Moscow; Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1938. Item #1205
116 pp., 1 frontispiece: ill. 19,9x13,8 cm. In original cloth binding with lettering on the front board. The spine is slightly rubbed. Soviet bookshop’s stamp and pen markings on the rear endpaper. Otherwise near fine.
Scarce. First edition. One of 4,000 copies.
This monograph on one of the most prominent Soviet jewish actors and directors Solomon Mikhoels was published only a few years before the launch of the anti-Semitic campaign.
Written by the Soviet art critic O. Lyubomirskiy, this book serves as an interesting review of the life and creative path of Solomon Mikhoels (1890-1948). At the time the edition was printed, Mikhoels was performing the role of the artistic director of the Jewish State Theatre (GOSET), where he started his acting career in the late-1910s and soon rose to prominence. The book focuses on the development of the Jewish Theatre in the Soviet Union and traces Mikhoels’ contribution to it. The author starts off with the brief overview of Solomon’s early years and proceeds with the detailed analysis of his major roles in the theatre. From Mikhoels’ first acting experiences to his work as a director, the book offers thorough description of Solomon’s career in GOSET: the role of Otsmakh in the play Koldun’ya [i.e. Witch] directed by Alexander Granovsky and designed by Isaak Rabinovich in 1922, the role of Alter in the play Mazel tov directed by Alexander Granovsky and designed by Marc Chagall in 1921, the role of Menachem Mendel Yakneoz in the play Agenty [i.e. Agents] directed by Alexander Granovsky and designed by Marc Chagall in 1921, the role of Lear in the play Korol’ Lir [i.e. King Lear] directed by Sergey Radlov and designed by Alexander Tyshler in 1935, etc. The author sets Mikhoels as the brightest star of the Jewish theatre and christens Solomon’s designation on the role of the director as the upheaval in the history of GOSET. Lyubomirskiy is distinguished with a strong criticism towards Alexander Granovsky, the former director of the theatre, who, according to the author, imparted the influence of grotesque trends to the GOSET. Interestingly, Lyubomirskiy condemns Marc Chagall’s work in the theatre as strictly formalist and reproaches Solomon for inheriting some of the adverse tendencies. The book also elaborates upon the main weak points of the 1930s Jewish State Theatre.
The edition includes a chronological list of Mikhoels’ work both as an actor and director and features 18 rare black-and-white illustrations showing Solomon in Koldun’ya [i.e. Witch], Korol’ Lir [i.e. King Lear], Agenty [i.e. Agents], Mazel tov, etc.
The book came out a few years before Mikhoels became actively involved in the fight against fascism, becoming the first chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. In 1948, during an anti-Semitic campaign launched by the Soviet Union, Solomon was allegedly assassinated (disguised as a hit-and-run car accident) on Stalin’s order. Mikhoels was posthumously accused of a conspiracy to kill Soviet leaders (The Doctors’ Plot) and christened as a ‘well-known Jewish bourgeois nationalist’. The books about once beloved Jewish actor were withdrawn from libraries and destroyed.
The Soviet State Yiddish Theaters were part of a network of state-subsidized theaters in the Soviet Union. At its height in the 1930s, the network included four major theaters in Ukraine, Belarus, Birobidzhan, and Moscow, as well as some 15 minor theaters in smaller Jewish population centers. With the official promotion of Russian chauvinism in the postwar period, the Soviet State Yiddish Theaters had trouble finding an acceptable repertoire. The state-sponsored assassination of Solomon Mikhoels, director of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, in January 1948 signaled the spiraling of official antisemitism. The following year, the Soviet State Yiddish Theaters were all closed down, and many people associated with the theaters were arrested.
Worldcat shows copies of the edition in Brown University, Mount Holyoke College, Syracuse University, Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.