Yid­dish in the Cold War

Gen­nady Estraikh
  • Review
By – January 13, 2012

Gen­nady Estraikh has writ­ten a con­cise, fas­ci­nat­ing, and high­ly read­able account of the role and fate of Yid­dish dur­ing the Cold War between the USA and the USSR, home to the two largest Jew­ish Dias­po­ra com­mu­ni­ties. Estraikh was inti­mate­ly involved in the final decades of Yid­dish in the for­mer Sovi­et Union as man­ag­ing edi­tor of the jour­nal Sovetish Heymland. 

Para­dox­i­cal­ly, although Jew­ish com­mu­nal iden­ti­ty was offi­cial­ly sup­pressed in the USSR, from 1961 to 1991 the Sovetish Heym­land mag­a­zine pro­vid­ed a sub­stan­tial out­let for Yid­dish writ­ing. Togeth­er with the numer­ous ama­teur and semi-pro­fes­sion­al Yid­dish musi­cal, dance, choral, and the­atri­cal groups allowed to per­form in many cities, Sovetish Heym­land and the mod­est week­ly Biro­bidzhan­er Shtern seemed to sig­ni­fy a blos­som­ing of a lin­guis­tic cul­ture clear­ly declin­ing in both the USA and Israel. Rel­a­tive­ly young Yid­dishist Sovi­et emi­grants, like Estraikh now at New York Uni­ver­si­ty, Mikhail Kru­tikov at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, and Boris San­dler, edi­tor of the Yid­dish week­ly For­ward, are all prod­ucts of the last flow­er­ing of Sovi­et Yid­dish. Estraikh also explores the stub­born­ly trag­ic career of Paul Novick, the long-lived edi­tor of the New York Com­mu­nist Morgn-Fray­hayt.

Yid­dish in the Cold War is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed, although it is sur­pris­ing how many Eng­lish syn­tac­ti­cal and gram­mat­i­cal errors occur in a book pub­lished in Great Britain. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, photographs.

Robert Moses Shapiro teach­es mod­ern Jew­ish his­to­ry, Holo­caust stud­ies, and Yid­dish lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture at Brook­lyn Col­lege of the City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. His most recent book is The War­saw Ghet­to Oyneg Shabes-Ringel­blum Archive: Cat­a­log and Guide (Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty Press in asso­ci­a­tion with the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al Library and the Jew­ish His­tor­i­cal Insti­tute in War­saw, 2009). He is cur­rent­ly engaged in trans­lat­ing Pol­ish and Yid­dish diaries from the Łódź ghet­to and the Yid­dish Son­derkom­man­do doc­u­ments found buried in the ash pits at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Discussion Questions