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Vassili Schedrin
Equation of GOSET: History of Yiddish Theater in the USSR

Proceedings of the 9th Annual Klutznick Symposium.
Omaha: Creighton University Press, 1997

The first state Yiddish theater in Soviet Russia was founded as a studio in Petrograd in 1918. By 1920 the Yiddish studio had moved to Moscow where it obtained its permanent place and a status of a state theater. There were about 15 state, workmen’s, peasants’ and moving Yiddish theatrical troupes performing across the vast territory of the country from Lvov to Birobidjan a few years later. However, the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, known by its acronym name GOSET, happened to be an outstanding phenomenon of the time. GOSET was a pioneer enterprise serving as a “plant” producing innovative ideas of theatrical performance and art. It gave the Yiddish theater dozens of new actors, directors and even whole troupes. On the eve of its liquidation GOSET had been the only center of the official Yiddish culture in the USSR.

GOSET had come a long way of transformation from an amateur studio to a leading professional theatrical troupe. Its development has been a topic of multiple scholarly works in the fields of history and art. [1] The rediscovery of archival sources on Jewish history and culture in the former Soviet Union in the recent decade has allowed scholars to explore and publish new data on the topic. [2] As a result, a depictive story of the Soviet Yiddish theater can be considered well documented and complete. Contemporary research more and more concentrates on a systematic critical approach to the data.

This article singles out a number of issues in the research of Yiddish Theater in the USSR and proposes a new approach to its history. It attempts analysis of the topic in a wider context of the history and culture of the epoch. [3] The study is based on recent research in the field of Jewish avant-garde art and on the history of the Soviet culture and theater in the 1920s and 1930s.

Equation of GOSET

Traditionally, the history of GOSET was described by its narrators as an upward path — leading to a “shining peak” — and coming abruptly to a bottomless precipice of time. No matter how that path was described — smooth or bumpy, straight or twisting, no matter whether the moment of the “fall” was described unexpected or predicted, description of that path made up traditional vision of GOSET’s history. These traditional depictions of the history of the theater were approaching it as a single-dimensional linear process. But history has more in common “not with a scheme of “a stairway leading upward step by step” but with a scheme of a dramatic play”. [4] The history may rather be regarded as a mathematical equation that has multiple solutions and a “right answer” — a fact in the history textbooks. The task of a historian is to define the initial components of that equation, to examine multiple ways of its solution and to explore possibilities of the other “answers” of the history. The equation of GOSET can be outlined as follows: The State + Yiddish (Jewish) + Theater = “to liquidate since December 1, 1949 due to unprofitability”.[5]

The Doomed Theater

Its status as a state theater played one of key roles in the history of GOSET. It is widely recognized that political, ideological and financial support of the state in the 1920s — 1930s in the USSR was among the main factors contributing to the booming and flourishing of the Yiddishist culture and Yiddish theater in particular. Yiddish was considered the language of the Jewish proletarian masses and had become a weapon in the struggle against the old world of exploitation. Political, scholarly and cultural organizations (from Evsektsiia to GOSET), that advanced the goal of creation of the new proletarian Yiddish culture, had obtained the status of state institutions. This sort of recognition and support by the totalitarian state, where nothing independent was allowed, put the culture of the entire people into dependence of a political decision. This decision was made at the end of the 1940s, when, according to the Communist party doctrine, the development of the national “proletarian” cultures had been finished with creation of the new “supernational” socialist community — the Soviet people. The Soviet Yiddish culture promoting the ideas of proletarian internationalism was eliminated as an obstacle for the realization of that ideas. [6]

Was the state support the main factor that determined elimination of the Yiddish theater? Let us turn to the history of Yiddish theaters that relied on their own economic and creative resources. The vitality of a theater in a free society is determined by the response and willingness of its audience, while the [official] art in a totalitarian state is self-sufficient as long as it suits and serves the state. Were the national Yiddish theater put under circumstances of ideological independence and freedom of art — would it be able to draw attention of the Jewish audience? A systematic comparative study of the history of Yiddish theater in the 20th century gives a negative answer. Here is a brief outline of that study.

The Yiddish culture in Eastern Europe and in America between two world wars was flourishing. The development of literature and visual arts reached its peak. Look at the biographic directory “Lexicon of Yiddish Theater” [7] as at the measure of the Yiddish theatrical life of that period. Six bulky volumes of the “Lexicon” are filled with bio-bibliographic articles on Yiddish actors, directors, dramatists and critics. What else would be an evidence of the diversity and vitality of Yiddish theatrical art and of its audience?! However, none of that theaters has become a remarkable phenomenon of the world theatrical scene, none of them came to symbolize the national Jewish theatrical art. [8] The creativity of Yiddish theater in Eastern Europe was in the captivity of the tradition of the old Jewish scene and of the market pressure: entertaining operetta and emotional drama prevailed. Its “wandering stars” were incapable of reaching the level of the world art. That theater was an essential part and an ethnographic phenomenon of the vanishing culture of Jewish cities and townlets of Eastern Europe. It disappeared with that culture.

