Performing the Jewish Archive

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Singing and Laughing Against Fascism

Venue: University of Sydney Main Campus, Quadrangle, History Room S223
Admission: Free

The University of Sydney’s Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences and the School of Languages & Cultures co-present the first keynote lecture for Out of the Shadows, delivered by Dr Anna Shternshis, the Al & Malka Green Associate Professor of Yiddish Studies and Director of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto.


Singing and Laughing Against Fascism: Lost and Found Soviet Yiddish Songs of World War II
In the late 1990s, in the manuscript department of the Ukrainian National Library, archivists found a number of boxes. They contained hand-written Yiddish documents dating back to 1941–1947. Upon examination, it turned out that the pages contained thousands of songs, written by Yiddish-speaking Jews in Ukraine during World War II. Leading Soviet Jewish ethnomusicologists and linguists, including the legendary Moisei Beregovsky, had archived this music by Jewish refugees, Jewish soldiers in the Red Army and Holocaust survivors, who had defied Hitler in song. Stalin’s authorities arrested Beregovsky and his colleagues in 1950, and the documents were sealed. Scholars believed them to have been destroyed forever.

Studying these Yiddish songs changes the way we understood the history of the Holocaust, especially how Jews in Europe made sense of the war, the violence and the destruction of their communities. Some ridiculed Hitler and fascism; others mourned victims, and all of them called for the ultimate revenge against fascism.

Accompanied by a rich media presentation, created together with an artist Psoy Korolenko, the lecture will give voices to the amateur singers who were not silenced by Hitler or Stalin, people who sang in the face of the unthinkable violence and injustice. It will also give voice to scholars who risked their lives and careers for collecting these songs during the war. Above all, the lost and found Soviet archive gives us a chance to glimpse into the world of Soviet Yiddish world of the 1940s – a treasure that will continue to inspire.

For Russian text click here

Anna Shternshis received her doctoral degree (D.Phil) in Modern Languages and Literatures from Oxford University in 2001. She is the author of Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923–1939 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006) and When Sonia Met Boris: An Oral History of Jewish Life under Stalin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). She is the author of over 20 articles on the Soviet Jews during World War II, Russian Jewish culture and post-Soviet Jewish diaspora. Together with David Shneer, Shternshis co-edits East European Jewish Affairs, the leading journal in the field of East European Jewish Studies. 

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