in Cultural Sovietization a Multi-Ethnic Environment: JewishCulture in SovietPoland,1939-1941

by Ben-CionPinchuk
On 17 September1939the Sovietarmy,in accordwith the Molotov-Ribbentrop invaded PolishRepublic. the endof Octoberthe Eastern Souththe and agreement, By Eastern of formerPolandbecameintegral of the USSR.Thirteen milprovinces parts lion andtwo hundred thousandpeople,whichconstituted overa thirdof the Republics' becamepartof the"Soviet the one population familyof nations." During twenty months of Soviet rule therewerestrenuousefforts made to transformthe formerpolitical, structures conformto the contemporary to Stalinist ceneconomic,socialandcultural tralistand monolithicmodel. The annexedterritory containeda heterogenous populationof PolesandUkrainians, Bielorussians Jews.Thusout of 13.2millionpeople and 1,123Bielorusliving in the occupiedprovinces,5,274 werePoles; 4,125Ukrainians; sians, and 1,109wereJews.The balancewas made up of small groupsof Russians, Lithuaniansand others.1 "Liberation the kindredUkranianand Bielorussian of peoples"was amongthe to forwardby the Soviet government justify its actions. The fiction of pretextsput liberation maintained was the and throughout occupation hadimportant consequences A for the attitudetoward cultureof the differentethnicgroups.2 policypreference the toward Ukrainians Bielorussians pursued and was the throughout Sovietrule.Bielorussians and Ukrainians wereappointedto key government positions.The languageof in instruction manyschools with Jewishor Polishmajorities changed.The main was victimsof this policy werethe Polish and Jewishpopulationand culture.3 Together with overtwo hundred containeda Jewish thousandrefugees,the annexedprovinces populationof over 1.3millionpeople,thus makingit one of the largestin Europeat the time. In an areariddenby centuries-old ethnic feuds wereto be found some of the moreimportant centersof EastEuropean Jewry,suchas Mirand Volozhin,Vilna and Bialystok.4 conThelocal Jewishcommunity a national-religious developed most distinctive In establishment. line sciousnesswith an elaborate cultural,religiousand educational and withthe long traditionof learning,ninetypercent of the Hebrew elementary secschools in Poland and manyof the more famousyeshivot, such as Mir and ondary Volozhin,werefound in the area.Lwow,Bialystok,Grodnoand Rovnohad Yiddish and houses,libraries, dailynewspapers dozensof periodicals.5 ManyJewishpublishing and and amateur of and artists,thousands synagogues Torahprofessional performers




study centers,bore witnessto the intensityand breadthof Jewishculturein the annexed territories. of Communist any animositytoward positiveexpression Jewishnationalidentity was pursuedin the new Soviet provinceswith the same vigor as in the old regions. to wereappliedby the authorities Jewishcultureas to that Officially,the samecriteria and was of otherethnicgroups.Formaldiscrimination terminated the Jewishpopulaof tion benefitedfromthe generalencouragement cultureand educationby the new A rulers.The existingculturaland educationalsystemsweredissolved.6 denationalthe ized Yiddishculturewas supposedto replace,at least partiallyand temporarily, formerstructure. as will be shown later,even withinthe twenty-onemonthsof Yet, the that the truegoal remained completeassimilation Sovietrule,it becameapparent of the Jewishcommunitywithinthe surrounding population.7 Completeintegration and into the Ukrainian, Bielorussian evenmorethe dominantRussianculturewasthe policy of the Sovietauthoritiesin the annexedprovinceson the eve of the warwith borders.The That policy was in line with Soviet conductin the pre-1939 Germany. speed and scope of assimilationof the new JewishSoviet citizensweredetermined considerations along with more generalpolicy imperatives. by ethnic "balancing" and A drasticdeclinein the quantityof all Jewishcultural religiousactivitieswas resultof Sovietpolicy.Jewishreligious whileformallytolerthe mostconspicuous life, to ated was underconstantpressure reduceits scope (as werethe differentChristian for Therewasno overtpersecution religious reasons, anti-religious yet denominations). was indoctrination partof the official ideology.The well-known negativeattitudetoand of wardreligionandanyexpression Jewishnationalism separatism broughtabout a drasticreductionin all formsof religiouspracticeand observance. Manyreligious and ceasedto operatebecauseof lackof funds.Thedissoluinstitutions functionaries in resulted the denialof the tion of the kehillah,the Jewishcommunalorganization, in Thus manyof majorfinancialsupportof religiousfunctionaries the community.8 and rabbis shokhatim themohalim slaughterers) community circumcisers), (ritual (ritual had to look for other sourcesof income, even without any official pressure. structure took place of Muchof the destruction the formerreligiousandcultural was withoutovertSovietcoersionor evenlegalenactments. worship not forReligious Yet, hostilitytoward religionand Judaism bidden,nor openlypersecuted. the regime's booksandritualitemswereclosed in particular werewell-known. Shopssellingprayer The whichwasforbidden. in down,beingclassifiedas engaging religious propaganda, sameappliedto the ramifiedsystemof schoolsengagedin religiousinstruction. They of had existedin EasternPolandfor hundreds years,yet withina few weeksafterthe of the Red Army the hedarim(traditionalreligiouselementaryschools) and entry ceasedto functionalmostcominstruction), yeshivot(higherlevelschoolsof religious While organizedand publiclysupportedreligiousinstructiondisappeared, pletely.9 to thereis evidenceof the continuedfunctioningof privateclassesfor children study the in severe prosecuting offenders werenot too At the Torah. this stage,the authorities and frequentlyclosed their eyes to this privateinstruction.'0 The Shabbatand the majorholidaysplayeda centralrole in Jewishreligionand value well understood the educational rulers culture. wasobviousthatthe communist It

