- "A biblyotek vos felt" [A library that is lacking]:Planning and Creating the Book Collection Musterverk fun der yidisher literatur (Buenos Aires, 1957–1984)
Between 1957 and 1984, there appeared in Argentina a collection of one hundred books, entitled Musterverk fun der yidisher literatur (Model Works of Yiddish Literature), hereafter designated as Musterverk, which quickly gained visibility throughout the transnational world of Yiddish letters.1 The volumes were published by the Instituto Científico Judío (translation of Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut) (IWO), often referred to as a "branch" of the YIVO Institute, currently located in New York City.2 The editor of the collection was Samuel Rollansky (1902–1994), a foremost educator, writer, journalist, and institutional organizer in the Argentine Jewish community.3 This article represents the first study of this collection, just one part of the vast corpus of Yiddish books and periodicals produced in Latin America, a nearly submerged bibliographical continent that scholars are only now beginning to explore.4 Indeed, only recently has the field of Yiddish Studies acknowledged Buenos Aires as a main postwar Yiddish cultural center.5
In the prologue to the first volume, a mighty motto is provided: Musterverk will fill the gap represented by a "biblyotek vos felt" (a library that is lacking).6 Thus we see the logic behind Rollansky's ambitious project. Having diagnosed a bibliographical deficiency, he proposed to offer the library so sorely needed. If we keep in mind the fate of the Yiddish-speaking world in the twentieth century, the plan to realize such a momentous task in Argentina appears all the more significant. It makes patent the geographic displacement of the traditional centers of Yiddish culture to regions of the world that had been perceived as peripheries prior to World War II.7 [End Page 135]
In this article, we propose to examine the context in which the Musterverk emerged and circulated, to describe its defining characteristics, and to analyze its multiple objectives (as haphazardly put forth in prefaces and appendices of various volumes and in the promotional materials of its publishers). Our hypothesis is that Musterverk should be understood as an attempt to create the ultimate collection of Yiddish literature, through several strategies that we analyze in four sections: representativity of the works, standardization of the language, procedures of legitimation, and criteria on aesthetics. However, Musterverk, as we shall see, must also be viewed as a didactic undertaking and an enterprise of cultural transmission. These aspects of Musterverk coexisted and sometimes interfered with each other.
Musterverk in the Context of the History of Yiddish in Argentina
Of the millions of Ashkenazi Jews, speakers of Yiddish, who left Eastern Europe, fleeing persecution and seeking prosperity, some 170,000 headed for Argentina in two major waves of immigration.8 The first, made up of Bessarabian Jews, established itself toward the end of the nineteenth century in rural areas and small provincial towns, as a result of a Jewish agricultural settlement program funded by the philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch. The second wave, consisting mostly of Polish Jews, arrived after World War I, and chose to reside in major cities.
Yiddish, as the everyday secular language of Ashkenazi Jews, saw its greatest expansion in the period between the wars, with the number of speakers reaching some thirteen million.9 Immigrants from Poland played a fundamental role in fostering the use of Yiddish in Argentina, publishing periodicals in the language, developing Yiddish theater, opening schools for children, and venues for adult educational activities.10 As Leonardo Senkman wrote:
It was the main Jewish center in Poland that pressed its unmistakable seal onto the ethno-transnational identity of Ashkenazi Jews [in Argentina], who sorely missed the alte heym (old country) in Eastern Europe and tried to revive it in the social settings of the Buenos Aires kehila on the eve of the Shoah.11
Following World War II and the annihilation of Yiddish-speaking communities in Eastern Europe, the task of ensuring cultural continuity fell upon Jewish communities elsewhere, especially in the Americas.12 Particularly in Argentina, the use of Yiddish persisted, thanks considerably to dynamic prewar cultural institutions and networks.13 Indeed...