3. Kessel, “Radost evreiskogo naroda,” Za tiazbeloe m asbinostroenie (Sverlovsk), April 1 4 ,1 9 3 9 . 4. “Sumbur vmesto muzyka,” Pravda, January 28, 1936; “Baletnaia falsh,” P ravda , February 6 ,1 9 3 6 ; “O khudozhnikakh,” Pravda, March 2 ,1 9 3 6 . 5. Iakov Etinger, “The Doctors* Plot: Stalins Solution to the Jewish Question,” in Yaacov Ro’i, ed., J ew s a n d Jew ish L ife in Russia a n d the S oviet Union (Essex: Frank Cass & Co., 1995), 103. 6. Terry Martin, “The Origins o f Soviet Ethnic Cleansing "Journal ofM od ern His­ tory 70 (December 1998): 853. 7. V. P. Naumov, N epravednyi sud. P oslednii stalinskii rasstrel (Moscow: Nauk, 1994), 83. 8. For recent studies o f the purge process see J. Arch G etty and Roberta Manning, eds., Stalinist Terror (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993); J. Arch Getty, Ori­ g in s o f the Great Purges: The S oviet Communist P arty Reconsidered, 1933-1938 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalins Peasants: R esistance an d S u rviva l in the Russian Village after C ollectivization (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Robert W . Thurston, Life an d Terror in Stalins Russia, 1934-1941 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996). 9. “Dos ovnt funem Iudvokans in ernes,” D er ernes, February 9 ,1 9 3 6 .


Notes to pages 1 8 9 - 1 9 5

10. “Fragn fun yidisher muzik un gezang,” Der ernes, M ay 9 ,1 9 3 7 . 11. A . D. M irol, “Ver ufmerkzamkayt der yidisher muzik,” Der ernes, July 1 8 ,1 9 3 7 . 12. “Kegn formalizm un naturalizm in teater,” Der ernes, March 2 4 ,1 9 3 6 . 13. “Vystuplenie v komitete po delam iskusstv 19 3 6 -3 7 g,” IG TAM , uncatalogued, 7. 14. “Puti goseta,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, October 2 3 ,1 9 3 6 . 15. “Vystuplenie.” See also Solomon Mikhoels, Statt, besedy, recht (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1965), 9 0 -9 3 . 16. “Vystuplenie,” 6. 17. “Stenogramma torzhestvennogo zasedaniia posviashchennogo dvatsatiletniiu gosudarstvennogo evreiskogo teatra,” IG TAM , uncatalogued, 2 -3 . 18. Samuel Halkin, “Iubilei Goseta,” March 2 0 ,1 9 3 9 , unidentified newspaper clip­ ping, IG TAM , G 2 (Goset colletion). 1 9 . 1. Nusinov, “Dvadtsat let Goset,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, March 7 ,19 3 9 . See also Kh. Tokar, “Moskovskii gosudarstvennyi evreiskii teatr,” Sovetsiaia Ukraina, March 2 9 ,1 9 3 9 ; Peretz Markish, “Dvadtsatiletie Goseta,” Pravda , March 2 9 ,1 9 3 9 ; Iakov Grinvald, “Put teatra,” Vechemiaia Moskva, March 29, 1939; Aleksandr Deich, “Put Goseta,” Izvestiia sovetov deputatov trudiashchikhsia SSSR, March 2 0 ,1 9 3 9 . 20. Solomon Mikhoels, “20 let moskovskogo gosudarstvennogo evreiskogo teatra,” Kurotnye izvestiia (Crimea), February 3 ,1 9 3 9 . See also Solomon Mikhoels, “20 let mos­ kovskogo gosudarsvennogo evreiskogo teatra,” Rabochaia Moskva, January 2 5 ,1 9 3 9 . 21. “Stenogramma torzhestvennogo,” 4. 22. Ibid., 5. 23. Kh. Tokar, “Demonstratsiia druzhby narodov,” Sovetsiaia Ukraina, April 2 ,1 9 3 9 . 24. Komitet po delam iskusstv pri SNK soiuza SSR, Rezhisser v sovetskom teatre (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1940), 14. 25. Solomon Mikhoels, Stati, besedy, rechi (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1965), 2 0 1 -2 1 8 . 26. Joseph Macleod, The New Soviet Theatre (London: George Allen ScUnwin, 1943), 18. 27. “Postanovlenie o likvidatsii teatra im. Vs. Meierkholda,” Teatr 1 (January 1938): 5. 28. “Okonchanie gastrolei moskovskogo Goseta,” Dnepropetrovskaia pravda, June 30, 1939; Io. Zhemovoi, “Vstrecha artistov Goset so stakhanovtsami,” August 4, 1939, unidentified press clipping, IG TAM , G l. 29. A . Baslavskii, “Goset,” Voroshilovgradskaia pravda, July 2 2 ,1 9 3 9 . 30. Solomon Mikhoels, “K nashim zriteliam,” Voroshilovgradskaia pravda, July 22, 1939. 31. Katerina Clark, Petersburg: Crucible o f Cultural Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995), 2 12 -2 3 . 32. Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels, Mon père Salomon Mikhoels: souvenirs sur sa vie et sur sa mort, trans. Erwin Spatz (Montricher, Switzerland: Les Editions Noir sur Blanc, 1990), 13 1. 33. Ibid., 135. 34. Yosef Sheyn, Arum moskver yidishn teater (Paris: Commission du plan d’action culturelle, 1964), 12 7 -3 8 . 35. Cited in Mordecai Altshuler, “The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the USSR in Light o f New Documentation,” in Jonathan Frankel, ed., Studies in ContemporaryJew ry (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 1: 265. 36. Vitaly Shentalinsky, The KGBs Literary Archive, trans. John Crowfoot (London: Harvill Press, 1995), 3 4 ,4 7 .


Notes to pages 1 9 6 -2 0 4

37. “Sterets litsa zemli predatelei rodiny," Sovetskoe iskusstvo, March 1938. 38. Vovsi-Mikhoels, Mon père , 132. 39. Mikhoels, Statt, 178. 40. Ben Zion Goldberg, The Jewish Problem in the Soviet Union: An Analysis and a Solution (New York: Crown Publishers, 1961), 60. 41. Komitet po delam iskusstv pri SN K soiuza SSR, Rezhisser v sovetskom teatre, 7 3 74. 42. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 5 (orders from Committee o f Artistic Affairs to Moscow State Yiddish Theater, January 4 , 1939-A ugust 2 9 ,1 9 3 9 ), 11.16 ,3 2 . 43. “Novye spektakli v Goset," Sovetskoe iskusstvo, April 1 6 ,1 9 3 8 . 44. “V partiorganizatsii Goset,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, November 2 ,1 9 3 8 . 45. Baslavskii, “Goset." 46. “Repertuarnyi plan evreiskogo teatra,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, M ay 5 ,1 9 3 8 . See also “Repertuarnyi plan Goset," Sovetskoe iskusstvo, January 1 6 ,1 9 3 9 . 47. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2., d. 439 (foreign-language librettos, 19 2 2 -19 4 4 ), U. 1 0 6 107. 48. G . Ryklin, “Bespokoinaia starost," Pravda , November 12, 1938. See also M. Zhivov, “Bespokoinaia starost v Gosete,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, November 2 0 ,1 9 3 8 . 49. “Po novomu ustavu,” Sovetskoe iskusstvo, April 2 7 ,1 9 3 9 . 50. For biographical information, including Party affiliation o f all members o f the troupe, see RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, dd. 8 7 -1 0 4 (personal files o f employees o f the Moscow State Yiddish Theater). 51. Solomon Mikhoels, “Undzer grunt problemen," Der ernes, March 2 2 ,1 9 3 8 . 52. Benjamin Zuskin, “Dvadtsat let Goseta," Teatr 5 (May 1939): 67. 53. “Dvadtsatyi sezon Goset," Sovetskoe iskusstvo, September 2 6 ,19 3 8 ; “Repertuarnyi plan Goset," Sovetskoe iskusstvo, 6 Jan 1939. 54. Nakhman Mayzel, Dos Yiddishe shafn un der y idisher shrayber in sovetnfarband (New York: Yidisher Kultur Farband, 1959), 203. 55. Peretz Markish, Dor oys dor ayn, 2 vols. (1929; reprint, Warsaw: Yidish Bukh, 1964). 56. Ibid., Vol. 2 ,1 5 . 57. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 4 3 9 ,1 1 .1 1 8 -2 3 . 58. S. Levman, “Pir," Moskovskii bolshevik, December 2 ,1 9 3 9 . 59. Iogann Altman, “Rozhdenie muzhestva," Izvestiia, December 4 ,1 9 3 9 . 60. Solomon An-sky, “Khurbn,” in Gezamelte shriftn, 4: 85 -8 7 . See also Aviel Roshwald, “Jewish Cultural Identity in Eastern and Central Europe during the Great War," in Aviel Roshwald and Richard Stites, eds., European Culture in the Great War: The Arts, Entertainment, and Propaganda, 1914-1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 94. 61. Altman, “Rozhdenie muzhestva.” 62. G. Ryklin, “Novyi spektakl v Gosete,” Pravda, December 16, 1939; V. Pota­ pov, “Obilnyi Pir," Literaturnaia gazeta, January 10 ,19 4 0 . For less enthusiastic reviews see Iakov Grinvald, “Pir,” Vecherniaia Moskva, December 3 ,1 9 3 9 ; Kh. Tokar, “Pir," Sovetskaia Ukraina, August 9 ,1 9 4 0 . 63. “Bluzhdaiushchie zvezdy na stsene," Vecherniaia Moskva, November 1 9 ,1 9 3 9 . 64. R GALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 4 3 9 ,1 1 .1 0 8 -1 1 7 . 65. Iakov Grinvald, “Arn Fridman," Vecherniaia Moskva, January 1 0 ,1 9 4 0 . 6 6 .1. Berezark,“Realizm i uslovnost,” unidentified newpaper clipping, IG TA M , G 1 .