Jewish Culturein Soviet Poland


of the holidaysand their contribution strengthening to Jewishnationalidentityand becamea majortargetof anti-religious consciousness. They propaganda, particularly duringthe springand fall months,close to Passoverand the High Holidaysof Rosh Hashanah,YomKippurand Sukkot.Passovercompetedwith 1 May,a majorSoviet Holiday,hence the specialefforts to brandthe traditionalfestivalas "a holidaynot of libertybut of enslavement."1 High Holidays,a time for communityand inThe dividualmeetingand reflectionweresharplydenouncedby the authorities. The facnot the synagogue, the proper was forthe masses,claimedthe Sovietpress.12 tory, place The Shabbatbecamea regular were workingdayin factoryand school. Workers whentheytriedto havetheirrestdayon Shabbat. threatened with severepunishment Studentswereunderconstantpressure attendschool and writeon the traditional to Jewishrestday.13 of Observance the Shabbatand traditional holidays,was,probably, the most conspicuousevidencefor the communistrulersof religiousattachment and a signof potentialdisloyalty theirnewsubjects.In manyof the smaller in towns(shteta at lach)of the region,wherethe Jewsconstituted majority, leastamongbusinessmen and artisans,the Jewishrest days had in practicebeen rest days of the entiretown. Obviouslyall that changedunderSoviet rule. The shtetlachof EasternPoland lost muchof theircharacteristically on Jewishappearance the sabbath."Onlya fewlighted candlescould be seenin the windows: therewereno children rushingfromheder,and could you detecta Jew dressedup in his Shabbatclothes,"reportedan elated rarely on Sovietobserver tour of the shtetlachof EasternPoland.14Therewasa generaland in the observance holidaysand the Shabbatin the annexedterritodrasticdecline of ries which was the resultof externalpressure combinedwith internaldevelopments within the Jewishcommunity. as werenot closeddownby the newrulers.Freedom Synagogues housesof prayer of worshipwas one of the highlyacclaimedprinciplesof Stalin's1936Constitution. Whiletherewereinstancesof closure,the pronounced policy was one of freedom.'1 in Yetthe synagoguewas more than just a house of prayer the towns and shtetlach of Eastern Poland.It had servedin a wayas the spiritual centerof the Jewishcommuit law nity.Forgenerations hadbeena placeto studythe Jewish anda centerof learning for young and old, as well as a centerfor social activitiesand assembly.Underthe newregimethe socialand communalactivitieswerecompletely banned,as weremost to of the regular classes.Onlysomeold peoplestillcametogether studya chapter study andits attendance of the Jewishlaw.Evenin its reduced the form,however, synagogue of if a constituted blatant rejection theofficialideology. proofof reservation not outright considered obstacleto success an the was Attending servicein the synagogue certainly of declinein the number thoseattending underthe newregime. resultwasa drastic The remained services,particularly amongthe young. By and large,the older generation faithfulto its traditions,whilethe youngergeneration, proexposedto anti-religious pagandaand seekingsuccessin Soviet society,desertedreligionand the synagogue in growingnumbers.16 the In spite of the declinein its scope of activitiesand attendance, synagogue remainedthe most importantJewishinstitution,a last refuge of Jewishreligiousfrom nationalcontinuity.It was formallytoleratedthough underconstantpressure



