Songs of War

     A poignant part of both Jewish and Soviet history is the inexplicable hardship posed by WWII.

     While many know the Soviet standard Tyomnaya Noch (Dark is the Night) as a wartime ballad, composed by Nikita Bogoslovsky, few know the secret identity of the famous lyricist, Vladimir Agatov. Agatov was originally born "Velvel Isidarovich Gurevich" to a Jewish family in Kiev. A famous lyricist and poet with a significantly secularized identity, the poetic yearning revealed in his lyrics about home and country draw upon themes found in the story of Jewish diaspora - evidence of silent and subversive Yiddishkeit. 

     Katyusha, a Russian wartime classic by Matvei Isaakovich Blanter (1902-1990), is a wartime classic that gained fame during World War II and offered inspiration in defending one’s land. Blanter, the son of a Jewish craftsman, avoided embracing his Jewish identity and became an emissary of Stalin during the war. Meanwhile, Katyusha has been performed in countries around the world and is now a standard often sung as an Israeli folk tune around campfires in many Kibbutzim.

     Yan Abramovich Frenkel (1920 – 1989) was a popular Soviet composer and performer, born in Kiev. Evacuated during World War II to Orenburg, he worked as a violinist. While he did not begin composing songs until the 1960s, his images of war and memory resonates in much of his music. Zhuravli is a popular standard that highlights the spoils of war and the hope of rising above the ruins. It is an homage to history, hope, and resurrection.

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