The obvious objection, that the natural continuity was broken by the tragic events of Holocaust, leads the scholarly insight to the third main center of the Yiddish culture — North America. Yiddish theater in the USA, distinguished in the history of the world art by such stars as Maurice Schwarz and Jacob Adler and by troupes like “Artef”, was experiencing bad times in the 1930s — 1940s. The symptoms of crisis had been appearing even earlier. In 1923 — 1924 prominent figures of Yiddish culture — P.Hirshbein, D.Pinsky, M. Elkin, A.Gideon and others — established in New York the Yiddish Theater Society, the Yiddish Drama Guild and the Yiddish Dramatic School in order to promote professional Yiddish theatrical art in America. [9] In 1923 one of Chicago newspapers wrote: “They [the founders] love Yiddish and they are trying to preserve it. Unfortunately, however, the Yiddishists are fighting a hopeless battle, for Yiddish has no future whatever in America. It is indeed a pity that such precious energy should go to waste”. [10] Though this judgment might be too harsh, it reflected complicated transformations in the population of East European immigrants to America represented on the both sides of the footlight of Yiddish theater. Gradual divergence, assimilation, transformation of social and spiritual values and other related trends in that society were leading to a decline of the cultural domain of Yiddish theater and to traumatic change in the Jewish spiritual milieu, that no more required Yiddish theater for expression of the national self-consciousness.

International Goals of the National Art

The art echoes major trends in the human culture. [11] Development of the Yiddish culture in the 20th century placed Yiddish theatrical art into ambiguous position. On the one hand, the mainstream of the world art in the first half of the 20th century transformed the idea of theater as a performance for masses to the concept of theater as an elite individualized art for special audience. The mass performance function went to cinema. On the other hand, the “new” Jewish national art of that time was directed to mass audience. [12] The Yiddish theatrical art had lost, or rather never had found its mass audience.

Origins of another contradiction which influenced the development of Yiddish culture in the 20th century may be found in declarations of leaders of the new Jewish art who formulated and applied their program in the early 1920s.

“Long live the abstract form which embodies the specific material, because this form is national!”- proclaims the program of a Jewish artistic group in Kiev. [13] On the other end: “The stage doesn’t need a Jew, the stage needs a Man . . . The Jewish theater is first of all the Theater in general sense, the Temple of the Shining Beauty . . . The Temple where the Jewish language is used for prayers,” — declared a brochure of the Yiddish Chamber Theater in Petrograd. [14] These manifestos can be considered as expressions of two distinct approaches within the Jewish national art. The opposite nature of these approaches is obvious: the first one proclaimed unconscious abstract form as an essential part in the national creativity, the second declared the universality of the art, that can be embodied into any national form. The appeal of the new Jewish art to the mass audience along with the contradictory nature of its principles influenced the development of the Yiddish theater in the USSR and determined the fate of GOSET.

The program of the new Jewish art had its history. In the middle of the 19th century the Haskala was succeeded in breaking the homogenous, strictly religious Jewish society of the Pale of Settlement and in creating a secular faction of Jews. The small group of secular Jewish intelligentsia faced the necessity of creation of a secular national consciousness and culture. [15] After liquidation of the Pale in 1917 wider masses of Jewish people faced this problem, mostly young Jews streaming into large Russian cities. [16] In contrast to the central role of literature in the cultural life of the secular Jewish intelligentsia, visual arts and theater in particular played the key role in cultural transformation of the new secular Jewish masses. [17]

Tasks of the new Jewish art were postulated first by young Jewish artists — M.Chagall, E.Lisitskii, I-B.Rybak, N.Altman and others — by turning to the Jewish folk-art with its naive abstract forms as to origins of the national artistic creativity. [18] The Jewish artists brought their program to the newborn Granovskii’s theater, experimented with European symbolism, and transformed it. One of the founders of GOSET A.Efros underlined the direct connection between the “growing-up” of the theater and the work of its “teachers“ — the artists who contributed to the theater’s work: M.Chagall, N.Altman, I.Rabinovich, R.Falk. [19]

The theater had come a long and difficult road from negating its roots in the culture of shtetl to artistic comprehension and embodiment in its art the “theatricality” of the traditional Jewish life. This approach became more visible in the last years of GOSET when its art, as all Jewish art of that period “turns to “nostalgic” themes featuring details of the vanishing life”. [20]

