Newly Digitized Documents From Cornell University Illuminate U.S. Yiddish-Speaking Life Until the Cold War, Collection Includes Three Documents From Artist Marc Chagall
Newly digitized documents from the archives of the International Workers’ Order (IWO) and the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order – including three letters from artist Marc Chagall – cast light on the lives of Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants in the United States during World War II and the Cold War.
The documents, which also include anti-Nazi posters and leaflets and a rare 1941 poetry anthology published in Moscow by the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, are part of the Cornell Library’s Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives in the ILR School.
[The documents] were digitized through a 2016 award from the Grants Program for Digital Collections in Arts and Sciences to Jonathan Boyarin, the Mann Professor of Jewish Studies, and Elissa Sampson, visiting scholar and lecturer in the Jewish Studies Program in the College of Arts and Sciences, in collaboration with the Kheel Center and the library’s Digital Consulting and Production Services.
“These archives offer a window into Jewish life at a time when Jews had very narrow choices given the constraints of dealing with Nazism, fascism, World War II and Stalinism,” Sampson said. “The documents contain the seeds of a fascinating and detailed history of competing and complementary loyalties during World War II: to the Soviet Union and a progressive international left-wing movement; to the United States; and to the Jewish people and the propagation of a secular Yiddish culture.”
Striking images document Jewish support for the World War II effort. In one 1942 Walter Gropper cartoon, Hitler cringes before a row of tanks labeled, in Yiddish, “American Jews,” “Soviet Jews,” “Canada Jews,” “English Jews,” “Palestinian Jews.” These tanks are given famous Jewish names such as Bar Kokhba, Maccabees, Spinoza and Heine. The Chagall documents include a letter, in French, in which he asks the French consul to support a Jewish orphanage and a note to the JPFO’s general secretary, written in Yiddish.
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