A Curious Story of Two Banned Soviet Jewish Poems

Written by Laura Auketayeva

Benjamin Waife, better-known under his pen name B.Z. (Ben Zion) Goldberg, was an American Yiddish journalist, writer, historian, and son-in-law of Sholom Aleichem, who made a significant contribution to recording and interpreting the history of Soviet Jews. In one of his notes about his visit to the Soviet Union, Goldberg writes about his frequent encounter to two poems: one posing “the Jewish question” and the other giving the answer to it. Soviet Jews recited these banned poems from memory and secretly passed them on from one person to another. He heard them from a physician in Leningrad, a teacher in Odessa, and a writer in Tashkent. Goldberg concludes that these poems “became folk literature expressing the assimilated new generation of Soviet Jews” (B.Z. Goldberg papers, [in process Box 70, Folder 2]). Goldberg wrote them down in Russian and then typed up the translations in English.

The first part of the poem that numerous Soviet Jews were reciting–Goldberg wrote it all down in Russian (B.Z. Goldberg’s papers, [in process Box 70, Folder 2]).
 Excerpts from B.Z. Goldberg’s translation of Margarita Aliger’s “Your Victory” and Michael Rashkovan’s “Answer to Margarita.” Goldberg did not know who wrote the poems–all he knew was that Soviet Jews secretly recited these poems, and so he recorded them and increased awareness about them in the West (B.Z. Goldberg’s papers, [in process Box 70, Folder 2]). 

Turns out, those poems had been published; but were later banned and their reciting forbidden. The original poem or the question was created by Margarita Aliger, a well-known Soviet Jewish poet and the author of “Your Victory.” The aforementioned poem’s part called “We are Jews” was published in the magazine Znamya (Flame) in 1946. The following year, Michael Rashkovan, veteran of the Second World War, was inspired by it and wrote an answer to Aliger. After the banning, however, B.Z. Goldberg documented the Soviet Jews’ resistance across the Soviet Union, and kept these poems about being Jewish in the USSR alive. Throughout his career, Goldberg was dedicated to using his access to freedom of speech and expression to help his Soviet Jewish counterparts.

Letter from Lazis Fanya Lvovna, Kiev region, in which she writes about having heard of Goldberg helping Jews in need. She asks Goldberg to pass along her address to her brother in Brooklyn, 1962 (B.Z. Goldberg papers, [in process Box 75, Folder 1]) .


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