Matvii Talalaievsky

Inventory of the archive


Matvii (Motl) Talalaievsky (1908–1978) was a poet, prose writer, playwright, and translator. He wrote in Yiddish, Ukrainian and Russian.

Talalaievsky was born in the village of Mokhnachka (today Ukraine’s Zhytomyr region) on 28 December 1908 to a clerk who also had seven other children. Their large family lived in poverty, thus Matvii had to start working as a helper of a public cattle shepherd when he was only eight. Despite being poor, he graduated from a village school in 1919 and went to Kyiv seeking a job. Talalaievsky was admitted to the workers’ faculty after which he entered the Kyiv Institute of Professional Education (1932). During his student years, he became fond of writing poetry. Matvii Talalaievsky worked for newspaper editorial offices and wrote poems and plays for children’s theatres. His works were published in the press and in separate editions. During World War II, he was a military correspondent and went all the way from Kyiv to Stalingrad, and Prague from there. Later Talalaievsky was awarded war medals. He co-wrote essays and poems for front newspapers together with Zelman Kats. 

After the war, Matvii Talalaievsky, like many other Jewish writers, became a target of Stalinist repressions. On 15 November 1951, he was arrested on a charge typical for the time: cosmopolitanism, and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment in a supermax prison camp. At the end of 1954, Talalaievsky’s case was reviewed and terminated due to the absence of corpus delicti. After his release, the writer returned to creative work. He wrote poems and plays (in particular, for the Kyiv Young Spectator’s Theatre, where he worked as a supervisor of the literary tasks). Matvii Talalaievsky died on 22 September 1978.

After his death, Talalaievsky’s daughter Iryna brought his personal archive to the Center for Studies in History and Culture of Eastern European Jewry. This is the biggest writer’s archive in the collection of the Center, which contains more than 7,350 units: manuscripts, reviews, publications, letters, documents, photos, and other materials related to the life and work of Matvii Talalaievsky. 

The most valuable items in the archive are surely the manuscripts of Talalaievsky’s works. Handwritten or printed (with author’s written remarks), these documents allow us to trace the entire process of his creative writing: from an initial conception to a scheme of a future piece to its final form through multiple versions and editions. This is an incredibly interesting material for conducting various kinds of textological research.

Novels. The archive stores manuscripts of Talalaievsky’s novels (some of them in multiple editions), along with separate fragments, drafts, and preparatory materials: Mother’s Book /דער מאמעס בו/ (Ukrainian and Yiddish, 1976–1977), Heirs /יורשי/ (Yiddish, 1978), Wisps (Ukrainian, 1975), Hot Hearts /הייסע הערצער/ (Yiddish, 1955–1973), Confession /וויד י/ (Yiddish, 1977), Kneeling and Tied /געקניפט או נ געבוד/ (Yiddish and Ukrainian, 1971). 

Short prose. There are more than 50 manuscripts of essays, short stories, and novelettes in the archive, among which are: Gift /א מאטאנע/ (Yiddish, 1973), Two Sides of the Coin /צוו ז ט פו א מעדאל/ (Yiddish, 1975), Near but Slightly Before (about David Hofshtein; Ukrainian, 1963), Word about a Friend and Teacher (about Lev Kvitko; Russian, no date), Unforgettable Yurii Ivanovych… (about Yurii Yanovsky; Ukrainian, no date), Our Volodia (about Volodymyr Sosiura; Ukrainian, no date),  The Bell Rings in Babyn Yar /קלאפ אי באבי יאר האמערס/ (co-written with Ikhil Falikman, Yiddish, no date), and others.  

These manuscripts are valuable primary sources for researchers of the 1950–70s Yiddish prose. Although quite a lot of these pieces were published in periodicals or separate editions, now it is rather hard to determine if all the manuscripts held in the archive have been printed. As follows from some reviews and feedback from the publishing houses, some of these works (the novel Wisps, for instance) were returned to the writer due to various reasons.  

Materials of the archive promise great perspectives for a curious researcher. One may discover unpublished works of Matvii Talalaievsky and explore the reasons why they never reached a reader – as it is known, the Soviet-time selection of writing was based primarily on ideological, rather than artistic, criteria. 

