Anachnu Kan (‘We are here”), the popular Israeli song and dance ensemble, recently visited Britain to sing in the Yom Ha’atzmaut concert. Many of the members were amongst the wave of immigrants who were permitted to leave the USSR following the mass protests and sit-ins at the beginning of 1971. As their name suggests, this troupe of former Soviet Jews project themselves as an expression of Jewish culture in the USSR. Yet Anachnu Kan’s origin lies in the post-Stalinist thaw of the mid-fifties which followed the murder of the Jewish intellectuals in August 1952.
In April 1955, the Press Attaché at the Soviet Embassy in Geneva told reporters that he had bumped into Peretz Markish in the street a few days previously. One month later, Boris Polevoy representing the Soviet Writers’ Union told a private meeting of US writers that rumours of the execution of the Jewish writers was pure anti-Soviet propaganda. Polevoy told them that he had seen Leib Kvitko just before his departure for the United States.
These lies did nothing to placate the questioners. As the pressure for the truth mounted, the Soviets were forced to produce some symbol of Jewish cultural life in the USSR. The problem was that Jewish life had virtually been eradicated during the Black Years (1948-1953). Only in the newly-annexed Baltic States did there remain a few Jewish performers. Thus in 1955, a few sporadic Jewish concerts, featuring artists such as Nehama Lifshitz, Anna Guzik, Yevgeny Shulman and Misha Alexandrovich, took place in Latvia. This eventually led to a production of Goldfaden’s Bobe Yakhne in Daugavpils.
Meyer Broude, the veteran Yiddish actor recalled the official attitude in his memoirs:
I went to Moscow and sat there seven months, selling everything I owned that could be sold, getting deep in debt, knocking on official doors. . I wrote to Molotov three times… In the last letter, I wrote to him in these words: “Is it forbidden in the Soviet Union to perform in the Yiddish language? If so, let them tell me so and I will stop trying”. In Minsk the official said we couldn’t put up our posters which contained a line in Yiddish. And we couldn’t put on the posters, even in Russian, “Jewish songs and humour”. We could only write “songs and humour” and then, only down below in very small letters that the programme will be given in the Yiddish language.
In Vilnius, Lithuania, a few Jews started rehearsing in a spare room loaned by a trade union. This blossomed into the Vilne Yidishe Folksensemble un Yidishe Dramatishe Grupe—the forerunner of Anachnu Kan. On December 27th 1956, the group, now consisting of over 200 people, gave its first concert. Despite a policy of “liberalization”, the authorities still insisted that the correct quota be observed: 30 per cent of the songs in Yiddish, the remainder in Russian and Lithuanian.
Jewish Quarterly Summer 1986