Notes to pages 2 0 4 - 2 1 0

For a more positive review see I. Avin, “A rn Fridman," Birobidzhamkaia zvezda , January 27, 1940. 67. “Gastroli Goseta na Ukraine," Sovetskoe iskusstvo, July 4 ,1 9 4 0 . 68. For a picaresque account o f Maimon s life, see his popular autobiography, pub­ lished in 17 9 2 -17 9 3 ; for an English translation see Solomon Maimon: An Autobiography, ed. and trans. Moses Hadas (1947; reprint, New York: Schocken Books, 1967). 69. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 4 3 9 ,11.12 4 -3 3 . 70. Solomon Mikhoels, “Nashi premery," Izvestiia , September 28, 1940; see also Solomon Mikhoels, “Geroi, volnuiushchie moe voobrazhdenie," Vecberniaia Moskva, Oc­ tober 5 ,1 9 4 0 . 7 1 . 1. Bachelis, “Solomon Maimon," Izvestiia, November 1 7 ,1 9 4 0 . 72. M . Khashchevatskii, “Solomon Maimon," Krasnoe znamia (Kharkov), June 6, 19 4 1. See also V. Potapov, “Delà i mysli,” Literatumaia gazeta , October 27, 1940; G. Ryklin, “Solomon Maimon," Pravda , November 4 ,1 9 4 0 ; Bachelis, “Solomon Maimon"; S. Zamanskii, “Solomon Maimon v Goscte," Sovetskoe iskusstvo, October 2 7 ,19 4 0 . For more favorable reviews see L. Nakhlev, “Solomon Maimon," Bezbozhnik, November 2 0 ,1 9 4 0 ; Lev Kvitko, “Solomon Maimon," Komsomolskaiapravda, December 2 6 ,1 9 4 0 . 73. la. Eidelman, “Dva spektaklia," Moskovskii bolshevik, December 1 7 ,1 9 4 0 . 74. S. Zamanskii, “Solomon Maimon." 75. Lulla Adler Rosenfeld, The Yiddish Theatre andJacob P. Adler (1977; reprint, New York: Shapolsky Publishers, 1988), 48. 76. Avraam Goldfadn, D i beyde kuni-lemels. operete in 4 akten un 8 bilder (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1901). 77. S. Valerin, “Tsvei Kunileml," Vecberniaia Moskva, December 1 7 ,1 9 4 0 ; la. Eidel­ man, “Dva spektaklia." 78. A . Gurstein, “Grustnye pazmyshleniia," Literatumaia gazeta, January 1 2 ,1 9 4 1 . 79. G . Roshal, “Tsvei Kunileml," Sovetskoe iskusstvo, December 2 9 ,1 9 4 0 . 80. M . Khashchevatskii, “Tsvei Kunileml," Krasnoe znamia, June 1 3 ,1 9 4 1 ; see also S. Valerin, “Tsvei Kunileml." 81. Sholem Aleichem, Wandering Stars, in David S. Lifson, ed. and trans., Epic and Folk Plays o f the Yiddish Theatre (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson, 1975), 16 -5 8 . 8 2 .1. Bachelis, “Bluzhdaiushchie zvezdy," Sovetskoe iskusstvo, September 1 8 ,1 9 4 1 . 83. “Bluzhdaiushchie zvezdy," Krasnoe znamia, June 11, 1941. See also V. Potapov, “Bluzhdaiushchie zvezdy," Literatumaia gazeta, September 1 7 ,1 9 4 1 . 84. S. Zamanskii, “Bluzhdaiushchie zvezdy," Vecberniaia Moskva, September 16 ,1 9 4 1 . 85. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 40 (orders from Committee o f Artistic Affairs to Moscow State Yiddish Theater, 1947), 11. 3 1 0 ,3 4 0 . 86. “Goset v 1940 godu," Sovetskoe iskusstvo, December 9 ,1 9 3 9 . 87. S. M . Mikhoels, “Ispantsy Lermontova," Teatralnaia nedelia 16 (1941). 88. L. Grossman, “Lermontov v evreiskom teatre," Sovetskoe iskusstvo (May 1 1 ,1 9 4 1 ); and A . Novikov, “Ispantsy Lermontova," Teatralnaia nedelia 18 (1941). 89. Cited in Altshuler, “The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee," 257. 90. Matvei Geizer, Solomon Mikhoels (Moscow: Prometei, 1990), 146. 91. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 7 (contracts with writers, musicians, etc., 19 4 0 -19 4 4 ),

1. 1.


92. Solomon Mikhoels, “Geroi, volnuiushchie moe voobrazhenie," October 5 ,19 4 0 . 93. Cited in Geizer, Solomon Mikhoels, 146.

Vecberniaia Mosk­


Notes to pages 2 1 1 - 2 1 7

94. Jan Kott, Shakespeare* Our Contemporary, trans. Boleslaw Taborski (1964; reprint, New York: W .W . Norton, 1974), 5. 95. Ibid., 10. 96. Ibid., 17. 97. Ibid., 23. 98. James Norris Loehlin, “Playing Politics: Richard III in Recent Performance,” Performing Arts Journal 15, no. 3 (September 1993): 80-9 4. 99. Izvestiia, April 1 ,1 9 3 9 . 100. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 (orders from Committee o f Artistic Affairs to Moscow Jewish Theater, 19 3 9 -19 4 9 ), 1.1. 10 1. M . Belenkii, “A shul fun aktiorishe kadren,” Der ernes, July 5 ,1 9 3 8 . 102. Vovsi-Mikhoels, Mon père, 136. 103. Cited in Altshuler, “The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee,” 256. 104. Levin, The Jews in the Soviet Union, 2 1 9 -2 0 ; Vaksberg, Stalin against the Jews . 105. Aleksandr Nekrich, June 22, 1941*: Soviet Historians and the German Invasion, trans. Vladimir Petrov (Columbia: University o f South Carolina Press, 1968); Alexander W erth, Russia at War, 1941-1945 (London: Pan Books, 1965). 106. G etty and Manning, Stalinist Terror; Gabor Tamas Rittersporn, Stalinist Sim­

plifications and Soviet Complications: Social Tension and Political Conflicts in the USSR, 19331953 (Chur, Switzerland: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1991); Getty, Origins o f the Great Purges. 7. Brother Jews 1. Iakov Grinvald, Mikhoels:kratkii kritiko-biograficbeskii ocherk (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1948), 76. 2. See Jan Gross, “The Jewish Community in Soviet-Annexed Territories on the Eve o f the Holocaust,” in Lucjan Dobroszycki and Jeffrey S. Gurock, eds., The Holocaust in the Soviet Union (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1993): 156. 3. Cited in Alexander W erth, Russia at War, 1941-45 (London: Pan Books, 1965), 173. 4. The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, however, was evacuated to Kuibyshev to­ gether with most governmental institutions. Mikhoels initially went with the Anti-Fascist Committee but soon joined the theater in Tashkent. 5. Shimon Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism: A Documented Study o f the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the USSR (Luxembourg: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995); Shimon Redlich, Propaganda and Nationalism in Wartime Russia: The Jewish Antifascist Committee in the USSR, 1941-1948 (Boulder: East European Quarterly, 1982); Mordecai Altshuler, “The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the U SSR in Light o f New Documen­ tation,” in Jonathan Frankel, ed., Studies in Contemporary Jew ry (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 1 :2 5 3 -9 1 ; Leonard Schapiro, “The Jewish Anti-Fascist Commit­ tee and Phases o f Soviet Anti-Sem itic Policy during and afterW orld W ar II,” in Bela Vago and George L. Mosse, ed.Jew s and Non-Jews in Eastern Europe, 1918-1945 (New York: W iley, 1974); Yehoshua Gilboa, The Black Years o f Soviet Jewry, trans. Dov Ben-Abba and Yosef Shachter (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1971), 4 2 -8 6 . 6. Benjamin Pinkus, TheJews in the Soviet Union: The History ofa National Minority (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 195. 7. Redlich, War, Holocaust, and Stalinism, 3. 8. Cited in Leni Yahil, The Holocaust: The Fate o f European Jew ry (1985; reprint, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 606.


