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Thu 19-01-2017
Amsterdam Yiddish Symposium 11

Yiddish after 1945

After the Second World War, Yiddish culture appeared to be all but annihilated. The murder of large numbers of Yiddish speakers during the Shoah, which came after almost a century of linguistic assimilation among of Ashkenazic Jews, seemed to mark the end of Yiddish as a living language. This caused serious concern among remaining Yiddish intellectuals such as authors, journalists, theatre and film makers and educators, who began to question how and if the use of the Yiddish language was to be continued. 

During this symposium, three scholars of Yiddish literature and culture will present important observations and considerations regarding the state and future of Yiddish after the end of the Second World War. Gali Drucker Bar-Am will map out major Yiddish cultural enterprises that took place around the world in the immediate post-war years. Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov will describe and analyze Yiddish activities in Poland, a country with state-sponsored Jewish institutions, in the two decades following the Second World War. Anita Norich will talk about the role of translation: translation as the herald of the end of a living Yiddish culture or as a means of preservation of this culture that enables it to continue to flourish.

New Yiddish Theatre, Adler Hall, corner of Commercial Road and Adler Street, London E1 in 1946

The Menasseh ben Israel Institute, in collaboration with the Abteilung für Jiddische Kultur, Sprache und Literatur at the Heinrich Heine Universität, Düsseldorf, organizes the eleventh Amsterdam Yiddish Symposium, with lectures by:

Gali Drucker Bar-Am (Tel Aviv University)
Memory, Lament and Endurance in Early Post WWII Yiddish Culture

Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov (Polish Academy of Sciences)
Yiddish Form, Socialist Content: Yiddish in Postwar Poland, 1945-1968

Anita Norich (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)
“Ver Vet Blaybn? Vos Vet Blaybn?” (Who Will Remain? What Will Remain?)

Date:             Thursday, 19 January 2017, 1-5.30 PM
Place:            VOC zaal, Oost-Indisch Huis, Kloveniersburgwal 48, Amsterdam
Entrance fee:  € 10,-; for students and Friends of the institute € 5.-,
Registration:   via email, phone 020-5310325 or webform.

Information about the speakers and their lectures

Gali Drucker Bar-Am is a post-doctoral fellow at the Goldreich Family Institute for Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture, Tel Aviv University. Her book Am I Your Dust? Representations of the Israeli Experience in Yiddish Prose (Forthcoming, in Hebrew, at Yad Izhak Ben Zvi), is a study of Yiddish culture and literature in Israel between the years 1948 and 1967. Her current research focuses on Yizker Biker (memorial books).

The aim of this talk is to briefly survey major Yiddish cultural enterprises that took place between 1945 and 1950 around the world. These enterprises, Gali Drucker Bar-Am will argue, did not only offer readers solace for the devastating loss of Jewish Eastern Europe, by conjuring up outstanding portraits of no longer existing hometowns, communities and culture, but also to harness such portraits in meaningful ways to the new tasks that lay ahead of them.       


Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov is Assistant Professor at the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. Her research interests focus on the history of East European Jewry in the 19th and 20th centuries, the history of Yiddish culture (especially Yiddish press) and Polish-Jewish relations. Her books include Strategie przetrwania: Zydzi po aryjskiej stronie Warszawy (Strategies of Survival. Jews on the Aryan side of Warsaw, 2004), Obywatel Jidyszlandu. Rzecz o zydowskich komunistach w Polsce (Citizen of Yiddishland. About the Jewish Communists in Poland, 2009; English translation forthcoming), Mowic we własnym imieniu. Prasa jidyszowa a tworzenie zydowskiej tozsamosci narodowej (do 1918 r.) (To Speak On Our Behalf. Yiddish Press and the Creation of Jewish National Identity until 1918, 2016) as well as three co-edited volumes. She was the 2010 recipient of the Jan Karski and Pola Nirenska Award and has served as the chairperson of the Polish Association of Yiddish Studies (2013–2016). She is currently working on a new unabridged Polish edition of Emanuel Ringelblum’s diary from the Warsaw ghetto.

Contrary to many popular misconceptions, the Shoah did not bring the total annihilation of Jewish life in Poland – although its dimensions after the war were considerably smaller in all respects than before 1939. Still, until 1956 Poland was the only country of the Soviet bloc (apart from Romania) with state-sponsored Jewish institutions, such as public schools, press, a publishing house and an institute for historical research. These institutions all conducted at least some part of their activities in Yiddish and even after the political thaw of 1956 in the Soviet Union, Poland remained a meeting place for Yiddish authors from the West and from the Eastern bloc. In my lecture, I will present the key role played by Jewish communists in these events and will show how their personal attitude towards Yiddish helped to shape the situation of Yiddish in postwar Poland.


Anita Norich is the Tikva Frymer-Kensky Collegiate Professor of English and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Writing in Tongues: Yiddish Translation in the 20th Century (2013), Discovering Exile: Yiddish and Jewish American Literature in America During the Holocaust (2007), and The Homeless Imagination in the Fiction of Israel Joshua Singer (1991), and co-editor of Languages of Modern Jewish Cultures: Comparative Perspectives (2016), Jewish Literatures and Cultures: Context and Intertext, (2008), and Gender and Text in Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literatures (1992). She teaches, lectures, and publishes on a range of topics concerning modern Jewish cultures, Yiddish language and literature, Jewish American literature, and Holocaust literature.

“Ver Vet Blaybn? Vos Vet Blaybn?” (Who Will Remain? What Will Remain?). The great Yiddish poet, Avrom Sutskever, wrote those words in 1974, but the questions had resounded decades earlier. One inescapable answer to those questions is that translations will remain along with the Yiddish works on which they are based. World War II has often (incorrectly) been understood to herald the end of Yiddish culture. In the Western world, it also heralded the beginnings of post-modernism and, ironically, of translation work that would potentially make Yiddish literature into a world literature. Yiddish cultural figures—poets, novelists, critics, educators—were increasingly coming to recognize that the stakes in translating Yiddish were higher than they had ever been. They confronted such questions as the following: Did translation from Yiddish suggest that its culture was at an end? Was translation a way of defying demographics and preserving the culture of Ashkenazic Jewry? Or both? In the Yiddish works that were translated (primarily into English) and the varying interpretations they generated, we trace not only what remains but what continues to flourish.



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