Mayn tsvaoeh durkh dir ikh loz: The Socialist Realism of Dovid Bergelson




Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation examines the socialist realism produced by Dovid Bergelson from 1926 to 1952. This socialist realism, primarily in the form of novellas, epic novels, and journalistic pieces, expresses a genuine faith in the Soviet system and in its leader, Josef Stalin. However, Bergelson’s work also manages to engage with Jewish culture and identity, both by virtue of its creation and publication in the Yiddish language and through its focus on Yiddish and Jewish themes. This project hypothesizes that Bergelson identified an issue of identity within the realm of post-Haskalah Jewish letters. Those scholars and writers seeking to engage with Jewish literature found the genre faced with two questions. First of all, there was the issue of which language to use in the creation of new material: some favored Hebrew, citing its position as the language of learned Jews and its continued use in the Jewish liturgy. Others favored Yiddish, the “kitchen-talk” of women, the uneducated, and the working classes. Bergelson placed himself firmly alongside the latter. Secondly, Bergelson’s work elaborates upon this self-referential uncertainty by questioning the location—or what I call the “homing”—of Yiddish literature. This homelessness was, I argue, based in the insufficiency of the shtetl as both a physical, bordered location, and as a metaphysical mindset that, to Bergelson, represented superstition, oppression, and poverty. Bergelson’s solution to this problem was the “new Russia,” or the Soviet state. Where earlier modernist writings produced in Kiev and Berlin, such as Nokh alemen and Opgang, deal with this shtetl, his new writings, such as Baym dnyepr and Birobidzhaner, portray Jews engaging with historicity, self-formation, and a new Jewish consciousness. While a conflict certainly existed between one’s identity as a Soviet and one’s identity as a Jew, however those identities were undertaken and performed, I argue that Bergelson’s readers found, in his writings, inspiration and guidance in their lives as both Soviet citizens and Jewish individuals. At the same time, this ever-present conflict is based in two systems that, though they may appear diametrically at odds with each other, do not function along the same delineations and cannot be defined in compatible ways. Though this incompatibility should have precluded any conflict or usurping of one system by the other, the tension between Jews and the Communist Party, particularly Jews active within their community, often had tragic outcomes. Indeed, Bergelson and his colleagues were simply writers and activists—sometimes reluctant activists—caught between, and within, two identities. This project will examine Bergelson’s writings in relation to the Soviet Jewish experience, the fields of diasporic literature and minority literature, and the notion of self-creation in the face of totalitarianism. In performing this scholarship, I hope to illuminate new aspects of the spaces occupied by Soviet Jews, and to prove that those spaces make up a sort of uniquely Soviet “Yiddishland.”



Bergelson, David, 1884-1952, Yiddish language, Yiddish literature, Jewish literature, Soviet literature, socialist realism, Jewish diaspora, Shtetls in literature


©2018 The Author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the Eugene McDermott Library. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.