The Epic Demands of Postwar Yiddish: Avrom Sutzkever’s Geheymshtot (1948)

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Abstract

Avrom Sutzkever’s epic poem Geheymshtot (Secret City) was considered a masterpiece at the time that it was published, but has been virtually ignored since. This article reads the poem as a deliberation on the possibilities of home for Jews after the Holocaust. The poem makes large demands of its readership, asking cosmic questions about love, the relationship between humans and the natural world, and the ethics of preserving history. Extrapolating from his personal experience of migration, Sutzkever interrogates Soviet Socialism and political Zionism as well as the problems of post-catastrophe ideology at large. All of this is done in tightly crafted Yiddish verse—itself a statement about the importance of the language for the Jewish future. To locate Sutzkever politically, the article draws upon Soviet archival documents and compares Geheymshtot to Haim Nachman Bialik’s epic poem, “In the City of Slaughter.”.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-353
Number of pages23
JournalEast European Jewish Affairs
Volume48
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2 Sep 2018

Keywords

  • Avrom Sutzkever
  • Holocaust
  • Israel
  • Soviet Union
  • Vilna
  • Yiddish
  • epic poetry
  • testimony

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