Isaak Kipnis

Isaak Kipnis (1896–1974) was a writer and translator.

Isaak (Itsyk) Kipnis was born on 12t December 1896 in the town of Slovechno, Volyn Province (today’s Ovruch district of Zhytomyr region) to a family of a furrier. Isaak got a traditional Jewish education in a cheder, and also helped his father at a fur workshop. When Kipnis was twelve, he started to write poems in Yiddish. In 1920, a trade union directed Isaak Kipnis to study in Kyiv. In 1922, he started to publish his works in various Jewish literary magazines: Shtrom, Fraind, Halyastre, Di Roite Velt, and others. Then, in 1923, his first poetry book Oksn (The Bulls) was published. After that, Kipnis switched to prose. At that time, he was also writing fairy tales, to some editions of which Kyiv artists of Kultur-Lige created illustrations. In the following years, Kipnis worked hard as a children’s book writer and translator. During World War II, he was evacuated to Saratov. 

Isaak Kipnis was a member of the Writers Union of Ukraine but was expelled from there for imaginary“Jewish nationalism”. In 1948, he was sentenced to ten years of forced labor camps for “active nationalist anti-Soviet activity”. He served his sentence in Spask (near Karaganda) and was released in 1955 but was banned from living in Kyiv. Because of that, Isaak Kipnis settled in Boyarka. He moved to Kyiv only in the early 1960s, where he continued living until his death in 1970.

Isaak Kipnis’s most famous original works are the poetry collection Bulls (1923), the novels Months and Days (1926), My Town Slovechno (1962), From the Diary (1965), and Home (1939), and the prose collections Fairy Tales for Lemele (1940) and Miniatures (1975). Kipnis also translated many works of classic English, French, Spanish, and Russian literature into Yiddish.  

The collection of Isaak Kipnis contains more than 760 units of storage: manuscripts of writings, letters (1929–1974), and the photo archive of the Kipnis family (48 photos of 1930–1974). 

Isaak Kipnis’s manuscripts are valuable material for literary scholars who study the development of Yiddish prose and children’s literature in the Soviet Union. The majority of the manuscripts in the archive are in Yiddish. The research is also needed to determine which works have already been published and which are still waiting to meet readers.

Novels: On the Way /אונטערוועגנס/ (Yiddish, no date, the manuscript is in three versions), Months and Days (Russian, 1930).

A fairy tale: A Hedgehog and a Tree /שטעכלע ר או  בוי/ (Yiddish, no date).

Short stories: In Hard Times /אי שווערע צ ַ ט/ (Yiddish, 1949–1957), To the Young Generation /דאס ייגעלע או ד ס בייסעלע/ (Yiddish, no date), A Kitten That Forgot How to Ask for Food /מע ד ס קע עלע, וו ס ה ט פ רגעס ווי בעט עס/ (Yiddish, no date), Cheep-Cheep, Granny /צי , צי , ב ביקע/ (Yiddish, no date), The Fly and the Bear /פליעלע או בער/ (Yiddish, no date), The Pumpkin and the Watermelon /קיכבעס או ל ק ווענעדל/ (Yiddish, no date), The Flowers /קוויט/ (Yiddish, no date), What Can I Say, God Gave It /ג ט ה ט געפירט» ,«וואס מע זאגט  »ג ט ה ט צוגעשיקט/ (Yiddish, 1963), From My Diaries /ו מ  ַנ ט גביכער/ (Yiddish, no date), My House Is My Friend (Ukrainian, translated by S. Itskevych, 1946), Life Does Not Go Out (Ukrainian, translated by S. Itskevych, no date), It Was Like That (Ukrainian, translated by S. Itskevych, no date), Four Butterflies /פיר ב בעלעה/ (Yiddish and English, no date). 

Correspondence. The letter collection consists of more than 570 units of storage.

Especially interesting are Isaak Kipnis’s five letters to Joseph Opatoshu, a Jewish writer, author of historical novels and short stories, who lived in the United States. The letters were written in Yiddish in 1929–1947. The archive also holds around 500 letters to Isaak Kipnis from his colleagues (writers, editors, publishers), friends, and relatives. Among the senders were the literary scholar and a victim of Stalinist repressions Abram Velednytsky, actor Dmytro Zhabotynsky, writer and chief editor of the magazine Sovetish Heymland Aron Verhelis, writer and translator Riva Rubina, writer Khaskel Tabachnykov, and others. These letters are unique sources of information not just about Isaak Kipnis but also about the cultural life of Soviet Jewish intelligentsia in the 1950–70s.

The archive holds more than 70 Kipnis’s letters from Spask, where he served his sentence. They are addressed to his relatives, to the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as well as to the Procurator General of the USSR (1951–1956). These letters can be of great interest for historians of Stalinist repressions.