The Pre-Hitler International Yiddish Culture Club


Ah, the soothing poetry of a Jewish intellectual on a mission:
“To assist in creating a new Yiddish secular culture, in Jewish national forms, with the living forces of the broad Jewish masses, in the spirit of the working man and in harmony with the ideals of the future.”

Thus spake the super-Soviet tenets of the “Kultur-lige,” or League of Culture, the secular socialist Jewish organization founded in Kiev in 1918 in the wake of the Bolshevik uprising. Created to promote Yiddish education, literature, theater, art, and music, and outfitted with its own publishing press, the Kultur-lige maintained branches in nearly 100 Ukrainian towns and shtetls at its prime.

But the Soviet region wasn’t exactly a comfy spot for Jews in the 20th century. After being taken over by communists in 1920, the Kultur-lige’s printing presses were confiscated, their requests for paper were denied, and their central committee was disbanded. Kultur-lige branches started popping up in Poland (which was home to the seminal Yiddish periodical Literarishe Bleter), Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Berlin, Paris, Mexico, Argentina, and even, briefly, in New York and Chicago, where they enjoyed varying levels of success before petering out or getting quashed by Nazis, who were really good at ruining great things.

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