Suleiman Yudakov

Within Holocaust scholarship, the plight of Jews evacuated from the front to the Soviet interior is gaining attention. As many as six to seven million people were evacuated to Central Asia and Siberia, including entire cultural institutions. Under the Soviet prioritization of saving valuable intellectuals and culture institutions like the Yiddish theatre were able to evacuate in entirety even though the focus was not specifically on rescuing Jews. Jewish institutions in exile played a crucial role in preserving Yiddishkeit and a cultural heritage under genocidal siege in the Holocaust. However, evacuation did not guarantee security, and notable figures saved by exile, like Solomon Mikhoels, were not safe from the antisemitism of the USSR. Postwar denunciation including Zhdanovshchina was entangled with evacuation and postwar antisemitism, and began with the victory of the Red Army in 1945.

When Jews arrived from Ukraine, Poland, and the Western USSR, they were not the first Jews to arrive in Tashkent. Uzbekistan, particularly Tashkent and Samarkand were the center of the Bukharian Jewry – a group of Persian and Russian-speaking (Bukhori) Sephardic Jews who had been in Central Asia since the 8th century CE. Although interactions between evacuees and Bukharians weren’t widespread, they did occur, particularly among religious Jews who recognized similar practices. Through religious exchanges there was also cultural exchange, dialogue over religious practice, intermarriage, and even combined post-war Jewish advocacy. In the cultural realm, the composer Suleiman Yudakov represents the unique experience of a Bukharian who left Central Asia and was then evacuated as Muscovite intellectual. His music reveals some of the possible influences of Ashkenaz Jews in Central Asia, and indicates a negotiation of Jewishness or Central Asian-ness with the Soviet State. Furthermore, in understanding the complexity of Holocaust trauma and including evacuation, it is also worth considering the impacts of the Holocaust as a secondhand trauma on the Bukharian community. As such, Yudakov’s work, Eastern Poem, from the immediate postwar period, reads as an alternative ego document alongside contemporary testimony, articulating elements of trauma not yet possible to voice in the late 1940s.

Suleiman Yudakov was a Bukharian Jewish composer born in the fertile Ferghana valley in Uzbekistan in Kokand in 1916. He was placed in an orphanage as a child, where even at a young age, he was acknowledged as a superb musical talent and was able to notate his natural surroundings in written music.[1] As a teenager, he was accepted into the Rabfak or worker’s educational facility at Moscow Conservatory as a flautist. While at the Moscow Conservatory, Yudakov transitioned into the composition program, where he ultimately became a student of the great Reinhold Gliere. With the outbreak of war, Yudakov returned to Central Asia, where he worked between Dushanbe with the Tajik State Philharmonic and Tashkent until 1946. He was able to work with ease in Tajikistan given the linguistic overlap between his native Bukhori based in Farsi and Tajik rather than in Uzbek which is Turkic. Naturally throughout his professional life he used Russian, but given his upbringing before Central Asian language reform in a Bukharian orphanage, Yudakov’s primary language was Bukhori. Yudakov moved permanently to Tashkent in 1946 where he lived until his death in 1990.

Compositionally, Yudakov’s primary claim is to the national anthem of the Tajik SSR which is still part of the modern national anthem. His sampling of ethnographic materials was in line with the guidelines of Socialist Realism – Nationalist in form, Socialist in content – and was popular in 1944 when it was written.[2] Yudakov won the Stalin Prize for the Tajik national anthem when it was adopted in 1946 with lyrics by Abolqasem Lahouti. Although the lyrics have been changed to remove mention of Stalin, and its transition between Tajik and Russian, the music remains the same, pointing to an enduring quality in Yudakov’s music, and how he captured something recognizably Tajik which stands, even thirty-one years after Soviet collapse. Yudakov’s return to Central Asia meant work between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan where he used his conservatory training to compose significant classical compositions using local elements. Yudakov’s notable works are similar to the Tajik anthem, banal in title or form, and contain significant regional cultural messages. These pieces include the “Dancing Suite” for two pianos which contained ethnographic sampling of Tajik regional dances and “Eastern Poem” from 1946 which contains idioms from the Bukharian shashmaqam ensemble adapted for the western violin.

Recording is by Alexandra Birch, violin and Dani Shraibman, piano. Firebird Records, 2018, all rights reserved.

Yudakov’s piece initially seems to be yet another ten-minute concert piece, a simple transcription or exoticist interpretation of Central Asia for Western Classical music audiences.[3] However, this “autoexoticism” is not the exotic of Stravinsky – a Russian national abstractly sampling a presumed primitive other of the Steppe.[4] Neither is Yudakov’s writing the distorted view of the Orient contained in compositions by Imperial composers like Rimsky-Korsakov or Borodin. This authenticity is important, as the Eastern element of Yudakov’s Eastern Poem is one outside of a binary and oppositional definition of Occident and Orient.[5] Furthermore, in the context of the Holocaust and postwar antisemitism, Yudakov lyrically articulated the folklore of a specific, non-Ashkenazic Jewish tradition, preserving and disseminating it as a Central Asian work. The exoticism of Yudakov is layered with hidden community knowledges of shashmaqam only recognizable to Bukharians, intersections with Ashkenaz practice only recognizable to other refugees, and vague Central Asian idiom which was the perceptual ‘exotic’ element making the work publishable. In this short work for the violin, Yudakov captures Central Asian elements and articulates them in a manner intelligible for the West.

National and religious self-awareness among Jews in Central Asia was partially heightened by wounded Jewish soldiers who had seen the Holocaust in Poland and brought this news to field-hospitals in Tashkent. As seen in the Bukharian-Polish interactions, the primary social engagement was religious, with increasing numbers of people gathering for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah by 1943 and 1944.[6] Shashmaqam is not an ensemble for religious services or sacred events in the Bukharian schedule. Yudakov’s influence to use the western violin, is therefore from his conservatory training and if impacted from Western Soviet Jews, from social events like weddings. There was substantial exchange between educated and wealthy Bukharians and Poles at social events like brit milot (circumcisions) and weddings. This piece is something flashy, a concert work for the violin, and one which would be programmed either in Yudakov’s conservatory world post-war or at one of these more secular but still cultural events in Central Asia. The Bukharian traditions of virtuosity on instruments like the darbuka and ghijak are here for the violin and would be extremely appropriate in a social setting. Finally, Yudakov never specifies that this piece of music is Jewish, but rather “Eastern”. The incorporation of all of these themes and regional elements might be recognizable for internal community consumption, but for publication and performance this piece was intended for the stage and to be recognizable to a classical audience outside of Central Asia. These representations of Central Asia are not a sampled Orientalism, but a deliberate use of Bukharian musical idioms in a concert work for the violin. This piece is an excellent example of hidden influences and negotiation of regional idiom and assertion with official state strictures for the arts.

Music is an indication of the cultural preservation and professionalism of composers in exile. The fortitude of Yudakov and other exiles is testament to their compositional strength to produce music under extraordinary duress including evacuation, the Holocaust, and the threat of Soviet arrest. Music is also oblique, with many possible interpretations and influences. This makes music an imprecise ego document, but also critically allows professionals to express their situation, evacuation, and professionalism in their most skilled modality and to articulate traumatic themes not-yet addressable in more legalistic and formal testimonies.

By Dr. Alexandra Birch


Adler, Eliyana R. Survival on the Margins. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020.

Feofanov, Dmitry ed."Yudakov, Solomon Aleksandrovich." Biographical Dictionary Of Russian/Soviet Composers. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Kaganovitch, Albert. Exodus and Its Aftermath: Jewish Refugees in the Wartime Soviet Interior. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2022.


  1. Dmitry Feofanov ed., "Yudakov, Solomon Aleksandrovich," Biographical Dictionary Of Russian/Soviet Composers (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1989), 608.
  2. Marina Frolova Walker, Russian Music and Nationalism from Glinka to Stalin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 303.
  3. Lynn Hooker, "Turks, Hungarians, and Gypsies on Stage: Exoticism and Auto-Exoticism in Opera and Operetta," Hungarian Studies 27, no. 2 (2013): 291-311.
  4. Stravinsky’s “autoexoticism” is in reference to the ballet Rite of Spring wherein he depicts primitive Russia. However, this folklore is arguably not his culture, but rather an urban, cosmopolitan view of the pagan Siberian rites commodified to shock the Parisien audiences.
  5. Edward Said, Orientalism (New York, NY: Knopf, 1978).
  6. Kaganovitch, Exodus and its Aftermath, 179.