Maxim Gorky's "Pogrom": Jewish Victimhood and Russian Revolutionary Thought.
Maxim Gorky, born Alexander Maksimovich Peshkov (1868-1936), has been canonized as the founder of Russian Socialist Realism. He should also be credited as one of the most important innovators of the genre of the pogrom story in Russian fiction, beginning with the publication of his short story about antisemitic violence, "Pogrom," in 1901. If readers now remember Socialist Realism as the genre that supported Stalin's vision of a Soviet Utopia, we must recall that the genre began as a critique of Russia's societal problems. Gorky's early writings were damning portraits of social ills, which drew from Emile Zola's French naturalism, Dostoevsky's urban despair, Chekhov's enlightened vision of democracy, and Gogol's cynical depictions of amorphous crowds. Crucial to his dark portrayals of tsarist society was Gorky's commitment to exposing antisemitic violence. Gorky made a space for the pogrom story in Russian literature through his patronage of Jewish writers as well as through his own commitment to exposing Russian Jews' poor living conditions. Gorky, who as an editor would usher in a generation of Russian revolutionary writers, had a special interest in supporting the literature of national minorities, particularly Jews, who could speak to the worst forms of imperial social discrimination. In Gorky's discussion of prerevolutionary antisemitism, Jews embody an element of religious chosenness. They appear as social martyrs--passive victims of mass riots who become abject Christ figures for a modern, secular Russia. These victims have everything to gain from revolution.
The origins of the twentieth-century pogrom narrative are usually attributed to Chaim Nachman Bialik's gut-wrenching Hebrew-language poem, "In the City of Slaughter," written in the immediate aftermath of the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. Although a wave of pogroms in the 1880s spawned literary responses in the 1880s and 1890s, the anti-Jewish pogrom was not widely recognized as a modern, East European trend until after Kishinev. As Steven Zipperstein has articulated, the term pogrom was not circulated in the Western press until the early twentieth century. However, Maxim Gorky's "Pogrom," appearing two years before Kishinev broke out, offers a window into interethnic public discussions between the 1880s and 1903 that addressed antisemitic violence. Gorky's 1901 story suggests that the pogrom--and Jews more generally--played an important rhetorical role in Russian turn-of-the-century revolutionary thought. As religious minorities with a complex relationship to Christianity, Gorky's passive Jewish characters illuminate Russian Christian hypocrisy. Subsequent Jewish responses to East European pogroms must be read as part of this broader conversation about Jewish passivity and agency in late tsarist Russia.
Gorky opens his story by placing the pogrom in a "town in the Volga region" about fifteen years earlier. Gorky later clarified in correspondences that the pogrom took place in the small, riverside settlement of Kunavino, a suburb about fifty kilometers from Gorky's home city of Nizhny Novgorod. (2) The pogrom, which broke out on June 7, 1884, left ten Jews dead. Nizhny Novgorod (renamed "Gorky" during the Soviet period) was home to the largest imperial Russian fair, and the suburb of Kunavino was located near the fairground. According to Catherine Evtuhov, "Residents of Kunavino by the fairgrounds made good money by renting out their property for use as hotels, restaurants and taverns." (3) Situated outside the Jewish Pale of Settlement, Nizhny Novgorod nonetheless drew Jewish merchants to the annual fair, and a number of Jewish residents contributed to the local commerce. In an 1889 article on "The Fair of Nijnii-Novgorod" in Harpers, Theodore Child remarks upon the "amusements... in the various quarters of the fair, and particularly in the Kunavino suburb, which the guide-books forbid ladies to visit." (4) Gorky's Soviet biographer, Ilya Gruzdev, gathering information about the pogrom in the 1930s, observed in a letter to Gorky that the tsarist press presented the pogrom as a rebellion against Jewish exploitation and capitalism. This allowed Alexander III and his administration, Gruzdev surmises, to present the pogrom as disorder perpetrated "by the hands of revolutionaries." (5) Gorky, in his public writing, as well as in private correspondence, was working to counteract the then popular notion that pogroms were the result of revolutionary activity. His writings about Jews, from both the pre-Soviet and the Soviet periods, aimed to clear the names of Jews and revolutionaries alike.
Gorky's socially progressive Socialist Realism was connected to his brand of fin-de-siecle philosemitism. A founder, with Anatoly Lunacharsky and Aleksander Bogdanov, of the brief "god-building" (bogostroitel'stva) movement in 1907, Gorky believed in replacing God, within a traditionally religious society, with human action. (6) While condemning religious belief, Gorky viewed Jews, who had been disenfranchised for their religion, as crucial to the story of Russia's movement toward social progress. Gorky's outspoken condemnation of antisemitism, as well as his support of Russian Jewish writers, created a space for the modern fiction story as a form of secular social critique. Beyond his own prose, Gorky encouraged Jewish writers across languages to use their literary talents to describe Russian inequality. Through his encouragement of writers like Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Babel, and Chaim Nachman Bialik, Gorky changed the course of not only modern Russian literature, but also, indirectly, modern Jewish literature well beyond Eastern Europe. (7)
Gorky included his "Pogrom" in the 1901 literary and artistic anthology, Aid to the Jews Suffering from Famine. (8) The book, as the title indicates, was not explicitly a response to anti-Jewish violence. Devastating crop failure in 1899, combined with industrial depression across Europe, led to widespread poverty among peasants and Jews in the southern regions of Galicia and Kherson. Jews, who worked, by and large, as merchants and tavern keepers, did not have their own supplies of grain. The lengthy collection, compiled by a collective of writers and artists and published in Saint Petersburg, features several of Russia's most socially engaged writers of the time, including Vladimir Korolenko, Konstantin Bal'mont, Vladimir Bariatinskii, and Vikentii Veresaev, as well as a handwritten letter from fimile Zola along with a short selection from his work, translated by the Russian Jewish fiction writer Rashel Khin. Several critical essays examine the role of Jews in modern European art and thought. M. Luntz translated Max Nordau's essay, "Zionism," from the German. The editors of the project call for a political response to Jewish vulnerability to disaster, and with this, call for greater recognition of the dangers of Christian antisemitism. The volume sold well and appeared in a second edition in 1903.
