The Jews of Leningrad creative elite
Although Jews were removed from the top of the Party and from government, they still had a notable role in science and culture. Their role in the most popular areas of culture was the most conspicuous and Party ideologists could not do anything about the popularity of outstanding actors, producers or musicians. The best example of popular acclaim and affection was Arkadiy Raikin. The phrases of his monologues became proverbial. The halls were overcrowded at his performances. His satire 'on the edge of allowed things' castigated the vices of the Soviet system. Raikin could even allow himself comments on Jewish themes. He was considered a patriarch of Soviet variety theater and he launched the careers of many humorist writers and variety performers. He was honored with many official decorations; however the authorities never trusted him. Many times, he had to face anti-semitism from both officialdom and society.
Although classic jazz was persecuted in the USSR for many years, many jazz performers obtained great popularity. The most famous jazz group was the orchestra of L.O. Utiosov. He began his artistic path in Leningrad. For some decades, the voice of Utiosov sounded from screens, records, the radio, and in his last years - on TV. In the 1940s and 1950s, the jazz orchestra run by Yakov Skomorovsky was very popular. Those orchestras performed popular dances and songs arranged as jazz. In the early 1960s, Leningrad Dixieland and the group of David Goloshchekin were established in Leningrad. In Leningrad, too, the Soviet musical was born - primarily, as "The Spring in LETI" student's performance. Among the authors, there were students Alexander Kolker and Kim Ryzhov. Later, they established the first professional musicals that were performed on Leningrad stages.
The cinema was considered in the USSR "the most important of the arts". Lenfilm film studio was one of the leaders in the country. Among the best works of the studio were many films by Jewish producers or scenario writers. Naturally, they could not touch the Jewish theme. Among the composers who worked for the cinema, there are also many Jewish names. In the 1960s, the song "Where the Homeland Begins" (for "Shield and Sword" movie) by Veniamin Basner was often performed. In the 1970s and 1980s, the entire country sang the song "Your Honor Mrs. Good Luck" (for the movie "The White Sun of the Desert") and the romance "The Life of a Horse-Guardsman Is Not Long" (for "The Star of Captivating Happiness") composed by Isaak Shvarts with words by Bulat Okudjava. Symphonic works by Basner or Shvarts, including the symphonic poem dedicated to the Holocaust, are less known.
The contribution of Jews to Leningrad theater life was considerable as well. Performances by Jewish producers, many of whom were the Main Producers of Leningrad theaters, became events in the city's cultural life. For many years, D. Shvarts, manager of the literary section, determined the repertoire of the Large Dramatic Theater (BDT). Ye. Shvarts was a classic of Soviet drama. The Soviet intelligentsia interpreted his plays as a symbol of spiritual resistance to the regime. A. Volodin was the founder the new wave in Russian drama. Such actors as Ye. Kopelyan, S. Yursky, A. Ravikovich and others obtained the affection of spectators. Jewish names prevailed among the conductors and the performers of classical music.
Despite persecution during the late 1940s and early 1950s, Jews made up a considerable part of the Leningrad Writers Organization, too. Most of them were completely integrated into Russian culture. Few gave thought to the Jewish origin of such popular writers as Daniil Granin or the brothers Arkadiy and Boris Strugatsky. Leningrad writers did not touch on Jewish themes in their works. However, Maria Rolnikaite, former prisoner of the Vilnius ghetto and partisan who settled in Leningrad managed to break the information blockade about the Holocaust theme. In those years, she was, perhaps, the only one who constantly recalled the tragedy of Soviet Jewry in her works. Jews played a notable role in Leningrad journalism, too. In general, they wrote (for ideological reasons) under Russian pen-names; for instance, the tireless popularizer of the city's history, Eduard Arenin.
Because of their talents, industry and persistence, Leningrad Jews succeeded in overcoming of discrimination. Some of them even managed to obtain apartments in the house built specially for the local elite. This house was named "The Nobility's Nest" (in reference to the work by Turgenev). The famous grand master Victor Korchnoy lived in that house. In general, Jews were dominant in chess and draughts. In other sports, the role of Jews was not so notable; however, in the 1940s, Boris Levin-Kogan was a player and then coach of the Leningrad soccer team "Zenit", which won the Cup of USSR in 1944. He had the nickname "Twice Jew of the Soviet Union". In November, 1999, a memorial to him was erected at Smolenskoye Cemetery (funded by "Zenit"). M.S. Yudkovich worked for "Zenit" for a long time and was one of the most famous managers in Soviet soccer (for many years, he was the manager of "Zenit").
Arkadiy Raikin. Photo