Notes to pages 2 1 7 - 2 2 2


RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 125, d. 35,11.6 4 -6 5 . English translation in Redlich, Holocaust and Stalinism, 173. 10. Mordechai Altshuler has argued that significant information about Nazi treat­ ment o f the Jews in the occupied territories reached the Russian interior rapidly through informal channels, particularly through the testimonies o f refugees fleeing the occupied territories into Russia. See Mordechai Altshuler, “Escape and Evacuation o f Soviet Jews at the Time o f the Nazi Invasion: Policies and Realities,” in Dobroszycki and Gurock, The Holocaust, 7 7 -1 0 4 . 11. Brideryidn fun der gantser velt (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1941), 12. 12. Ibid., 9. 13. uBratia evrei vsego mira,” Pravda, August 2 5 ,1 9 4 1 . 14. See Samuel A . Portnoy, trans., Henryk Erlich and Victor Alter: Two Heroes and Martyrsfo r Jewish Socialism (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1990). 15. RG ALI, f. 2693, op. 1, d. 195 (Mikhoelss correspondence on JA F C , 19 4 1-19 4 7 ). 16. Pravda, M ay 25, 1942. English translation in Redlich, War, Holocaust and Sta­ linism, 203. 17. H. D. M eritt to George Allen, January 1 1 ,1 9 4 5 , N ARA, RG 226, INT 18JE 140. The American cultural attaché in Moscow also noted an easing o f Soviet anti-American propaganda in general. A report to the Secretary o f State on the anniversary o f the Revo­ lution noted that “special effort was made to show courtesies and display friendliness to the Americans, the British and the Japanese.” Henderson to Secretary o f State, November 9, 1942, N ARA, RG 59, 861.00/11964. 18. M eritt to Allen. 19. Chaim Weizmann, The Letters and Papers o f Chaim Weizmann (Jerusalem: Israel Universities Press), 2 0 :19 6 . W hile the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee was aware o f W eiz­ mann s support, it is not clear whether Weizmann s letter actually reached the Committee. 20. Summaries o f Jewish press, October 8 ,1 9 4 2 , N ARA, RG 226, INT 18JE 177. 21. Ibid. 22. Dickerson to Jewish Daily Forward, December 1 9 ,1 9 4 1 , N ARA, RG 59,861.00/ 119 2 1.5 ; J. Baskin to Secretary o f State, December 19, 1941, N ARA, RG 59, 861.00/ 119 2 5 ; W illiam Green to Secretary o f State, N ARA, RG 59, 861.00/11926. 23. Breckenridge Long to Mrs. Roosevelt, January 2 9 ,19 4 2 , N ARA, RG 59,861.00/ 119 2 7 ; Breckenridge Long to W illiam Green, January 2 8 ,1 9 4 2 , N ARA, RG 59,861.00/ 119 3 1.5 . 24. Maksim Litvinov to W illiam Green, Februar)' 2 3 ,19 4 3 , N ARA, RG 59,861.00/ 119 86. 25. Redlich, War, H olocaust an d Stalin, 1 6 5 -7 1 ; Lukasz Hirszowicz, “NKVD Docu­ ments Shed New Light on Fate o f Erlich and Alter,” East European Jew ish Affairs 22, no. 2 (1992): 6 5 -8 5 . 26. Report from Office o f Strategic Services Foreign Nationalities Branch to A. A. Berle, NARA, RG 59, 861.00/11997. See also Portnoy, Henryk Erlich, 194-232. 27. Cited in Lukasz Hirszowicz, “The Soviet Union and the Jews during World W ar II: British Foreign Office Documents," Soviet Jewish Affairs 3, no. 1 (1973): 107. 28. G A R f, f. 8 114 , op. 1, d. 792 (Shakhno Ephshteyn to A. S. Shcherbakov, August 1 8 ,1 9 4 2 ). For an English translation see Redlich, War, Holocaust an d Stalinism, 315. 29. V. P. Naumov, N epravednyi sud \Poslednii stalinskii rasstrel (Moscow: Nauk, 1994), 170. 30. CAHJP, P. 166, B. 139 (Mikhoels to Anastasia Pototskaia, March 1943). English translation in Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 306.



Notes to pages 2 2 2 -2 2 7

31. Interview with Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels, Tel Aviv, August 1 3 ,1 9 9 5 . 32. Gennadi Kostyrchenko, V plenu u krasnogo faraona: politicbeskie presledovaniia evreev v SSSR v poslednee stalinskoe desiatiletie (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia, 1994), 38. 33. CAHJP, P. 166, B. 155 (Mikhoels to Pototskaia). 34. Naumov, Nepravednyi sud\ 171. 35. Ben Zion Goldberg, The Jewish Problem in the Soviet Union: An Analysis and a Solution (New York: Crown Publishers, 1961), 47. 36. CAHJP, P. 166, B. 139. 37. Cited in Hirszowicz, “The Soviet Union and the Jews,” 110 . For American intel­ ligence see Report from Foreign Nationalities Branch o f Office o f Strategic Services, August 1 4 ,1 9 4 3 , N AR A, RG 226, INT 18JE 252. 38. Interview with Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels, Tel Aviv, August 1 3 ,1 9 9 5 . 39. Abraham Sutzkever,“M it Shlomo Mikhoels,” Di goldene key143 (1962): 16 4 -16 5 . 40. GARF, f. 8 11 4 , op. 1, d. 830, l. 40 (Fefer to his family, November 3 ,19 4 3 ). English translation in Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 310. 41. “Soviet Delegates Urge Unity Here,” New York Times, July 9, 1943. The U. S. Office o f Strategic Services estimated attendance at “over 45,000 people.” See Report from Office o f Strategic Services, July 1 5 ,1 9 4 3 , N ARA, RG 226, INT 33R S 5. 42. CAHJP, P 166, Z 1 (British Jewish Fund for Soviet Russia letter). 43. Pravda, July 16 ,19 4 3 . English translation in Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 308. 44. Report from Office o f Strategic Services. 45. Solomon Mikhoels, “Azoy hot tsu mir geredt der lebediker sholem aleykhem,” Eynikayt, December 3 0 ,1 9 4 3 . 46. “Visitors from Soviet Union Honored by Consul,” New York Times, June 3 0 ,19 4 3 . 47. Joseph Brainin to Franklin Roosevelt, July 5 ,1 9 4 3 , N ARA, RG 59, 711.61/ 908. 48. Sumner Welles, the undersecretary o f state, had sent a statement to the A pril 4th mass meeting o f the Committee o f Jewish W riters and Artists. Chaim Zhitlovski to Sumner Welles, March 30, 1943, N ARA, RG 59, 711.61/886. Later the W h ite House discouraged a letter-writing campaign initiated by the Russian W ar Relief. See Edward Carter to Harry Hopkins, April 8 ,1 9 4 3 , N ARA, RG 59, 711.61/890. 49. “The Michoels-Feffer Mission,” August 1 4 ,1 9 4 3 , N AR A, RG 226, INT 18JE 252. 50. Ibid. 51. Letter to Zacharia Shuster, July 1 5 ,1 9 4 3 , N AR A, RG 226, INT 18JE 247. 52. H. Rabinavicius to Office o f Strategic Services, c. August 2 1 ,1 9 4 3 , N AR A, RG 226, IN T 18JE 254. 53. Horace Marston to Mr. Poole, June 2 8 ,1 9 4 3 , N ARA, RG 226, INT 18JE 237. 54. O SS report, June 3 0 ,1 9 4 3 , N ARA, RG 226, INT 18JE 239. 55. H. Rabinavicius to Office o f Strategic Services. 56. Cited in Hirszowicz, “The Soviet Union and the Jews,” 109. 57. See for instance, “CloserTies Urged with Soviet Union,”New York Times, Septem­ ber 20, 1943. 58. Naumov, Nepravednyi sud, 3 0 0 -3 0 1. 59. See Kostyrchenko, V plenu, 3 2 -5 7 ; Shimon Redlich, Propaganda and Nationalism in Wartime Russia: TheJewish Antifascist Committee in the USSR, 1941-1948 (Boulder: East European Quarterly, 1982), 13 0 -3 3 ; Arkady Vaksberg, Stalin against the Jews, trans. A n-


