Yiddish Glory – A Project made from loving memories and extreme virtuosity!
As World War II raged through Europe, a group of Soviet Yiddish scholars
embarked on an ambitious goal to preserve Jewish culture of the 1940s.
Soviet ethnomusicologists from the Kiev Cabinet for Jewish Culture, led by
Moisei Beregovsky (1892 – 1961), recorded hundreds of new Yiddish songs:
tunes that detailed Soviet Jewish wartime service in the Red Army, survival and
death in Nazi-occupied Europe and stories from those working in the Soviet
home front in Central Asia, Ural Mountains and Siberia. Beregovsky and his
colleague Ruvim Lerner (1912 – 1972) hoped to publish an anthology of these
songs, but the project was never completed as Beregovsky was arrested in the
height of Stalin’s anti-Jewish purge. The documents were sealed. The scholars
died thinking that their work had been lost and destroyed.
In the 1990s, librarians of the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine found
unnamed boxes with these documents. Librarian Lyudmila Sholokhova created
the first catalogue since the original one was destroyed in the 1940s.
In the early 2000s, a lucky coincidence brought Anna Shternshis to Kiev where
she found out that these songs had survived all of these decades following
Beregovsky’s arrest. Quickly deteriorating, fragile documents, some typed, but
most hand-written on paper, presented a challenge. But upon quick examination
of the material, it turned out that these contained some of the most poignant and
historically important Soviet Yiddish songs of World War II. None of them have
been performed since 1947.
The archive was a bombshell that challenged the established wisdom of how
Soviet Jews made sense of World War II. Many songs turned out to be the first
grassroot testimonies of the German atrocities. Their authors used music and
poetry to describe violence and destruction that could not be easily comprehended
or described in prose. Some songs were written by Red Army soldiers fighting
in the trenches (representing some experiences of the approximately 440,000
Jews enlisted during World War II), others by women and men who anxiously
waited for these soldiers to return (about 1.4 million Soviet Jews survived the war
in Soviet Central Asia and Siberia), yet others by Jews in occupied Ukraine and
other parts of the Soviet Union (over 2.5 million Jews were killed in the European
part of the Soviet Union).
Some songs in the archive did indeed have their melodies preserved, however
most were simply lyrics. Shternshis and Dr. Pavel Lion, better known under his artistic
name Psoy Korolenko, worked together to bring these songs to both academic and
popular audiences in 21st century North America and Europe. Psoy Korolenko
engaged in “musical archaeology,” and analyzed the scarce supplementary
notes, contextualized the lyrics and then took a leap of imagination in order to
create or adapt music for the texts, all originally written by amateur authors. Violinist
and composer Sergei Erdenko then created multi-instrument arrangements and
composed original music for one song (“Kazakhstan”).
Producer Dan Rosenberg brought together an all-star band,
which consisted of five vocalists (including Juno-award winner
Sophie Milman), and five conservatory trained classical
instrumentalists with decades of experience performing and
researching folk music. The album “Yiddish Glory” is the fruit
of this three-year-long process. For the first time, the public
will hear the voices of the Soviet Jews who were thought to be
silenced by Hitler and Stalin.