Mykhailo (Moishe) Pinchevsky

Inventory of the archive


Mykhailo (Moishe) Pinchevsky (1894–1955) was a Yiddish poet, playwright, and translator.

Mykhailo Pinchevsky was born on 1 April 1894 in the Bessarabian town of Telenești (today a district center in Moldova) to a family of a shopkeeper. He studied in a cheder and a yeshiva in Odesa. In 1913, Pinchevsky ran away from home and went travelling after being hired as a cabin boy. He visited Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. It was then when he started to write poems in his mother tongue, Yiddish, and published his first book. In 1920, he returned to Europe, and then lived in Germany, Belgium, and Romania. Seeking a better life, he returned to his hometown (then under Romanian rule) in 1924 and after that moved to the Soviet Union.

For some time, Mykhailo Pinchevsky lived in Moscow and then, since 1928, in Kharkiv, where he worked for Jewish newspapers and published a few poetical collections. Pinchevsky’s first epic poem Bessarabia /בעסאראביע/ was published in 1929, which was followed by the collections: Four Poems /פיר  עמעס/ in 1930, For Children /פאר קינדער/ in 1930, Poems of the Day /לידער פו ט ג/ in 1932, and Draw the Curtain /דער פירהאנג גיט/ in 1932. Altogether, during his life in the USSR, the writer published 13 books, created 12 plays and had many newspaper publications. Aside from poems and plays (staged in many theatres of the country), Mykhailo Pinchevsky wrote fairy tales for children and was the author of libretti of the children’s ballet Baby Stork, staged at Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow (1935). 

The writer moved to Kyiv in 1934, where he joined the All-Ukrainian Association of Proletarian Writers (VUSPP) and also became a member of the Writers Union of the USSR. In October 1938, Mykhailo Pinchevsky was accused of “espionage” and arrested as an “agent of foreign intelligence”. He was released in 1939 because of the absence of corpus delicti. Nevertheless, in 1951, Pinchevsky was imprisoned again, this time on the charges of “nationalism”, “anti-Soviet agitation” and “destructive spirit” in his creations. He was sentenced to 10 years in a supermax labor camp. At the beginning of 1954, the Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR cancelled the sentence. Soon after his release, in 1955, the writer died. Mykhailo Pinchevsky was buried in Baikove cemetery in Kyiv.  

Mykhailo Pinchevsky’s grandchildren handed over his archive to the Center for Studies in History and Culture of East European Jewry.

The archive includes more than 200 units of storage, the majority of which are from the writer’s creative legacy (manuscripts and typewritten drafts of poems, stories, articles and plays from 1929–1955). There are also some letters, one of which (sent to the editorial office of Literaturnaya Gazeta [Literary Newspaper] in 1954) includes a request to return the manuscripts and reviews of Mykhailo Pinchevsky’s writings after his exoneration.

Materials from the archive belong to the Soviet period of life of Mykhailo Pinchevsky, who moved to the USSR in 1926, after a long stay in Argentina and journeys around Europe.

Mykhailo Pinchevsky’s writings are almost unknown to contemporary readers. The last time his works were published was 1960: those were Doina (Russian translation, Moscow, Sovetskii Pisatel Publishing House) and The Praise to Life (Ukrainian translation, Kyiv, Radianskyi Pysmennyk Publishing House, a copy of the book is in the archive). 

Some of the works from the archive were not printed during the author’s lifetime. Thus they require a detailed analysis of literary scholars and Yiddish linguists.

Epic poems: Bessarabia /בעסאראביע/ (Yiddish and Russian), Doina /דוינע/ (Yiddish and Russian), Ziamele /זיאמעלע/ (Yiddish), The Red Lily of the Valley /דער רויטער לאנדיש/ (Yiddish), Lenin’s Flower /דער לענינע בלימעל/ (Yiddish), The Monument /דענקמ ל/ (Yiddish), The First Rain /ערשטער רעגע/ (Yiddish), The Piano /א י נע/ (Yiddish), The Light Legend /די ליהטיקע לעגענדע/ (Yiddish and Russian), Thirty Fur Coats /דרייסיק עלס/ (Yiddish), A Poem about Bessarabia /די ליד וועג בעס ר /ביע (Yiddish and Russian), The Tailor /דער שנ   ַדע/ (Yiddish), The Whale and the Fox /די וו לפיש או די פוקס/ (Yiddish),  Joc (Ukrainian translation by Andrii Miastkivsky), and Seven Knives (Ukrainian and Russian). Some poems are in multiple versions and separate fragments. 

Mykhailo Pinchevsky’s big poetic works can be of great interest to researchers of the history of shtetls. This particularly concerns the epic poems Bessarabia and Doina, which are a poetical requiem for Jewish towns. In 1995, a CD with the musical composition Bessarabia on Pinchevsky’s lyrics was released in the United States. Since then, a great number of klezmer bands have played this composition. 

The collection includes about 50 poems in Yiddish. Mykhailo Pinchevsky’s poetic legacy is a valuable material for research of Soviet Yiddish poetry in the first half of the twentieth century.

Those who study the phenomenon of Soviet-era translation might be interested in the translations of Mykhailo Pinchevsky’s poems to Ukrainian and Russian by the masters of poetry such as Volodymir Sosiura, Malksym Rylsky, Andrii Miastkivsky, and Sava Holovanivsky. 

Mykhailo Pinchevsky was a talented playwright. His plays were successfully staged at the best Jewish theatres of the country. In the theatrical collection of the Center, one can find the posters of Kyiv Shalom-Aleichem Jewish theatre advertising the performances based on Mykhailo Pinchevsky’s plays. For instance, one of the posters informed that on 10 March 1945, the first post-war season of Kyiv State Jewish Theatre (then operating in Chernivtsi) began with the performance based on Pinchevsky’s play I Live. 

Mykhailo Pinchevsky’s archive includes valuable information for those who study the development of Yiddish drama in the second half of the twentieth century.

  • Plays: Eldorado /עלד ר ד/ (Yiddish, 1936), The Untouchable (Russian, 1950), You Are Not My Father (Russian, 1950), Chynda (Russian, 1950), How Love Was Born (Russian, 1955), A Platter from the Sky /א טעלערע פו הימל/ (Yiddish). 
  • Libretti: Baby Stork (Russian, 1951), The Victory Song (Russian, 1942). 

Researchers of children’s literature may discover a considerable number of interesting materials in the collection since Mykhailo Pinchevsky wrote a lot for young readers. Apart from the aforementioned libretto Baby Stork, the archive holds manuscripts of the fairy tales Thirty Fur Coats (Russian), Lenin’s Flower (Russian), The Red Hat /רוט קע עלע/ (Yiddish), and The Bird and the Crayfish /ראקעלע /פייגעלע או (Yiddish), the story Yure /יורע/ (Yiddish), and other writings for children.

The archival legacy of Mykhailo Pinchevsky, a writer of incredible and tragic fate, is waiting for curious and devoted researchers.