the authorities. Jewish religion and its institutions fared worse under the new regime than the different Christian denominations. Churches, too, were closed down and occasionally the clergy were persecuted. Yet, one could stigmatize Catholicism or the Ukrainian churches, without threatening the continued existence of the Polish or Ukrainian nations. It was, however, impossible to deny Judaism without endangering the continued existence of the Jewish people as a distinctly viable entity. Secular Jewish culture did not fare better than its religious counterpart. On closer and retrospective examination, what might have appeared to some contemporary observers as encouragement toward a certain form of Jewish secular culture, was mere illusion. Soviet policy toward Jewish secular and religious culture, frequently difficult to separate, were governed by the same precepts, namely, the accelerated obliteration of Jewish nationalism and distinctiveness. The Stalinist formula of Soviet culture as being Socialist in content and national in its form, was applied mainly vis-a-vis the Ukrainian and Bielorussian groups, much less so to the Poles, and was completely distorted where the Jews were concerned. They were destined to disappear as a distinct ethic entity. Hence, Jewish culture in whatever form or language could not, in the long run, be truly encouraged. Whatever cultural policy was pursued, it had been but a transient station on the road of complete assimilation. As a temporary phase of this road, the new regime introduced a de-nationalized Yiddish culture. It had to serve as a tool to imbue the Jewish masses, who did not know any other language, with the right Soviet spirit and values. From the very beginning of Soviet rule in the annexed provinces, Jewish culture was not treated as equal to the Ukrainian or Bielorussian cultures. The most conspicuous result was the sharp quantitative decline in Jewish cultural activity, as compared to other ethnic groups. The former cultural structure was destroyed almost overnight. Cultural organizations and institutions "dissolved"almost by themselves, as did other manifestations of organized Jewish public life. The former activitists fled, went into hiding or were arrested.17It was easy for the rulers to pursue their plans. Polish, Ukrainian and Bielorussian cultural activists of the former regime were equally persecuted. While Polish culture was certainly discriminated against, however, there was no danger to its very existence. In contrast, Ukrainian and Bielorussian cultures were actively and forcefully encouraged and the scope of activity dramatically enlarged, albeit in forms and content dictated by the regime. Jewish culture had to struggle for its continued existence and its Jewish content. Publications in Yiddish may serve as a yardstick to the attitude of the communist rulers toward Jewish cultural needs. A single Jewish daily, the Bialystoker Shtern appeared regularly in the annexed territory replacing the many dailies and periodicals which had existed under Polish rule. Der Roiter Shtern was published in Lwow for a few weeks in June 1941. No other Jewish publications existed in former Eastern Poland under Soviet rule. All printed material in Yiddish had to be imported from the older Soviet provinces. Yiddish never reached the same status as other languages in the formal usage, in spite of a pronounced policy of equality between all the spoken languages in the region.18 Hebrew, the ancient tongue of the Jewish people, was completely prohibited in school, public cultural activities of any kind, and in print. He-

Jewish Culturein Soviet Poland


brewalreadyhas been brandedas part of a reactionary ideology-Zionism-in the and as such was persecuted sincethen.19An unsuccessful 1920s, attemptto diminish the influenceof Hebrewon Yiddishby using the phoneticscriptand changingacwordsintoYiddishwasmade;andequality withotherethnic ceptedspellingof Hebrew was not even contemplated. languages Twomajorphasesmay roughlybe distinguished the culturalpolicyof the Soin viet government the annexedterritories. in The first phase lasted from the entry of the RedArmyinto the areatill June 1940.Phase two, which coincidedwith a more and of general hardening acceleration the sovietization process,lastedfromJune 1940 until the end of Sovietrule in June 1941.Contemporary observers, living or visiting Eastern Polandin the firstfewmonthsafterthe annexation, wereleft withthe impresin sionthatJewishculture, Sovietform,wouldflourishunderthe newrulers. ranks The of the local Jewishcultural elitewereswelledby the arrival manydozensof refugee of authors,journalists,performers, artists,and so forth. They werereadyto integrate into the Soviet culture,although,most of them did not reallyknow what it meant. Equalityfor the culturesof all ethnic groupsand promisesfor generousassistance to all the artistswereairedby the new rulers.At this stagethe Sovietregimewasglad to receive helpto easeandfacilitate transition Sovietreality.20 the into Somepeople any in the annexedterritories wereawarethat the fate of Jewishculture wouldnot be any differentfrom that in the SovietUnion proper.PeretzMarkishwas among the few who did not nourishillusionsas to the final fate of the Jewishculturein EasternPoland. Othersweremisled for a while.21 After June 1940came a period of gradual of activities.The harsher was evident line "shrinking" all Jewishcultural-educational in curtailingthe scope of Jewishculturalactivities,and more frequentcriticismof "nationalistic Zionistdeviations." May-June it hadturnedinto a genuinepurge 1941 By againstJewishcultureand activists.22 The Bialystoker Shternwas then the only Jewishpublicationin formerEastern Poland.It was a majortool to reachthe Jewishmasseswho could not readanyother thanYiddish.Likeotherinstitutions the territories, paperwasmanaged in the language and supervised officials who came fromthe East. Fromthe beginningof 1940,B. by Shulmanwas the editorin chief.23 paperwas mistakenly The considered manyof by its readers,newcomers the Sovietsystem,not only the mouthpieceof the regime, to but also as playinga majorrole in shapingthe Jewishpolicyof the rulers.That cerof standards the Stalinistpress,the Bitainlywas not the case. Trueto the prevailing alystokerShternextolledthe virtuesof the regimeand its leaders.The staff itself was and underconstantsupervision potentiallysuspectof "Jewish nationalistic" inclinain tions.24 fromthe Yiddishpaperparticipated manypropaganda activities Reporters as amongJewishworkers an integralpartof theirwork.Beingthe only Jewishpublicationin the new provinces, paperservedas a "watch the dog"overother Jewishculin turalactivities the theater, literature the artsin general.25 otherSovietpapers, and As Shternalso the yearsthat the cult of Stalinreachedits peak, the Bialystoker during contained that its littleinformation interested readers, Sovietcitizens,andeven as very less so as Jews.The most urgentproblemsthat concernedthe Jewishpeople did not find any reflectionin the SovietYiddishpaper.Nazi Germanyhad to be treatedas



