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“Artistic and Cultural Expressions of Jewishness in Soviet Contexts”

Mon, December 18, 8:15 to 10:00am, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, Shaw Room
Tue, December 19, 12:00 to 1:45pm, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, Shaw Room

Session Submission Type: Seminar


The frameworks for understanding Soviet Jewish identity, history, and culture, developed during the Cold War, can no longer be considered valid. While Judaism was all but destroyed in the Soviet Union and the very public presence of the Jew eventually delegitimized, Jewish memory and identity continued to exist and develop through various, at times public, but often subversive and implicit venues. Of particular interest are the forms of artistic and literary expressions of Jewishness, which allow to speak both of separate Soviet Jewish identity and Soviet Jewish culture. This seminar brings together cultural historians and scholars of visual media and literature to analyse such expressions in all their linguistic, generational and geographic diversity as well as the legacy of Soviet Jewishness in the post-Soviet world. All papers uncover a little known or forgotten material and provide a fresh hermeneutic and conceptual framework. Elissa Bemporad and David Fishman analyse the creation of Jewish museums – in Odessa in1920s and 30s and in Vilna in 1946-49 – and the impact they had on the preservation of Yiddish culture before the war and the attempts to revive it after the Holocaust. Polina Barskova (registered separately for the conference) and Marat Grinberg probe the limitations and the very nature of Jewishness within published and unpublished Soviet literature by investigating the place of Jewishness in the work of Russian poets writing during the siege of Leningrad and the novels of Yuri German, a prominent and mainly forgotten prose writer of the 30s and 40s. David Shneer examines a famous war photograph “Grief” by Dmitrii Baltermants and its impact on the construction of war and Holocaust memories. Maya Katz traces the coded presence of Jewishness in Soviet animation, particularly in the film “The Golden Antelope” (1954). Anna Shternshis and Harriet Murav turn to the question of post-war memory in Yiddish. Shternshis discusses how orphans, children and babies are represented in early Soviet Yiddish songs while Murav examines David Bergelson’s little studied novel, ALEXANDER BARASH, of 1946. Finally, Anna Ronell introduces a contemporary writer Elena Minkina, whose novels written in Israel are structured around the continuity of memory of the pre-Holocaust Eastern European and post-Holocaust Soviet Jewish experience.

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