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Kazakevich, Emmanuil Genrikhovich

(1913–1962), Yiddish and Russian writer. Emmanuil Kazakevich was born in the Ukrainian town of Kremenchug. His father, Henekh Kazakevich (1883–1935), was a Jewish political activist and journalist who joined the Bolsheviks and edited Communist Yiddish periodicals, notably the Kharkov literary journal Di royte velt (The Red World). In Kharkov, Emmanuil studied machine building, and was a member of the Yiddish literary group at the Communist newspaper Yunge gvardye (Young Guard), which published his early poems. From 1931 to 1937, Kazakevich lived in Birobidzhan, where his father edited the local Yiddish newspaper, Birobidzhaner shtern (Birobidzhan Star).

Kazakevich was the manager of a building project, then chairman of a collective farm, director of an amateur theater, and a staff member of Birobidzhaner shtern. He became known as the first significant Birobidzhan poet and translator of such Russian poets as Vladimir Maiakovskii (Mayakovsky). Birobidzhanboy (Construction of Birobidzhan), his first book of poems (and the first Yiddish book published in Birobidzhan), appeared in 1932, followed by a collection of verse, Groyse velt (This Wide World; 1939), and Sholem un Khave (Sholem and Eve; 1941), a verse novel.

Together with Dovid Bergelson, Kazakevich wrote a pamphlet, Birobidzhan (1939), setting the pattern for numerous propaganda publications devoted to the Jewish Autonomous Region. The writers, for example, depicted the exceptionally warm and healthy sun in Birobidzhan, which, they argued, was three times as powerful as the sun in Berdichev, Minsk, or Kiev. “This sun, coupled with the sun of the socialist homeland, makes the Jewish people healthy and strong,” they wrote. Characteristically, as late as the 1970s the title of Kazakevich’s poem “Di erd, vu ikh bin gliklekh” (The Earth Where I Am Happy) became an official slogan used by the Soviet propaganda apparatus to characterize the ostensibly happy life in Birobidzhan. Even after moving to Moscow in 1938, Kazakevich continued being perceived as a writer from Birobidzhan. In 1940, he, together with two other Yiddish writers with Birobidzhan credentials, Arn Vergelis and Buzi Miller, became a member of the Soviet Writers Union.

During World War II, Kazakevich volunteered for the Red Army and served as an officer. In the 1940s, he reinvented himself as a popular Russian writer. His novels and long stories in Russian won acclaim both in the Soviet Union and abroad: among these were Zvezda (The Star; 1947), which won him the Stalin Prize in 1948; Dvoe v stepi (Two in the Steppe; 1949); Vesna na Odere (Springtime on the Oder; 1949); Serdtse druga (The Heart of a Friend; 1953); Dom na ploshchadi (The House on the Square; 1957); Pri svete dnia (The Light of Day; 1961); and Siniaia tetrad’ (The Blue Notebook; 1961).

The novel Zvezda was the last work Kazakevich wrote in both Yiddish and Russian. Titled Grine shotns (Green Curtains), it was published in Moscow (1947) and Warsaw (1954); its publication was followed by two successful film versions, in 1949 and 2002. A film based on Vesna na Odere was screened in 1967. Translations of many of Kazakevich’s prose works exist in English, German, Italian, Yiddish, and other languages.

Siniaia tetrad’, which portrays Lenin on the eve of the revolution, mirrors Kazakevich’s attempt to find a place in post-Stalinist literature. It presented, for the first time in Soviet literature, more or less unbiased portrayals of the revolutionaries L. Martov and Grigorii Zinov’ev. Kazakevich’s Russian works focused on moral problems and were well received by the intelligentsia as part of the so-called thaw in liberalization.

Suggested Reading

Emmanuil Kazakevich, Groyse velt (Moscow, 1939); Emmanuil Kazakevich, Slushaia vremia (Moscow, 1990); Boris Kotlerman, “The Image of Birobidzhan in Soviet Yiddish Belles Letters,” Jews in Eastern Europe 3 (2002): 47–78.