In a collectively authored preface to Aid to the Jews, the editors remark that the book took shape at "the initiative of Christians, is imbued with Christian ideas, completed through almost entirely Christian efforts, [and] will not be the last manifestation of unselfish love for the laboring and oppressed Jewish people." (9) In an additional introduction to the volume, Vladimir Potemkin--a young historian and Hebraist who would go on to become the Soviet deputy of foreign affairs--points to the Christian imperative of aiding Russia's Jews, citing the New Testament Gospel According to Matthew: "Love your enemy, bless his curses." Aiding the Jewish people is, moreover, Potemkin continues, "fruitful work for the future. The last word on Jewish culture has far from been pronounced." (10) The "Jew" who is illustrated in the volume is a Jew in need of support, an outsider, but also a metaphorical figure for Russia as a whole. In a society as ethnically fragmented as tsarist Russia, Christian responses to antisemitism must be considered with a degree of circumspection--presenting the Jew as the Christian's potential, or even past, "enemy" pointed to the gaping chasm separating the Christian majority and Jewish minority. The book, to be sure, is evidence of the marginal status of Jews in late tsarist Russian imagination, even among reformers. Gabriella Safran has observed in her study of Slavic portrayals of the assimilating Jew, "Anti-Semitism and philo-Semitism can be two manifestations of a single philosophy and can happily coexist in a single person or text." (11) Nonetheless, the volume must be considered for its collaborative effort, on the part of Slavs and assimilated Russian Jews, to convince a non-Jewish readership to address Jewish suffering as a humanitarian crisis. In an illustration by Leonid Pasternak included in the book (fig. 1), a Jewish man sits alone, downcast and wise, the embodiment of old-world wisdom and the impetus for empathy. (12) A similarly thin, bearded Jew appears in Gorky's story, but in this case, he attempts to defend himself from a pogrom mob: "A full, gray beard fluttered at his chest, and his white pants were covered in red stains." Gorky's prototypical Jewish man, pictured in blood-splattered white clothing, embodies what Julia Kristeva has called the abject, characterized as "the violence of mourning for an 'object' that has always already been lost." (13) Gorky's story mourns a Jewish body, evokes sympathy in the reader, but also presents a modern image of suffering capable of replacing the sacred.
Discussions about Russia's Jews played an important role in democratic Russian politics, and Aid to the Jews demonstrates that its authors and editors were working for not only a more just environment for Jews, but also a more empathetic self-conception of Russian Christians. Jews, in the years leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution, served as a model minority group--the perennial Other, whose ability to thrive in Russia reflected upon the place of human rights in the tsarist empire. In his note to the editors of Aid, Emile Zola calls the book an "excellent and moving example of human solidarity, a great and good act, and I am grateful to you for approaching me with it." (14) That the editors solicited a contribution from Zola, who had written in defense of Dreyfus in 1898, attests to the inclusion of Russian Jews in a larger conversation about the place of jews in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century.
Although the famine was the impetus for the volume, pogroms served as a key motif for the naming, and changing, of a relationship between Jews and Slavs. In "Pogrom," Gorky describes a village pogrom mob as a single beast, roaring, moving as one animal, and neutralizing any individual free will: "On the street people were breaking chairs, tables, smashing chests, and laughing as they tore up various articles of clothing. Feathers were carried on the air, from the windows of the two buildings down to the people's feet flew pillows, baskets, furniture, rags; and the crowd, insane with the urge to destroy, grabbed these things and ripped them, broke them, smashed them." Gorky's description of crowds is in keeping with contemporaneous discussions of riots. Accounts from across the Russian empire describe disputes that provoke large crowds and cries to "beat the Jews" (bet Zhidov). In his discussion of antisemitic violence in Kiev, Natan Meir cites an 1884 report from Kiev describing the escalation of a marketplace dispute between a Jewish woman and a Christian woman: "Part of the throng scattered the Jewish woman's dried fish all over the market, while others went after the woman's husband, crying 'Beat the Jews!'" (15) Charters Wynn, drawing from newspaper and archival reports from the Briansk riots in 1898, describes the proliferation of a mob following the murder of a worker by a Circassian guard: "The flames and shouting acted as magnets, and the crowd quickly swelled to some two thousand rioters, according to conservative estimates." (16) Moreover, with his description of loose feathers, Gorky is offering a common reference point for the pogroms of the 1880s. As David Roskies has observed of nineteenth-century Yiddish pogrom literature, "Besides being part of the realia of every pogrom (for destruction was still measured in terms of property, not life), the feathers of torn bedding symbolized the desecration of the hearth." (17) However, whereas earlier Yiddish and Hebrew texts presented a Jewish tragedy to a Jewish community, Gorky was writing for non-Jewish Russians. Although the narrator is not a personal agent of violence, he runs along with the crowd : "Caught up in the general confusion, I began running along with them.... I pushed on toward the noise, responding to its exciting, compelling power." There is no single pogrom perpetrator; rather, sounds are "carried through the air like a heavy storm cloud"; a "drawn-out rumble hangs in the air." The story is an indictment of the non-Jewish crowd, and yet the pogrom emerges as a natural disaster. By presenting the anti-Jewish pogrom as a collective, Russian problem, Gorky places Jews at the center of a conversation about revolution and social change.