an ally of the Sovietstate,notwithstanding fate of the Jewsunderits rule.Reading the the paperone gets the impression that it was designedto concealand confuserather The creationof a new Sovietcitizenfrom among than revealand informits readers. the shtetl Jews, was an importanttheme of the paper.Its main Jewishcontentwas ratherthe frequentand virulentattackson Jewishreligion,Shabbatand holidays.It would be no exaggeration claim that the treatmentof Judaismwas fairerby the to The Sovietpressthan by its Jewishcounterpart. Bialystoker Shtern,the only general Jewishpublishinghistory, Jewishpublicationin a regionthat had a most impressive or couldnot serveas a sourceof inspiration identification its Jewishreaders. for Seemin in chargehad no interestwhatsoever strengthening Jewishidentityor ingly,those consciousnessin any form. Soviet Yiddishauthorsand publishers wereawarefrom the outset of the large readingpublicthat was addedto their domain.In Moscow,Kiev and Minsk,where the Yiddishpublishing that unforeseen houseswerelocated,peoplerealized opportunities to disseminateSoviet Yiddishliterature wereopened with the annexationof was clericaland EasternPoland. Sovietliterature supposedto replacethe "decadent books of the formerorder.The new books wereto teach and produce reactionary" with the goals and valuesof the Socialiststate.Festivemeetingsof the identification in and editorial staff, resolutions grandiose planswereundertaken the firstfewmonths to afterannexation supplySoviet-Yiddish "to literature" the newareas.In Kiev,a decision was made to publisha seriesof brochures "lifeand people in the USSR."26 on books "torelateto our The intentionwas also to producea seriesof political-artistic in Western aboutthe happylifein the SovietUnion." brethren Ukraine Emes,themajor in Yiddishpublishers Moscow,decidedto includesongs, articlesand visualillustrations in theirpublicationdedicatedto the liberation.Markishwas commissioned to A a and prepare short film on Jewishlife in the USSR.27 seriesof political,literary, artisticbooks weredesignedspecificallyfor the use of the new Jewishcitizenof the SovietUnion by the Minsk-Bielorussian publishinghouse. The serieswould include SovietYiddishauthors,suchas Bergelson, Markish,and Akselrodas wellas the Yiddishclassicsof Mendele, ShalomAleichemandPerets.28 Reality justifiedthe highhope of SovietYiddishpublishers. "There indeeda largeconsumerpublicfor our literais confirmed Emes the turein the liberated of Urkaine Bielorussia" and provinces Western areasis indeedgreat.It might "Thedemandfor ourbooks in the liberated publishers. havebeen even greaterhad the distribution nets been morecooperative (withus)."29 Lackof an independent distribution networkwas a majorobstacleto the spreadof Soviet Yiddishbooks in the territories. continuedto occupyan impor"Booksfor the massesin the Western Provinces" tant placein SovietYiddishpress.Tensof thousandsof bookletsand pamphlets were thousandsof copies Yiddishclassics,Sovietliterature, actuallysent to the provinces. of "Stalin's of Constitution" otherwritings the leader,wereamongthe workssent and was to the Western No provinces.30 doubt, the marketfor Yiddishliterature indeed The since local Yiddishpublishinghad ceasedalmostcompletely. large,particularly and Sovietpublishers, couldnot meetthe demand.Despiterepeated however, requests out the actuallycarried by the distribuprovinces complaints, ordersfromthe Western