GOSET accepted the “abstract-national” program of the new Jewish art as the central point in its creativity. Vivid depiction of destruction of the old world of shtetls had become the central component in its art. On the face of it is a belief that GOSET did not draw up any positive national program, and that the lack of that program determined the choice made by the theater at the end of the 1920s under the influence of dramatic changes in political and social life in the USSR. [21] GOSET chose the path of Soviet theater in Yiddish. To our mind, the influence of external circumstances just stimulated the internal antagonism inside the Yiddish theater: one concept of the national art triumphed over another. [22]

1929 became a watershed year dividing GOSET into two distinct theaters — the theater of Granovskii and the theater of Mikhoels. GOSET of Granovskii remained in history as the “Yiddish Chamber Theater”. [23] Granovskii as a director of the European school regarded the theater as an elite art. Pure experimental art was an absolute value for GOSET of Granovskii. That theater did not require mass audience, it needed no audience at all. [24] Primary components in its artistic technique were meticulously perfected scenic motion and gesture, while the language of the performance was among secondary components. At the same time, Granovskii’s theater was a national Yiddish theater that embodied the “specific material” in the “abstract national” form (the repertoire of GOSET in 1918 — 1928 was mostly based on the classics of Yiddish literature). GOSET of Mikhoels followed the concept of the theater as a “Temple of the Shining Beauty”. That theater-temple required mass audience as an addressee of its artistic message loaded with the values of the world culture. The psychological realism influenced by the Moscow Art Theater of Stanislavskii became the style of the theater of Mikhoels. [25] Yiddish as a language of performance was the central national component in its creativity as well as the main component of its scenic art. The theater of Granovskii was doomed by the Soviet totalitarian state not as a Jewish theater (what it really was) but as a “left” experimental theater. The theater of Mikhoels found its place in the structure of the totalitarian state — the place of the Soviet theater of socialist realism represented the Soviet Yiddish culture as a part of the multinational socialist culture of the peoples of the USSR.

An insight into the history of the Soviet theater in the 1920s — 1930s would allow to comprehend and define the nature of the GOSET’s story.

The Theater of the Future [26]

Two decades in the beginning of the 20th century (circa 1910 — 1930), traditionally associated in the history of culture with the “rise and fall” of the art of the Russian avant-garde, featured an incredible amount of artistic events, ideas, experiments, controversies and discoveries. That short period constituted an epoch in the world art and influenced radically its further development. The traditional scholarship considered the early 1930s as a tragic end of the cultural experiment strangled by the totalitarian method of socialist realism. This approach has undergone a radical revision in the past decade by more dialectical and unbiased historical analysis. [27] The new insight based on the study of common rather then opposite features of avant-garde and socialist realism detected the continuity of the avant-garde experiment even though the realization of that experiment differed from the original avant-garde vision. The avant-garde had been consumed by the socialist realism. The avant-garde Utopianism had become the ideology of the art of socialist realism that is usually defined as “socialist in content and national in form” and in fact may be regarded as “avant-garde in content and eclectic in form”.

The development of GOSET was closely linked with Russian theatrical avant-garde. GOSET went through the stages typical for a “left” avant-garde theater in the 1920s: [28] it was initiated as a symbolic theater, undergone gradual transformation to a ritual theater (the “Temple” Granovskii wrote about in 1918) and to a constructivist theater with its “biomechanics” or “gesamkunstwerk” technique and preference of gesture and motion over speech. [29] Even the unique, on the face, influence of artists on the creativity of the Yiddish national theater reflected the common for avant-garde theater of that time phenomenon of “scenographic production”. [30]

The artistic program of the “left” theater was also based on two opposite ideas: an elite aesthetic theater and a constructivist theater. [31] The elite aesthetic theater was a “thing in itself”, the art as an absolute value and independence of individual creativity from masses were among the main preferences of its art. Constructivist theater was defined by its creators as a “factory of a new man”. It was a theater-workshop where the artisans — the director, the actor and the designer — processed the raw material — the audience — regarded as a faceless homogeneous revolutionary populace. [32] Evidently, GOSET of Granovskii accepted the attitude of the elite aesthetic theater.

1929 — the “year of the great change” had summed up the achievements of the “theatrical October”. [33] Art experiments of the “left” theater were rejected as harmful but their ideological content was absorbed by the new totalitarian culture of the socialist realism.

The idea of the homogeneous audience perfectly corresponded to the ideological postulate about the homogeneity of the socialist society. This thesis demanded of the theater of the socialist realism to satisfy interests of all spectators without any exception. “In the circumstances of the state monopoly of theater that demand led to unification of theatrical troupes”. [34] The realism of the Moscow Art theater became the “state standard” for the stereotyped theatrical art, and the repertoire based on the literature of the critical realism and the socialist realism was the “state standard” for the stereotyped contents of the performances.