GORKY'S LATER SUPPORT OF JEWS
Gorky would continue to support Russian Jews, lobbying for aid inside and outside of Russia, and presenting the pogrom as evidence of a failure in Russian leadership. In an essay published in Germany and France following the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, Gorky appealed to Russians to come to the aid of the survivors in Kishinev: "For him, who considers himself a human being in the true sense of the word, there should be no Greek, and no Jew, but only a human being [ni ellina, ni iudeia, a tol-ko chelovek]." (18) In a speech Gorky delivered while visiting New York City in 1906, he asserted that Russian antisemitism was deeply political: "Russian Jews' primary enemy is the Russian government, in whose eyes every Jew is a revolutionary." (19) Gorky here presents Jews as a test case for basic humanitarian freedom in the tsarist empire. Citing the prophet Isaiah, Rabbi Hillel, and the Maccabees, Gorky juxtaposes past symbols of Jewish strength with those "who build themselves temples of lies and deceit." (20) The revolutionary Gorky appears to have found a spiritual path in the cause of Russia's Jews--and he endows them with a sacred aura that belies his militant atheism.
Jews may have played a symbolic role for Gorky's broader revolutionary struggle, but his efforts to promote individual Jewish writers went beyond the demands of politics. Gorky endorsed Jewish writers' descriptions of Russian Jewish life, and especially accounts of pogroms. Gorky read Chaim Nachman Bialik's poems in Vladimir Jabotinsky's 1903 Russian translations, and later wrote of the strength of Bialik's "Be'ir ha Heregah" ["In the City of Slaughter"], commending the Jewish poet for "mercilessly punishing the hangman and correctly, the victim, for submitting to the executioner. All the torments of Bialik's people passed through his heart, and the poet's heart was as deep and sonorous as a big bell." (21) Maria Prigozhina has suggested that we can credit Gorky, who expended political and social capital to protect Bialik, with the preservation of Hebrew literature: "Gorky was convinced that Bialik's Hebrew poetry had great importance for the Russian people. He approached Lenin to request that Hebrew writers be allowed to leave Russia in May 1921; Bialik and twelve other Hebrew writers were allowed to leave Russia together with their families." (22)
The Russian Jewish fiction writer Isaac Babel recognized Gorky's role in engendering a sea change in Russian social prose when he wrote ironically, in 1916, of a new literary messianism emerging in which "Gorky is a forerunner, often magnificent and powerful, but still a forerunner." (23) Gorky's brilliance, Gorky's plucky young Odessa protegee suggests, is in recognizing literary stars, if not in attaining stardom himself: "Literature's Messiah, so long awaited, will issue from there--from the sundrenched steppes washed by the sea." (24) If Isaac Babel's tongue-in-cheek treatment of the near-religious lauding of literature in Revolutionary Russia sought to move beyond Socialist Realism to something happier (and funnier), Gorky's serious prose nonetheless helped a new Russian Revolutionary fiction to emerge, in large part in the works of Babel and other young Jewish writers. Gorky's belief in social reform was intimately connected to his support of Russian Jews as agents of social change. And, as Babel playfully points out, Gorky had helped pave the way for the Russian Jew to become a secular messiah figure of sorts.
Isaac Babel, whose stories "Elya Isaakovich and Margarita Prokofievna" and "Mama, Rimma, and Alia" Gorky published in his journal Letopis in 1916, may have considered Gorky to be merely a "forerunner," but in his own quest to become a Russian literary savior, Babel took Gorky's challenge to describe a pogrom, publishing "The Story of My Dovecote" in 1925. As if offering Gorky the ideal Jewish character the Russian writer longed to see, Babel describes a young, hardworking Jewish boy whose academic success coincides with the Odessa pogrom of 1905. The narrator of Gorky's 1901 "Pogrom" may have a close-up view of the pogrom, observing the violence from within the crowd, but Babel's young protagonist, whose prized doves have been smashed into his face by an antisemite, is even closer: "The dove's tender entrails slithered over my forehead, and I closed my uncaked eye so that I would not see the world unravel before me. This world was small and ugly." (25) Babel, who seldom included dedications to his work, dedicated "The Story of My Dovecote" to Gorky--arguably an acknowledgment of his mentor's kindness as well as his emphasis on the revolutionary importance of condemning the pogrom.
Gorky, who frequently referred to antisemitism as the result of "zoological tendencies," presented the pogrom as the kind of retrograde animal action that a rational society could eradicate. (26) "Pogrom" portrays a complex relationship between peasants, Jews, and the Ukrainian Cossack officers called in to quell the violence. The story centers on the pogrom mob, and is punctuated by the panic of several individual Jewish figures. Gorky's description of the pogromists and Jews alike are physical and fleeting, entering the story through their violent actions and emotional outbursts: a red-faced young man throws furniture from a window; an elderly woman pulls things from a drawer. The Jewish victims, by contrast, are characterized by their fear. In a chilling scene, the pogrom mob is trying to get a Jewish man to retreat from his roof: "Climb down from the roof, or we'll kill your brood." In response, "A child's shrill scream pierced the air," evoking sudden objections from the crowd: "Don't touch the kids!" This rare moment of humanity, rather than softening the depiction of the pogrom perpetrators, paints a painful picture of a crowd enacting a selective ethics, a crowd that has scruples and is still capable of murder.