Jewish Culture in Soviet Poland


tion networks were few and insufficient.31 All of this was no mere accident nor was it caused by simple bureaucraticinefficiency. The Jewish masses were increasingly denied even the de-nationalized literatureof the Soviet publications. It was yet one more indication that assimilation remained the goal of the Soviet rulers. Libraries were valuable vehicles of culture and education. Every shtetl in Eastern Poland had its library and every synagogue had its books on Judaism. The libraries were greatly valued in a community that held books and learning in high esteem. One of the first acts of the new rulers was the closure of all libraries and their reopening after a purge from all undesirable works. The authorities had ratherclearcut standards as to what could be read by its Jewish citizens.32Local libraries were occupied by special inspectors who came from the East and were assisted by local communists or their sympathizers. According to prepared instructions, all books in Hebrew, the ideological enemy, were banned, regardlessof author, subject or content matter. These books were reactionary since they were written in Hebrew; no other proof of their nature was necessary. Even for books in Yiddish, the criteria applied were more rigid than those towards Russian or Polish classics. Chaim N. Bialik and Shalom Asch, for example, were excluded because they left Russia. Sholem Aleichem, Mendele and Perets were generally, but not totally, approved.33No wonder that out of libraries that included tens of thousands of books, only a few hundred were found to be "kosher." Books found "unsuitable"for the broad public were either used as pulp or transferred occasionally to closed researchlibraries.Many libraries,which were centers of learning were closed, never to be reopened.34 late as January 1941,fifteen months after "liberAs ation"we read a reportin a Yiddish-Sovietpublicationthat "most librariesin the Western Ukraine are still in the reorganization stage."35 Jewish culture in the new Soviet provinces did not benefit as it could have, from the presence of a large group of refugee writers, artists and performers who fled to the region from German-occupiedPoland. Some of the more prominentculturalfigures of Polish Jewry such as Moshe Broderzon; Zusman Segalovich; Avraham Zak; A. Katsizna, could be found in the group. Many of them were old sympathizers of the Soviet Union and even outright communists. Lwowand Bialystok, the two largesturbancenters of the annexed territories become the natural residence of many refugee writers and performers. The authorities were aware of the potential of this group but were suspicious of its ideological background. A special hostel and kitchen were provided for the refugee writers and artists.36The writers who wanted to become members of the Soviet Union of Writershad to pass an ideological investigation and loyalty test. MemThose bership in the Union was the only way to publish and earn a living as a writer.37 who were found loyal soon learnedthe true meaning of being a Jewish writerin Stalinist Russia. "Socialist realism"meant in those days the cult of Stalin in its crudest forms. Proletarian struggle, Jewish cooperation with other Soviet nationalities, class antagonism in the shtetl, and so forth, were the proper subjects for a Soviet writer. The Soviet way of life and "socialist happy future" were themes most encouraged by the authorities. This was made abundantly clear to the newcomersto the system by "writers brigades" who came from the East. Most refugee writers ceased their artistic work, whether because of ideological reasons or their inability to adapt to the requirements



of the regime. Jewish subject matter was always suspect. No mention could be made of the Jewish fate under Nazi-occupied territories. Nothing was allowed to blemish the relations between the Soviet Union and its newly found friends.38The result was that a great reservoir of talent and good will was wasted. The quality and further development of Jewish culture, however, was not really a high priority with the Soviet authorities. In spite of an obvious policy designed to bring about the assimilation of the Jewish population into the surrounding society, there are also many reports that there were large sections of the community that felt a "culturalbloom" under the new rulers. The poor and the young in the numerous shtetlach of the region shared the feeling that the Soviets cared for the cultural needs of the population. "There had been a noticeable increase in the activities of the different cultural fields. Clubs were opened; theater performances became more frequent, and a large library was opened to serve the "It community,"recalled a Lanin inhabitant.39 was noticeable that the authorities cared for the cultural needs of the masses. There was an abundant supply of papers, movies, From Bransk another witness claims that performances, etc.,"reported a Dubno Jew.40 the "Jewish population was happy during the twenty-one months of Soviet rule. They felt as free and equal citizens."4 Bransk enjoyed, according to the same narrator, extensive opportunities for adult education, amateur drama circle and choir, movies and a dancing floor. The shtetl Jews took advantage, probably even to a larger extent than the non-Jewishpopulation, of the varied cultural activities directedto the masses which characterized the Soviet regime. It should be noted that the favorable reports did not come from old-time communists, fellow travelersor new converts; rather,the evidence is that these reports came from people without party allegiance who lived in the region. There were many aspects of the new regime that appealed to the broader masses of the Jewish population. This should be viewed against the background of the secularizing tendencies which had existed in the community as well as the discrimination and deprivations of the previous regime. Overt discrimination was abolished by the Soviet authorities. Jews were considered equal citizens and antisemitism was condemned. Free education was available to all and at all levels. Most of the Jewish population neither knew nor understood the goals of the Soviet Jewish policy. Yiddish was the language used by the masses in everyday life and its enhanced status was certainly favored by many. "Wefeel a special thrill when in the streets of Lwow could be heard Yiddish words through the loudspeaker coming from the State radio," recalled Tania Fuks.42Intellectuals and simple people alike shared the feeling. The favorable reports of a "culturalreflourishing" under Soviet rule representauthentic sentiments of large portions of the Jewish community and are based on important facets of Soviet cultural policies and actions. Theater,radio and movies werehighly esteemed by the communist regimeas means to reachlargeaudiences, to indoctrinateand entertain.Professional and amateurgroups of performers formed the backbone of a ramified network of Yiddish theater in the Western provinces of Ukraine and Bielorussia, as the annexed territories were designated in official paralance. Yiddish State Theaters were established in the two major cities of the provinces, Lwow and Bialystok. They were headed by A. Moravski in Bi-

