- Polin Down South: Among Mysteries and SilencesOn Polish Jewish Literary Legacies in Argentina
What if it turns out that my trip to Argentina was in fact a trip to another world?isaac bashevis singer
We know: 'Polin' is the key word of a crucial chapter in Jewish history and culture. But Polin is also the name of a deep linguistic drama that added a new level to Bal-Makhshoves's 'one literature–two languages' definition of Jewish literature1 and reinstalled it on a trilingual axis: Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish. At this level, we can find a heterogeneous and singular phenomenon: Polish Jewish literature, many of whose authors—Jewish by tradition and history—acquired what the writer Henryk Hescheles called a mystery: love for the Polish word.2
As hard as it is to define 'Jewish literature' in the midst of this linguistic drama, one thing is certain: its Polish Jewish chapter is an unavoidable presence in our cultural legacy. And in spite of the annihilation of Polish Jewry, even though many vital frames of Jewish creativity disappeared, in the words of Hava Bromberg Ben-Zvi, Polish Jewish literature and culture 'did not perish from the face of the earth. Inherited and transformed by a new generation of writers, it was reborn, changed and enriched, finding new configurations, images and expressions.'3 Thus, Jewish linguistic dramas in all their complexities were reissued and reached unforeseen places. One of them was Argentina, that distant southern zone of the yidish yabeshe ('Yiddish continent')—as Dov Sadan calls the peculiar Yiddish literary [End Page 519] geography4—where the Polish Jewish experience was renewed against an unexpected background and re-emerged on a new triple axis: Yiddish, Hebrew, and Spanish—or, better said, Argentinian5—through a whole array of voices.
Without any ambition to exhaust a subject that would deserve a much wider framework, I shall review some of those voices: some of them were already renowned in Poland, others gained relevance in Argentina, but all are imbued with the legacies of the rich and multifaceted cultural atmosphere of Polish Jewry.
the argentinian branch of yiddish literature/the yiddish branch of argentinian literature
Argentine, a landalambre, a vantalpargatn, a gangmate, a getrank6
In the experience of that 'remote' province of Yiddishland, the Polish Jewish voice cannot be left aside, not only because of its inherent value, but also because of the particular milieu where it bloomed with striking force. Even so, in the field of academic research on the multiple character of Polish Jewish culture—before and after the Nazi annihilation—that southern horizon has been scarcely researched,7 and if so, mostly in an ethnographic or sociological key.
This is—to say the least—strange, especially since the Polish Jewish intellectual creativity is present even in the most intimate Argentinian music, the tango, set also to the lyrics of Abraham Szewach from Białystok, one of the best-known Yiddish tango writers in Argentina, whose romantic verses resounded far past the centre of the Jewish quarter in the 1930s and 1940s.8 It is also present in the fine arts, through [End Page 520] the creative presence of Yehuda Poch, a well-known artist who became notorious not only for his paintings and drawings that depicted his Polish Jewish childhood—as in his album Yidn fun mayn kindheyt—and murals on biblical themes, but also as a cartoonist in one of the most widespread Argentinian comic journals, Patoruzú.9
Buenos Aires was the place where Pinye Wald10 unfolded his political and literary struggles, co-founded Avangard, a Jewish workers' organization, began publishing in the weekly of the same name, and wrote Koshmar,11 the first memoir ever written about the so-called Tragic Week, a time of political violence in Argentina that gave rise to a full-scale pogrom in Buenos Aires.12 It was also the place where Moyshe Koyfman, a poet and journalist born in Grodno, whose poems were preserved in the Oyneg Shabes Archive,13 arrived in 1928 and unleashed his powerful rhetoric in one of the most important Jewish Argentinian newspapers, Di prese, edited by him for...