Session Submission Summary

Direct link:

Centering Yiddish Sources in Historicizing Antifascist Internationalism in the Long 1930s: New Perspectives on the Interwar European (Jewish) Left

Sun, December 18, 10:00 to 11:30am, Sheraton Boston Dalton 3rd Floor

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


Recent years have seen both a rise in scholarly interest on the history and culture of 20th century Leftist Jews, as well as their fetishization in popular culture: in European exhibitions, neo-Bundist groups, or the ofttimes post-vernacular presence of Yiddish in US protests. This interest aside, there are still historiographical gaps in our understanding of how Jewish anti-fascists fit into and navigated the broader movements of which they were a part. How can we make sense of the contradictions between these Leftists’ transnational solidarities and their participation in Stalinist projects, as Amelia Glaser (2020) convincingly invites us to do in her groundbreaking study on the “long 1930s”? Additionally, how can we complicate the twin erroneous notions that these internationalist solidarites could only be expressed through Jewish terms, or necessitated the abandonment of a Jewish canon?

This panel aims to explore three geographically dispersed responses – both in the form of literary and political writing, as well as militant action – of Jews from different parts of the European political Left as they responded specifically to the rise of fascism in the 1930s. Each paper takes Eastern European Jewish Leftist writers or political activists as a starting point and tells a story not only of resistance to broader fascist currents in Europe, but also of complicated solidarity with Western Jews. Thus, this panel aims to provide a corrective as to how the Western/Eastern Jewish divide is understood. We follow a generation of scholars that has turned specifically to the history and culture of the Yiddish-speaking Jewish Left, including David Shneer, Anna Elena Torres. Their studies urge scholars to resist the temptations of “backshadowing” (Bernstein 1996), that is reading the Holocaust and failures of Leftist projects back into the choices of historical actors. We seek to explore Jews’ quintessential roles as translators and mediators in the international labor movement; in so doing, we follow Gerben Zaagsma in centering Yiddish sources not just to uncover Jewish stories, but a gap in the historical record with wider implications for how Left organizing and culture is understood.

Sub Unit


Individual Presentations