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The Yiddish Spanish Civil War: Poetry Between Hitler and Stalin

A lunchtime lecture with Amelia Glaser, Associate Professor, Russian and Comparative Literature, University of California, San Diego

Date: Monday, September 19

Time: 1:00pm

Location: 617 Kent Hall, Columbia University

Jewish poetry about the horrors of Nazism during World War II abounds. However, largely neglected is body of Yiddish literature devoted to antifascism during the Spanish Civil War. This talk will focus on poetic cycles about the Spanish Civil War by Soviet, American, and Mexican Yiddish-language poets. As the journalist Melech Epstein wrote, “no ethnic group in Europe or the United States was so deeply touched by the Spanish civil war as was the Jewish [… who] felt, by and large, that the struggle among the barren hills of north and central Spain was a proving ground for Hitler and Mussolini”. The collective memory of past Jewish suffering during the Spanish Inquisition colored the Yiddish poetry devoted to the war, even for writers firmly-aligned with the secularist Left. “I am once again your guest; the honor makes me sad!”, the Soviet Yiddish poet Peretz Markish writes in the opening to his 1936 poem “Spain”. At the same time, many viewed the war as presenting a real and symbolic opportunity for positive change on a global scale. I shall demonstrate that the war presented Jewish writers sympathetic with the Spanish Loyalist cause to synthesize Jewish history, a contemporary struggle in Spain, and a Soviet-inspired utopian vision for the future.

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