Russian, E. European & Eurasian Center: Speakers

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REEEC NTS Prendergast

REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture: Catherine Prendergast, "The Man Who Wasn’t There: Excavating the life of Schachno Epstein, GRU agent in the Yiddish Press"

Event Type
306 Coble Hall (801 S. Wright St., Champaign, IL 61820)
Mar 1, 2023   12:00 pm  
Catherine Prendergast (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Free and open to the public.

This presentation introduces Schachno Epstein who as a secret agent worked behind the scenes to shape everything from America’s nascent Communist Party to Stalin’s Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. As editor of the Frayhayt, Epstein became a chief player in the ComIntern’s policy of infiltrating American trade unions to bring them under Moscow’s control. He recruited spies for GRU including, famously, American Juliet Stuart Poyntz, who in 1937 he helped execute in New York. Later, he was the shadow secretary of the doomed Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, reporting the committee’s activities to the NKVD, and contributing to the eventual execution of its members. 

This talk describes how Epstein, a man with five aliases whose most common name has been variously transliterated from Yiddish to English, slipped through the cracks of history. I discuss the Yiddish sources and Comintern files that record his remarkable and revealing life.

Catherine Prendergast is a Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Fulbright Scholar. Interviewed by NPR and New York Magazine, she has written on battles over school desegregation, anxieties over the global spread of English, and recognition of disability rights. Originally from New Jersey, she can now be found amidst the cornfields of the Midwest with her husband and son.

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