"Pogrom," beyond depicting the worst in imperial Russian interactions, offers--albeit with some qualifications--redemptive figures in the Cossacks who defend the Jews from the angry peasant mob. Gorky did not like peasants, a prejudice that Hugh McLean dates back to an experience "related so vividly in My Universities, when peasants in a village where he was living with a Ukrainian populist named Romas deliberately set fire to Romas's house and store, putting Gorky's life at risk." (27) The peasants in Gorky's story are brutal, animalistic, and together form a vengeful crowd. Gorky's Cossacks, by contrast, are noble figures, seated above the fray astride their horses, able to quell a riot. Curiously, when Gorky republished the story in 1935, the journal omitted the Cossacks' arrival, a decision that Mikhail Agurskii and Margarita Shklovskaia propose may have been aimed at undermining the tsarist government's willingness to protect Jews. (28) Gorky, ending the original story with the Cossacks' arrival, resolves the pogrom with these reluctant saviors. The Cossacks have dispelled the violence and yet, as we see at the end, they too are largely indifferent to the fate of the Jews in the story. In the penultimate line of the story, one Cossack turns to another and comments, "Fourteen Yids, ya hear... they shredded." Sholem Aleichm would similarly end his 1909 story, "The Wedding That Came Without Its Band" ["A khasene on klezmer"], with the arrival of Cossacks who prevent a pogrom. In Sholem Aleichem's writing, the Jews' anxious hopes for the arrival of "Cossacks from Tulchin" is ironic; Tulchin was one of the Ukrainian shtetls where Jews had been massacred during the seventeenth-century Zaporozhian Cossack uprising. And yet Sholem Aleichem, like Gorky before him, makes clear that among non-Jewish Russians, Cossacks had become, relatively speaking, allies in quelling a peasant pogrom mob. Gorky, publishing his story in 1901, does not offer a clear way out of the landscape of imperial Russian violence, but he does offer a social map of this violence, which allows later writers and readers to depict rural Russia in terms of its victims, perpetrators, and potential allies. The only truly sympathetic figures in the story are the Jewish victims, whose grotesque suffering alienates them from the active crowd and demands empathy.
GORKY'S "POGROM" IN TRANSLATION
Gorky had the close attention of Jewish readers, in Russian and Yiddish alike. Yiddish translations of Gorky's stories--most frequently those concerning Jews--began appearing at the turn of the twentieth century. "Pogrom" is the first story in a 1903 collection of Gorky's stories published in New York City and translated by the Petersburg-born scholar and Socialist Workers Party member, Chaim Aleksandrov (Chaim Miller). (29) Aleksandrov's Yiddish translation, which appeared in several subsequent editions of Gorky's work, adheres impressively to Gorky's description of a pogrom that takes on a life of its own. (30) A noticeable difference is the translator's decision to use clear pogrom terminology. Gorky's first mention of fighting appears after three short paragraphs, when someone shouts: '"Na Elizavetinskoi derutsia!" ["They're fighting on Elizavetinskaia!"]. In the Yiddish, this becomes "Oyf der Yelizavetinskaya iz a pogrom!" ["On Elizavetinskaia there's a pogrom!"]. Whereas Gorky only uses the word "pogrom" in the story's title, the translator makes certain that his readers clearly identify the anti-Jewish nature of the "fighting."
Shortly after this outcry, someone shouts, "They're beating our folk! Hey, haulers!" Aleksandrov translates this now obscure Russian term for hauler (kriuchnik) as pek-treger: "Ours are getting punches! Hey, pack-carriers!" ["Undzere krign klep! Eyda, pek-treger!"] A trade associated with either Jewish or non-Jewish "pack-carriers," the Yiddish pek-treger helps to place the pogrom in the context of a disgruntled lower class. The Yiddish translation, moreover, offers the most violent interpretation of Gorky's Russian euphemisms. When an elderly man announces "they are beating up the Jews" ["Zhidov b'iut"], Aleksandrov translates this to mean, "They are killing the Jews" ["Dos harget men di Iden"]. The man goes on to opine that "they had it coming" ["tak im i nado"], which Aleksandrov renders with an added ironic Jewish idiom that could only be conveyed in the Yiddish: "they earned this in a kosher way [i.e., fair and square]" ["zey hobn es kosher ferdint"].
My own translation renders Gorky into English with the help of some of his early Jewish readers. I have sought to preserve, wherever possible, the ambiguity in Gorky's Russian original. The term "pogrom" is not mentioned, but inferred in the description. I have attempted to leave, unelaborated, the ethnically identified calls that separate Slavs from Jews in a chaotic crowd. At times, however, I have borrowed Aleksadrov's solutions to a Russian term that lacks a clear English equivalent. When the Cossacks arrive, for example, voices cry out, "Cossacks!" "Run, ours!" ["Begi nashi!"]. This outcry, which unmistakably means "Run, Russians!," is an ethnic demarcation--separating "ours" from "theirs." Aleksandrov translated this, "Run brothers!" ["Loyf brider!"], and I have done the same in English. In making use of Aleksandrov's contemporaneous reading of Gorky, I have sought to produce a translation that will help to demonstrate the relevance of Gorky's story to his Yiddishspeaking readers both in and outside pre-Revolutionary Russia.
Gorky's Russian story describes a disgruntled and ethnically divided social atmosphere in fin-de-siecle rural Russia. Jews, as a struggling Russian subculture, offered a clear political cause for revolutionaries like Gorky. But beyond this, Gorky's Russian prose, entering a conversation about the Russian Jewish experience, sought a response. If Gorky presented Jewish pogrom victims as passive martyrs whose victimhood helped to justify a revolutionary cause, Jewish writers across languages with a broad range of goals present Jewish characters as agents of change. Classic Jewish pogrom texts like Sholem Aleichem's "Wedding that Came without Its Band," Babel's "Story of My Dovecote," and indeed, even Bialik's "City of Slaughter" were part of a broad, multilingual conversation, and this included Russian reformers like Maxim Gorky.
