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Gurshteyn, Aron

(1895–1941), Soviet Russian and Yiddish literary critic and scholar. Aron Gurshteyn was born in Chernigov guberniia, Ukraine, to the family of a transport official. Because his father frequently relocated, Gurshteyn studied in various religious and secular schools and with private tutors. He graduated from a Jewish secondary school in Vilna in 1913, and in 1916 began studying Hebrew literature at Petrograd University. During the civil war, Gurshteyn served in the Red Army, and in 1921 he settled in Moscow, working as a journalist and educator.

Gurshteyn’s academic interests in Yiddish focused on bio-bibliographical research on literature and theater; his studies on Yitskhok Yoyel Linetski, Y. L. Peretz, Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Sholem Aleichem, and Yiddish theater appeared in the Minsk Tsaytshrift, the Kiev Shriftn, and other Yiddish cultural and academic journals. In the early 1930s, Gurshteyn was appointed professor of literary history and theory at the Kiev, Odessa, and Moscow Pedagogical Institutes. He occupied senior editorial positions at Yiddish and Russian periodicals and publishing houses during the 1930s, and was involved in publishing the collected works of Mendele and Sholem Aleichem.

A leading Soviet authority on the theory of socialist realism and a Pravda literary critic, Gurshteyn nevertheless eschewed extreme dogmatism. His approach to Marxist theory was more inclusive and tolerant than that of such proletarian critics as Yashe Bronshteyn and Khatskl Dunets, which made Gurshteyn a popular figure in Yiddish literary circles, as is witnessed in the extensive correspondence that has been partly preserved in the Russian Archives of Literature and Art in Moscow. Gurshteyn skillfully used his respected position in the Soviet literary establishment to promote high artistic and cultural standards in Yiddish literature. His articles on Der Nister, Shmuel Halkin, Dovid Bergelson, Leyb Kvitko, and other writers appeared in the most influential Soviet publications and exemplified the Soviet style of writing “between the lines,” where a mild ideological criticism would be used to disguise a positive appreciation of literary merits. Gurshteyn was particularly fond of the historical trend that became important in Soviet Yiddish fiction during the late 1930s.

Immediately after the German attack on the Soviet Union, Gurshteyn enlisted in the Soviet Army and was killed in action in the fall of 1941. Officially venerated as a war hero rather than deplored as a “bourgeois nationalist” or “rootless cosmopolitan,” he remained a respected but somewhat obsolete figure in the Soviet literary canon. A collection of his Russian essays published posthumously in 1959 became one of the first publications about Yiddish literature after the persecutions of 1948–1953.

Suggested Reading

Aron Gurshtein, Fragn fun marksistisher literatur-kentenish (Moscow, 1931); Aron Gurshtein, Sholem Aleykhem: Zayn lebn un shafn (Moscow, 1946), translated into Russian (Moscow, 1946) and Spanish (Buenos Aires, 1959); Aron Gurshtein, Izbrannye stat’i (Moscow, 1959); Aron Gurshtein and Meir Wiener (Meyer Viner), Problemes fun kritik (Moscow, 1933); Alexander Pomerantz, Di sovetishe haruge-malkhes (Buenos Aires, 1962).