The caste structure of the totalitarian society [35] determined foundation of the hierarchy of the standardized state theaters. The top of the pyramid was occupied by “academic” theaters represented the highest standard of the socialist art, the second layer was formed by theaters devoted to various aspects of that art, and the third rank was allotted to “national” theaters within the multinational Soviet culture. GOSET of Mikhoels was admitted to the third rank of that hierarchy.

Caste hierarchy of the totalitarian society was static monolith from its very beginning. Internal rigidity guaranteed stability of the whole system of the totalitarian state. This hierarchic structure of the system may be exemplified as a “pyramid” rather than a “stairway”. Any movement in the pyramid was regarded as dangerous displacement and led to severe often preventive punishment. [36] Apparently, the system apprehended that appreciation of the highest rank expressed to Mikhoels and GOSET as a part of the short-term political strategy [37] would let the theater to pretend for moving upward to the highest position in the theatrical hierarchy. This fear was counteracted by the totalitarian state. GOSET of Mikhoels was an integral part of the socialist theater since it kept its low profile within the hierarchy as a “national” theater. But when the theater had got an upward trend (which was most likely not even realized by GOSET and its leader themselves) to be among leading troupes in the country, the system reacted immediately by preventive liquidation of the theater. GOSET was eliminated not as a part of the Jewish national culture [38] but as a component of the socialist culture suspected of an aspiration to violate its internal hierarchy.

Conclusions and Problems

The equation of GOSET outlined in the beginning of the article: The State + Yiddish (Jewish) + Theater = “to liquidate” is normally given the following solution: GOSET = vulnerability and dependence of the Yiddish theater as a state institution of changes in ideology and politics of the totalitarian state + determined by the cultural and national politics of Stalin the tragic end of: a) Yiddish culture + b) avant-garde art = “to liquidate”. As it was shown above the traditional “linear” solution cannot be considered as the only correct, and the correct solution is not that simple.

The status of a state institution could be hardly recognized as the key factor in the destruction of the Yiddish theater. The world history of Yiddish theater witnessed that it was doomed as ethnographic and art phenomenon. It was due to inevitable process of transformation, decline and vanishing of Yiddish cultural environment to what the theater served as a form of national self-expression. In contrast, the state support of the Yiddish theater in the USSR promoted its development and determined the highest level of its art.

The program of the new Jewish art was mostly accepted and completed by GOSET. Moreover, the antagonism of that program had transformed into an internal conflict within GOSET. The conflict divided GOSET into two opposite theaters separated by the concept of art: GOSET of Granovskii and GOSET of Mikhoels.

As a result of the “theatrical October” and of the experiments of the “left” art the culture of the socialist realism had emerged. This culture had rejected the elite aesthetic theater of Granovskii, in contrast, GOSET of Mikhoels as a Soviet theater representing the multinational socialist culture, entered the theatrical hierarchy of the Soviet totalitarian system.

The existence of the Yiddish theater did not oppose totalitarian state while GOSET kept itself within its niche in the immovable structure of the official art. Once the theater was suspected in striving to change its fixed position in the “pyramid” it was punished by preventive liquidation. The destruction of GOSET would be considered a defensive counteraction of the system to a potential threat of displacements in its structure.

The new approach to the history of GOSET as to a multivariant solution of its “equation” guides scholars to new problems within this topic.

A systematic research of the internal conflict that divided GOSET into the theater of Granovskii an the theater of Mikhoels would be the main problem set by the new interpretation of the history of the Yiddish theater. The article just briefly touched upon the origins of the conflict and its ramifications. A review of the contents and of the process of formation of artistic and aesthetic concepts of Mikhoels and the history of increasing opposition between Mikhoels and Granovskii in GOSET of 1918 — 1928 are also among the problems awaiting scholars. Its important to evaluate the influence on GOSET of the prominent figures of Yiddish culture such as A.Efros and M.Chagall contributed to the art of the Yiddish theater. The life and art of Aleksei Granovskii, in particular in the period between his departure from the USSR in 1928 and his death in Paris in 1937, still also waits for its historian.

The presumption of the preventive liquidation of GOSET by the totalitarian state should be carefully examined and documented. This work demands first of all a comparative study of the means used by the totalitarian state in the USSR to control the culture, and of scenarios used in the “case of emergency” for punishment and liquidation of cultural institutions and figures. Furthermore, a revision of the history of GOSET in 1929 — 1948 should be undertaken to explore the changes in attitude of the theater (and in particular of its leader — S.Mikhoels) to its place and role in the Soviet culture.

