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  • Prof. Dov-Ber Kotlerman at the gravesite of Der Nister

    Prof. Dov-Ber Kotlerman at the gravesite of Der Nister

    Bar-Ilan University Professor of Literature and Yiddish Wins Two Rockower Awards

    Date: 2018-07-03 Hour: 13:03

    Two Simon Rockower Awards have been presented by the American Association Press Association (AJPA) to Prof. Dov-Ber Kotlerman, of Bar-Ilan University's Joseph and Norman Berman Department of Literature of the Jewish People and Rena Costa Center for Yiddish Studies, and Dr. Alexandra Polyan, of Moscow State University.

    The prestigious awards for excellence in Jewish journalism, considered the "Jewish Pulitzer" in the United States, were bestowed in acknowledgment of the researchers' article "Finally, Der Nister Gets a Gravestone", published in the Yiddish Forverts and, subsequently, in its English-language counterpart, The Forward. The article documented their journey to the Arctic Circle and discovery of the burial place of Der Nister, one of the greatest Yiddish writers of the 20th century.

    In a rare occurrence, the Rockower Committee honored the researchers with two simultaneous prizes -- first place in the category "Excellence in Feature Writing" and second place in the category "Excellence in Writing about Jewish Heritage and Jewish Peoplehood in Europe. The awards were distributed this year in Cleveland, Ohio, at the AJPA 2018 Annual Conference.

    Der Nister (Pinkhas Kahanovitsh, 1884-1950) fell victim to the Stalinist regime. He was arrested in Moscow on February 19, 1949 in connection with the case of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAFC) and sentenced to ten years in labor camp.

    For health reasons he was transferred to the Gulag branch for disabled prisoners situated in the village of Abez, Komi Republic, about 2,200 km northeast of Moscow and 7 km from the Polar Circle, where he died in the camp hospital on June 4, 1950. Unlike other Yiddish writers, activists of the JAFC, who were executed on August 12, 1952 and buried in an unknown mass grave, Der Nister were buried separately under a special code number.

    Prof. Kotlerman, who is the author of Broken Heart/Broken Wholeness (Boston, 2017) about the final years of Der Nister, determined the grave's location with the assistance of archival documents, plans of the camp burial sites, and memoirs. Kotlerman visited Abez on August 22, 2017, together with Dr. Polyan, and established a memorial sign in the shape of the Star of David entwined with barbed wire at the local Gulag memorial cemetery. The researchers then submitted documents confirming the location of the tomb to the Komi Republic Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, which gave the green light for the construction of a permanent monument to the writer.

    Interest in Der Nister's writings is evident in academic circles, but also among the Braslav Hasidim – mostly thanks to his historical novel The Family Mashber, about the followers of the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Braslav. This novel was first translated into Hebrew in the 1940-50s, and then into English and other languages.

    The Rockower family created the Simon Rockower Jewish Journalism Awards to honor Simon Rockower and his deep love for the craft of Jewish Journalism.