Presidium of the Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture, Kiev, 1934. Pictured are (first row, right to left): Osher Margulis (head of the Historical Section), M. Kadishevich (head of the Birobidzhan section), Kalman Marmor (a visiting scholar from America), historian Yoysef Liberberg, Gershon Gorokhov (director of the Institute from November 1934), Shimon Dobin (staff member of the Philological Institute); (second row) bibliographer Israel Mitlman, Iona Khinchin (archivist and dean of the Jewish Division of the Kiev Teachers College), philologist Elye Spivak, ethnomusicologist Moisei Beregovskii (head of the Folklore Section), literary historian Maks Erik (Zalman Merkin), Yashe Reznik (head of the Literature and Criticism Section), and Mikhl Levitan (head of the Philological Section). (YIVO)

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Liberberg, Yoysef

(1898–1937), Soviet historian, journalist, and functionary. Born in Starokonstantinov, Ukraine, into the family of a clerk, Yoysef Liberberg was educated in Kiev—first at a Russian gymnasium, which gave him a full scholarship, and then at the faculty of history and philosophy at Saint Vladimir University. At the age of 15 he began working at the Kiev Jewish library and became interested in Jewish history. He also joined the local Labor Zionist organization.

After the Bolshevik Revolution, Liberberg interrupted his university studies and from 1918 to 1924 served as a Red Army political agitator, mainly among the Ukrainian- and Yiddish-speaking populations in Poltava and Berdichev. He also worked in journalism, writing articles in Russian, Ukrainian, and Yiddish. Furthermore, he wrote a dissertation on the French Revolution in these three languages (1925). In October 1925 he was appointed professor of West European history.

Together with Nokhem Shtif, Liberberg organized the department for Jewish culture at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in 1926. The department, which he headed, was fully established in 1928 and the next year was transformed into the Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture. A charismatic and ambitious director, Liberberg was not afraid to employ people who had previously held noncommunist political positions, as well as returnees and political emigrants, most notably the veteran philologist Shtif and literary historians Maks Erik and Meyer Viner (Meir Wiener). Liberberg was allowed to visit Germany and the Baltic countries between 1924 and 1927, where he established academic contacts and purchased books.

In 1928, Liberberg was criticized for inviting Simon Dubnow to take part in the department for Jewish culture’s opening ceremony, especially when Dubnow rejected the invitation. On the other hand, Liberberg played a key role in dismantling noncommunist Jewish academic organizations, most notably the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia and the Jewish Historical-Ethnographic Society, whose collections were transferred from Leningrad to Kiev. The Kiev institute’s library also incorporated book collections from Moscow, Kharkov, Odessa, and Dnepropetrovsk. Liberberg claimed that his institute suited the cultural needs of the majority of Soviet Jews, as 60 percent of them then resided in Ukraine.

Liberberg’s book Ekonomishe un sotsyale geshikhte fun Eyngland 1760–1850 (Economic and Social History of England, 1760–1850), published in Kiev in 1927, was one of his few academic studies. He concentrated mainly on administrative work and political maneuvers aimed at building up the Kiev center of Jewish scholarship, and at competing with YIVO and the Jewish sector of the Institute of Belorussian Culture. He edited or coedited Oktyaber-teg: Materyaln tsu der geshikhte fun der oktyaber-revolutsye (October: Materials on the History of the October Revolution; 1927), Leksikon fun politishe un fremde verter (Dictionary of Political Terminology and Foreign Words; 1929), and Bibliologisher zamlbukh (Bibliological Miscellany; 1930).

In the early 1930s, Liberberg became a promoter of Jewish settlement in Birobidzhan. In 1934 he convened and presided over the most representative forum in the history of Soviet Yiddish-language planning. On the opening day of the conference, 7 May, the government declared that the Birobidzhan Jewish National District had been upgraded to the status of Jewish National Region. Liberberg then became the first chair of the Jewish Region’s Soviet (Council) of People’s Deputies in December 1934. He attempted to position Birobidzhan as the all-Soviet Jewish cultural and academic center, but was not destined to carry out his plans. In August 1936 he was arrested as a “Trotskyist and bourgeois nationalist” and on 9 March 1937 was sentenced to death.

Suggested Reading

Gennady Estraikh, Soviet Yiddish: Language Planning and Linguistic Development (Oxford, 1999); Esther Rosenthal-Shnaiderman, Oyf vegn un umvegn, 3 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1974–1982); Esther Rosenthal-Shnaiderman, Birobidzhan fun der noent (Tel Aviv, 1983).