Our Yiddish conversation group, or shmueskrayz, was launched at the beginning of the year and has been meeting once or twice a month ever since at bars and members’ private apartments. Our gatherings are casual and unstructured, and our conversations follow their own natural flow. The only rule is that we speak Yiddish the entire time. Interested Yiddish speakers of any level are always invited to get in touch with us and we will let you know the upcoming dates.
During the exhibition Plague | War | Mother Tongue, we are opening the group’s seventh meeting to the public. Anyone who speaks Yiddish (or has learned in the classroom and would like to try chatting out in the world) is welcome to show up spontaneously – no RSVP needed – and join our conversation.
Today, we find it especially important to raise awareness of Ukrainian culture, literature, and language. We are Yiddishists, and our contribution to this cause is speaking about Yiddish and Ukrainian connections, mutual influences, and literary and cultural intertwinings.
As languages, Yiddish and Ukrainian have much in common. They both still suffer from neglect and stereotypes, often being dismissed as “not proper languages” but rather dialects of the dominating German and Russian. The attitude towards the languages reflects cultural and political oppression.
In the event, we will give voice to Yiddish and Ukrainian poets of the 19th and 20th centuries by reading their works in original and translation. The first part focuses on the Ukrainian classics: Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, and Lesya Ukrainka. In the 1930s, Dovid Hofshteyn, a Yiddish modernist poet born in Ukraine, translated their works into Yiddish. This project was more than just a translation. Hofshteyn found a way to express his own ideas on national identity and alienation through the works of Ukrainian poets.
The second part of the event includes works by Leyb Kvitko translated by the famous Ukrainian poet Pavlo Tychyna, as well as Yiddish modernist poetry by women such as Dvoyre Fogel. Our special guest, Ukrainian Yiddishist Iryna Zrobok , a Lviv-born translator from Yiddish and German into Ukrainian, will present her project about Yiddish female writers.
Katerina Kuznetsova, Sofya Chernykh, Dina Gidon, August Kahn, Alina Klimanska, Boris Shavlov, Jake Schneider, Iryna Zadnipriana, Iryna Zrobok
A Book Presentation with Historian Barry Trachtenberg
We are pleased to host a book presentation by historian Barry Trachtenberg of Wake Forest University, author of the new book The Holocaust and the Exile of Yiddish: A History of the Algemeyne Entsiklopedye (Rutgers University Press). His study traces an ambitious project that started in the 1930s, right here in Berlin: to publish a comprehensive encyclopedia of general knowledge completely in the Yiddish language. This dream drastically changed course within several years as the editors fled the Nazi regime and their intended readership of Eastern European Jews was decimated by genocide, dispersed by mass migration, and diluted by cultural assimilation.
In the mid-twentieth century, the project sparked tremendous controversy in Jewish cultural and political circles: What should a Yiddish encyclopedia be for? What knowledge and perspectives should it contain? By the time the last volumes were published, in 1960s New York, both the Yiddish-speaking world and the encyclopedia itself had been completely transformed by postwar circumstances. As Trachtenberg argues, this is not only a story about destruction and trauma, but also one of tenacity and continuity, as the encyclopedia’s compilers strove to preserve the heritage of Yiddish culture, to document its near-total extermination in the Holocaust, and to chart its path into the future.
The English-language book presentation by Barry Trachtenberg will be moderated by Jake Schneider of YIDDISH BERLIN. Questions from the audience are welcome – feel free to ask them in English, Yiddish, or German. This event accompanies our current exhibition Plague | War | Mother Tongue, which you can view at the gallery, featuring artworks by Ella Ponizovsky Bergelson, Arndt Beck, and the late Helmut J. Psotta.
More information about the book here on the website of Rutgers University Press.
28 May 2022, 7pm
Galerie Zeitzone, Adalbertstraße 79, 10997 Berlin
Presentation and discussion in English, questions in Yiddish or German welcome
Barry Trachtenberg holds the Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History at Wake Forest University in North Carolina (USA). He is the author of The Revolutionary Roots of Modern Yiddish, 1903-1917 (2008) & The United States and the Nazi Holocaust: Race, Refuge, and Remembrance (2018).