This happened about fifteen years ago in a town in the Volga region. It was a hot June day, since morning I had been working down on the riverbank, oiling a flatboat, and it was almost lunchtime when, from the direction of the settlement behind me, there came a deafening, angry noise, like the tortured bellowing of ravenous bulls. I was hungry too, and I wanted to hurry and finish my work, and at first paid no attention to this distant rumble, but it grew louder by the second, rising the way smoke rises at the start of a fire.
A muddy dust cloud hung in the hot air above the suburb. I looked toward the settlement, and it was as if I could see the discordant sounds filling the air, rising from the ground along with the dust. The dust grew thicker, the sounds grew louder and more varied, the air trembled, and my heart began to tremble with it at the premonition of something awful...
Quitting my work, I clambered up the sandy shore and saw the following: people were jumping from the gates of houses, running down the street to some place deep in the village, and behind them ran dogs and children; startled pigeons scattered overhead, and chickens scurried underfoot. Caught up in the general confusion, I began running along with them.
"They're fighting on Elizavetinska Street!" someone screamed.
Toward the running crowd, angrily lashing his horse with the reins, along the unpaved street raced a cart-driver, who yelled in a loud chest voice:
"They're beating up our folk!... Come on, pack-haulers!"
I turned onto a narrow alley and stopped short. A crowd of people had crammed their bodies so tightly into the alley that it looked like a sack of grain. Ahead, somewhere further off, I could hear people roaring and screaming, glass shattering, the thump of heavy blows, something cracking and falling, each sound blocking the rest like autumn clouds, and these sounds moved through the air like a heavy storm cloud.
"They're beating up the Jews!" said a clean, handsome old man, with delight in his voice. He vigorously rubbed his small, dry palms together and added:
"They've had it coming!"
I pushed on toward the noise, responding to its exciting, compelling power. And I wasn't alone; it--that terrifying noise--drew everyone toward it, sucked us in, like a quagmire. Human faces, flashing before me, were all roused by the fast and dumb evil, all eyes shone hungrily, the whole crowd, a solid, heavy mass, moved forward, ready to tear down the walls and fences containing it, each person ready to trample, to crush, whoever crossed his path.
I rushed into the courtyard of one of the buildings on the alley, hopped the fence to the next yard, did this again, and again, and was back with the heavy throng of people. The people had densely filled the enclosed courtyard of a large stone house, which had been covered in plaster to create an annex, and it all seemed to boil at the very center of that narrow front yard, as if the ground were shaking beneath them. As if possessed, they were hollering something, lifting their heads, their faces crimson, their teeth sparkling in their open mouths, they were waving their hands and shoving one another, climbing onto the maintenance roofs, letting go, and climbing up again. And notwithstanding the variation in each person's movements, there was something synchronized about all of them, a human became a member of a single enormous body, brought to life by one and the same mighty power.
High above this dense mass of cruel and angry people, on the building's roof near the chimney stood a tall, skinny Jew. He was prying bricks from the chimney with his fingers and, hurling them down, shouted something in a high-pitched voice, which sounded like a seagull's cry. A full, gray beard fluttered at his chest, and his white pants were covered in red stains...
Furious screams flew up at him:
"Get your gun! Pound him with stones!"
"Climb up to him!"
In the windows of the house flashed dark human figures. They were breaking the frames and throwing things out into the yard. They were screaming and rattling the glass. Then an ugly-mugged, curly-headed youth brought a mirror to the window, stuck it outside, and shouted:
"Hey, look out!"
And, reflecting the sunbeams, the mirror sailed to the ground. The youth leaned out the window after it. His broad face looked merely anxious and stern, not cruel. In another window appeared a black-bearded fellow holding a pillow. He tore it open, and a white cloud of feathers scattered in the air.
"It's snowing, guys, don't freeze your noses!" shouted the man, glancing at the white fluff falling on people's heads. And in the yard, they shouted:
"Hey, com'ere! We found some Jews in a tub!"
"Beat 'em up!"
"Bash their heads against the walls!"
"Hey, old Yid! Climb down, we found your grandkids..."
"Climb down from the roof, or we'll kill your brood..."
A child's shrill scream pierced the air--it was a terrible sound, a blinding flash in the hazy roar of the crowd, like lighting through clouds. And the noise seemed to quiet after it.
"Don't touch him!" someone hollered.
"Don't touch the kids!"
"Beat up the big ones!"
At that once more came a child's cry--thin and sharp--it cut to the heart and was more deafening than all the other sounds.
"Goddammit!" someone hollered furiously, drowning the other sounds.
"Bash his brains in?"
"Break his leg..."
"That's right, old devil!"
"Hey, Antip! Let's climb up and knock the Yid off!"
Two enormous haulers, forcefully parting the crowd, approached the overhang and pulled themselves onto the roof.
But in one of the windows of the house there again appeared the stern, red-faced young guy. He anxiously thrust some sort of cabinet or drawer out the window and shouted down:
"Grab the dishes, Robya..."
The drawer wouldn't pass through the window, so the kid jerked it back, toward himself, disappeared for a minute, again stood at the window, and began howling like a wolf:
A stack of plates poured from the window, and after them the sunshine flashed on a samovar flying through the air. The people below scattered, covering their heads with their hands, laughing hysterically. A red, fat guy grabbed the samovar from the ground, lifted it high above his head, threw it to the ground again, and began to stomp on it with his feet.
