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Special Interview with David Markish

August 11, 1977
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When David Markish was a child in Moscow his non-Jewish classmates taunted him with the demand that he go to Israel. But when Markish, the son of the martyred Soviet Yiddish writer Peretz Markish, grew up and sought to emigrate to Israel, Soviet authorities denied his wish for 14 years until 1972.

Markish, who is himself a writer and author of a novel recently published in the United States called “A New World for Simon Ashkenazy.” which is about his family, was interviewed in the office of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry under whose auspices he is in the United States. He is here to mark the 25th anniversary of the murder of his father and 23 other Soviet Yiddish writers and poets on Aug. 12, 1952 on Stalin’s orders. He will be making appearances in New York, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Chicago.

The 39-year-old Markish said that in Israel where he lives in Neve-Monoson, a suburb of Tel Aviv, “I feel like a sabra.” He said because of the anti-Semitism of his classmates in the Soviet Union he always felt Israel was his real home even before his father was arrested. He remembers seeing the Israeli flag flying from the Israeli Embassy in Moscow in 1948 and saying “that is my flag.”

Markish said his non-Jewish friends in the Soviet Union called him “the Khazak from Jerusalem.” (After his father’s arrest, Markish, his mother, his brother and a cousin were exiled to Khazakistan where they stayed until after Stalin’s death. They did not know of Peretz Markish’s death until the government informed them in 1955.)


Speaking mostly in Hebrew and a little English, Markish said in 1958 he went to Warsaw in an unsuccessful attempt to emigrate. He returned to Moscow but the KGB knew he had visited the Israeli Embassy and from then on he was watched. He noted that when he tried to go to Mongolia to do research he was denied permission because of his Warsaw trip even though he pointed out the only place he could go was to China or back to the USSR. His brother, Shimon, got out of the USSR in 1960 through Hungary and went to Israel before accepting a university post in Geneva.

David Markish applied for an exit visa in 1971. His wife, Irena, was allowed to emigrate that year and Markish and his mother were given visas in November, 1972.


Markish believes that there is no furture for Jews who want to remain Jews in the Soviet Union. He said a Russian on a bus or subway will say he smells something, meaning a Jew. With this type of anti-Semitism prevalent throughout the society many Jews who want to remain in the USSR decide to no longer be Jews, he said.

Markish said that the Soviet Union wants to stamp out Jewish culture. He said Hebrew is outlawed and because many young Jews want to learn Hebrew the Soviet authorities have been increasing Yiddish classes as a measure against Hebrew.

But Markish stressed that although Stalin himself was anti-Semitic, the arrest of his father and other Yiddish writers and the later “doctors’ plot” was more a political act than anything else. He explained that in the 1930s Stalin’s purges were aimed at wiping out the nationalist movements throughout the Soviet Union which were seen as a danger to Russia. By killing the intelligentsia, Stalin destroyed the “tongue” of the various nationalities in the USSR, he said.

Markish said after World War II a new generation of intelligentsia had arisen and there as a “new wind” of nationalism sweeping through the various peoples in the USSR. He said Stalin aimed to wipe this out, too.

After the arrest of the Jewish writers and particularly during the “doctors’ plot” period, there was great fear among the Jewish people, Markish said. He said the propaganda against Jewish doctors and engineers affected the ordinary people and some Jewish doctors and engineers were “lynched.”

In 1955-56, things got better, Markish said. He noted this period was a “golden time” for all people in the USSR. Markish believes the present regime is again in fear of nationalistic feelings and while he said he didn’t know whether it will lead to terror and killings again, he did say it is always a “possibility.”

Markish, who returns to Israel Aug. 22, is working on a new novel about Bohemian life in the USSR. He writes in Russian and his works are translated into Hebrew, English and other languages. But Markish is proudest of one of his other creations, a three-year-old son born in Israel, named Peretz.

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