First issue of Sovetish heymland, July–August 1961. (YIVO)

Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Sovetish Heymland

Yiddish literary and political journal published in Moscow from 1961 to 1991. A product of the post-Stalinist “thaw,” Sovetish heymland (Soviet Homeland) was created on the ruins of Soviet Yiddish culture silenced during the repression of the late 1940s. The title underlined continuity with the Moscow-based Yiddish literary periodicals Sovetish (1934–1941) and Heymland (1947–1948).

Apart from providing a forum for surviving Yiddish literati, including about 70 members of the Writers Union, Sovetish heymland, an organ of the union, was intended to fulfill two main functions: to placate foreign sympathizers, most notably Jewish Communists, who were lobbying for a Jewish cultural revival in the USSR; and to disseminate Soviet propaganda, particularly among Yiddish-speaking left-wingers in the United States, Canada, France, Israel, and Argentina. Thus, the journal opened a Soviet Yiddish front in the cold war, and its editor, Aron (Arn) Vergelis, became a notable public figure. From 1969, the journal published numerous articles, intensifying its criticism of Zionism and the State of Israel.

Never in the history of the Yiddish press had a literary periodical enjoyed a circulation of 25,000, such as Sovetish heymland had in the early 1960s. That number fell to 16,000 in 1966; to 10,000 in 1971; to 7,000 in 1978; and to 5,000 in 1985. The journal lost state support in 1991 but preserved its office. From 1993 to 1998, Vergelis continued the publication under the name Di yidishe gas (The Jewish Street), a feat accomplished by subletting part of the premises to a commercial organization and soliciting donations from the United States, France, and Argentina.

The journal belonged to Sovetskii Pisatel’, which was also a publisher of Yiddish fiction and poetry books; therefore, works published in Sovetish heymland had a good chance of being reprinted in book form. Among the journal’s most significant contributors were the prose writers Moyshe Altman, Shmuel Gordon, Shira Gorshman, Note Lurye, Yoysef Rabin, Mark Razumny, Eli Shekhtman, Yekhiel Shraybman, and Nosn Zabara; the poets Khayim Beider, Avrom Gontar, Motl Grubyan, Hirsh Osherovitsh, Yankev Shternberg, and Moyshe Teyf; the Yiddish literary critics and historians Eliezer Podryadchik, Hersh Remenik, and Rivke Rubin (who was also a prose writer); and the linguists Elye Falkovitsh and Moyshe Shapiro.

Urban dwellers and collective farmers of Khrushchev’s and Brezhnev’s Soviet Union populated the contributors’ prose and poetry more often than pre-Holocaust shtetl dwellers. Documentary prose, a hybrid of journalism and belletristic style, dominated in some of the journals’ issues. Vergelis regularly attacked foreign Yiddish writers, such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, for the narrowly Jewish content of their work. Against the backdrop of the goal to write on contemporary topics, even the Holocaust was seen as a somewhat “outdated” theme.

The American commentator Alexander Pomerantz categorized the contents of the first and second issues of Sovetish heymland: 17 of the 85 poems and 5 of the 24 stories were “purely ideological.” Among the remaining 68 “nonideological” poems, Pomerantz found 13 devoted to the Holocaust, 16 love poems, and 39 on such topics as landscape descriptions and daily occurrences. Among the 19 “nonideological” prose texts, 6 were about the Holocaust, 4 were love stories, and 9 portrayed Jewish daily life. Contemporaneity remained the trademark of the publication. From 1988, Sovetish heymland devoted significant attention to Stalinist repressions.

Sovetish heymland was more than a highbrow literary monthly (until 1965, a bimonthly). Indeed, many of its articles were devoted to history, linguistics, art, folklore, anthropology, and current events. In 1981, the journal initiated a two-year course for Yiddish editors at the Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow. That same year, the Jewish Historical-Ethnographical Commission was formed under the umbrella of the journal. Vergelis soon preferred to distance himself from this organization, which continued to function as an independent group, although he invited its members to publish their research in the journal. Every July between 1986 and 1989, Sovetish heymland devoted an issue to the work of the post-Holocaust generation and, inadvertently, prepared a group of literati who later continued their careers abroad. An annual Russian-language digest of the journal, God za godom (Year after Year), was published by Sovetskii Pisatel’ from 1985 to 1990.

Suggested Reading

Gennady Estraikh, “Jewish Street or Jewish Cul-de-sac? From Sovetish Heymland to Di Yidishe Gas,East European Jewish Affairs 26.1 (1996): 25–33; Gennady Estraikh, “The Shtetl Theme in Sovetish Heymland,” in The Shtetl: Image and Reality, ed. Gennady Estraikh and Mikhail Krutikov, pp. 152–168 (Oxford, 2000); Gennady Estraikh, “The Portrayal of Palestinian Arabs in the Moscow Yiddish Monthly Sovetish Heymland,” in Jews, Muslims and Mass Media: Mediating the “Other,” ed. Tudor Parfitt and Yulia Egorova, pp. 133–143 (London and New York, 2004); Chone Shmeruk, “Twenty-five Years of Sovetish Heymland: Impressions and Criticism,” in Jewish Culture and Identity in the Soviet Union, ed. Yaacov Ro’i and Avi Beker, pp. 191–207 (New York, 1991).