Jewish Culturein Soviet Poland


in Performers werelocal artistswho werejoined alystokand Ida Kaminska Lwow.43 as territories, wellas fromdisbanded by manyrefugeeactorsfromthe Nazi-occupied M. SovietYiddishtroupes.44 Broderzon the artistic-literary was director the so-called of Theaterin Bialystok,with two of the most famousperformers Poland, in Miniature were andShumacher.45 Theaters," foundin placeslikePinsk,Baranowicz, "City Dzhigan and value.All the profesGrodno,Tarnopol others,andweremostlyof local-regional sional theatersformedan elaborateand integralsystemof theatricalactivitybased on amateur A schools,and so forth.46 drama groupsin manyshtetlach,cooperatives, sectionin Yiddishon Radio Lwowdealt weeklywith the theaterand the arts.47 Musicalbands,choirs,folkmusiccircles, alldesigned draw to dancing groups, largenumbers of people,wereestablishedthroughoutthe new Sovietterritories. Much moneyand time was devotedto amateuractivities.Competitions, regionalmeetings,"allrepublican"and "allUnion"contestswereregularly held to encouragemass participation and attentionto popularculturalactivities.Jewishstudentsat all levelsof learning, and many towns and shtetlachtook part in these culturalactivities.48 cooperatives Muchtime andenergywasdevotedto the selectionof ideologically properplays, and theirperformance that they wouldconformto the "Sovietspirit." so One always had to be on guardnot to slip fromthe properline and interpretation. wasparticuIt tradition. tightpolitThe theatrical larlyhardfor performers brought in a different up ical controlwas part of the pricepaid for getting a job and economicsecuritythat went with it.49"Weneed Sovietcontent and themesto replacethe old subjects" was of the announced N. Kompanicks, director theculture of Western frankly by department Ukraine. Thereweresubjectsthat couldnot be touchedor evenhintedat on the Soviet not stage.Nazi-Germany, long ago a centralsubjectfor criticismand satireon the Sovietstage,could not be evenmentioned.As Jews,the performers foundit difficult to be silent,yet any attemptto circumvent ban on anti-German the were expressions of severelypunished.The repertoire the Yiddishtheaterswas eventuallycomposed of a combination classicYiddishplaysby Goldfadn,Perets,andSholemAleichem, of who wereadaptedand "cleaned," Sovietworksby Markish,Bergelson,Halkin, and In and others.50 spiteof the supervision censorship performers the and werereceived instituenthusiastically the Jewishpublic.Thetheaterwasthe only Jewishcultural by tion that remainedactive,and the scope of its activitywas even broadened.On the extensivetours in the manyshtetlachof the annexedterritories, YiddishSoviet the theatersservedto spreadthe impression that the newrulerscaredfor cultureand the entertainment the masses.51 of to Contributing the sense of the culturalboom among the inhabitantsof the Western had provinces been the spreadof the radioand cinemanetworkby the new authorities. as Kinofikatsiaand Radiofikatsia they weredubbedby the Soviets,were considered tremendous of and value for the indoctrination politicalmobilizationof the new citizens.Sinceradioreceivers wereexpensiveand difficultto control,public Radiobraodcasts wereused loudspeaker systemswerebuilt all overthe territories.52 for entertainment, As music,newsand, aboveall, ideologicalindoctrination. we have seenabove,the Lwowstationcarried regular in a program Yiddish,to the greatdelight of many.Moviesreachedmass audiences,since ticketswerefree or veryinexpensive



