Vergelis, Aaron

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VERGELIS, AARON (Arn ; 1918–1999), Soviet Yiddish poet, novelist, and editor. Born in Lubar, Ukraine, he attended secondary school in Birobidzhan, where his family moved in 1932. From 1934 his poems began to appear in the newspaper Birobidzhaner Shtern and the almanac Forpost. He studied in the Yiddish department of the Moscow Teachers' Training Institute, graduating in 1940, the same year his first book appeared and he was called up to the army. After the war, he returned to Moscow, directed the Yiddish radio program, and was secretary of the Yiddish section of the Writers' Union and a member of the editorial board of the literary almanac Heymland. Following the Stalinist suppression of Yiddish culture in the late 1940s, he briefly edited a Moscow factory's (Russian) newspaper. From the late 1950s, his name was associated with the post-Stalinist period of Soviet Jewish culture. In 1961 he was appointed editor of the journal Sovetish Heymland. In this role he traveled to the West as a propagandist of Soviet politics. He was widely reviled for his involvement in anti-Zionist campaigns, though some readers appreciated his poetic talent. In his articles he divided the whole of Yiddish literature into "progressive" and "anti-Soviet" and often ridiculed writers of nostalgic literature which, in his view, expressed an outdated and even reactionary viewpoint. After 1991, he renamed his journal Di Yidishe Gas ("The Jewish Street") and published almost until the end of his life. Ironically, his former ideological opponents in the United States and Israel turned sponsors, hailing his commitment to Yiddish culture.


lnyl, 3 (1960), 497f. add. bibliography: A. Vergelis, On the Jewish Street (1971); idem, in: Ch. Beider (ed.), Native Land (1980); G. Estraikh, in: East European Jewish Affairs, 2 (1997), 3–20.

[Gennady Estraikh (2nd ed.)]