Markish, Peretz

views updated


MARKISH, PERETZ (1895–1952), Soviet Yiddish poet, novelist, and playwright. Born in Volhynia, Markish received a traditional Jewish education and prepared for entrance to a university. He began writing Russian poetry at age 15 and Yiddish poetry in 1918–19, when he published in the Kiev journals Eygns and Baginen, whose contributing writers and editors broke with past models of artistic representation to craft a new revolutionary Jewish culture. Markish stood out among other Yiddish poets, like David *Hofstein and Leib *Kvitko, for his creative admixture of German expressionism and Russian futurism. His first book of poetry, Shveln ("Thresholds," 1919), made his reputation as the poet of the new generation. He moved briefly to Moscow before leaving for Warsaw in late 1921, where he helped found the Yiddish modernist movement through his participation in the literary group, Khalyastre ("The Gang"), and by co-founding Literarishe Bleter. His poem "Hunger" appeared in the second edition of the Moscow Shtrom, and in 1922 he published Di Kupe ("The Heap"), an epic poem that commemorated the 1921 pogroms that swept the Ukraine. In 1926, he returned to Moscow, where he became one of the most prolific writers of Soviet Jewish letters, publishing in the Kiev journal Royte Velt and the Minsk journal Shtern. Markish's career reflected a general shift away from modernism and poetry to socialist realism and prose, as demonstrated in his first novel, Dor oys, dor ayn ("Generations," 1929), which describes the tension between modernity and tradition in a Jewish family during the Revolution. Markish quickly rose to a position of power in the Union of Soviet Writers (established 1932), and during the Great Purges of 1936–38 he denounced defendants at one of the trials in a poem whose publication showed Markish to be firmly established within the Soviet system. During World War ii, he wrote the play Kol Nidre, and in 1942 joined the leadership of the Jewish *Anti-Fascist Committee (jafc), which served as the center of Jewish cultural life during and after the war. Markish's last major work, the 1948 epic poem Milkhome ("War"), chronicles a wide spectrum of wartime experiences, focusing particularly on the plight of the Jews. In January 1949, during the antisemitic anti-cosmopolitan campaign, several major cultural figures who worked in Yiddish, Markish included, were arrested. In 1952, he and several others were convicted of anti-Soviet activities, spying, and bourgeois nationalism and were shot. Rehabilitated after Stalin's death, Markish's poems were again published in 1957 (in Russian translation only). His novel of Polish-Jewish heroism during World War ii, Trit fun Doyres ("The Footsteps of Generations," 1966), was published posthumously in Soviet Russia; ironically, the novel is replete with praise for the regime and political system.


Sh. Niger, Yidishe Shrayber in Sovet Rusland (1958), 229–61; lnyl, 5 (1963), 523–8; J. Glatstein, In Tokh Genumen (1947), 31–9; Ch. Shmeruk (ed.), A Shpigl Oyf a Shteyn (19872), 373–512, 751–6; no. 3934; M. Altshuler (ed.), Briv fun Yidishe Sovetishe Shraybers (1980); Ch. Kronfeld, On the Margins of Modernism (1996); D. Shneer, Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture (2004); S. Wolitz, in: Yiddish 6 (1987), 56–67.

[David Shneer (2nd ed.)]