builtor repaired wereamongthe firstpublicbuildings New andeasilyavailable. cinemas wereservedby dozensof portablemovieunits Smaller the Sovietauthorities. places by broughtover by the Red Army.Much effort was devotedto ensurethe confortable Radioand movieswere viewingof new moviesthat weresuppliedfromthe interior.53 As a consequence, theiravailability broughtto the regionfor the populationat large. enhancedthe feelingamongthe Jewishpopulationthat the newrulersdevotedmore attentionto theirculturalneedsthan the formerregime.In spite of the obvioususe took the for cultural activities propaganda of the different population purposes, Jewish in into of advantage them,thus participating theirintegration Sovietsocietytogether with other ethnic groups. tried Within months,theSovietauthorities to bringabouta mostdrastic twenty-one The territories. goal was of transformation the culturalsystemof the newly-acquired to conformto the cultureexistingin the USSRat the time.Localconditionsandinterdetermined speedof the process.It couldnot be achieved the nationalconsiderations of the Ukrainianand Bielorussian populationas part of Encouragement overnight. withMoscow's in the provinces not alwayscompatible was an anti-Polish oppopolicy in Hencethe connationalism its ownterritories. and sitionto Bielorussian Ukrainian was in At tradictions Sovietpolicy. timesthe Jewish population usedamongthedifferent and large,however, Sovietculturalpolicy ethnicgroupsfor "balancing" purposes.By was vis-a-visthe largeJewishcommunity determined moregeneralconsiderations. by of Theobjectiveof the policywasthe destruction the old orderthathelpedto preserve SovietYiddishculture, and Jewishdistinctiveness its replacement a de-nationalized by and, finally,completeassimilation. a A radicallyreducedreligiousstructure, few state supportedtheatersand one structure that religiousand secularcultural dailywereall that wasleft of the elaborate Yiddishculture, combined Poland.Thisde-nationalized hadexistedin former Eastern with the generalgrowthof massculturalactivities,producedin some peoplethe illusion of a culturalflourishing.Yetby the summerof 1940,it should havebeen clear The that nothingwas reallydifferentin the newterritories. culturalsituationwas fast and as a commuwith that of the USSR proper.Jewsas individuals beingequalized and werelosing moreand moreof their distinctiveculturalcharacteristics were nity Soviet culture. being assimilatedinto the surrounding
* Theresearch the present of for articlewaspartlyassisted grantsfromthe Israeli by Academy Science and a Sherman Fellowship. See 1. According the calculations the Polishgovernment-in-exile. File A-9-III-1-1, 9, in the to of p. and Archiveof The PolishInstitute Sikorski Museum,London.The files belonged,mostly,to the Polish in materials the studyof the for containmostvaluable situated London.Thearchives government-in-exile period, 1939-1945. 2. Ann S. Cardwell, Poland and Russia(New York,1944),p. 46. 3. Ibid., pp. 52-71. 1918-1941 the Eastern Between Wars, 4. HughSeton-Watson, (NewYork,1967),pp.268-319. Europe

Jewish Culture in Soviet Poland


in 5. Bernard Weinryb, D. "PolishJewsunderSoviet Rule," PeterMeyer,et al., eds., The Jews in the SovietSatellites(Syracuse, N.Y.,1953),pp. 332-33. 6. NicholasP. Vakar, Ma., 1956),pp. 156-65. Byelorussia (Cambridge, 7. HershSmolar, "Jewish in SovietWestern Life and Bielorussia, (HeFlowering Decline,1939-1941" brew),Shvut,4 (1975),126-36. of 8. Ben-Cion of Pinchuk,"TheSovietization the JewishCommunity Eastern Poland,1939-1941," Slavonicand East European Review,56 (1978),393. 9. Sefer Volozhin (Tel [Bookof Volozhin] Aviv,1970),p. 532. SeferMir, [Bookof Mir](Jerusalem, 1962),p. 585. 10. Volozhin, 532. SeferDereczyn[Bookof Dereczyn] Aviv,n.d.),p. 385. (Hereafter titles the (Tel p. of all memorialbooks will be shortened the namesof the towns). to in 11. Titleof articlein the SovietYiddishpaper,published Bialystok, Shtern[Starof BiBialystoker alystok], 13 April 1941. 12. Ibid., 6 October1940;and also 16 February 1940.Oktiaber[October] (Yiddishdaily-Minsk), 21 August 1940. for of LikhilatPinsk-Karlin and 13. SeferEdutVzikaron [Bookof Witness Memory theKehillah PinskcalledPinsk).PinkasOstrog[Bookof Ostrog](TelAviv,1960), Karlin] Aviv, 1966),p. 320 (hereafter (Tel of Book of the Kehillah Sarny](TelAviv, 1966),p. 267. p. 105. SeferIzkor LikhilatSarny[Memorial 14. Oktiaber, August 1940. 21 of 15. Althoughtherearetestimonies the closure,undervariouspretexts, synagogues, official to the one toward continued the of See policyremained of tolerance functioning the housesof prayer. SeferZikharon Likhilat Bookof theKehillah Lipniszki] Aviv,1968), 135; of Lipniszki (Tel [Memorial p. SeferZikaron LikhilatIwie [Memorial Dubno [Memorial Book of Dubno](TelAviv,1966),p. 236;SeferZikharon Book of the Kehillah Iwie](TelAviv, 1968),p. 295; and Janowal YadPinsk, Sefer Zikharon,[Janownear of Pinsk, MemorialBook] (Jerusalem, n.d.), p. 313, See also Pinsk, p. 291. 16. Janow,p. 312; Lachwa to ] Lamered, Pinsk,p. 320;andRishonim [First Rebel,Lachwa (Jerusalem, 1957),p. 37. See also Mir, p. 586. 17. Avraham Slaves] (Buenos Zak,KnechtZenenMirGeven[WeWere Aires,1956),I, 32. Theauthor, a well-known Jewishwriter, livedin Eastern Polandduring firstfewmonthsof Sovietrule,beforebeing the exiled. 18. Shoat Yihudei Polin [TheCatastrophe the Polish Jews](Jerusalem, of 1940),p. 60. Vakar, Byelorussia,p. 60. 19. Zvi Gittelman, JewishNationalityand SovietPolitics:TheJewishSectionsof the CPSU, 19171930(Princeton,N.J., 1972),pp. 276-77. 20. Smolar,"Jewish Life,"pp. 133-36. in 21. "The of Jewish fate culture theWestern wouldnotbe different fromthatin theWestern" Provinces assured of Communist the Ponomarenko, generalsecretary the Bielorussian party,whenhe met Markish in Feburary 1940.The Jewishpoet, on his way for a visit to the "liberated territories" warnednot to was fosterimproper ideasamongthe local Jews,sincetheirculturewasdestinedto perish.SeeEsterMarkish, Aruka [To Returnfrom a Long Way](TelAviv, 1977),p. 89. LakhzorMiderekh 22. Smolar,"Jewish Life,"p. 134. 23. Ibid., pp. 128-29.Smolarclaimedthat he and ZeligAkselrodfrom Minskwerethe founders of the paper. 24. Ibid. 25. "Bolshevik Shtern,whichwas vigilancein art"readthe title of a lead articlein the Bialystoker a majorrole of the paper.See the Bialystoker 1940. Shtern,10 February 26. Shtern[Star](SovietYiddishdaily publishedin Kiev), 18 September 1939. 27. Ibid., 30 September 1939. 28. Oktiaber, October1939. 6 29. Ibid., 19 February 1940. 30. Ibid., 10, 20 October,3 November1939. 31. A few weeksbeforethe end of Sovietrule,on 7 May 1941,the Shternreporter relatedthat only



