The Gulag of Poets: The Experience of Exile, Forced Labour Camps, and Wandering in the USSR in the Works of Polish-Yiddish Writers (1939–1949)

Magdalena Ruta

Abstrakt

The literary output of the Polish-Yiddish writers who survived WWII in the Soviet Union  is mostly a literary mirror of the times of exile and wartime wandering. The two major themes that reverberate through these writings are: the refugees’ reflection on their stay in the USSR, and the Holocaust of Polish Jews. After the war, some of them described that period in their memoirs and autobiographical fiction, however, due to censorship, such accounts could only  be published abroad, following the authors’ emigration from Poland. These writings significantly complement the texts produced during the war, offering plentiful details about life in Poland’s  Eastern Borderlands under Soviet rule as it was perceived by the refugees, or about the fate of specific persons in the subsequent wartime years. This literature, written in – and about – exile  is not only an account of what was happening to Polish-Jewish refugees in the USSR, but also a testimony to their coping with an enormous psychological burden caused by the awareness (or the lack thereof) of the fate of Jews under Nazi German occupation. What emerges from all the literary texts published in post-war Poland, even despite the cuts and omissions caused by (self)-censorship, is an image of a postwar Jewish community affected by deep trauma, hurt and – so it seems – split into two groups: survivors in the East (vicarious witnesses), and survivors in Nazi-occupied Poland (direct victim witnesses). The article discusses on samples the necessity of extending and broadening of that image by adding to the reflection on Holocaust literature (which has been underway for many years) the reflection on the accounts of the experience of exile, Soviet forced labour camps, and wandering in the USSR contained in the entire corpus of literary works and memoirs written by Polish-Yiddish writers.

Słowa kluczowe: the Holocaust, WWII, the Soviet Union, Polish Jews, Yiddish literature, Communism, exile, Soviet Forced Labour Camps, wandering in the USSR
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