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WINTER 2022-23

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70TH Anniversary of the Night of the Murdered Poets


In remembrance of the 70th anniversary of “The Night of the Murdered Poets,” — August 12, 1952 — when thirteen Jewish citizens of the Soviet Union were executed by the state after having been convicted of “nationalist activity” and espionage, we present a few translations and summary portraits of the actual poets among the group.

The poets among them included Peretz Markish, Leyb Kvitko, Itzik Fefer and David Hofshteyn.

The culmination of a number of years of harassment by the Soviet state, the event marked an end of Soviet Yiddish culture and a final proof of Stalin’s murderous anti-Semitism. What really connected the group was their affiliation with an organization called the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. While the JAFC was supported by the Soviet government during World War Two as it worked to rally international Jewish support (and funding) for the war effort, after the war the very fact that the committee appealed to Jews around the world caused it to be branded as nationalist and therefore criminal in the Soviet Union

The principle defendant in the trial, Solomon Lozovskii, testified that, “What is on trial here is the Yiddish language.” Indeed, for the poets among the accused, Yiddish poetry had literally become a matter of life and death. These writers had worked for decades to build Soviet Yiddish culture, and now their literary works were being used as evidence against them. Many had seen the Soviet Union as a liberator, even a savior, from the oppression Jews had experienced in Czarist Russia and during the rise of Nazism.