a tiny percentage the Yiddishorderswereactuallycarriedout. See Shtern,7 May 1941. of in and Galiciain the Years1939-1941" 32. Avraham Weiss,"Theater YiddishLiterature Eastern (Hebrew),Bekhinot,8-9 (1980),125-26. In MosheGrossmann, Farkisheftn 33. Zak,Knecht, 79-80(Grodno). LandfunLegendern Dzhugashpp. Landof Legendary vili [In the Enchanted Dzhugashvili] (Paris, 1949),pp. 56-57 (Bialystok). 34. Weiss,"Theater YiddishLiterature," 125-26. and pp. 35. Ofboi [Upbuilding], 3 (Riga), January1941. no. in who 36. Thefate of thegroupwasrecorded its survivors succeeded reaching West.See,Zak, the by In MainLaidns Knecht,pp. 18-25, Grossmann, Farkisheften Land,pp. 19et passim.SheineBroderzon, with MosheBroderzon] (BuenosAires, 1960),pp. 19-29. Vegmit Moshe Broderzon[My Sufferings in 37. Tania Gebitn[A Wandering Occupied iber Fuks,A vanderung Okupirte Aires, (Buenos Regions] In Land, pp. 40-41. 1948),p. 71. Grossmann, Farkisheften 38. Broderzon, MainLaidns,p. 25. of 39. KhilatLanin,SeferZikaron[TheKehillah Lanin,a MemorialBook] (TelAviv, 1957),p. 48. 40. Dubno, p. 651. the 41. Bransk:Sefer ha-Zikharon [Bransk: MemorialBook] (New York,1948),p. 249. 42. Fuks,A vanderung, 61. p. and 43. Smolar,"Jewish Life,"p. 133. Weiss,"Theater YiddishLiterature," 114. p. 44. Ida Kaminski's in Archival Collectionin Jerusalem. YadVashem See testestimony YadVashem timonies,K-326-3736. 45. Broderzon, Main Laidns,p. 24. and 46. Oktiaber,15 January, March,1941.See also Weiss,"Theatre YiddishLiterature," 117. 6 p. 47. Fuks,A vanderung, 61. p. 48. Oktiaber, March1940,15 January1941. 15 Shtern,23 March1941.See also Smolar, Bialystoker "Jewish Life,"p. 133. Polandand now in the Bialystok recorded life 49. DavidLederman, actorin interwar an the theater, and atmosphere the Sovietstage.See his Fun ienerzaitforhang [Fromthe OtherSide of the Curtain] of (BuenosAires, 1960),pp. 101-17. 50. Shtern,1 March1940. and 51. Bialystoker Weiss,"Theater YiddishLiterature," 116. Shtern,1 January. p. 52. Oktiaber, May 1941. 23 1939.Oktiaber, 20 January, 53. Shtern,22 October,18November, 12, 1940,11August 1940,and 31 May 1941.