Notes to pages 2 2 7 -2 3 4

tonina W . Bouis (New York: Alfred A . Knopf, 1994), 1 2 1 -3 2 ; Louis Rapoport, Stalins War again st the J e w s (New York: Free Press, 1990), 9 8 -1 2 7 . 60. Chaim Weizmann, The Letters a n d Papers o f Chaim Weizmann , 25 vols. (Jerusalem: Israel Universities Press, 1 9 6 8 - ), Series B, Vol. 2 ,5 0 9 -5 1 0 . 61. Meyer W . Weisgal, M eyer W eisgal. .. So Far: An A utobiography (London: W eiden­ feld and Nicolson, 1971), 14 4 -4 5 . 62. Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels, M on p ère Salomon M ikhoels: souvenirs sur sa v ie et sur sa m ort , trans. Erwin Spatz (Montricher, Switzerland: Les Editions Noir sur Blanc, 1990), 196. 63. Kostyrchenko, Vplenut 354. 64. Redlich, P ropaganda , 128. 65. Ibid., 146. 66. H. Rabinavicius to Office o f Strategie Services. 67. Aharon Steinberg, M Mayn Dvinsker khaver Shlomo Mikhoels,” D i gold en e key 1 43 (1962): 14 2 -5 2 . Steinberg, a childhood friend o f Mikhoels, acted as his interpreter at the London conference. See also Vovsi-Mikhoels, M on p ère , 191. 68. Ibid., 192. 69. uStennogramma doklada tov. Mikhoelsa,” 49; and Solomon Mikhoels, Statu besedy , rechi (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1965), 283. 70 “Narodnyi artist S. M . Mikhoels,” IG TAM , uncatalogued; MStennogramma dok­ lada tov. Mikhoelsa,” 1 1 - 1 2 ; Mikhoels, Stati , 2 7 0 -7 1. 71. O. Litovskii, Tak i by/o (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel, 1958), 161. 72. Mikhoels, Stati , 2 7 1-7 2 . 73. “Stenogramma doklada tov. Mikhoelsa,” 28. 74. “Ibid.,” 46. 75. Mikhoels, Statu 275. 76. Ibid., 276. 77. Ibid., 280; CAHJP, P. 166, Z. 1. 78. “Stenogramma doklada tov. Mikhoelsa,” 45; Mikhoels, Stati , 281. 79. “Stenogramma doklada tov. Mikhoelsa,” 5 0 -5 1 . 80. Ibid., 52.

8. Our People Live 1. Cited in Alexander W erth, Russia at War, 1941-1945 (London: Pan Books, 1965), 242. 2. Gennadi Kostyrchenko, Vplenu u krasnogo faraona: politicheskie presledovaniia evreev v SSSR v poslednee stalinskoe desiatiletie (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnoshcniia, 1994), 23. The phrase was first used in the 1936 Soviet constitution. 3. See Richard Stites, ed., Culture and Entertainment in Wartime Russia (Bloom­ ington: Indiana University Press, 1995). 4. See Harold B. Segel, “Drama o f Struggle,” in Stites, Culture and Entertainment, 1 0 8 -1 2 5 ; See also his Twentieth-Century Russian Drama, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hop­ kins University Press, 1993), 2 9 5 -3 18 . 5. Yehoshua Gilboa, The Black Years o f SovietJew ry , trans. Dov Ben-Abba and Yosef Shachter (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1971), 3 2 -3 5 ; Ben Zion Goldberg, The Jewish Problem in the Soviet Union: An Analysis and a Solution (New York: Crown Publish­ ers, 1961), 54-5 9.


Notes to pages 2 3 4 -2 4 0

6. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 9 (orders from Committee o f Artistic Affairs to Moscow State Yiddish Theater, December 1 8 , 1941-D ecem ber 2 8 ,19 4 2 ), 1. 2. 7. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 8 (orders from Committee o f Artistic Affairs to Moscow State Yiddish Theater, November 1 9 , 1941-Septem ber 2 0 ,19 4 3 ), 11. 6 -7 . 8. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 13 (contracts with writers, musicians, etc., February 25, 1941-February 2 ,1 9 4 2 ), 11.18-20. 9. Yon Barna, Eisenstein: The Growth o f a Cinematic Genius (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973), 229. 10. “Semia Oppengeim v moskovskom evreiskom teatre,” Vecherniaia Moskva, August 3 0 ,1 9 4 1 . 11. CAHJP, P. 166, F. 6 (Mikhoels to Lion Feuchtwanger). 12. Zvi Gitelman, “Soviet Reactions to the Holocaust,” in Lucjan Dobroszycki and Jeffrey S. Gurock, eds., The Holocaust in the Soviet Union (Armonk, N.Y.: M . E. Sharpe, 1993): 3 - 2 7 ,1 3 - 1 4 . 13. Cited in Shimon Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism: A Documented Study o f the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the USSR (Luxembourg: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995), 350. 14. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 19 (orders from Committee o f Artistic Affairs to Moscow State Yiddish Theater, January 9, 1943-D ecem ber 1 3 ,1 9 4 3 ), 1. 33. The figure includes 122 theater workers, 115 dependents o f theater workers, 11 instructors from the Yiddish theater school, and 38 students. 15. Kostyrchenko, Vplenu, 1 5 -1 6 . 16. W h ile the Jews constituted only 1.78 percent o f the total population o f the Soviet Union, they were awarded 2.5 percent o f all medals for bravery in the Red Army. See I. Nusinov, “Di sovetishe yidishe kultur,” Eynikayt, November 8 ,1 9 4 4 . 17. A t least sixty Jewish writers also volunteered to serve in the front, one-third of whom were killed, including Khashchevatskii, Godiner, Gurshteyn, and others. See Nu­ sinov, “Di sovetishe yidishe kultur.” 18. Iakov Grinvald, Mikhoels:kratkiikritiko-biograficheskii ocherk (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1948), 82. 19. “Goset v Moskve,” Literatura i iskusstvo, October 9 ,1 9 4 3 . 20. “Postanovki Goseta,” Vecherniaia Moskva, June 2 ,1 9 4 2 . 21. Cited in A . Anastasev, et al., eds., Istoriia sovetskogo dramaticheskogo teatra, 6 vols. (Moscow: Institut istoriia iskusstv, 1966), 5: 668. 22. Khamid Alimdzhan, “Vozvrashchenie,” Pravda vostoka, September 1 9 ,1 9 4 3 . 23. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 (orders from Committee o f Artistic Affairs to Moscow State Yiddish Theater, 19 3 9 -19 4 9 ), 11. 4 -5 . 24. Solomon Mikhoels, “Nashi tvorcheskie zamysly,” Pravda vostoka, May 14 ,19 4 2 . 25. Anastasev, Istoriia sovetskogo, 1 :2 8 8 -3 0 6 . 26. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 2, d. 439 (foreign-language librettos, 19 2 2 -19 4 4 ), 11.154-59. 27. “Pobeda teatra,” Pravda vostoka, M ay 2 5 ,1 9 4 3 . 28. “Goset v Moskve: beseda s V. Zuskina,” Literatura i iskusstva, October 9 ,1 9 4 3 . 2 9 .1. Liubomirskii, “Khamza,” Eynikayt, January 6 ,1 9 4 4 . 30. Peretz Markish, Öko za oko, DRI, P -20/ 90,1. 31. Ibid., 5. 32. Ibid., 7. 33. Ibid., 13. 34. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 7 (contracts with writers, musicians, etc., 19 4 0 -19 4 4 ), 1.3.


