Sunday, August 19, 2012


On August 12th we observed the 60th anniversary of what has come to be known as the Night of the Murdered Poets. August 12th, 1952, 13 Soviet Jews were executed in Moscow's Lyubyanka Prison, as part of Stalin's larger plan to decimate Soviet Jewry. Five of those executed were writers. All had been leaders and public figures associated with the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. Today, commemorations often include other prominent Soviet Jews murdered by Stalin in the same period, such as Shloyme Mikhoels. 

Modernist poet Perets Markish was among those executed in 1952. One of his most famous poems is Brokhshtiker (Shards.) From Brokhshtiker comes the image of a shpigl af a shteyn, a mirror on a stone. Shpigl af a shteyn is also familiar to students of Yiddish literature as the title of the most important anthology of Soviet Yiddish writing. 

Here's the title page of my very old copy:

And the list of authors found within:

For this year's August 12th commemoration, Australian animator Jack Feldstein created a short film set to Brokhshtiker. Feldstein uses a technique he calls 'neonizing' which is "a combination of live action video recording and public domain material..." The result, with Yiddishist Shane Baker reciting the words of the poem, is a beautiful new interpretation of Markish and his poetry.

1 comment:

  1. Some recommendations for reading if you have this anthology, based on my own preferences and conversations with Eugene Orenstein:

    Markish – Maestoso patetico, p. 429; Golel, p. 433 (interesting in light of the anti-Zionist tack most would have to adopt later); Eyfl-tur, pp. 434-5 (Yiddish sonnets, sorta!); Ho Lakhmo + [brokhshtiker], pp. 487-489 ([brokhshtiker] is a piece, oddly enough, of this larger poem, which follows many of the themes of Maestoso patetico, but with more history-water under the bridge, or more history wreckage behind Benjamin's angel).

    Kulbak - In a Yadlovn vald, p. 521 (keep in mind that Harkavy has typos: yadlovn means "of FIR [trees]", not "of FIRE [sic]"); Asore debraye, p. 529 (try to figure out why that's the guy's name!); Raysn, p. 530-;

    Halkin - Rusland, p. 572; Ven vet vern likhtik, p. 608

    K, that's it for now. Have fun, kids!