Bill-Belotserkovski, Vladimir Naumovich

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BILL-BELOTSERKOVSKI, VLADIMIR NAUMOVICH (1885–1966), Soviet Russian playwright. Born to a poor, Yiddish-speaking family in Ukraine, Bill-Belotserkovski received little traditional Jewish education. At the age of 16, he ran away to sea and spent the years from 1911 to 1916 in the United States (hence the nickname "Bill," which he eventually adopted as part of his name). After his return to Russia in 1917, Bill-Belotserkovski fought in the Civil War and was one of the founders of the Communist propaganda theater as well as the author of some of the best-known plays in its repertory. These plays, called agitki, were primitive one-act dramas designed to rally audiences to the Communist cause; their artistic value was slight. Bill-Belotserkovski's best play, Shtorm ("The Storm," 1925), dealt with the Civil War. Its effectiveness was enhanced by its documentary, matter-of-fact style and coarse humor. In later years the playwright tried to tackle social and moral topics, but his tendency to see everything in clearcut terms, his aversion to intellectual subtlety, and his fondness for heroics limited his range. After World War ii, Bill-Belotserkovski, who had earned a reputation as an "American expert," was commissioned to produce a number of anti-American works, the best known of which was Tsvet kozhi ("The Color of Skin," 1948). In 1937 Bill-Belotserkovski wrote Pogranichniki ("The Frontier Guards"). The play's hero, a Soviet army officer, is a Jew named Kogan. Interrogated by anti-Soviet intelligence agents, Kogan proudly emphasizes his Soviet, Communist Jewishness ("My father is the best pig-breeder in Birobidzhan") and, in the end, not unlike the biblical Samson, succeeds in killing himself and his jailers. During the antisemitic, anti-cosmopolitan purges of 1947 through 1953 the play was revived, but the Soviet censorship carefully obliterated all references to Kogan's Jewishness other than his Jewish-sounding name.


Teatral'naya entsiklopediya, 1 (1961), 581–82; M. Friedberg, in: American Slavic and East European Review, 13 (Feb. 1954).

[Maurice Friedberg]