Notes to pages 2 4 0 -2 4 9

35. R GALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 ,1 .1 0 . 36. O. Liubomirskii, “A vunderlckhe geshikhte,” Eynikayt July 2 0 ,1 9 4 4 . 37. Cited in Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 228. 38. Solomon Mikhoels, “Nashi tvorcheskie zamysly,” Pravda vostoka, M ay 1 4 ,1 9 4 2 . 39. R GALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 19 ,1.2 5 . 40. The story is available in English in Sholom Aleikhem, The Bewitched Tailor (Mos­ cow : Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.), 6 5 -1 1 3 . 41. See, for example, A . Deich, “Novye postanovsi Goseta,” Literatura i iskusstvo, February 5 ,1 9 4 4 . 42. “Premiera zakoldovannyi portnoi,” Vecherniaia Moskva, January 1 0 ,1 9 4 4 . 43. Vera Dunham, In Stalins Time: Middleclass Values in Soviet Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976). 44. Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels, Mon père Salomon Mikhoels: souvenirs sur sa vie et sur sa mort, trans. Erwin Spatz (Montricher, Switzerland: Les Editions Noir sur Blanc, 1990),


212. 45. R GALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 ,1 .1 0 . 46. R GALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 7 ,1.2 2 . 47. “Kultur-khronik,” Eynikayt, November 8 ,1 9 4 4 . 48. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 ,1.16 .2 3 0 7 , op. 1, d. 4 ,1 .1 6 . RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 ,1 .1 6 . 49. Ibid., 1.18. 5 0 .1. Goldberg, Undzer dramaturgie (NewYork: Yidisher Kultur Farband, 1961), 356. 51. Shmuel Rozshansky, Yidishe literatur—yidish lehn (Buenos Aires: Ateneo literario en el iwo, 1973), 2: 466. 52. David Bergelson, Prints Reuvayni (New York: Yidisher Kultur Farband, 1946), 12 5 -2 6 . 53. S. Niger, Yidishe shrayber in Sovet-Rus/and(New York: S. Niger Book Committee, 1958), 332. 54. Vovsi-Mikhoels, Mon père, 225. 55. “Vystuplenie v komitete po delam iskusstv 1946 g,” IGTAM , uncatalogued, 2. 56. R GALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 ,1 .1 0 . 57. Ibid., 1.14. 58. Ibid., U. 15 -2 7 . Ibid., U. 15 -2 7 . 59. R GALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 38 (contracts with writers, etc., 1946), 1.30. 60. Goldberg, The Jewish Problem, 91. 61. Yitzhak Rosenberg, “Meetings with Soviet Jewish Leaders,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 3, no. 1 (1973): 67. 62. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 29 (orders from Committee o f Artistic Affairs to Moscow State Yiddish Theater, 1945), 11.134-77. In the fall o f 1945, the staff numbered

111. 63. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, dd. 7 ,1 3 , 32, 38 (contracts with writers, musicians, etc., 19 4 0 -19 4 6 ). 64. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 32 (contracts with writers, musicians, etc., 1945), 1. 30. 65. Anastasev, Istoriia sovetskogo, 5: 671. 66. Vovsi-Mikhoels, Mon père, 2 11 . 67. O. Litovskii, Tak i bylo (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel, 1958), 164. 68. CAHJP, P. 166, Kh. 9 (Boris Shimelovich to Mikhoels). 69. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 52 (orders from Committee o f Artistic Affairs and C h ief Management o f Dramatic Theaters to Moscow State Yiddish Theater, 1948), 1. 26.


Notes to pages 2 4 9 -2 5 3

70. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 38 (contracts with writers, musicians, etc., 1946), 1.35. 71. R GALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 ,1 .2 3 . 72. Moshe Broderzon, Oysgek/ibene shriftn (Buenos Aires: Ateneo Literario, 1972). “Moishe Broderzon, Yiddish Dramatist,** New York Times, August 2 1 ,1 9 5 6 ; “Jewish Poet Ends Ordeal in Soviet,** New York Times, August 6 ,1 9 5 6 . See also entry in A . A . Roback, The Story o f Yiddish Literature (New York: Yiddish Scientific Institute, 1940), 2 7 2 ,3 0 5 . 73. A . Moiseev, “Prodolzhat rabotu nad sovremennoi temoi,** Leningradskaia pravda , July 2 8 ,1 9 4 8 . 74. For the effects o f the war on the Soviet infrastructure see J. D. Barber and M. Harrison, The Soviet Home Front 1941-1945: A Social and Economic History o f the USSR in World War II {London: Longman, 1991), 42. 75. “Neie spektaklen inem moskver melukhishn yidishn teater,** Eynikayt, June 18, 1946. 76. “Premiere fun Itsik Fefers piese di zun fargeyt nit,** Eynikayt, February 15 ,19 4 7 . 77. Itzik Fefer, “Budushchie knigi,” Literaturnaia gazeta (Leningrad), A pril 1,19 4 5 . 78. “Groys derfolg fun der piese di zun fargeyt nit,** Eynikayt, March 2 5 ,1 9 4 7 . 79. Ewa M . Thompson, “The Katyn Massacre and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in the Soviet-Nazi Propaganda War,** in John Garrard, ed., World War 2 and the Soviet People (New York: St. M artins Press, 1993), 2 12 -3 3 . For reviews o f several contemporary books on the Warsaw ghetto uprising see L. Goldberg, “Tsvey naye bikher vegn dem oyfshtand fun varshaver geto,** Eynikayt, M ay 2 4 ,1 9 4 7 . 80. R G ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 7 ,1 .2 1 . The text o f Halkin’s never-performed play can be found in Samuel Galkin, Dalnozorkost. Stikhi, ballady, tragediia (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1968). 81. Ia. Eidelman, “Na puti k geroicheskomu spetakliu,** Sovetskoe iskusstvo, September 1 2 ,1 9 4 7 . Markish's play can be found in DRI, P-20/94. 82. RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 128, d. 459,11.2 4 -3 1 (Shcherbakov to Kuznetsov, October 7 ,19 4 6 ). English translation in Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 418. 83. Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 419. The letter is dated October 7 ,19 4 6 . 84. Kostyrchenko, Vplenu, 40. 85. Broderzon was released from prison in 1955 but died the following year o f a heart attack.

9. This Is a Bad Omen 1. See Vera Dunham, In Stalins Time: Middleclass Values in Soviet Fiction (Cam­ bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976). 2. Cited in Gennadi Kostyrchenko, Vplenu u krasnogo faraona: politicheskie presledovaniia evreev v SSSR vposlednee stalinskoe desiatiletie (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia, 1994), 9. 3. See Jack Miller, ed ,,Jews in Soviet Culture (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1984). 4. Juri Jelagin, Taming o f the Arts, trans. Nicholas Wreden (New York: E. R Dutton & Co., 1951), 20. 5. Kostyrchenko, Vplenu, 12. 6. Benjamin Pinkus, TheJews in the Soviet Union: The History ofa National Minority (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 146. 7. Mikhail Heller and Aleksandr Nekrich, Utopia in Power: The History o f the Soviet Unionfrom 1917 to the Present (New York: Summit Books, 1986), 484. 8. Pinkus, The Jews in the Soviet Union, 147.


Notes to pages 2 5 3 -2 5 9

9. “Vystuplenie v komitete po delam iskusstv 1946 g," IGTAM , uncatalogued, 3. 10. Solomon Mikhoels, “V chem byli nashi oshibki,” IG TAM , uncatalogued. 11. The project actually involved two separate commissions, one headed by Ehrenburg, which was responsible for the Russian edition and the other headed by Mikhoels, which was responsible for the foreign-language edition. For more on the Black Book see Shimon Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism: A Documented Study o f the Jewish AntiFascist Committee in the USSR (Luxembourg: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995), 9 5 108; Shimon Redlich, Propaganda and Nationalism in Wartime Russia: The Jewish Anti­ fascist Committee in the USSR, 1941-1948 (Boulder: East European Quarterly, 1982), 6 5 -7 1 . 12. GARF, f. 8 11 4 , op. 1, d. 912,11. 1 -2 8 (protocols o f Black Book Commission, October 1 3 ,1 9 4 4 ). For an English translation see Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 352 -5 3 . 13. The Black Book: The Nazi Crime against the Jewish People (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1946), 11. The book was published in New York in the spring o f 1946 as a joint project o f the W orld Jewish Congress, the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee o f Moscow, the Jewish National Council o f Palestine in Jerusalem, and the American Committee o f Jew ­ ish W riters, Artists and Scientists. For more on Grossman see John Garrard and Carol Garrard, The Bones ofBerdichev: The Life and Fate o f Vasily Grossman (New York: Free Press, 1996). 14. Black Book, xxix. 15. Ibid., 414. 16. RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 125, d. 4 3 6 ,11.2 16 -18 (Aleksandrov to Zhdanov, February 3 .1 9 4 7 ) . For English translation see Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 366. 17. RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 125, d. 4 3 8 ,11.2 19 -2 0 (Mikhoels to Zhdanov, September 1 8 .1 9 4 7 ) . For English translation see Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 367. 18. Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 37-5 4. 19. G A R F f. 8 11 4 , op. 1, d. 972 (Mikhoels and Epshteyn to Molotov, October 28, 1944) . For English translation see Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 248. The Jewish Daily ForwardhzA earned the ire o f the Soviet press by criticizing Soviet communism from a socialist perspective. 20. GARF, f. 8 11 4 , op. 1, d. 792,1. 63 (Molotov to Popov, October 2 9 ,1 9 4 4 ). For English translation see Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 249. 21. RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 125, d. 3 17 ,1.2 8 5 (Aleksandrov to Malenkov, October 17, 1945) . For English translation see Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 258. 22. CAHJP, P. 166, kh. 3 (correspondence to Mikhoels regarding JAFC). 23. RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 125, d. 2 4 6 ,1.2 0 4 (Bregman to Lozovskii, November 27, 1944). For English translation see Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 302. 24. GARF, f. 8 114 , op. 1, d. 792,11. 3 2 -3 6 (Mikhoels, Epshteyn, Fefer to Stalin, February 15 ,19 4 4 ). For an English translation see Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 2 6 4 -6 7 . For a comparison o f the two letters see Kostyrchenko, Vp/enu, 44 -4 8 . 25. Ibid. 26. Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 3 14 -4 4 . 27. Abraham Sutzkever, “M it Shlomo Mikhoels,” Di goldene keyt 43 (1962): 16 4 -6 5 . 28. Ibid., 4 25-33. 29. Ibid., 4 17 -2 5 . 30. Kostyrchenko, Vplenu, 84-8 7. 31. Pinkus, The Jews in the Soviet Union, 180; Lidiia Shatunovskaia, Zhizn v kremle (New York: Chalidze, 1982), 3 3 5-36.


