Act VI
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Act VI Agony (1948-49) "Nationally-Limited Patriotism" We should ... eradicate alien cosmopolitan and nationalistic influence, and also its bearers, from Yiddish theater. -Chaim Helfand, from his speech On January 16, 1948 Birobidzhan said goodbye to Shloime Mikhoels. A memorial service was held in the thea ter building. It was opened by Buzi Miller, Secretary of the Writers' Organization. Mikhoels's pupils, Chaim Helfand, Buzi Shilman, Maks Reingold, Faivish Arones, and Mikhl Fridman, delivered reminiscences. The poet Yosef Kerler, who worked at the time as a translator at the Birobidzhaner shtern, and who, before the war, had completed his studies at the MosGOSET School of Theatrical Arts, read a poem on the death of the actorI For several days the local press was literally filled with items about Mikhoels. This spate of articles was especially striking as regards Birobidzhal1er shtern, which had never had such a strongly pronounced national character, neither before nor after this sad event. The press items ceased appearing only on January 22, the anniversary of Lenin's death. Soon afterwards , at the beginning of February, the Regional Executive Committee decided to reorganize the Workers' Club of the Industrial Cooperative Society into the Mikhoels House of Culture2 January, which began so tragically, left its imprint on all of 1948. On March 4 the USSR Council of Ministers decided to reduce state subsidies to Soviet theaters. This was followed, on March 12, 1948, by a decision of the USSR Committee on Affairs of the Arts, according to which 646 theaters, including the Birobidzhan theater, and the country's other Yiddish theaters, 1 See BSh, "Troyer farzamlung in Birobidzhaner yidishn melukhe-teater," 17 January 1948. 2 BSh, "Oem birobidzhaner kultur-hoyz fun der geverb-kooperatsie tsugeteylt dem nomen fun Shloyme Mikhoels," 3 February 1948. For the last mention of the fact that the House of Culture still bore the name of the murdered director, see O. Baykaler, "Ourkhkuk fun kinstlerisher zelbstetikayt," BSh, 4 November 1948. AGONY (1948- 49) 219 were now denied state subsidies altogether3 Expressing "concern" for the financial recovery of the theaters now deprived of support, the committee's decision also prohibited the practice of handing out free tickets. Subsidizing the theaters from local budgets was also forbidden. At the same time, other national theaters continued receiving state subsidies, and several, like the Yakut, Tuva, Altai Mountain, and Kazakh theaters, for example, even had their subsidies increased4 In addition, serious ideological charges were brought against BirGOSET. On March 27, 1948, at the regular Regional Party Conference, Klimenko, Second Secretary of the Party Regional Committee, declared that in the play Er iz fun Birobidzhan, "in its original form, before it was produced and publicized , there were certain elements of nationalism that were radically altered only after intervention by the Party Regional Committee."s Miller, speaking at the conference, tried feebly to vindicate himself. "I did not want to win the laurels of Shakespeare by this play. There are many errors in it ... but is there nationalism here? I cannot see this in any way. I wrote the first play about Birobidzhan, perhaps unsuccessfully, but I wanted to show in it people who, together with the whole country, were working for the good of the Fatherland.... It is terrible now to undertake the second play.,,6 Klimenko's accusations, however, did not concern just one specific play. Summing up BirGOSET's work and all the literary activity of the region in general, he asserted, "One of the reasons for the large-scale deficiencies in the work of the theater and in the activity of the local writers is the unsatisfactory condition of literary and theatrical criticism in Birobidzhan. Our main reviewers , Comrade Fridman and, especially, Comrade Rabinkov, lavish excessive praise, and, for some reason, are afraid to criticize sharply, in a party way, the ideological and artistic defects in the creative works of local authors.,,7 The situation surrounding the theater became more and more menacing. As early as April 1 Brokhin, Secretary of the Party Regional Committee for Propaganda, received a special telegram from the Party Territorial Committee . It recommended a number of steps. BirGOSET should be purged "of actors who are not involved with the repertoire and who do not represent the 3 "Reorganizatsiia teatral'nogo dela," Pravda Vostoka, l3 March 1948; B. Pinkus, compo and ed., Evrei i evreiskii l1arod 1948- 1953: Sbornik materialov iz souetskoi pechati, vol. 1, Evreiskaia religiia i kultura (Jerusalem: Centre lor Documentation 01 East-European Jewry, Hebrew University, 1973), 178. 4...


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Subject Headings

  • Birobidzhan (Russia) -- Ethnic relations.
  • Theater, Yiddish -- Ukraine -- History.
  • Theater, Yiddish -- Russia (Federation) -- Birobidzhan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Jewish theater -- Russia (Federation) -- Birobidzhan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Birobidzhan State Yiddish Theater.
  • Jewish theater -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Jewish actors -- Soviet Union.
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