Songs in Dark Times: Yiddish Poetry of Struggle from Scottsboro to Palestine

Songs in Dark Times: Yiddish Poetry of Struggle from Scottsboro to Palestine

by Amelia M. Glaser


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A probing reading of leftist Jewish poets who, during the interwar period, drew on the trauma of pogroms to depict the suffering of other marginalized peoples.

Between the world wars, a generation of Jewish leftist poets reached out to other embattled peoples of the earth—Palestinian Arabs, African Americans, Spanish Republicans—in Yiddish verse. Songs in Dark Times examines the richly layered meanings of this project, grounded in Jewish collective trauma but embracing a global community of the oppressed.

The long 1930s, Amelia M. Glaser proposes, gave rise to a genre of internationalist modernism in which tropes of national collective memory were rewritten as the shared experiences of many national groups. The utopian Jews of Songs in Dark Times effectively globalized the pogroms in a bold and sometimes fraught literary move that asserted continuity with anti-Arab violence and black lynching. As communists and fellow travelers, the writers also sought to integrate particular experiences of suffering into a borderless narrative of class struggle. Glaser resurrects their poems from the pages of forgotten Yiddish communist periodicals, particularly the New York–based Morgn Frayhayt (Morning Freedom) and the Soviet literary journal Royte Velt (Red World). Alongside compelling analysis, Glaser includes her own translations of ten poems previously unavailable in English, including Malka Lee’s “God’s Black Lamb,” Moyshe Nadir’s “Closer,” and Esther Shumiatsher’s “At the Border of China.”

These poets dreamed of a moment when “we” could mean “we workers” rather than “we Jews.” Songs in Dark Times takes on the beauty and difficulty of that dream, in the minds of Yiddish writers who sought to heal the world by translating pain.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674248458
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 11/24/2020
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Amelia M. Glaser is Associate Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego, and an award-winning translator. She is author of Jews and Ukrainians in Russia’s Literary Borderlands and has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Jewish Quarterly, and Times Literary Supplement.

Table of Contents

Preface: The Optimists ix

Introduction: Yiddish Passwords in the Age of Internationalism 1

1 From the Yangtze to the Black Sea: Esther Shumiatchers Travels 39

2 Angry Winds: Jewish Leftists and the Challenge of Palestine 72

3 Scottsboro Cross: Translating Pogroms to Lynchings 107

4 No Pasaran: Jewish Collective Memory in the Spanish Civil War 139

5 My Songs, My Dumas: Rewriting Ukraine 174

6 Teshwah: Moishe Nadirs Relocated Passwords 211

Afterword Kaddish 243

Appendix: Poems from the Age of Internationalism

"A Sacco-Vanzetti Year" H. Leivick 251

"At the Border of China" Esther Shumiatcher 252

"Sing, Desert Wind" Moyshe Teyf 253

"Accusations" Shifre Vays 255

"God's Black Lamb" Malka Lee 256

"Spain" Peretz Markish 257

"Kol Nidre" Aaron Kurtz 261

"Ukraine" (1944) Dovid Hofshteyn 262

"Closer" Moishe Nadir 263

"Kaddish" Aaron Kurtz 264

Notes 269

Acknowledgments 333

Index 337

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