Notes to pages 2 5 9 -2 6 0

32. Kostyrchenko, Vp len a , 9 6 -9 7 . 33. Vaksberg, Stalin against the Jews , 15 5 -6 2 . 34. Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels, Mon père Salomon Mikhoels: souvenirs sur sa vie et sur sa mort, trans. Erwin Spatz (Montricher, Switzerland: Les Editions Noir sur Blanc, 1990), 219. 35. Veehemiaia Moskva, December 2 2 ,1 9 4 7 . 36. Vaksberg, Stalin against the Jews , 1 6 0 -6 1 . 37. Shatunovskaia, Zhizn v kremle, 272. 38. Ibid., 246. 39. V. P. Naumov, Nepravednyi sud Poslednii stalinskii rasstrel(Moscow: Nauka, 1994), 308. 40. Petr Leonidovich Kapitsa, Vospominaniia, pisma, dokumenty (Moscow: Nauka, 1994), 86. 41. A fter its discovery by Borshchagovskii in 1992, this letter was widely published in Russian journals. See, for example, Novyi mir 10, no. 822 (1993): 105-51; Argumenty ifakty 19, no. 604 (May 1992); Kaleidoskop, January 15 ,19 9 3 ; 24 chasa 22, no. 260 (June 2,1992); Aleksandr Borshchagovskii, Obviniaetsia krov (Moscow: Kultura, 1994), 5 -8 . A n English translation is available in Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 448 -5 0 . 42. Vaksberg, Stalin against the Jews, 182. 43. Iakov Grinvald, Mikhoels:kratkiikritiko-biograficheskiiocherk (Moscow: Der Ernes, 1948), 84. 44. Itzik Fefer, “Mikhoels,” Eynikayt, February 5 ,1 9 4 8 . 45. Eynikayt, January 1 5 ,1 9 4 8 and January 1 7 ,1 9 4 8 . 46. “Di ershte Mikhoels farlezungen,” Eynikayt, M ay 8 ,1 9 4 8 . 47. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 ,1.3 7 . 48. Ibid., 1.29. 49. Cited in Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 4 5 1-6 4 . 50. Smith to Secretary o f State, January 2 7 ,1 9 4 8 , N ARA, RG 5 9 ,8 6 1,0 0 / 1-2 7 4 8 . 51. The theater was scheduled to perform Grossman’s The Old Teacher and Fefer s To

Life. 52. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4,1. 36. 53. “Velder royshn,” Eynikayt, December 1 8 ,1 9 4 7 . 54. A . Moiseev, “Prodolzhat rabotu nad sovrcmennoi temoi," Leningradskaiapravda, July 2 8 ,1 9 4 8 . 55. “Premiere in yidishn melukhishn tcatr ofn nomem fun Sh. Mikhoels,” Eynikayt, M ay 4 ,1 9 4 8 . 56. Advertisement in Eynikayt, March 2 3 ,1 9 4 8 . 57. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 39 (orders from Committee o f Artistic Affairs to Moscow State Yiddish Theater, February 8 , 1947-D ecem ber 2 9 ,19 4 8 ), 1.15. 58. Ben Zion Goldberg, The Jewish Problem in the Soviet Union: An Analysis and a Solution (New York: Crown Publishers, 1961), 15 2 -5 3 . 59. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 50 (orders from Committee o f Artistic Affairs and C hief Management o f Dramatic Theaters to Moscow State Yiddish Theater, 1948), 11.12 -13 . 60. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 ,1 .4 3 ; RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 50,11. 7 8 ,9 2 . 61. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4,1. 39. 62. “Gastroli evreiskogo teatra imeni S. M . Mikhoelsa,” Leningradskaia pravda, June 1 6 ,1 9 4 8 . 63. “Dem tsaytvaylikn prezident fun der melukhe Yisroel,” Eynikayt, M ay 2 0 ,1 9 4 8 .


Notes to pages 2 6 6 -2 7 4

64. Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 373 -8 9 . 65. Ibid., 390 -9 2 . 66. RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 128, d. 608,11. 5 - 1 0 (Baranov to Suslov, June 5 ,1 9 4 8 ). English translation in Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism, 395. 67. Golda Meir, M y Life (Camberwell, Eng.: Futura Publications, 1976), 205. 68. Ibid., 207. 69. “Priezd evreiskogo teatra,” Vecbemii Leningrad, December 1 6 ,1 9 4 8 . 70. Goldberg, The Jewish Problem, 153. 71. Ibid., 1.14 3 . According to A la Perelman-Zuskin, her father was hospitalized on December 19th. 72. Ibid., 1.15 1. 73. R G A LI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 3 9 ,1 1 .1 -4 . 74. R G A LI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 ,1 .4 9 . 75. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 53 (regulations, 1948). 76. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 ,1 .4 7 . 77. Ibid., 1.48. 78. Ibid. 79. RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 132, d. 239 (closing o f Jewish theaters), 11.8 ,18 . See also Kostyrchenko, Vplenu, 16 2 -6 7 . 80. RTsKhIDNI, f. 17, op. 132, d. 2 3 9 ,1 .1 0 . 81. Ibid., 1 1 .1 1 -1 5 ; RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, dd. 8 6 -1 0 4 (biographical information). 82. Ibid., 11.16 -17 . 83. Ibid., 11.20-23. For English translation see Gennadi Kostyrchenko, Out o f the Red

Shadows: Anti-Semitism in Stalins Russia—From the Secret Archives o f the Former Soviet Union (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1995), 143. 84. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 ,1 .5 2 . 85. Ibid., 1.55. 86. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 5 0 ,1 .1 2 . 87. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 4 ,1 .5 8 . 88. Ibid., 1.59. 89. Ibid., 1.60. 90. RGALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 79 (order from Committee o f Artistic Affairs to end liquidation o f Moscow State Yiddish Theater, 1950), 1.1. 91. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 67 (protocols o f liquidation committee, July 1949-Ju ly 1950), 1.5. 92. E-mail to the author from A la Perelman-Zuskin, August 2 2 ,1 9 9 9 . 93. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 6 7 ,1 .1 . 94. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 76 (inventory o f property, October 10 ,19 4 9 ), 11.36,77. 95. RG ALI, f. 2307, op. 1, d. 7 9 ,1.4 7 . 96. Ibid., 1.46. 97. Ibid., 1.2. 98. Avraham Greenbaum, ed., “Rehabilitation o f the Jewish Anti-Fascist Commit­ tee,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 19, no. 2 (1989): 6 0 -7 1 . 99. Cited in Shimon Redlich, ed. and trans., “Rehabilitation o f the Jewish A n tiFascist Committee,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 20, nos. 2 -3 (1990): 94. 100. Naumov, Nepravednyi sud, 6 1 -6 2 . 101. Ibid., 306. 102. Ibid., 70.


Notes to pages 2 7 4 -2 7 7

103. Ibid., 305. 104. O. Litovskii,

Tak i bylo (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel, 1958),

16 6 -6 8 .

Conclusion 1. For a description o f this play see Joseph Macleod, The New Soviet Theatre (Lon­ don: George Allen 6c Unwin, 1943), 2 5 -2 6 . 2. Richard Stites, Culture and Entertainment in Wartime Russia (Bloomington: Indi­ ana University Press, 1995). 3. George O. Liber, Soviet Nationality Policy, Urban Growth, and Identity Change in the Ukrainian SSR 1923-1934 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). 4. Yuri Slezkine, “The U SSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism," Slavic Review 53, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 414. See also “Nationalities in the Soviet Empire," Russian Review 59, no. 2 (April 2000).