In response to the war in Ukraine, which has deeply shaken us all, we adjusted the focus of our event on International Women’s Day. Many of the Yiddish poets we presented were born or lived in Ukraine. We spoke about their experiences with war, invasion, and displacement and emphasized their connections to Ukraine. We, YIDDISH Berlin, are unanimous in our support for all people living in Ukraine and used this event as an opportunity to raise awareness of Ukraine’s history and culture.
At the event, we also collected donations, which we used to acquire medications for people in need in Ukraine.
The program included recitations of poems and musical renditions of work by the following authors, all of them women:
Marina Alexeeva | Rivka Basman Ben-Hayim | Celia Dropkin | Irena Klepfisz | Rokhl H. Korn | Anna Margolin | Kadia Molodowsky | Miriam Ulinover | Debora Vogel
The participants included:
Arndt Beck | Patrick Farrell | Hilde Haberland | Sveta Kundish | KaterinaKuznetsova | Anna Rozenfeld | Jordan Lee Schnee | Jake Schneider | Maria Stazherova
On 31 October 2021 at 3 pm, YIDDISH BERLIN held a reading to remember two important Yiddish poets. On 29 October 1937, Meyshe Kulbak and Izi Kharik were summarily executed. They were among the first Yiddish writers to fall victim to Stalinist purges.
Kulbak and Kharik were both born in Belarus – Raysn in Yiddish – where they spent much of their lives and where they were also murdered. The notion of home and finding home, as well as the tensions between the shtetl and the big city, were central themes for both poets.
Although their lives and their literature moved in rather different directions, they share many commonalities beyond the dark day of their death.
YIDDISH BERLIN read prose and poetry by Kulbak and Kharik (in Yiddish) as well as stories about the poets’ lives (in English).
Our event paid tribute to their immense literary legacy while celebrating living Yiddish culture.
Every year since 2018, YIDDISH BERLIN has marked the anniversary of the summary execution of the members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee on 12 August 1952 in the basement of the Lubyanka Building in Moskow. This tragedy became known to history as the NIGHT OF THE MURDERED POETS because the lives cut short that night included those of five prominent Yiddish poets: Dovid Bergelson, Itsik Fefer, Dovid Hofshteyn, Leyb Kvitko, and Perets Markish.
This year, we marked this anniversary with a reading from the trial transcripts (in German, Russian, and English) as well as Yiddish poetry, music, and performances.
Supported by the Berlin Senate Department of Culture and Europe via the Stiftung für Kulturelle Weiterbildung und Kulturberatung (Foundation for Cultural Education and Cultural Consulting as part of the DRAUSSENSTADT initiative.
In 1941 the Nazis arrived in the Lithuanian capital. They set about murdering Jewish people and destroying the rich cultural heritage of the city: its many Jewish libraries. A handful of Jewish intellectuals in the Vilnius ghetto bravely resisted by trying to save this heritage. They were called the Paper Brigade. Among them: Avrom Sutzkever.
On the basis of unseen archival material, interviews with protagonist and their descendents as well as historians, this documentary shines a light on an important chapter of spiritual resistance.
Director: Diane Perelsztejn, Belgium, France 2018, 60 min.
Sutzkever is one of the great poets of the twentieth century. I do not say this lightly. He is not a philosophical poet; there was no sophisticated philosophy in Jewish culture. Nor is he a descriptive poet; the language of Modernism was opposed to description, and the fictional worlds of Sutzkever’s poetry are presented through evocation and allusion rather than direct statement. But the language of his poetry — the profound sound orchestration and the metaphorical and mythopoeic imagery — is as dense, unmediated, and suggestive as that in the poetry of Mandelstam or Rilke. And his responses to historical reality are as sharp as any in the verse of Brecht. The paradoxical amalgam of these two extremes of twentieth-century poetry — self-focused poetic language and ideological engagement — is successful in Sutzkever’s work because both are presented through the events of the poet’s own biography.
Sutzkever: Life and Poetry, Intodruction to A. Sutzkever, Selected Prose and Poetry, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford, 1991, p. 3
On the eve of Avrom Sutzkever’s 10th yortsayt we are commemorating him and his work.
Arndt Beck | Irad Ben Isaak | Horst Bernhardt | Patrick Farrell | Charles Green | Hilde Haberland | Sveta Kundish | Ekaterina Kuznetsova | Elisabeth Landenberger | Timothy McKeon | Anna Rozenfeld