On the rooftop there was an animal-like screech.... Everyone raised their heads upward. There was a sound of rumbling iron.... Suddenly at the edge of the roof something large appeared, it sagged for a few seconds, quivering in the air, then squealed, screeched, broke loose, and plummeted downward. A sharp, horrible slap rang out.... I rushed from the courtyard, but a triumphant, wild roar flew after me:
"Knocked 'im dowwwwn yeah!"
On the street people were breaking chairs, tables, smashing chests, and laughing as they tore up various articles of clothing. Feathers carried on the air, from the windows of the two buildings down to the people's feet flew pillows, baskets, furniture, rags; and the crowd, insane with the urge to destroy, grabbed these things and ripped them, broke them, smashed them. Two women, disheveled and sweaty, with ruddy faces, clung tight to some kind of drawer, pulling in opposite directions. They shouted something at one another, feathers and stuffing swirled about their heads, both their mouths hung wide open, but their voices dampened the cracking of the wood, the howling and roaring of the crowd, and the shrill, horror-filled screams that carried from the windows of the house.
Before me passed a large fellow in a ripped shirt, hatless. His hair was disheveled, down his dirty face trickled thick, almost black, blood. He was waving his hand and smiling the dumb self-satisfied smile of a sated beast. Now he approached a streetlamp, embraced it, and began to sway, butting his broad chest against the wooden post. The lantern shook violently and, dislodged, fell to the ground.
"Ti-i-imberrrr!" shouted another man, running up to the lamppost. He too grabbed it and, with a whoop, began to swing.
Somewhere in the crowd, like a pigeon in a cloud of smoke, rushed a girl in a tattered dress, her hair loose. She ran, her head thrown back, and the eyes on her pale face unbelievably big.
"Get the Jewess!" someone roared. And the girl disappeared in the thick mass of people, like a crumb of sugar beneath a swarm of flies. A kind of dark porridge of human bodies simmered around her. Fists flashed in the air, you could hear lewd groaning and soft slaps. Off-color jokes, foul language, a snake-like hissing--everything mixed together into one cruel and sinister sound.
"Out of the way, people! Zelman's comin' through!" This shout came from a throng of people, dragging something along the paved road. They were dragging a person or a body--a half-naked, dry body, crumpled, lacerated, caked in blood and mud. Having lashed Zelman's leg with a rope, the people dragged him along the paved road, and trailing behind him on the road was a wide trail of blood. His long, dry arms were bathed in it, and between his arms, where they were connected to his shoulders, a disgusting, blood-soaked, skinned clot beat against the stones...
A teenager ran up to the body, jumped on it, his feet plunging into the stomach, as though into dough, and the teenager waved his arms and fell, arousing laughter. Zelman had been a wealthy contractor. I had often seen him alive, but what I saw now not only didn't resemble a contractor, it didn't resemble a human at all.
Dulled by all that was happening around me, choked by the dust, I floated through the crowd, like a piece of driftwood on the river, and gazed at everything as though at a terrifying dream. Over on a drainpipe hung a white skirt, high above the ground, and an elderly lady, standing on tiptoes, was trying to get it down, stretching a bony, dark hand upward. Beside her a bearded hauler was hooking a velvet cap on his disheveled head. Boys scampered between adults' legs, collecting the shards of a broken mirror, and one of them was bobbing up and down, trying to catch the feathers flying through the air.
Waving a cavalry sword in its sheath, a policeman comes running, and everyone laughs; they shout after him:
"Catch the Pharaoh!"
Someone throws a broken drawer in the running man's path, and the police officer tumbles to the ground in a somersault. Loud laughter thunders in the air.
Glancing at my feet, I noticed a piece of bloody scalp with a lock of hair attached...
"Peee-ople! Over here!"
A scream carries from the yard, and the crowd pours through the gates in a thick wave. People are grunting, bleating, roaring.
"Get 'em! G... get 'em!" echoes in the air.
Inside the house, on the second floor, someone with a crowbar is working to destroy the partition between two windows. Bricks pour down onto the street, lime and white dust scatters. A tray flies out the window, it circles, indecisive, in the air and falls on the head of a fat lady. Shrieking, the lady sits down.
"The Cossacks are coming!"
At the entrance to the alleyway appear horses' muzzles, Cossacks' navy blue caps, flashing whips, and someone's loud, singing voice commands:
"Three by three, at a trot--Ma-arch!" A mass of bricks falls to the sidewalk.
The partition has broken. All of a sudden from the unsightly hole in the wall of the house there protrudes an enormous wardrobe, slow and heavy. It shudders, and as if unintentionally, slips along the wall of the house, hitting the cornice and turning over, smashing with a crash onto the stone paneling. A long, drawn-out rumble hangs in the air, as though a stormy river were flowing through, plowing the earth in its path, subjecting everything to its wrath--and everything is caught up in a wild frenzy...
The crowd runs from the continuous blows of whips and jostling horses, runs like a herd of sheep, stupid and blind. You could hide in the courtyards, you could hop the fences, but everyone is running through the alley, exposing their heads, backs, and shoulders to the slashing blows. A hefty, curly-headed hauler suddenly whips around, with a swing of his fist slugs the horse in the muzzle and disappears into the dense mass of Cossacks. And in the place where he disappeared, a whip flashes for a long time, slicing the air. The Cossacks ride on, stirrup to stirrup, a dense wall, and the people before them run every which way, shoving one another.
"Thrash the Cossacks with bricks!" someone shouts from above. A woman hurls herself under the horses' feet, half naked and bloody. She appeared suddenly from nowhere, as if sprung from the earth, grabs hold of the leg of the front Cossack, and presses herself to it with a howl...
