Oleksandr Lizen

Inventory of the archive


Oleksandr Lizen (Isroel Lizenberg, 1911–2000) was a Ukrainian and Yiddish writer.

Lizen was born in the village of Haidamaky, Volyn region, in 1911 and spent his teenage years in the town of Kupil. He took an active part in a Zionist organization Hashomer Hatzair. Eventually, in 1929, he was arrested for his Zionist activity, spent the next three years (1930–1933) in prison and three more in exile. After release, he lived in Kyiv. Lizen participated in World War II and, once the war ended, moved to Lviv. He graduated from the Trade and Economics Institute and worked as a senior accountant at the regional industrial enterprises. In 1988, Lizen organized the Sholom Aleichem Society of Jewish Culture in Lviv.  

Lizen wrote short stories, novellas, and literary criticism in Ukrainian, Russian, and Yiddish. He debuted with Yiddish stories published in the Moscow magazine Sovetish Heymland in 1970. Afterwards, he published more essays, novels, novelettes, and poems. His writing describes the fates of the residents of Jewish towns in Ukraine, people’s life in the times of war and peace. Oleksandr Lizen died in Lviv in 2000.

The archive includes more than 1,440 units of storage: manuscripts of writings, reviews, letters, various documents (e.g., contracts with publishing houses) and other materials.

During the final years of Lizen’s life, his books were rarely published. The 1990s were rather hard for Ukrainian publishers when it came to financial questions so they often did not accept his works precisely because of the lack of funds.

However, sometimes publishers would explain their refusals to print Lizen’s works by alleging that they were “unusual”, not artistic enough and did not meet readers’ contemporary demands. In reality, Lizen had his own recognisable style, impeccable command of the language (both Russian and Ukrainian), and his storylines and characters were known for their deep psychologism. Those refusals can be explained only by the censorship of Lizen’s writings, which were definitely out of the context of the “wild 90s”.

As a result, the archive has preserved Oleksandr Lizen’s works that have not been published anywhere. This gives quite a lot of opportunities for any curious researcher. Some letters and reviews from editors and publishers with their rejections are also present in the archive. Therefore, it is possible to assess and analyse the arguments they used, of course, after getting familiar with the original writings. 

Prose. Among the manuscripts, there are texts of 30 novels in Russian, Ukrainian, and Yiddish. Some of the works are in multiple versions or fragments. There are also examples of the same novels written in two languages. 

The manuscripts of the majority of novels (except for The Alchemist) are not dated. Therefore, determining the time of creation is another amusing task for potential researchers.

Novels: This Sweet and Bitter Lotus (Russian), Geia (Russian and Ukrainian), Zeus Is Smiling (Russian), King’s Daughter, Lonely Mourners (Russian), The Keys of the Earth (Russian), The Alchemist (1969–1973, Ukrainian), Ladybug /זו קיעלע/ (Yiddish), Black Rose /שוו ר רויז/ (Yiddish), Lotus /ל טוס/ (Yiddish), An Incident in a Shop /צופל אי די  קר Yiddish), Living Star over the Dead Sea /א לעבעדיקער שטער איבער א טויט/ (Yiddish, Russian, and Ukrainian), The Idol (Russian and Ukrainian), Memories of Valentyna (Ukrainian), The Son of a Star (Russian), Those Who Bring Light (Russian), Some Benchyk (Russian and Ukrainian), Mourning Music (Russian), Lilac (Russian), Tree People (Russian), Memory Alarm Signal (Russian), Pavel’s Tears (Russian), The Road Was Crying of Pain (Russian), The Esperanto Teacher (Russian), The Stars Are Near You (Russian, Ukrainian), Hide-and-Seek (Ukrainian, translation from Yiddish), The Sad Sigh /טרויעריק זיפ/ (Yiddish), Bar-Kokhba’s Cave /באר ק כבא ס הייל/ (Yiddish),  Hava, the Mother of All Mothers /כאווע  – די מוטער פואלע מוטערס/ (Yiddish). 

