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The Image of the Karaites in 19th- and 20th-Century Literature  

Mikhail Kizilov

The article analyzes the image of the Karaites in Karaite, Jewish, European, and Russian literatures in the 19th and the 20th centuries. The Karaites are Jews who do not accept the teaching of the Talmud and the Rabbinic concept of the “Oral Law.” Many well-known 19th- and 20th-century belletrists were attracted to the Karaites’ unusual Judeo-Turkic culture as well as their influential status in the Russian empire, their wealth, and their intellectual achievements. It appears that there was no unified image of the Karaites among the authors of this period: Men of letters of various countries, religions, and ethnicities presented the Karaites as marginal Jewish sectarians, a “nation of traders,” descendants of the Turkic Khazars and Cumans, true Israelites, and even as “sons of Japheth.” Why were these images so contradictory? There is no doubt that it was, at least in part, due to the Karaites themselves, who by altering their ethnic identity in the 19th and 20th centuries, transformed the perception of their community in the eyes of external observers—thus leading modern belletrists to portray them in such contradictory ways.

Article

Russian Poetry and Cold War Politics in the West  

Emily Lygo

The reception of Soviet and Russian poetry in the West was shaped by the binary nature of Cold War politics no less than other fields of culture and sport. Indeed, the associations between poetry and authenticity meant poetry was especially significant as testimony. In the USSR itself, writers’ memoirs were some of the most important texts published in this era, speaking as they did of the personal experience of the Stalin period that had not been expressed before. Konstantin Paustovsky and Il’ya Ehrenburg, for example, published multivolume memoirs during this period, both of which were translated into English and published in the West. A similar focus on individuals and testimony is reflected in the framing of works of Russian literature in English translation. In 1964, Max Hayward and Patricia Blake’s selection of Russian writers was entitled Dissonant Voices, while George Luckyj’s study of non-Russian Soviet literature in 1975 was entitled Discordant Voices. Also in 1964, the translation of the anthology Tarusskie stranitsy was given an additional subtitle, “new voices in Russian writing.” The idea of the individual voice, which is clearly found in lyric poetry of course, was central to the preoccupation with finding an authentic expression of Russia that would be a counterpoint to the Soviet official one. After the death of Stalin, the voices of poets writing in the USSR who had been censored by the authorities were recovered by academics and émigré Russians: Boris Pasternak’s novel Dr. Zhivago and its poems and the poetry of Osip Mandel’shtam and Anna Akhmatova were amplified in the Western media as voices that could express authentically the suffering, injustice, and inhumanity of the Stalinist system. In the case of Dr. Zhivago, the CIA also worked clandestinely to ensure it was published and distributed in the West. The fact that these works remained only partially published in the USSR fueled the ongoing criticism of the Soviet government’s repressive nature. At the same time, young poets such as Evgenii Evtushenko and Andrei Voznesensky, publishing some poetry that challenged Stalinist norms and criticized the past, were fêted by the Western media. They were subject to political censorship, of course, and had to compromise with the authorities in order to pursue their careers. Across the Cold War years there was a hardening of opinions in the West toward poets who compromised with the regime, and support for those such as Natalia Gorbanevskaya who fought for human rights in the USSR and were prepared to suffer imprisonment for their principles. Uncensored poetry, smuggled out to the West, was published and often accompanied by stories of arrest and imprisonment and sadistic practices in psychiatric hospitals. Poets were among the writers who began to emigrate, too, forming the third wave of Russian emigration; Joseph Brodsky arrived in the USA in 1972 already well known for his trial by the authorities and time spent in northern exile as punishment. Stories of persecution, and poetry written in the Gulag or prison, were undeniably testament to the tyranny of the Soviet government, and could even play a political role themselves: Irina Ratushinskaya’s release from the Gulag in 1986 may have been influenced by the publication of her work and campaigns for her release in the West. The CIA and other intelligence agencies financed cultural institutions such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) in order to promote and amplify criticism and damning evidence of Soviet illiberalism; this meant that poetry and literature that served the cause of anti-Soviet agitation was perhaps more easily accepted for publication, and more widely translated and promoted. Such manipulation of cultural organs, for example the high-profile and high-quality magazine Encounter funded by the CIA, does not detract from the quality of work produced by its contributors, most of whom were unaware of the financial backdrop. Joseph Brodsky’s poetry, awarded the Nobel Prize in 1987, is no less talented for being read and discussed in the context of anti-Soviet discussion; indeed, Brodsky himself wrote against tyranny and criticized the USSR. Nonetheless, the story of Russian poetry in the Cold War cannot be told without acknowledging its interactions with politics.

Article

Yiddish in Interwar Berlin  

Marc Caplan

Berlin in the interwar era of the Weimar Republic (1918–1933) was not a center for Yiddish culture so much as a periphery dependent upon more dominant locations of Jewish life such as the United States, Poland, and the Soviet Union. In this respect, the status of Yiddish reflects a greater sense of marginality and dislocation then characterizing German culture, which, at the time, felt unmoored from its imperial coordinates of the 19th century and under the sway of more innovative international cities such as Leningrad, Paris, New York, and especially Hollywood. The draw of Berlin for Yiddish-language writers or community activists was therefore not the allure of Weimar culture or the hopes of attracting large audiences among German Jews. Instead, the economic disorder of the Weimar Republic, paradoxically, offered financial windfalls and business opportunities for migrants with foreign currency—particularly for writers with contacts to the American Yiddish press. Moreover, Germany, unlike Poland, maintained diplomatic and economic relations with the Soviet Union, which allowed writers and activists sympathetic to the Bolshevik Revolution a safe haven while the home front remained riven by military conflicts, scarcity of basic necessities, and an uncertain political future. The heyday of Yiddish activism in Berlin was relatively short-lived, only dating from about 1921 until about 1926. After that date, the Soviet Union had achieved political stability and began to invest, at least for the next decade, in a wide series of Yiddish-language cultural institutions including publishing houses, newspapers, centers of higher education, and popular entertainment. Although it would be an exaggeration to claim that Yiddish culture made a deep or lasting impact on the German culture of the Weimar Republic, for Yiddish readers, the literature produced in Germany ranks among the most important and innovative achievements in Yiddish culture of the 1920s. The most significant writers to have resided in Berlin during this era include Dovid Bergelson, Der Nister (Pinkhes Kahanovitsh), and Moyshe Kulbak.