In the Shadow of the Holocaust: Short Fiction by Jewish Writers from the Soviet Union

Translated from Yiddish and Russian by Sasha Senderovich and Harriet Murav

About this project

It is a commonplace to say that in the former Soviet Union there was no recognition of the Holocaust either by the government or by Soviet Jews, even though about 1.5 million Jews were killed on Soviet territory.  This perspective still influences teaching and research on Soviet Jewish life and death during World War II and the Holocaust. Despite prevailing scholarly assumptions and the official Soviet silence, Jews in the Soviet Union profoundly engaged with thinking about and memorializing the Holocaust, addressing it in a wide range of literary works written during the war and in its aftermath. The significance of these works, however, remains largely neglected, because there are so few translations of Soviet Jewish Holocaust literature

In the Shadow of the Holocaust: Short Fiction by Jewish Writers from the Soviet Union, under advance contract with Stanford University Press, will provide students, teachers, researchers, and the general reading public with a critical, annotated translation into English of Yiddish and Russian works written in the aftermath of the most significant Jewish tragedy of the 20th century. The volume recovers a body of literature whose very existence has been denied. Eight writers are to be included in the volume. David Bergelson, Itsik Kipnis, Shire Gorshman, Rivka Rubin, and Shmuel Gordon wrote in Yiddish; and Semyon Gekht, Dina Kalinovskaya, and Margarita Khemlin wrote in Russian. Short stories by these authors explore fundamental questions about the Holocaust and Holocaust literature: how to provide testimony, how to memorialize victims, and how to live in the face of overwhelming destruction.

The authors, languages, and settings of the stories are unfamiliar to most readers. In their very foreignness, however, the stories translated in this collection challenge expectations about what Holocaust literature should be. In so doing, they fulfill a crucial task of the humanities: the cultivation of moral imagination through the contemplation of the other’s experience. The Holocaust plays a paradigmatic role for exploring legacies of violence in the Americas, Asia, Western Europe, and elsewhere. Scholars working on the Gulag, in African American studies, and on legacies of colonialism in various global contexts rely on Holocaust scholarship to examine the challenge of representing the unrepresentable. The stories in our project address these questions, central to the humanities today. In David Bergelson’s 1946 Yiddish story “A Witness” (“An eydes”), a survivor provides testimony about a death camp to another character who translates his Yiddish into Russian, pausing to ask him whether she has got it right. “The suffering was in Yiddish,” says the story’s title character, alluding to the unique fate of Jews, the difficulties of rendering suffering into language, and the challenge of translation broadly. These are challenges that this project engages directly.

About the collaborators

Longtime collaborators, Sasha Senderovich and Harriet Murav co-translated, from Yiddish, David Bergelson’s novel Judgment, which was published with their critical introduction and notes (Northwestern University Press, 2017).

Sasha Senderovich

Sasha Senderovich is Assistant Professor in the Jackson School of International Studies and the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Washington, where he is also a faculty affiliate at the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies. He is the author of How the Soviet Jew Was Made (Harvard University Press, 2022).

Harriet MuravHarriet Murav is a Center for Advanced Study Professor and the Catherine and Bruce Bastian Professor of Global and Translational Studies in the departments of Slavic Languages & Literatures and Comparative & World Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is also the editor of Slavic Review. She is the author of numerous books, including David Bergelson’s Strange New World: Untimeliness and Futurity (Indiana University Press, 2019) and Music from a Speeding Train: Jewish Literature in Post-Revolution Russia  (Stanford University Press, 2011).