B ib l io g r a p h y

Archival Sources Tsentralnyi gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Oktiabrskoi revoliutsii Ukraina (TsGAOR Ukr), Kiev Fond 166 Narkompros Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv literatury i iskusstva (RGALI), Moscow Fond 2307 Goset Fond 2308 Goset Theater School Fond 2693 Solomon Mikhoels Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv rossiskoi federatsii (G ARF), Moscow Fond 2551 Narkompros Fond 8 1 1 4 Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee Fond 2306 Commissariat o f Enlightenment Rossiiskii tsentr khraneniia i izucheniia dokumentov noveishei istorii (RTsKhIDNI) M os­ cow Fond 445 op. 1 Jewish Section o f the Communist Party o f the Soviet Union Fond 17 Central Committee o f the Communist Party o f the Soviet Union op. 125 Management o f Propaganda and Agitation, 1 9 3 9 -19 4 8 op. 128 International Information, 1 9 4 4 -1 9 5 0 op. 132 Department o f Propaganda and Agitation, 19 4 8 -19 5 6 Gosudarstvennaia publichnaia istoricheskaia biblioteka (GPB) Manuscript division, St. Petersburg Fond 30 N.N. Arbatov Fond 1220 I.P. Makhlis Fond 1035 L.R Koganov Fond 112 6 Natan Altman Fond 1067 M. A . Milner Bakhrushin Theater Library (GTsTM), Moscow Fond 584 Goset Fond 626 A. Ia Burshtein Central Archives for the History o f the Jewish People, Jerusalem INV 2709 Itzik Fefer P 166 Solomon Mikhoels Diaspora Research Institute, Tel-Aviv P -51 Moshe Goldblatt P -20 Perctz Markish T-31/50 Natalia Vovsi-Mikhocls



Library o f Jewish Music, Jerusalem 63 Moses M ilner 47, 50, 59 Aleksandr Krein National Sound Archives, Jerusalem uncatalogued material on Soviet Jewish music Theater Archive o f Hebrew University, Jerusalem 398 Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels collection G 1 -G 3 , P 1-P 34, B 1-B 4, G R T 1-G R T 18 Goset Collection M 1-M 3 Mikhoels Collection National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland RG 59 State Department Records RG 226 Records o f the Office o f Strategic Services (OSS) RG 208 Records o f the Office o f W ar Information (O W I)

Newspapers and Journals I n R ussian

Bezbozhnik (November 2 0 ,1 9 4 0 ) Birobidzhanskaia zvezda (January 2 7 ,1 9 4 0 ) Bolsbevistskoe znamia (Odessa, July 2 3 ,1 9 3 8 ) Budushchnost (19 0 0 -19 0 2 ) Dekada Mask, zre/ishch (1938) Dnepropetrovskaia pravda (June 3 0 ,19 3 9 ) Dognat iperegnat (February 2 4 ,1 9 4 0 ) Elektrozavod (March 3 ,1 9 3 5 ) Ermitazh (1922) Govorit SSSR (May 1935) Iskusstvo kino (1992) Izvestiia (19 2 3 -19 4 0 ) Izvestiia sovetov deputatov trudiashchikhsia SSSR (March Kharkov vesti (August 1 7 ,1 9 2 7 ) Kievskii proletarii (August 2 7 ,1 9 2 7 ) Komsomolets donbassa (April 1 2 ,1 9 3 9 ) Komsomo/skaia pravda (19 2 7 -19 4 0 ) Krasnaia gazeta (Leningrad, 19 2 5 -19 3 6 ) Krasnaia zvezda (February 5 ,1 9 3 6 ) Krasnoe znamie (Kharkov, 1 9 3 9 -1 9 4 1 ) Kurotsnye izvestiia (Crimea, February 3 ,1 9 3 9 ) Kurskaia pravda (June 2 2 ,1 9 3 7 ) Leningradskaia pravda (19 2 6 -19 4 8 ) Literatura i iskusstvo (19 4 3 -19 4 4 ) Literaturnaia gazeta (Leningrad, 19 2 7 -19 4 5 ) Moskovskii bolshevik (193 9 -4 0 ) Novy put (1916) Novyi zritel (19 2 4 -19 2 9 ) Ogonek (1938) Pravda (1 9 19 -19 4 9 ) Pravda vostoka (19 4 2 -19 4 3 ) 324

2 0 ,1 9 3 9 )


Prozhektor (Feburary 1 5 ,1 9 2 7 ) RABIS (1 9 2 9 -19 3 1 ) Rabochaia Moskva (19 3 5 -19 3 7 ) Rabochii i iskusstvo (19 2 9 -19 3 0 ) Rabochii put (Smolensk, June 6 ,1 9 3 6 ) Radio-programmy (November 2 3 ,1 9 3 9 ) Rampa i zhizn (1 9 1 0 -1 9 1 7 ) Sovetskaia torgovlia (19 3 5 -19 3 6 ) Sovetskaia Ukraina (Kiev, 19 3 8 -19 4 0 ) Sovetskii teatr (1930) Sovetskoe iskusstvo (1 9 3 1-19 4 7 ) Sovremennyi teatr (19 2 7 -19 2 9 ) Svoboda i ravenstvo (1907) Teatr (19 3 8 -19 4 0 ) Teatr i iskussstvo (1905) Teatr i muzyka (19 2 2 -19 2 3 ) Teatralnaia dekada (19 3 5 -19 3 6 ) Teatralnaia Rossiia (1905) Teatralnaia zhizn (10 M ay 1990) Trud (19 2 6 -19 3 8 ) Vecherniaia gazeta (Petrograd, March 1 6 ,1 9 1 8 ) Vecherniaia Moskva (19 2 5 -19 4 4 ) Vechernii Leningrad (December 1 6 ,1 9 4 8 ) Voroshilovgradskaia pravda (1939) Voskhod (19 0 0 -19 0 5 ) Za kommunisticheskoe prosveshchenie (October 2 0 ,1 9 3 6 ) Za tiazheloe mashinostroenie (Sverdlovsk, April 1 4 ,1 9 3 9 ) Zhizn i iskusstvo (1 9 0 5 -1 9 1 6 ; 1929) Zhizn iskusstvo (1 9 2 1-19 2 4 ) Zrelishcha (19 2 2 -19 2 4 ) Zvezda (July 7 ,19 3 6 ) I n Y iddish

Baginen (1919) Der ernes (19 2 0 -19 3 8 ) Eynikayt (19 4 2 -19 4 8 ) Forpost (Birobidzhan, 19 3 6 -19 4 0 ) Haymland (1948) Haynt (Warsaw, 1 9 2 8 ,1 9 3 5 ,1 9 3 7 ) Literarishe bleter (19 2 8 -19 3 4 ) Literatur un kunst (1931) Moment (Warsaw, 1928) Nayerd (1925,1930) Oktyabr (Minsk, 1 9 2 5 -1 9 3 1 ) Profit (Kharkov, 19 2 8 -19 3 0 ) Di royte ve/t (Kharkov, 1 9 2 5 -19 3 1) Shul un bukh (1926) Dershtern (Minsk, 19 2 7 -19 4 1) 325


Sovetishe literatur (Kiev, 1 9 3 8 -19 4 1) Sovietisb (19 3 5 -19 3 8 ) Vissnshaft un Revoliutsie (19 3 4 -19 3 5 ) I n O ther L anguages

Berliner Tageblatt (1928) Lefigaro (Paris, 1928) Frankfurter Zeitung (1928) New York Times (1 9 2 8 -1 9 2 9 ,1 9 4 3 ,1 9 5 6 ) Theatre Arts Monthly* 1 9 2 7 -19 2 9 Interviews Markish, Esther. Interview by author, July 3 1 ,1 9 9 5 , Tel-Aviv. Mikhoels, Natalia. Inteview by author, August 1 3 ,1 9 9 5 , O r Yehuda.

