David Bergelson
From Modernism to Socialist Realism
Proceedings of the 6th Mendel Friedman Conference

Edited by Joseph Sherman and Gennady Estraikh

Studies In Yiddish 6


24 August 2007  •  378pp

ISBN: 978-1-905981-12-0 (hardback)  •  RRP £80, $110, €95


Among the finest prose stylists in Yiddish literature, David Bergelson (1884-1952) was caught up in many of the twentieth century's most defining events. In 1909 he emerged as a pioneer of modernist prose, observing the slow decay of the Tsarist empire. In 1917 he welcomed the Revolution, but the bloodshed of the ensuing Civil War and the dogmatism of the Bolsheviks drove him to emigration. For more than a decade (1921-1934), he lived in Weimar Germany, travelling extensively in Europe and the United States. Shocked by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, disheartened by the decline of Yiddish culture in the West, and inspired by Soviet promises to create a Jewish republic, Bergelson became a Communist sympathiser and moved towards socialist realism. Returning to the Soviet Union after Hitler's rise to power, Bergelson flourished in a state-sponsored cultural environment in which his work was widely read both in Yiddish and in Russian translation. After Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Bergelson became a prominent member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, writing extensively about the Holocaust. In the paranoia of the Cold War years, the Stalinist regime accused him of anti-Soviet activities and, after a secret military trial he was executed on 12 August 1952, his 68th birthday.

For years, critics have argued that Bergelson produced his best work before the Revolution, and afterwards largely wrote Communist propaganda. David Bergelson: From Modernism to Socialist Realism challenges this view by examining Bergelson's entire oeuvre. The book argues that Bergelson continually reinvented himself as a writer, experimenting with style and narrative technique even under the most severe restrictions of Party dogma. With contributions from an international team of Bergelson experts, the volume offers a full-length biography, the first complete bibliography of Bergelson's work, translations of two of his most influential programmatic articles, and a range of essays dealing with all periods of the writer's life.

Joseph Sherman is Woolf Corob Fellow in Yiddish Studies at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Gennady Estraikh is Rauch Associate Professor of Yiddish Studies, New York University.


  • ‘A happy balance between text and context... everything from a close reading of his works to an examination of the literary, historical and cultural context in which those works were produced. This book is, in effect, more than the examination of the works of one author.’ — Eric Dickens, Three Percent March 2008
  • ‘Once more the Legenda imprint brings us an exemplary collection of essays on Yiddish literature... A magisterial study of exceptional factual richness which will remain a major source-work on this topic for years to come.’ — Hugh Denman, Modern Language Review 104.1, January 2009, 297-99 (full text online)
  • ‘Bergelson was arrested early in 1949 and executed in August 1952. His work has largely fallen into oblivion... There is thus all the more reason to welcome this collection of essays. It includes a biographical study by [Joseph] Sherman and essays by various people on different aspects of Bergelson's fiction, among them a fascinating account of conflicts with Abe Cahan, editor of Forverts.’ — Antony Polonsky, Times Literary Supplement 2 May 2008, 23
  • ‘The editors have done a remarkable job collecting essays that finally put Bergelson on the map of literary and historical scholarship. This is the necessary first step in assuring that the contribution made by this important Yiddish writer to the development of world's literature does not remain unnoticed.’ — Anna Shternshis, H-Judaic January 2009



David Bergelson (1884–1952): A Biography
Joseph Sherman


Memories of My Father: The Early Years (1918–1934)
Lev Bergelson


Language and Style in Nokh alemen (1913): Bergelson’s Debt to Flaubert
Daniela Mantovan


For Children and Adults Alike: Reading Bergelson’s ‘Children’s Stories’ (1914–1919) as Narratives of Identity Formation
Kerstin Hoge


Yoysef Shor (1922): Between Two Worlds
Seth L. Wolitz


In Search of Readership: Bergelson Among the Refugees (1928)
Sasha Senderovich


Narrating the Revolution: From ‘Tsugvintn’ (1922) to Mides-hadin (1929)
Mikhail Krutikov


Uneasy Patronage: Bergelson’s Years at Forverts (1922–1926)
Ellen Kellman


David Bergelson in and on America (1929–1949)
Gennady Estraikh


‘Why I am in Favour of Birobidzhan’: Bergelson’s Fateful Decision (1932)
Ber Boris Kotlerman


Memory and Monument in Baym Dnyepr (1932–1940)
Harriet Murav


From Mourning to Vengeance: Bergelson’s Holocaust Journalism (1941–1945)
David Shneer


‘Du lebst, mayn folk’: Bergelson’s Play Prints Ruveni in Historical Context (1944–1947)
Jeffrey Veidlinger


‘Jewish Nationalism’ in Bergelson’s Last Book (1947)
Joseph Sherman


A Bibliography of David Bergelson’s Work in Yiddish and English
Roberta Saltzman


Appendix A. Belles-lettres and the Social Order (1919)
David Bergelson


Appendix B. Three Centres (Characteristics) (1926)
David Bergelson


Bibliography entry:

Sherman, Joseph, and Gennady Estraikh (eds), David Bergelson: From Modernism to Socialist Realism, Studies In Yiddish, 6 (Legenda, 2007)

First footnote reference: 35 David Bergelson: From Modernism to Socialist Realism, ed. by Joseph Sherman and Gennady Estraikh, Studies In Yiddish, 6 (Legenda, 2007), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Sherman and Estraikh, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Sherman, Joseph, and Gennady Estraikh (eds). 2007. David Bergelson: From Modernism to Socialist Realism, Studies In Yiddish, 6 (Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Sherman and Estraikh 2007: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Sherman and Estraikh 2007: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

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