"Beat up the Cossacks!"
The crowd roars and then runs, out of control like a mountain river. The dull stomping of feet hangs in the air, the ringing of horseshoes on the cobblestones echoing after. It's hard for the horses to move amid the wreck of furniture and rags strewn along the paved road. The horses rear on their hind legs.... The crowd too stops, turning to face the Cossacks...
The crowd growls and waits. But coming from behind, from the end of the street, the police and Cossacks appear on foot.... Only then do the people begin to hop fences, they run into courtyards, and the Cossacks catch them.... A few minutes before that the people were beasts, mercilessly and meaninglessly beating others as unfortunate as they, but now these beasts were nothing but cowards, they themselves were being beaten mercilessly and meaninglessly, and they ran from the blows, terrified and ashamed...
That evening, passing through the main square, past the line of Cossacks, I heard one say to another:
"Fourteen Yids, ya hear... they shredded..."
And the other was smoking his pipe, and didn't respond to his comrade's words.
Saint Petersburg, 1901
I am grateful to Natalia Roudakova, Eugene Avrutin, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on this introduction and translation.
(1.) Nachman, Kegnzaytike, 197. Emphasis is Sholem Aleichem's.
(2.) Gorky, "Pogrom," in Iz literaturnogo, 86.
(3.) Evtuhov, "Nizhnii Novgorod," 270.
(4.) Child, "The Fair," 685-86.
(5.) Gruzdev, "Letter to M. Gorky, November 11, 1935," 410. Gruzdev and Gorky discussed the outbreak of the pogrom, which, Gorky maintained, began when a Jewish woman found a Christian woman who had fallen in the street, and took her inside to help clean her wounds. See Gorky, "Letter to Gruzdev, November 16, 1935," 411.
(6.) As Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal points out, Lenin disliked the concept of "God-building," which he viewed as too close to organized religion. See Rosenthal, New Myth, New World, 80.
(7.) For a discussion of Isaac Babel's influence on American Jewish literature, see Hetenyi, "The Child's Eye," 181-89.
(8.) Gorky, "Pogrom," in Pomoshch. For more on this volume, see Lev Berdnikov, Siluety. Evreiskie pisateli v Kossii XIX-nachala XX v. 2017. According to Ruth Rischin, the volume was modeled on an earlier volume to help those starving from hunger and was put out by Russkie vedemosti in 1891. See Rischin, "Semen Iushkevich," 10.
(9.) "Ot Redaktsii," vi.
(10.) Potemkin, "Neskol'ko," viii.
(11.) Safran, Rewriting, 66.
(12.) Pasternak, "Etiud evreia," x.
(13.) Kristeva, Powers of Horror, 15.
(14.) Zola, "V zashchitu evreev," 15.
(15.) Meir, '"The Sword Hanging,'" 117.
(16.) Wynn, Workers, Strikes, and Pogroms, 121-22. Wynn's sources include TsGIA, f 23, op. 30, d. 47, 7, 15, 149; Pridneprovskii krai, Jan. 26, 1900, 3; Kabocbee delo, no. 1 (April 1, 1899); Istoriia ekaterinoslavskoi, 109-110; Novopolin, "Iz istorii rabochego dvizheniia," 20; G. Petrovskii, "Vospominaniia o rabote na Brianskom zavode v devianostykh godakh," Letopis' revoliutsii, no. 2 (1923): 32-33; Babushkin, Recollections, 133; Knyshev, Zarevo nad Brianskoi, 22-23.
(17.) Roskies, Against the Apocalypse, 81. Roskies observes, further that "The strewn feathers of the 1880s [gave] way to the nails of Kishinev" (92).
(18.) Gorky, "Po povodu Kishinevskogo pogroma," 100. The article was published in a collection, Kishinev, no. 1, Berlin, 1903, as well as in the Stuttgart newspaper Osvobozhdenie (June 2, 1903) and the Paris newspaper "Revoliutsionnaia Rossiia" (May 15, 1903).
(19.) Gorky, "O evreiakh," 115.
(20.) Gorky, "O evreiakh," 114.
(21.) Gorky, Agursky, and Shklovskaia, Iz literaturnogo naslediia, 252.
(22.) Prigozhina, "Bialik's Translation," 25. See also Holtzman, Hayim Nahman Bialik.
(23.) Babel, "Odessa," in Collected Stories, 78.
(24.) Babel, "Odessa," in Sochineniia, 65.
(25.) Babel, "The Story of My Dovecote," 365-75. Translated by Peter Constantine.
(26.) See, for example, Gorky, Untimely Thoughts [Nesvoevremennye Mysly], cited in Oleg Budnitsky, Russian Jews, 60.
(27.) McLean, Tolstoy, 191.
(28.) Gorky, "Pogrom" in Iz literaturnogo, 86-87.
(29.) Gorky, "Pogrom" in Ertseylungen.
(30.) Later editions that include the same translation with minor (primarily orthographical) edits include Maxim Gorky, Ertsehlungen un intervyus (New York: Literarisher ferlag, 1917) and Maxim Gorky, A zamlung dertseylungen (Vilne: B. A. Kletskin, 1921).
Babel, Isaac. "Odessa." In Sochineniia, vol. 1, 62-65. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literature, 1991. First published in Zhurnal zhurnalov 51, 1916.
--. "Odessa." In The Complete Works of Isaac Babel, edited by Nathalie Babel, translated by Peter Constantine, 75-79. New York, London: Norton, 2002. First published in Zhurnal zhurnalov 51, 1916.
