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Jews in Ukrainian Literature

Jews in Ukrainian Literature: Representation and Identity

Myroslav Shkandrij
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Jews in Ukrainian Literature
    Book Description:

    This pioneering study is the first to show how Jews have been seen through modern Ukrainian literature. Myroslav Shkandrij uses evidence found within that literature to challenge the established view that the Ukrainian and Jewish communities were antagonistic toward one another and interacted only when compelled to do so by economic necessity.

    Jews in Ukrainian Literaturesynthesizes recent research in the West and in the Ukraine, where access to Soviet-era literature has become possible only in the recent, post-independence period. Many of the works discussed are either little-known or unknown in the West. By demonstrating how Ukrainians have imagined their historical encounters with Jews in different ways over the decades, this account also shows how the Jewish presence has contributed to the acceptance of cultural diversity within contemporary Ukraine.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15625-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Jews have lived for many centuries on the territory of what is today Ukraine. Their interaction with the local population is recorded in the earliest East Slavic written records, such as thePaterikof the Kyivan Caves Monastery, which reports a dialogue between Kyiv’s Christians and Jews in the eleventh century. The Jewish presence has been large—at the beginning of the twentieth century almost a third of all world Jewry lived in Ukraine—and it has played a significant role in Ukrainian life. The rich imprint left by this presence on Ukrainian literature is the subject of this book....

  7. CHAPTER 1 Confronting the Other, 1800–1880
    (pp. 9-48)

    After the partitions of Poland in the late eighteenth century, around 600,000 Jews found themselves within the Russian empire. Catherine the Great decreed in 1791 that they could not enter Russia proper but were restricted to the western territories. Here, imperial authorities gradually established the Pale of Settlement, which remained in force until 1915. It included eight out of nine Ukrainian gubernias (provinces) and what is today Belarus and Lithuania. In the 1880s the population of Jews in the Ukrainian part of the Pale was over 1.5 million. If one adds to this figure the almost half-million Jews in territories...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Meeting at the Crossroads, 1881–1914
    (pp. 49-91)

    The situation of Jews on the territories that are today Ukraine in this period has often been portrayed as oppressive, but it was not the same everywhere. It may have been best in Austrian-ruled Bukovyna. Although Aharon Appelfeld’s novelKaterina(1989, English translation 1992) paints a gloomy picture of local anti-Semitism, there appears to have been some cooperation between Ukrainians and Jews. Bukovynian Jews have been described as “the most accepted and least persecuted Jewish community in Eastern Europe.” In this period they enjoyed full citizenship, elected Jewish mayors to the capital Chernivtsi (Czernowitz), and rectors to the university. The...

  9. CHAPTER 3 A Dream of Rapprochement, 1914–1929
    (pp. 92-106)

    Jewish and Ukrainian leaders drew closer in the twentieth century’s second decade. Henry Abramson has written that “one of the major coups of the nascent Ukrainian movement was its early success in winning the support of Jewish political activists from their Russotropism.” (Abramson 1999, xviii.) After the fall of tsarism in February 1917, first the Central Rada (the Ukrainian parliament formed in March 1917 after the fall of the tsarist state) and then the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR) proclaimed and built national-cultural autonomy for Jews. The government allocated 30 percent of its parliamentary seats and positions in the General Secretariat,...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Constructing Jewish Identity in Ukrainian Literature, 1914–1929
    (pp. 107-124)

    The philo-Semitic stance characteristic of prerevolutionary Ukrainian writing was carried over into the immediate postrevolutionary years. Stepan Vasylchenko, Modest Levytsky, and Klym Polishchuk are good examples of this kind of fiction. The first two owed much to the earlier sentimental approach (Kunitz’s “reign of pity”), but their works were published and republished during the revolution and the twenties. These minor writers not only captured a substantial readership but could claim to represent widely held attitudes.

    Vasylchenko made a name for himself in prerevolutionary years with his portraits of the downtrodden who yearn for a better future—the “gentle, helpless, dreaming...