Short prose. There are 390 manuscripts of short prose in the archive (in Yiddish, Russian, and Ukrainian). Most manuscripts are undated. The earliest dated short story is Goose-Lazybobes-Honk-Honk! (1948). 

Oleksandr Lizen was a master of short prose. He often determined the genres of his writings himself, understanding that the author’s genre definition could influence the reader’s perception. Such traditional genres as novelettes, stories, and humorous tales are not the only ones that we can find among the author’s definitions; there are also ballads, etudes, fantasies, parables, and short fairy tales.

Poems. There are 152 Lizen’s poetical works in Russian, Yiddish, and Ukrainian. 

Dramatic works. Lizen’s dramatic poem Requiem (undated) is worth particular attention. The writer dedicated it to the suffering of the Jewish people. There are different versions of the poem in Yiddish, Russian, and Ukrainian. 

Other dramatic writings (five plays are undated) are The Fate. The Cup (Russian), Fire Extinguisher (Russian), In an Abandoned Quarry (Russian), Do You Hear the Ringing (Russian), and She-Eagle (Russian). 

Oleksandr Lizen’s journalistic materials are of considerable value for the researchers of Ukrainian journalism of the last decades of the twentieth century. The archive contains articles, essays, and interviews (more than 100 journalistic works of 1978 1998 in Yiddish, Russian and Ukrainian). Oleksandr Lizen’s writings of this kind were published in newspapers such as Narodna Volia [People’s Will], Literaturna Ukraina [Literary Ukraine], Literaturnyi Lviv [Literary Lviv], Yevreiskii Kamerton [Jewish Tuning Fork], Birobidzhaner Shtern [Birobidzhan Star], Nedilia [Sunday], etc.

Correspondence. The archive stores the originals of about 530 letters. Among them, there are 205 letters addressed to Oleksandr Lizen during the period from 1961 to 1999. Some of the well-known senders are the writers Pavlo Zahrebelny, Roman Lubkivskiy, Oles Poshyvailo, and the publisher Dmytro Bukhanenko. 

Twenty-five letters from Dmytro Tyshchenko, written in the 1990s, may be of interest to Yiddish specialists. Tyshchenko is a Germanic philologist with a specialisation in the Yiddish language, who compiled several Yiddish-Russian and Yiddish-Ukrainian dictionaries. During the 1990s, he actively communicated with Oleksandr Lizen via letters, discussing the issues related to his work on the dictionary among other things.

Two hundred seventy-seven documents are the typewriter copies of the letters Oleksandr Lizen sent to his friends, relatives, colleagues, writers, editors, and publishers in 1964–1999. Among the recipients, there were the writers Veniamin Kaverin, Rostyslav Bratun, Liubomyr Dmyterko, Borys Oliinyk, and Petro Perebyinis, the editor of Birobidzhaner Shtern Boris Miller, and the journalist Alexei Adzhubei.

Since the envelopes with addresses and names of the addressees are absent, there is a problem with identifying those to whom Oleksandr Lizen wrote. Mostly, there are only first names and patronymics (i.e., “Vadym Petrovych” or “Inna Andriivna”). This brings forward another subject of research: identifying the addressees and determining Lizen’s circle of communication. Some persons, however, are easy to identify. For instance, “Dmytro Volodymyrovych” is most likely to be the aforementioned philologist Dmytro Tyshchenko. 

The rest of the letters concern the writer’s wife, Hanna Lizenberg (nee Tsapei, 1915–2006). She was born to a Ukrainian family, which was closely connected to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). In the 1990s, she published her works in the Lviv press and was known for an active engagement in civil activity. 

Hanna Lizenberg’s materials held in the archive are printed copies of her articles (1993–1997), correspondence (particularly three letters from the UPA messenger “Orolia” and a letter from Hanna to the Head of the Ukrainian UPA Brotherhood). Her memoirs named What Is the Fate of a Human? are incredibly interesting.

Hanna Lizenberg’s documents can be interesting for those who study the history of women’s and Ukrainian liberation movements in Western Ukraine.