--. "The Story of My Dovecote." The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel, edited by Nathan Babel, translated by Peter Constantine, 365-75. New York: Norton, 2002.
Child, Theodore. "The Fair of Nijnii-Novgorod." Harpers New Monthly Magazine 79, June to November 1889, 670-86.
Evtuhov, Catherine. "Nizhnii Novgorod in the Nineteenth Century: Portrait of a City." In Russia: Volume II, Imperial Russia, 1689-1917, edited by Dominic Lieven, 264-84. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Gorky, Maksim. "Pogrom." In Pomoshch-evreiam postradavshim ot neurozhaia. Literaturno-khudozhestvennyi sbornik. Saint Petersburg: Tip. Isidor Gol'd berg, 1901.
Gorky, Maxim. "O evreiakh." In Iz literaturnogo naslediia: Gor'kii i evreiskii vopros, edited by Mikhail Agurskii and Margarita Shklovskaia, 113-17. Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1986.
--. "Po povodu Kishinevskogo pogrom." In 1z literaturnogo naslediia: Gor'kii i evreiskii vopros, edited by Mikhail Agurskii and Margarita Shklovskaia, 99-100. Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1986.
--. "Pogrom." In Ertseylungen, translated by Kh. Aleksandrov, 7-17. New York: International Library Publishing Company, 1903.
--. "Pogrom." In 1z literaturnogo naslediia: Gor'kii i evreiskii vopros, eds. Mikhail Agurskii and Margarita Shklovskaia, 80-87. Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1986.
Gorky, Maxim, Mikhail Agursky, and Margarita Shklovskaia. Iz literaturnogo naslediia: Gor'kii i everiskii vopros. Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1986.
Gruzdev, Ilya Aleksandrovich (I. A.). "Letter to M. Gorky, November 11, 1935." In Iz literaturnogo naslediia: Gor'kii i evreiskii vopros, edited by Mikhail Agurskii and Margarita Shklovskaia, 409-11. Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1986.
Hetenyi, Zuszia. "The Child's Eye: Isaac Babel's Innovations in Narration in Russian-Jewish, American, and European Literary Contexts." In The Enigma of Isaac Babel: Biography, History, Context, edited by Gregory Freidin, 175-92. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009.
Holtzman, Avner. Hayim Nahman Bialik: Poet of Hebrew. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.
Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Translated by Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.
Mayzel, Nachman. Kegnzaytike hashpoes in velt-shafn. Warsaw: Ikuf, 1965.
McLean, Hugh. In Quest of Tolstoy. Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2008.
Meir, Natan M. '"The Sword Hanging over Their Heads': The Significance of Pogrom for Russian Jewish Everyday Life and Self-Understanding (The Case of Kiev)." In Anti-Jewish Violence: Rethinking the Pogrom in East European History, edited by Jonathan Dekel-Chen, David Gaunt, Natan Meir, and Israel Bartal, 111-30. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.
"Ot Redaktsii," Pomoshch-evreiam postradavshim ot neurozhaia. Literaturno-khudozhestvennyi sbornik, v-vi. Saint Petersburg: Tip. Isidor Gol'd berg, 1901.
Pasternak, Leonid. "Etiud evreia." 1891. In Pomoshch-evreiam postradavshim ot neurozhaia. Literaturno-khudozhestvennyi sbornik, x. Saint Petersburg: Tip. Isidor Gol'd berg, 1901.
Potemkin, Vladimir. "Neskol'ko slov po povodu Sbornika." In Pomoshch-evreiam postradavshim ot neurozbata. Eiteraturno-khndozmtvennyi sbornik, vii-ix. Saint Petersburg: Tip. Isidor Gol'd berg, 1901.
Prigozhina, Marianna. "Bialik's Translation of Don Quixote (1912/1923)." In The Russian Jewish Diaspora and European Culture, 1917-1937, edited by Jorg Schulte, Olga Tabachnikova, and Peter Wagstaff, 25-36. Leiden: Brill, 2012.
Rischin, Ruth Solomon. "Semen Iushkevich (1868-1927): The Man and His Art." PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1993.
Rosenthal, Bernice Glatzer. New Myth, New World: From Nietzsche to Stalinism. State College, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.
Roskies, David. Against the Apocalypse: Responses to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.
Safran, Gabriella. Rewriting the jew: Assimilation Narratives in the Russian Empire. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.
Wynn, Charters. Workers, Strikes, and Pogroms: The Donbass-Dnepr Bend in Late Imperial Russia, 1870-1905. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.
Zola, Emile. "V zashchitu evreev." In Pomoshch-evreiam postradavshim ot nenrozhaia.
Eiteraturno-khudozhestvennyi sbornik, translated by Rashel Khin, 15-22. Saint Petersburg: Tip. Isidor Gol'd berg, 1901.
Amelia Glaser is an associate professor of Russian and comparative literature at the University of California, San Diego, where she also directs the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Program and the Jewish Studies Program. She is the author of Jews and Ukrainians in Russia's Literary Borderlands (Northwestern University Press, 2012), the translator of Proletpen: America's Rebel Yiddish Poets (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), and the editor of Stories of Khmelnytsky: Competing Literary Legacies of the 1648 Ukrainian Cossack Uprising (Stanford University Press, 2015). She is currently at work on two projects involving literature and politics in the period of the Communist International. She is the coeditor, with Steven Lee, of a volume, Comintern Aesthetics (forthcoming with University of Toronto Press), and is at work finishing a monograph about transnational Yiddish poetry in the long 1930s titled Passwords: Yiddish Poetry in the Age of Internationalism (1927-1943).
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|Title Annotation:||Archives in Translation|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2019|
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