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Grammy-Nominated ‘Yiddish Glory’ Project Resurrects Music That Stalin And Hitler Tried To Silence

Moisei BeregovskyPhoto courtesy of Dmitry Baevsky

As World War II consumed Europe leaving a trail of death, destruction and unspeakable suffering in its wake, a group of scholars embarked on a mission to preserve Jewish culture. This is the story of how the songs they captured became a Grammy-nominated album almost 80 years later.

During the war, a team of Soviet ethnomusicologists from Kiev, led by Moisei Beregovsky, recorded stories, anecdotes, poems and songs by Jews who were living through the most painful part of their history. Beregovsky and his colleagues planned to release an anthology of songs, but he was arrested at the height of Stalin’s anti-Jewish purge. Their documents were confiscated and sealed, and the scholars died in obscurity, thinking that their work had been destroyed and lost forever.

While visiting Kiev in the early 2000s, University of Toronto professor Anna Shternshis unearthed their long-lost secret.

Anna ShternshisPhoto by Roman Boldyrev

Professor Shternshis was visiting the manuscript department of the Vernadsky’s Ukrainian National Library to gather research for her forthcoming book on Soviet Jewish culture. When the librarians heard about her project they led her to a collection of deteriorating, fragile documents, mostly handwritten on poor-quality paper. Shternshis recalls the moment. “Once I read the documents,” she says, “I realized that these are all songs and that I don’t recognize a single one of them.” For a noted scholar of Yiddish Studies, this was highly unusual. “I was familiar with the Holocaust music from the Warsaw Ghetto, from the Vilna Ghetto, from places where Jews were interned during the war. The people who survived made a huge effort to preserve the music.”

The subject matter of the songs was also markedly different from anything she had come across before. “The songs were very humorous, which

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