A scholarly analysis of the audience of GOSET still remains a “terra incognita” in the history of the Yiddish theater. GOSET had its audience with both the approaches of the theaters of Granovskii and Mikhoels. But the audience changed over the time. Accordingly, the question “when” should be added to the essential questions of the research of retroactive relations between the theater and its audience: “who, to what, how and why” reacts. (See the note 32)

An exploration of other possibilities and paths of realization of the ideas of the Jewish national theater and of the Jewish state theater would constitute an interesting further direction of research. A comparative study of the history of two Jewish theaters — GOSET as Yiddish theater and Habima as Hebrew theater — could be a subject of that analysis. Some common origins of the art and history of these theaters would determine the significance of the results of the comparative study. Both theaters were growing up in Moscow — “the theatrical capital of the world” in the 1920s; both theaters utilized in their art the most innovative trends in the art of the Russian avant-garde; both theaters were initiated in the search of a new national art as an expression of the national identity; both theaters obtained a status of a state institution. In contrast, GOSET was liquidated in 1949, and Habima still exists as the State Theater of Israel. Whether it means that the national Jewish theater as an art phenomenon is doomed to elimination, vanishing and traumatic transformation in the historical dimension of Diaspora, but at the same time it is a vibrant component of the national culture in the historical dimension of the Jewish national state? [39] This is just one of the multiple problems that could be set and solved by the comparative study.

Further work on the problems of history of GOSET will require not only the use of a new academic approach to the topic, but also a search for new facts and source materials, and careful revision of the known and explored facts. The study of the topic would be based on the comparative historical analysis. The work that, seemingly, was finished by the annalists of GOSET, must be continued on the new level of perception of the topic.


[1] Among those works were: a publication of the literary heritage of S.Mikhoels, memoirs and articles about Mikhoels and GOSET edited by K.Rudnitskii: Mikhoels: Statii, besedy, rechi. 3rd ed. Moscow, 1981; a monograph by M.Geizer accumulated rich fact material and illustrated by many photographs: Geizer M. Solomon Mikhoels. Moscow, 1990; dissertation by F.Burko based on the source materials from the archives of the United States and Israel and supplied with an extensive bibliography: Burko F. The Soviet Yiddish Theatre in the Twenties. Dissertation. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 1978; a catalog of the exhibition “Marc Chagall and the Jewish Theater” with an introductory article by B.Harshav, it also includes a publication of Chagall’s interior design of the GOSET hall in Moscow and an English translation of some texts from the program brochure and scenarios of GOSET: Marc Chagall and the Jewish Theater. Catalog. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1992.

[2] See, for example: a publication of the Communist Party documents concerning the liquidation of GOSET from the Russian Center for Preservation and Research of Documents of the Contemporary History in Moscow: Goltsman E. Likvidirovat v sviazi s nerentabelnostiiu . . . // Gesher, no. 2. Moscow: Tkhiia, 1994; a survey of life and work of GOSET’s actor G.Liampe and his parents — actors of Yiddish theaters — R.Rufina and M.Liampe: Gomberg L. Proshchanie // Gesher, no. 4. Moscow: Tkhiia, 1995; a short outline of the history of GOSET and of life and work of its leader — A.Granovskii: Kapitaikin E. O teatre Granovskogo // Kovcheg, no. 2. Moscow — Jerusalem, 1991; a reprint of the article by A.Efros about the artists of Granovskii’s theater: Efros A. Khudozhniki teatra Granovskogo // Kovcheg, no. 2. Moscow — Jerusalem, 1991. Several scholars are working now on the history of Jewish theater. Among them: V.Ivanov, Moscow, researching the history and art of Habima (see, for example: Ivanov V. Poetika Metamorfoz // Russkii avangard v krugu evropeiskoi kultury. Theses of the International conference. Moscow, 1993); J.Veidlinger, Georgetown University, Washington, studying the history of GOSET as a search for Jewish national and cultural identities in the 1920s (see: Veidlinger J. Soviet Jewish Cultural Identities in 1920s Theater Art. Text of presentation. The AAASS Annual Convention. Washington, 1995).

[3] The ambivalent goal of the article is determined by the definition of its subject — the Jewish art — that “as an appellation . . . remained vague and elusive, at least a working tool which helped scholars organize their material, but which often generated confusion because of its contradictory uses and because it was felt that the term was applied either too narrowly or too broadly” (Kampf A. Jewish Experience in the Art of the 20th Century. Mass.: Bergin and Garvey, 1984. P. 15. Quoted in: Kazovskii G. Evreiskoe iskusstvo v Rossii. 1900 — 1948. Etapy istorii // Sovetskoe iskusstvoznanie, no. 27. Moscow, 1991. P. 228).

