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Lost Yiddish songs of the Holocaust brought to life at Northwestern

‘Last Yiddish Heroes’ presentation conveyed poignant sense of life in the Soviet Union
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall

EVANSTON - Yiddish songs confiscated and hidden by the Soviet government in 1949 were given new life recently in a performance at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.

Singer-songwriter Psoy Korolenko and historian Anna Shternshis of the University of Toronto performed the recovered stories Monday (May 7) to an enraptured audience of close to 500, who were moved by a presentation that conveyed a deeper understanding of Jewish life in the Soviet Union, and by Korolenko’s powerful voice.

“The Last Yiddish Heroes presentation exemplified how research in Jewish studies can be made accessible and meaningful to a broad audience,” said Claire Sufrin, associate professor of instruction and assistant director of Jewish studies at the Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies at Northwestern.

“Professor Shternshis analyzed the incredible material she discovered in the archives as well as the process by which she and Psoy Korolenko came to understand the intentions of the songs’ original authors,” Sufrin said.

Chicago Tribune columnist and arts critic Howard Reich reported “the room fell silent” as Korolenko was singing. The performances gave the audience “an unexalted, ground-level view of bleak events and how they were perceived,” Reich wrote in The Tribune.

The concert-lecture program was this year’s annual Philip M. and Ethel Klutznick Lecture in Jewish Civilization.

The performance was sponsored by the Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies and the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.