The Arty Semite

Englander's Inspiration

By Rukhl Schaechter

Getty Images
Nathan Englander

The Forverts’s Rukhl Schaechter once heard a Yiddish professor complain that his American students knew nothing about Stalin’s execution of 13 Soviet Jews, which took place in August 1952. Even more discouraging, he added, was their “complete lack of interest” in the Yiddish culture that once thrived in the Former Soviet Union.

Two days before the premiere of “The Twenty-Seventh Man,” Schaechter talked to author Nathan Englander about this phenomenon and what inspired him, a self-proclaimed Yankee from Long Island, to write about it.

Rukhl Schaechter: What inspired you to write about Stalin’s execution of Soviet Yiddish writers?

Nathan Englander: I guess it’s because I read a lot, and I believe in imagined worlds. I learned about that period when I was in Israel, in my junior year abroad at Hebrew University, and the Iron Curtain was about to fall. My teacher, Edith Frankel, who was a Russian studies expert, mentioned it as an aside. I thought it was strange that no one talked about it, and I felt that these writers deserved a story about them. So I waited a few years. It was shocking to me that this nefarious event occurred and because of it, a whole world was destroyed, and yet no one wrote about it. When I began working on the story myself, I discovered there was almost no information, just an entry here and there in the Encyclopedia Judaica.

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