[4] The expression of V.S.Bibler. Quoted in: Kliavina T. Na ruinakh teatralnoi imperii // Gorizonty kultury. Collected articles of the Russian Institute for History of Art, no. 1. St. Petersburg, 1992. P. 41.

[5] The order of the Committee for the Art Affairs of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, November 14, 1949. Russian Center for Preservation and Research of Documents of the Contemporary History, Moscow. Fond 17, Opis 132, Delo 239, List 25. Quoted in: Goltsman E. Likvidirovat v sviazi s nerentabelnostiiu . . . // Gesher, no. 2. Moscow: Tkhiia, 1994. P. 27.

[6] Groys B. From Internationalism to Cosmopolitanism: Artists of Jewish Descent in the Stalin Era // Russian Jewish Artists in a Century of Change. 1890 — 1990. Munich — New York. 1995. P. 86 — 87.

[7] Leksikon fun Idisher Teatr / Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre. Comp. ed. Zalmen Zylbercweig. Vols. I — VI. New York, 1931 — 1969.

[8] The Yiddish theater of Eastern Europe definitely produced the stars like E-R.Kaminskaia (Poland), K.Yung (Romania) and others. But it did not produce troupes comparable in their importance to GOSET.

[9] See: Elkin Mendel. Papers. Archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York. RG 453. Box 1.

[10] Clipping from "The S[illegible]". Chicago, December 7, 1923. Collection of press-cuttings from: Elkin Mendel. Papers. Archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York. RG 453. Box 1.

[11] Kliavina T. Na ruinakh teatralnoi imperii // Gorizonty kultury. Collected articles of the Russian Institute for History of Art, no. 1. St. Petersburg, 1992. P. 40.

[12] According to the declaration of “Kultur-lige” — a public and political organization founded in Kiev in 1917 and intended to lead the Yiddish culture: “Kultur-lige is based on three key principles: 1) Jewish people education, 2) Yiddish literature, 3) Jewish art. To let the masses think . . . this is the goal of Kultur-lige” (Di Grunt-oifgabn fun der Kultur-lige. 1918 — 1919. P. 3. Quoted in: Kazovskii G. Shagal I evreiskaia khudozhestvennaia programma v Rossii // Vestnik Evreiskogo universiteta v Moskve, no. 1. Moscow — Jerusalem, 1992. P. 90).

[13] Aronson B., Rybak I.B. Di Vegn fun der Idisher Molerai // Oifgang, no. 1. 1919. P. 99. Quoted in: Kazovskii G. Shagal I evreiskaia khudozhestvennaia programma v Rossii // Vestnik Evreiskogo universiteta v Moskve, no. 1. Moscow — Jerusalem, 1992. P. 91).

[14] Granovskii A. Nashi tseli i zadachi // Evreiskii Kamernyi Teatr: k ego otkrytiiu v iiule 1919 goda. Petrograd, 1919. P. 6.

[15] See, for example: Kazovskii G. Evreiskie khudozhniki v Rossii na rubezhe vekov. K probleme natsionalnoi samoidentifikatsii v iskusstve // Vestnik Evreiskogo universiteta v Moskve, no. 3 (10). Moscow — Jerusalem, 1995.

[16] Wolitz S. Experiencing Visibility and Phantom Existence // Russian Jewish Artists in a Century of Change. 1890 — 1990. Munich — New York. 1995. P. 14.

[17] One of the key figures in the official Soviet Yiddish culture M.Litvakov (the chief editor of “Der Emes”) pointed that the theater was the only medium for introduction of revolutionary ideas to Jewish masses, in contrast to the literature contaminated by the spirit of the old Jewish world (see: Litvakov M. Finf Yor Melukhisher Idisher Kamer-teatr, 1919 — 1924. Moscow: Shul un Bukh, 1925. P. 21. Recited in: Veidlinger J. Soviet Jewish Cultural Identities in 1920s Theater Art. Text of presentation. The AAASS Annual Convention. Washington, 1995). Litvakov’s opinion apparently corresponded to the declaration of the First All-Russian congress of workers of workmen’s and peasants’ theater, that approved revolutionary theatrical performances as a central point in the social life of the Soviet Russia (see: Kleberg L. Theatre as Action. Soviet Russian Avant-Garde Aesthetics. London, 1993. P. 63). The use of the universal language of theatrical performance and other visual arts (like political poster) by the new revolutionary art was determined by its main goal — to deliver revolutionary ideas to revolutionary masses. The literature was pushed into the background due either to its incomprehensibility (because of the illiteracy and ignorance of the proletarian masses) or to its ideological contamination (especially for quite literate Jewish masses).

[18] See, for example: Kazovskii H. The Art Section of the Kultur Lige // Jews in Eastern Europe. Winter 1993. Jerusalem; and also: Kazovskii G. Shagal I evreiskaia khudozhestvennaia programma v Rossii // Vestnik Evreiskogo universiteta v Moskve, no. 1. Moscow — Jerusalem, 1992.

[19] A.Efros wrote about the influence of Chagall on the formation of the art of GOSET and on its individuality in the early years of the theater: “He [Chagall] did not set any conditions, but he also did not accept any directions . . . Chagall forced us to pay the most expensive price for the Jewish national form of scenic expression . . . he was the clear and indisputable victor, and, in the end, the young Yiddish theater had struggled because of this victory” (Efros A. Khudozhniki teatra Granovskogo // Kovcheg, no. 2. Moscow — Jerusalem, 1991. P. 229 — 232). After all, Chagall left for the young Yiddish theater a difficult task of comprehension of his images and ideas and of embodiment of Chagall’s “two-and-half” dimensional vision to the multidimensional vision of the theater.

[20] Kazovskii G. Evreiskoe iskusstvo v Rossii. 1900 — 1948. Etapy istorii // Sovetskoe iskusstvoznanie, no. 27. Moscow, 1991. P. 251.

[21] “The broken world of old Jewish shtetl with all its people and smells was brought on stage. This is the theater’s strength and its weakness at the same time. The past is broken and Granovskii showed it with a great art. But the present and the future did not yet find their artistic reflection, and Granovskii could not find and show it. His theater is passive. It is not a reproach. Let somebody show where it was not so! It was common for all the rest theaters of the Soviet Russia” (Efros A. Khudozhniki teatra Granovskogo // Kovcheg, no. 2. Moscow — Jerusalem, 1991. P. 226).

[22] A.Efros wrote at the end of the 1920s describing this situation: “Two centers exist now in GOSET’s internal life: the theater is led by Granovskii, the actors are led by Mikhoels; . . . Granovskii was a creator of performances’ style in general, Mikhoels was a creator of actors’ play style. Would their lines come together or continue separately?” (Efros A. Nachalo // Mikhoels: statii, besedy, rechi. Moscow, 1981. P. 342).

[23] The title of GOSET in 1919 — 1924.

[24] This attitude to the audience was shortly expressed by Chagall who, according to Efros, before the first premiere of GOSET in Moscow “cried as a child . . . when chairs for spectators were installed to the theater’s hall designed by him. He said: “Those damned Jews will hide my painting, they will touch it with their thick backs and greasy hair”” (Efros A. Khudozhniki teatra Granovskogo // Kovcheg, no. 2. Moscow — Jerusalem, 1991. P. 231).

[25] In 1932 one of the reviewers of the production of M.Daniel’s play “Yulius” by GOSET wrote, that the actors of the Yiddish theater “looked like the professionals of the Moscow Art theater rather than actors of the old GOSET . . . mass scenes were featured modesty of external expression and lack of gesture uncharacteristic for GOSET . . . The strict simplicity was the new difficult victory of the theater” (Rozentsveig. Pered otkrytiem semafora // Vecherniaia Moskva. January 18, 1932. Moscow).

[26] The title of the brochure of German theoretician of the theatrical art G.Fuchs. The principles laid down by Fuchs influenced the vision of the “left” theater by V.Meierkhold. Recited in: Kleberg L. Theatre as Action. Soviet Russian Avant-Garde Aesthetics. London, 1993.

[27] See: Groys B. Gesamkunstwerk Stalin. Munich, 1988.

[28] See: Kleberg L. Theatre as Action. Soviet Russian Avant-Garde Aesthetics. London, 1993.

[29] The scheme of the development of theatrical art could no be regarded as its straight definition. The nature of this process has little in common with a “linear” evolution: every production would be marked by diverse and even opposite concepts of art. Moreover, it is due to dynamic character of the whole phenomenon of culture for which “transition is the most natural state” (Expression of L.Batkin. Quoted in: Kliavina T. Na ruinakh teatralnoi imperii // Gorizonty kultury. Collected articles of the Russian Institute for History of Art, no. 1. St. Petersburg, 1992. P. 41).

[30] “Scenographic production was a style of theater led by an artist [designer]. The artist was a key figure in the production — an author of the performance . . . he determined its concept, scheme . . . even actors’ play” (Strutinskaia E. Ekspressionizm v teatralno-dekoratsionnom iskusstve 1910 — 1920 gg. i “stsenograficheskaya rezhissura” // Russkii avangard v krugu evropeiskoi kultury. Theses of the International conference. Moscow, 1993. P. 51 — 52).

