2: Poem, Peretz Markish's, “Mikhoels,” 1948.

2: Poem, Peretz Markish's, “Mikhoels,” 1948.

Solomon Mikhoels was an acclaimed actor and the director of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, and one of the organizers and leaders of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. He was killed by government agents under Stalin’s orders in 1948, but his death was presented as an accident. Nevertheless, it was clear to many at the time what had occurred and only months later the arrests of other members of the JAFC began. Perets Markish wrote and read this poem—which had the Yiddish title “Sh. Mikhoels - a ner tomid baym orn” (“S. Mikhoels—An Eternal Flame by His Coffin”)—at Mikhoel’s memorial service, openly acknowledging that Mikhoels was murdered. It was an act of great courage that was used as evidence against him in the trial (see related resources 6, 7, and 8).

(Note: The English translation of the poem is only an excerpt of the original. It translates sections 3, 5, and 6 of the Yiddish. There is no published translation of the complete poem.)  

Suggested Activity: After (or before) reading and discussing the poem itself, ask students if they can think of other examples of poems that constitute acts of political resistance. Is it hard to imagine that a poem read at a funeral could become evidence in a trial that results in the death of the author? Students may be prompted to think about the role of poetry and music in civil rights struggles in the United States (from Langston Hughes’ “Harlem” to Childish Gambino’s “This is America” to the work of Paul Robeson (see resource 5)).

Sources: Peretz Markish, “Mikhoels,” trans. Joseph Leftwich in An Anthology of Modern Yiddish Literature (The Hague: Mouton, 1974), 306-307.

Editor's note: We have not been able to determine the rightsholder for Joseph Leftwich's translations, and we would appreciate hearing from anyone who knows who the rightsholder is.

Perets Markish, “Sh. mikhoels—a ner tomid baym orn” in A shpigl oyf a shteyn: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose by Twelve Soviet Yiddish Writers, Ed. Ch. Shmeruk (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1987), 508-512.