As World War II raged through Europe, a group of Soviet Yiddish scholars embarked on an ambitious goal to preserve Jewish culture of the 1940s. Soviet ethnomusicologists from the Kiev Cabinet for Jewish Culture, led by Moisei Beregovsky (1892 – 1961), recorded hundreds of new Yiddish songs: tunes that detailed Soviet Jewish wartime service in the Red Army, survival and death in Nazi-occupied Europe and stories from those working in the Soviet home front in Central Asia, Ural Mountains and Siberia. Beregovsky and his colleague Ruvim Lerner (1912 – 1972) hoped to publish an anthology of these songs, but the project was never completed as Beregovsky was arrested in the height of Stalin’s anti-Jewish purge. The documents were sealed. The scholars died thinking that their work had been lost and destroyed. In the 1990s, librarians of the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine found unnamed boxes with these documents. Librarian Lyudmila Sholokhova created the first catalogue since the original one was destroyed in the 1940s.
Quickly deteriorating, fragile documents, some typed, but most hand-written on paper, presented a challenge. But upon quick examination of the material, it turned out that these contained some of the most poignant and historically important Soviet Yiddish songs of World War II. None of them have been performed since 1947.
Some songs in the archive did indeed have their melodies preserved, however most were simply lyrics. Anna Shternshis and Psoy Korolenko, worked together to bring these songs to both academic and popular audiences in 21st century North America and Europe. Psoy Korolenko engaged in “musical archaeology,” and analyzed the scarce supplementary notes, contextualized the lyrics and then took a leap of imagination in order to create or adapt music for the texts, all originally written by amateur authors. Violinist and composer Sergei Erdenko then created multi-instrument arrangements and composed original music for one song (“Kazakhstan”). Producer Dan Rosenberg brought together an all-star band, which consisted of five vocalists (including Juno-award winner Sophie Milman), and five conservatory trained classical instrumentalists with decades of experience performing and researching folk music. The album “Yiddish Glory” is the fruit of this three-year-long process. For the first time, the public will hear the voices of the Soviet Jews who were thought to be silenced by Hitler and Stalin.