Interdisciplinary Conference “Blondzhende Stern”: Jewish Writers from Ukraine Crossing the Borders be- tween Eastern and Western Cultures
(11-13 May 2017 in Frankfurt/Oder) in cooperation with the Axel Springer endowed Chair for the History of German Jewish Literature and Culture, Exile and Migration and Zentrum Jüdische Studien Berlin-Brandenburg (ZJS)
Prof. Dr. Kerstin Schoor / Prof. Dr. Ievgeniia Voloshchuk / Dr. Borys Bigun
“Trees made of holy letters stretch their roots / from Sadagora to Chernivsti / in those days the Jordan flowed into the Pruth...“
[Bäume aus heiligen Buchstaben streckten Wurzeln / von Sadagora bis Czernowitz / der Jordan mündete damals in den Pruth...]1
[From: Rose Ausländer: Der Vater (poem), in: idem.: Die verlorene Harfe. Eine Anthologie deutschsprachiger Lyrik aus der Bukowina, Peter Rychlo (ed.). Černivci, 2002, p. 180. Sadogora used to be one of the most important centers of Hasidic Judaism in Bukovina. Today this town has been incorprated into Chernivtsi. Pruth is the river in Chernivtsi.]
For centuries, the Jewish minority living on Ukrainian territory has belonged to those groups with rich experi- ences of exploring borders in this space. For them, negotiating and transgressing borders was a strategy for both their physical and their cultural survival. What is more, as the “third party”, who, according to Joseph Roth, always lost “when the other two fought” (Werke 1989, Vol. 2, 835), they had to develop a “third” atti- tude to those borders that divided the societies, ethnicities and cultures on Ukrainian territory and continue to do so today.
The potential of a point of view that crossed and had to cross these demarcations repeatedly over the centuries is the subject of the planned conference. It focuses on Jewish experiences of the twentieth century, which has gone down in cultural history both as the ‘Golden Age’ of Jewish culture and the ‘ash-grey’ age of the mass murder of the European Jews. Wandering Stars [Blondzhende Sterne], the title of a novel by Sho- lem Aleichem, the Ukrainian-born classic author of Yiddish literature, was chosen by the organisers as a generalising metaphor for the fate of the authors who were marked by and emigrated from the Ukrainian part of a phantom ‘Yiddishland’, whose wanderings took them to the great stages of European cultures. As ‘wan- dering stars‘ they settled in Vienna, Paris, Jerusalem, Moscow, Berlin, Bucharest, St. Petersburg and other cultural centres of Europe, shining on the horizons of many cultures. Thus the names of the authors of Jew- ish ethnicity born on Ukrainian territory, like Paul Celan, Rose Ausländer, Alfred Gong, Alfred Margul- Sperber, Joseph Roth, Soma Morgenstern, Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, Jura Soyfer, Manès Sperber, Im- manuel Weissglas, Manfred Winkler, Bruno Schulz, Jozef Wittlin, Josef Burg, Alexander Granach, Samuel Joseph Agnon, Chaim Nachman Bialik, Saul Tschernichowski, Scholem Alejchem, Itzik Feffer, Leib Kwitko, David Hofstein, David Bergelson, Peret Markish, Mark Aldanow, Eduard Bagritsky, Ilya Ilf, Isaac Babel, Ilya Ehrenburg, Leonid Pervomayskiy, Alexander Galich, Vasily Grossman, Friedrich Gorenstein and many oth- ers, range through the histories of Yiddish, Hebrew, German-language, Russian, Polish, Romanian, Ukraini- an and other histories of literature, apparently just as naturally as the individual disciplines treat their literary production.
While the studies on Ukraine refer to these authors in terms of their places of birth and temporary resi- dence (national state/geographical borders), Jewish cultural history, by contrast, apostrophises their Jewish ethnicity and their allegiance to Jewish tradition (ethno-cultural borders). Yet other, nationally-oriented literature histories, for their part, focus on the Jewish literary figures’ linguistic and cultural orientations, conditioned by their cultural contexts (linguistic-cultural borders).
However, the lives and cultural practices of these authors bear witness to the fact that they constantly crossed over territorial, ethnic, cultural and linguistic borders. While the writers were born on the territory of what is today Ukraine, they established themselves in other cultural spaces, often integrating a specific cul- tural component into these spaces in the process. They may have come from a Jewish milieu, yet they often transgressed the framework of Jewish tradition and culture. While they integrated themselves into other cul- tural worlds, they preserved part of their peculiarity, which appears to be rooted in this very diverseness of cultural experience.
In the framework of this conference, this kind of Jewish authors’ recurring experiences, and their various manifestations in a multilingual body of literary texts, are to be understood as a kind of paradigm of very dif- ferent life journeys and creative careers. The complex of questions connecting them – located at the theoret- ical intersection of cultural cartography and topography, border studies and the study of exile and cultural transfer – are investigations of how political, national, cultural and linguistic borders are (de)constructed, consolidated or blurred in these authors’ texts, and what artistic-aesthetic developments can be observed precisely in this connection.
Many of these writers owed their primary experiences of border transgressions to the Ukrainian space it- self, which, due to the historical position of Ukraine as a “frontier”, was marked by a complicated network of dynamically shifting borders. Among these, the borders of ‘Yiddishland’ were of particular importance – a phantom country that never existed on the political and geographic maps, and yet nevertheless generated a shared spiritual-cultural identity of Eastern European Jewish communities extending far beyond the state borders that separated them. The Ukrainian part of this ‘Yiddishland’, which spanned from the territory of Galicia in the west all the way to Donbass in the east, had a lasting influence on the aesthetic reception of the Ukrainian regions in the works of Jewish authors. The Jewish-Ukrainian cultural border, which was one of the basic elements of this reception, was often predominant not only for the remapping or restructuring of the Ukrainian space, but also for the repertoire of those metaphors and topoi accorded to the image of ‘Jewish’ Ukraine. The literary topography of Ukrainian terrain, along with its constructions of the internal and external, real and imaginary borders, thus constitute the conference’s first focus.
Its second topical focus is on the observation of migration processes from the Ukrainian space into vari- ous European countries (and sometimes back into Ukrainian space). At the centre of these observations are characteristic connotations and functions of West-East opposition in the portrayal of various cultural worlds, questions about the transformations of ‘Ukrainian’ border experiences under the influence of migration pro- cesses, and ultimately about the artistic forms in which processes of cultural transfer and/or cultural media- tion between West and East can be recognised in their texts. Particular attention in this context will be paid to the oeuvre of Jewish writers who migrated from Ukraine in recent decades, and whose works reflect the latest demarcations, the virulent ‘phantom borders’2 and the common models of West-East relations.
By bringing these two perspectives together, the multifarious experiences of generations of Jewish writers from Ukraine crossing the borders between the cultures in West and East will ultimately be unfolded in their specificity and discussed in terms of their consequences for the developments of a European (literary) cul- ture.
Publication of a joint volume is planned after conclusion of the conference.
Please send topic suggestions and an illustrative exposé in German, English or Russian, no longer than 1 page long, by 30 September 2016 to the following address: