Archives of Jewish writers

Writers’ archives of the Center for Studies in History and Culture of East European Jewry contain original materials (manuscripts of writings, publications, letters, documents, and photos) of Jewish writers who started their careers during the Soviet era:

Needless to say, manuscripts of writings are the most valuable items in every writer’s archive. Some manuscripts are in multiple editions with authorial remarks. Today it is difficult to determine if all of these literary pieces have been printed. There is a great possibility that some of these works are still waiting to meet their readers. Hence this question requires a thorough investigation. Besides, even the writings that were published during the authors’ lifetimes had to undergo harsh censorship during the Soviet time. For example, it concerns Natan Zabara’s novel The Wheel Is Turning (known also as The Wheel of Eternity). A chain of text studies should be carried out to determine the degree of censorial and editorial interference in original authorial texts. Almost all those writers, except for Borys Khandros, wrote in Yiddish. That is why their archive legacy needs to be researched not only by literary scholars but also by Yiddish philologists.

The writers’ archives of the Center store unique materials for scholars of Soviet Yiddish literature. Famous poets who wrote in Yiddish were Matvii Talalaievsky, Ryva Baliasna, Mykhailo Pinchevsky, Dora Khaikina, Yosyp Bukhbinder, and Isaak Kipnis. The development of Yiddish prose in the Soviet Union can be seen in the example of the works of Natan Zabara, Oleksandr Lizen, Ikhil Falikman, and Matvii Talalaievsky. Besides, Mykhailo Pinchevsky and Matvii Talalaievsky had a great impact on the development of Yiddish dramaturgy (since Pinchevsky’s plays were in the repertoire of the famous Kyiv Sholom Aleichem State Jewish Theatre). Literature in Yiddish that originated in Ukraine had its own feature, which was a close connection with Jewish towns (shtetls). Historians who study World War II and the Holocaust might be interested in the archival materials of front writers. Matvii Talalaievsky, Natan Zabara, and Ikhil Falikman were correspondents of front newspapers, and their wartime press publications are held in the archive. Front letters that Matvii Talalaievsky wrote to his wife and relatives are valuable sources of information on the daily life of Soviet soldiers. Borys Khandros was a soldier of the Red Army and then a prisoner of the Pechora ghetto and concentration camp (in Vinnytsia region), yet he was lucky enough to survive. The archive of Borys Khandros includes testimonies of Holocaust survivors.

The archives also stores the materials that can be useful for scholars who study the history of Stalinist repressions. After the destruction of the Jewish Antifascist Committee in 1948, another wave of repression began and a great number of Jewish intellectuals fell victim to it. In the early 1950s, Isaak Kipnis, Mykhailo Pinchevsky, Matvii Talalaievsky, Natan Zabara, Ryva Baliasna, Oleksandr Lizen, Ikhil Falikman, and Yosyp Bukhbinder were arrested and found guilty of “Jewish nationalism”, sentenced to different terms of imprisonment and served their sentences in labor camps. Unique materials related to those dramatic events are present in the archives of all the repressed writers. For example, in the archives of Ryva Baliasna, Matvii Talalaievsky, and Borys Khandros, there are letters from the camps, court sentences, and other documents of those years. Matvii Talalaievsky’s archive contains unique materials, such as notebooks with scripts of amateur performances and concerts that the writer organized for his fellow prisoners on Soviet holidays.

Correspondence constitutes a great part of each writer’s archival legacy. Letters are valuable information sources not just about the creative and private lives of certain authors; they help imagine a coherent map of the literary process and cultural life of Jewish creative intelligentsia in the Soviet Union in the second half of the twentieth century.

It is worth paying extra attention to the documents of the writers and their family members (identity and member cards, employment records, various certificates, etc.) They bring additional information about the authors’ biographies and can be useful for scholars of cultural, institutional, and social history.

Therefore, writers’ archives of the Center can be of interest to historians of culture, Soviet politics, and everyday life, experts in literature and theatre, Yiddish philologists, translators, as well as everyone interested in Jewish literature and the fates of Jewish intellectuals.