  11. CHAPTER 5 A Jewish Voice: Leonid Pervomaisky
    (pp. 125-136)

    Jews contributed to Ukrainian literature over several generations and provided a Jewish voice—one that expressed Jewish concerns and articulated the problems of a Jewish Ukrainian identity. The development of this voice can be traced in the work of three writers. It received early expression in the poetry of Hrytsko Kernerenko, was then in early Soviet times given articulation by Leonid Pervomaisky, and in the late twentieth century has been represented by Moisei Fishbein. Pervomaisky is, in many ways, the most complex case, since his writings reflect almost the entire Soviet experience, show a significant evolution, and raise many issues...

  12. CHAPTER 6 The Rising Tide of Resentment, 1929–1939
    (pp. 137-165)

    The collectivization, violence, famine, and terror of the thirties were accompanied by the crushing of the indigenization policy. Those who had conducted Ukrainianization were accused of being nationalists, Petliurites, and fascists, and an entire stratum of leading cultural and political figures was executed, imprisoned, or cowed. Ironically, one complaint against them was that they had also introduced compulsory Jewish education for Jewish children, a tactical move, it was claimed, to “create a bloc with Jewish nationalists.” (Halii and Novyts’kyi 1934, 63.) Jews who had played a role in Ukrainianization were also repressed. They included scholars like Yarema Aizenshtok, Olena Kurylo,...

  13. CHAPTER 7 The Second World War and Late Stalinism, 1939–1953
    (pp. 166-195)

    On August 23, 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed the pact that divided Poland. The USSR occupied and annexed Western Ukraine and the territory that is today Western Belarus. Lithuania, Latvia, Northern Bukovyna, and Bessarabia were occupied in June 1940, following the fall of France. For nearly two years the Soviet Union supplied the Nazi war machine with the food and raw materials needed to circumvent the blockade imposed by the Allies. Hitler expressed satisfaction that the purges had lessened the role of Jews in the Bolshevik party and Soviet state. In the prewar years Stalin had been forcing Jews out...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Awakening from History, 1953–2005
    (pp. 196-218)

    In the late fifties and early sixties a coordinated antireligious campaign in the Soviet Union closed many churches and synagogues. The number of Jewish communities in Ukraine dropped from forty-one to fifteen. Out of five hundred synagogues in the USSR at the time of Stalin’s death, only one hundred remained in 1963. (Khiterer 2001a, 146.) From 1945 to 1985 there were no legal Jewish schools, no books or newspapers published in Hebrew or Yiddish, and only one magazine,Sovietish heimland. This period also witnessed a campaign against Zionism and the imprisonment of those who demanded the right to emigrate to...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Postindependence Ironies
    (pp. 219-230)

    On the eve of independence Jews in Ukraine were still predominantly Russian-speaking. In 1989 only 2 percent gave Ukrainian as their mother tongue and initially they showed considerable skepticism towards the new Ukrainian state. During the eighties and in the decade after independence approximately a million left Russia and Ukraine, partly because of the economic crisis and partly because they feared a revival of anti-Semitism. However, the Eastern European successor states did not conduct anti-Semitic politics or prevent emigration. In 1992 the Ukrainian parliament accepted a law that guaranteed national, cultural, and religious rights to minorities. Jewish institutions received government...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 231-236)

    Ukrainian literature’s master narrative of national liberation and consolidation has at times included the idea of rapprochement with the Jewish community. This was particularly true of the years 1880–1917 when the national movement was dominated by liberal-democratic currents and the struggle for civil and national rights. After the revolution of 1917–20 and the establishment of Bolshevik rule, a Soviet master narrative developed which described the forging of a new community without national tensions. As a consequence, much Soviet literature denied particularism—whether Ukrainian or Jewish. However, from the late thirties, when the Soviet state began to portray itself...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-256)
  18. Index
    (pp. 257-265)