[31] The idea of an elite aesthetic theater was realized by the Chamber Theater of M.Tairov. The constructivist theater was represented by the Theater of Proletkult [Proletarian Culture] of S.Eizenshtein and by the Theater of Revolution of V.Meierkhold (for details see: Kleberg L. Ibid. P. 58 — 94).

[32] There were exceptions from that general approach. In 1920/21 and 1924/25 the Theater of RSFSR [the Russian Soviet Federate Socialist Republic] number 1 made an attempt of research of the audience’s responses to its productions. Publication of the results of that study led to polemics concerning the methods of analysis. One of the leading critics in Moscow of that time M.Zagorskii concluded that “there is no single spectator . . . who reacts when, how and to what — this is what we want to know when we talk about audience” (Zagorskii M. Esche ob izuchenii zritelia // Zhizn iskusstva, no. 20, 1925. Moscow. P. 5 — 6. Quoted in Kleberg L. Ibid. P. 96 — 97). Zagorskii also defined a single unified audience as a fiction and accented his analytical approach intended “to explain the concrete nature of a given spectator and inner meaning of his emotions” (Zagorskii M. Kak izuchat zritelia // Novyi zritel, no. 25, 1925. P. 8. Moscow. Quoted in: Kleberg L. Ibid. P. 100). Research of the audience of GOSET is still awaiting its scholars, however, it was once touched in: Altshuller M. Teatron Yiddi ve-ha-Tsibbur ha-Yehudi bi-Brit ha-Moatsot. Presentation. The International Conference: Shlomo Mikhoels, the Yiddish Theater and Soviet Jewry. Jerusalem, 1990.

[33] “Theatrical October” — an ideological and political campaign of the “left” art initiated in 1920 by V.Meierkhold (who was a deputy chairman of the theatrical section of Narkompros [the Commissariat for Enlightenment] in Petrograd). “Theatrical October” was aimed on nationalization (and indeed on monopolization by the “left” art) of all theaters in Soviet Russia, and on introducing mandatory revolutionary repertoire and methods to the nationalized theaters. The theatrical revolution, according to its leaders, was intended to destroy the old art and to create a new proletarian culture.

[34] Kliavina T. Ibid. P. 37 — 38.

[35] See: Avtorkhanov A. Imperiia Kremlia. Minsk: Polifakt, 1991; Avtorkhanov A. Proiskhozhdeine partokratii. Frankfurt-Main: Posev, 1973; Avtorkhanov A. Tekhnologiia vlasti. Frankfurt-Main: Posev, 1976. The internal rigidity of the totalitarian state was determined by the Marxist-Leninst interpretation of evolution of society. According to that interpretation, social antagonisms would be eliminated together with the exploiter classes under socialism, and total elimination of the class structure would mean the end of the evolution of the human society under communism.

[36] The accusation of an intention for a crime rather than of the crime itself was widely used during the Stalin Era against so-called “enemies of the people” and led to punishment of millions of people. Preventive nature of punishment is essential in the reasoning of the totalitarian state.

[37] Among the evidence of appreciation by the state of the role of GOSET, for instance, was: the increasing degree of confidence between the Party leaders and S.Mikhoels expressed in his political mission as the chairman of the Jewish Antifascist Committee during the World War II; the highest mark of acknowledgment of art of GOSET in 1945 when its production of Shneur’s “Freilekhs” was awarded the Stalin prize. The leaders of the totalitarian state were afraid that these facts would be regarded by GOSET incorrectly. This fear would be a sufficient foundation for suspicion in a possible claim of GOSET for an exclusive position in the hierarchy of the Soviet culture.

[38] The technique used by the state in liquidation of GOSET (Mikhoels was not formally executed or sentenced in any trial, but murdered in an arranged road incident; the theater was liquidated not as “ideological enemy”, but simply closed as “unprofitable”) made arguable the wide-spread belief that elimination of the Yiddish theater was a part of the totalitarian crusade against Jewish culture and the anti-semitic campaign launched by Stalin a few years later.

[39] Israeli scholar of Habima A.Sosnovskaya wrote about it ironically: “The analysis of Habimah’s path until its departure from Russia indicates that its original idea of becoming a theater for a broad Jewish public and not been realized. Due to the profound influence of the elite Russian culture in Moscow, Zemach and his colleagues, however, did attain considerable success in creating an original Russian theater in the Hebrew language“ (Sosnovskaya A. Was Habimah a Jewish Theater or a Russian Theater in Hebrew? // Jews in Eastern Europe. Winter 1993. Jerusalem. P. 22).