Motion Pictures

Nosn Bekerfort aheym. Directed by Shpis and Milman. Moscow, 1932. Skvoz slezy. Directed by Grigori Gricher-Cherikover. Moscow, 1927. Tsirk. Directed by Grigori Alexandrov. Moscow, 1936. Yidishn glikn. Directed by Aleksandr Granovsky. Moscow, 1925. Zayn Eksilants. Directed by Grigori Roshal. Moscow, 1928. Published Versions o f Plays Discussed In most cases the published version is substantially different from the version performed at the Moscow State Yiddish Theater. I have provided the closest version to that which was performed. W here possible, I have also given information about English transla­ tions. Abramovitsh, S. Y. Benjamin the Third. In Tales o f Mendele the Book Peddler: Fishke the Lame and Benjamin the T hird edited by Dan Miron and Ken Frieden, translated by Ted Gorelick and Hillel Halkin. New York: Schocken Books, 19 9 6 ,2 2 9 -3 9 1 . Aleichem, Sholem. Agentn. In Ale verkfun Sholem Aleychem, Vol. 3, bk. 2., 1 9 7 -2 1 8 . New York: Farvert, 1942. ----------. Agents: AJoke in One Act. In Marc Chagall and the Jewish Theater, 1 6 4 - 1 7 1 . New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1992. ---------- . The Bewitched Tailor. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d. ---------- . Blonzende shteren: a roman fun Sholem Aleykhem. New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1920. ----------. Der get. In Ale verkfun Sholem Aleychem, Vol. 3, bk. 1., 1 1 -3 9 . New York: Farvert, 1942. ---------- . A doktor. In Ale verk fun Sholem Aleychem, Vol. 3, bk. 1., 1 0 1 - 1 1 5 . New York: Farvert, 1942. ---------- . Dos groyse gevins. In Ale verk fun Sholem Aleychem, Vol. 3, bk. 1., 1 5 1 -2 5 6 . New York: Farvert, 1942. ----------. Mazl tov. In Ale verk fun Sholem Aleychem, Vol. 3, bk. 2., 13 5 -6 8 . New York: Farvert, 1942.



----------. Salign. \n Ale verk fu n SholemAleychem , Vol. 3,bk. 4., 15 3 -16 2 . New York: Farvert, 1942. ----------. Teve der milkkiger. In Ale verk fun Sholem Aleychem , Vol. 3, bk. 3., 16 5 -2 3 5 . New York: Farvcrt, 1942. ----------. Wandering Stars. In Epic and Folk Plays o f the Yiddish Theatre , edited and translated by David S. Lifson. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson, 1975. Asch, Sholem. Amnon un Tamar Warsaw: Progrès, 1909. ----------. God o f Vengeance, In Joseph Landis, Three Great Jew ish Plays , 6 9 -1 1 3 . New York: Applause Theatre, 1986. ----------. Gotfu n nekome. In Dos vert (W ilna) no. 12 (August 12 ,19 0 7 ): 32-4 0. ----------. Winter, In Six Plays o f the Yiddish Theater , edited by Isaac Goldberg. Boston: J. W . Luce, 1916. Bergelson, David. Khvel/ebn. In IKUFalmanakh (1967): 1 3 1 -8 0 . ---------- , Midas ha-din, Kiev: Kultur-Lige, 1929. ----------. Prints Reuvayni, New York: Yidisher Kultur Farband, 1946. ----------. Dertoyber, In O ysgeveylte verk , 2 1 -5 4 . Moscow: Melukhe farlag fun kinstlerisher literatur, 1961. Segments o f the dramatic version were published in Deklamaterfun der sovetisher yidisher Literatur, 3 7 5 -3 7 9 . Moscow: Der Ernes, 1934. Daniel. 4 Teg (Iulis), Minsk: Melukhe farlag fun vaysrusland yidsekter, 1932. Dobrushin, Yekhezkel Moissevich. D ergerikht geyt, Moscow: Tsentraler felker farlag fun FSSR, 1930. Soviet Jewish Library, Givat Ram. Dobrushin, Yekhezkel Moissevich, and Nakhum Oyslender. Teve-Molocbnik. Moscow, 1938. Goldfadn, Avraam. Di kisbufmakherin: opereta in 5 akten un in 8 bilder, Warsaw: Sh. B. Lande, 1905. ----------. Di tsvey kuni-lemels: operete in 4 akten un 8 bilder. New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1901. ----------. Dos tsehnte gebot. Cracow: Joseph Fisher Press, 1897. ----------. Shulamis. In Oysgeklibene shriftn. Buenos Aires: IW O , 1972. Gutzkow, Karl. Uriel Acosta: tragedye in f i n f akten. Translated by Y. L. Lerner. St. Peters­ burg, 1888. Halkin, Shm ucl. Arn Fridman. In F irpiesn, 10 0 -17 3 . Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1977. ----------. Bar-Kokhba. Moscow: Der Ernes, 1939. ----------. Shulamis. Moscow: Der Ernes, 1940. Kulbak, Moyshe. Boytre: dramatishe poem e in 6 bilder. In Oysgeklibene shriftn, 15 7 -2 2 6 . Beunos Aires: IW O , 1976. Markish, Peretz. Dor oys dor eyn. Kharkov: Melukhe farlag fun Ukraine, 1929. ----------. Pir. Translated by M . A . Shambadal. Moscow-Leningrad: Iskusstva, 1941. ----------. Semia Ovadis. Translated by M. A. Shambadal. Moscow-Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1938. ----------. Vozvrashchenie Neitana Bekera. Moscow: Sovetskaia Literatura, 1934. Peretz, Isaac Leyb. Baynakht oyf'n alten mark. In Ale verk fu n I. L. Peretz, Vol. 10, bk. 1 7 ,3 67. New York: Idish, 1920. ----------. Night in the Old Market. In M el Gordon, “Granovsky’s Tragic Comedy: Night in the Old M ark ed Drama R eview 29 (W inter 1985): 9 1 -1 2 2 . Reznik, Lipe. Oyfshtand. Kiev: Kulture-Lige, 1928. Romains, Jules. Le m arriage de Le Trouhadec. 3rd ed. Paris: Gallimard, 1959. Vayter, A . Far tog. W ilna: Vilner farlag fun B. A . Kletskin, 1922.


Memoirs and Contemporary Accounts Allilueva, Svetlana. Only One Year Translated by Paul Chavchavdze. New York: Harper and Row, 1969. Ben-Ari, Raikin. Habima. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1957. Broda, Meir. Kilim un hinterkulsn, zikhronot, bagegnishn, geshtoltn in idishe teater in soviet Rutland. Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1974. Bukhwald, Nathaniel. Teater. New York: Farlag-komitet teater, 1943. BulofF, Joseph. From the Old Marketplace: AMemoir o f Laughter, Survival \and Coming o f Age in Eastern Europe. Translated by Joseph Singer. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univer­ sity Press, 1991. ---------- . On Stage, O ff Stage: Memories o f a Lifetime in the Yiddish Theater. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992. Carter, Huntley. The New Spirit in the Russian Theater. New York: Benjamin Bloom, 1970. Chagall, Marc. “Mayn arbayt in Moskver idishn kamer-teater.” Di idishe velt 2 (May 1928). ----------. My Life. New York: Orion Press, 1960. Dobrushin, Yekhezkel Moissevich. Mikhoels der aktior. Moscow: Der Ernes, 1940. Fail, I. Zhizn evreiskogo aktera. Moscow: Der Ernes, 1938. Folkovitsch, Aliah. Mikhoels, 1890-1948. Moscow: Der Ernes, 1948. Fueloep-Miller, Rene. The Mind and Face o f Bolshevism: An Examination o f Cultural Life in the Soviet Union. Translated by F. S. Flint and D. F.Tait. London: G . P. Putnam s Sons, 1927. Goldberg, Ben Zion. The Jewish Problem in the Soviet Union: An Analysis and a Solution. New York: Crown Publishers, 1961. Grinvald, Iakov. Mikhoels: kratkii kritiko-biograficheskii ocherk. Moscow: Der Ernes, 1948. Houghton, Norris. Moscow Rehearsals: The Golden Age o f Soviet Theatre. 1936. Reprint, New York: Grove Press, 1962. Jelagin, Juri. Taming o f the Arts. Translated by Nicholas Wreden. New York: E. P. Dutton Sc Co., 1951. Kaminska, Ida. My Life, My Theater. New York: Macmillan, 1973. Kapitsa, Petr Leonidovich. Vospominaniia, pisma, dokumenty. Moscow: Nauka, 1994. Kersten, K. “Das Maskauer jüdische Akademische Theater.” Das Neue Russland 5 (1928):

8- 10. Khrushchev, N. S. Khrushchev Remembers. Edited and translated by Strobe Talbott. Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1970. Libermann, N[.Aus dem Ghettoindie Welt: Autobiographie. Berlin: Verlag der Nation, 1977. Litovskii, O. Tak i bylo. Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel, 1958. Liubomirskii, Osip. Mikhoels. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1938. Lyons, Eugene. Assignment in Utopia. London: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1937. Macleod, Joseph. The New Soviet Theatre. London: George Allen 8c Unwin, 1943. Markish, Esther. The Long Return. New York: Ballantine, 1978.