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Symposium Marks 25th Anniversary of Execution of Soviet Yiddish Poets

August 10, 1977
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The 25th anniversary of the execution of 24 noted Soviet Yiddish writers, poets and intellectuals in Moscow’s Lubianka prison on Aug. 12, 1952, was commemorated here today by American writers and intellectuals at a symposium held at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. More than 75 persons attended the symposium which was chaired by Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary.

Sponsored by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ), the half-day program, including authors Herbert Gold, Jerzy Kosinski, and Simon Weber, editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, also featured David Markish, son of noted Soviet Yiddish writer Peretz Markish, who among those executed 25 years ago, and Prof. Thomas Bird of Queens College.

Markish now lives in Israel and came to the United States for the event. He noted that Stalin’s regime, afraid of publicity, never told families and friends of the 1952 executions. "Unaware of their loved ones’ terrible end," Markish recalled, "families of those executed continued to bring to the prison money parcels for those who had been killed. This horrible farce went on for about six months until the end of the winter of 1953, when the families of those who were shot were exiled without any trial or semblance of legal procedure."

Markish, exiled to Central Asia, returned to Moscow in 1962, after his father had been rehabilitated by the Soviet regime, and studied at the Gorky University of Literature. He emigrated to Israel in 1972 and has published the book " A New World for Simon Ashkenazy." He is presently working on a new novel entitled "Wild Ducks."


Podhoretz noted that the "Soviet authorities’ official attitude towards Jewish culture in the USSR today has not improved. It was perhaps unexpected," he noted, "that the consequence of those tragic executions would be in the form of a resurgence of interest by Soviet Jews in their culture."

Eugene Gold, NCSJ chairman, observed: "This was partially shown by a Symposium on Jewish Culture, which was arranged by Soviet Jewish activists and held in Moscow last December. The USSR today cannot destroy Jewish will or subvert Jewish consciousness." Kosinski noted that it is ironic that a nation as powerful as the USSR would be intimidated so openly by those interested in Jewish culture.

Weber said that the proper commemoration of those who were killed, can be found in the hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews who in recent years have petitioned and received exit visas to emigrate to Israel. "In the course of Jewish and Soviet history, this stream of Jews to their homeland is a historic event whose struggle continues with the actions of such emigration activists as Anatoly Sharansky," he said, Sharansky is presently being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, under investigation, according to reports reaching the West, on charges of treason. "Activities such as Sharansky’s," Weber stated, "are entirely legal under Soviet and international law."

Similar ceremonies to commemorate the murder of the Soviet Yiddish writers and intellectuals are being planned in Jewish communities across the country. A series of poetry readings under the title "The Night of the Murdered Poets" will be held in the Boston area Friday. On the same day the Jewish Federation of North Jersey will hold a public commemoration on the steps of City Hall in Paterson.

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