The Gorky Shirt

SA_Shirt_Desk_YIVO-framedFollowing the Kishinev pogrom, Sholem Aleichem decided to edit a collection of writings in support of its victims. In this connection he corresponded with well-known Russian authors including Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Gorky. He was eager to receive contributions from Tolstoy and Gorky, who “do not idly spill ink, but write with their blood”. Sholem Aleichem was attracted to Gorky’s social involvement, and in the revolutionary years 1903-05 he often wore the black, proletarian “Gorky shirt.” This black shirt is criticized by the bourgeois narrator of “Joseph” (1905), and Gorky is mentioned in the Tevye story “Chava” (1906). During 1905 Sholem Aleichem lived with his eldest daughter in Vilna, where he observed the socialist Bundists’ activity and was inspired to write the story “Joseph” about them. As a result of Sholem Aleichem’s social activism, including his correspondence with Russian authors, the Czarist authorities in Kiev placed him under surveillance and blocked his planned book in support of the Kishinev victims.

–Excerpt from Classic Yiddish Fiction: Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and Peretz by Ken Frieden