It is worth comparing Talalaievsky’s manuscripts held in the archive to already published works, as the “tradition” of Soviet editing implied a considerable intrusion in an author’s text by both the editor and the censor. In particular, such a practice was typical for the editorial office of the magazine Sovetish Heymland [Soviet Homeland], which published a number of Talalaievsky’s pieces, for example, his novel Heirs, which appeared on the pages of the magazine after the writer’s death. 

Poetry. literary scholars who study Soviet poetry can find a great number of materials for research in the archive. For example, there are 27 manuscripts of Matvii Talalaievsky’s poems: Ukrainian Spring (Russian, Ukrainian, 1942), Heart Desires Revenge (Ukrainian, no date), Stalingrad (co-written with Zelman Kats; Russian, 1943), My Home is Here /דאס איז מיי הויז/ (Yiddish, no date), Back to the Mine /צוריק צו דער מ/ (Yiddish, no date), and others. 

The archive stores 31 manuscripts of poetry collections, among which are: Stalingrad Poems (co-written with Zelman Kats; Russian, 1944), Holding the Sun with Both Hands (Ukrainian, 1964), Chosen (Ukrainian, 1927–1958), Green Shoots (Ukrainian and Russian, 1967–1972), Right Hand /ריכטיק האנט/ (Yiddish, 1967–1969), Friends /האווערי/ (Yiddish, 1940), and others. Moreover, there are many manuscripts of separate poems (in Yiddish, Ukrainian, and Russian) in the archive.

Matvii Talalaievsky’s poetic legacy requires a thorough analysis since now it is hard to determine which works held in the archive have been published and which have not.

Translations. For those who study the history of translation or work in this field it might be useful to get familiar with translations by Matvii Talalaievsky. He had an impeccable command of three languages and translated the works of Jewish writers (Yulii Daniel, Yosyp Bukhbinder, etc.) into Ukrainian and Russian. Yiddish language learners are encouraged to get familiar with his Yiddish translations of Borys Oliinyk and Mykola Synhaivsky’s poetry. 

Dramatic works. There is a substantial body of useful materials for literary scholars who study the history of Ukrainian Soviet playwriting (especially Yiddish one). The collection has more than 80 manuscripts of original plays of Matvii Talalaievsky: Michael Stanley’s Medals (1967–1968, Ukrainian, Russian), Lark’s Song (Russian, 1967–1975), Who Is Her Father /ווער איז איר פאטער/ (Yiddish, 1948), Shmaia the Criminal /שמ ע גזל/ (Yiddish, 1949), Golden Peacock /ג לדע פ ווע/ (Yiddish, no date), and others. Moreover, Matvii Talalaievsky  created stage adaptations (in Ukrainian) of other authors’ writings, for Young Spectator’s Theatre performances (in the archive, there are manuscripts of adaptations of The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas, King Matt the First by Janusz Korczak, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, etc.). 

Writings of 1941–1945. In the archive, there are essays, articles, satirical and humorous pieces, personal notes, and agitating mottos written by Matvii Talalaievsky (some of them co-authored together with Zelman Kats). The majority of these works were published in the newspaper Stalinskoie Znamia (Stalin’s Banner; newspaper clippings are also present in the collection).

These documents can serve as a source base for the study of principles and methods of propaganda employed by Soviet journalists during World War II.

Works from the period of detention in Soviet prison camps (1951–1954). It would not be an exaggeration to say that the most unique materials in the collection are those related to Matvii Talalaievsky’s detention in a forced labor camp. An intellectual, writer, and front soldier had to work as a canteen cleaner at infamous Steplag (a camp in Kazakhstan). There he spent three out of ten years, to which Stalinist crooked judiciary sentenced him. Writings, as well as letters from the dearest ones, were Talalaievsky’s consolation in that hardship. Together with V. Komarov, Matvii Talalaievsky prepared performances of the amateur theatre of another Steplag camp branch for October, May, and New Year’s holidays. The archive has notebooks with works written by Talalaievsky during his detention: programmes and scripts for amateur performances, poems and adaptations of Chekhov’s plays. 

Handwritten camp notebooks are not only an illustration of a wrongly imprisoned writer’s biography but also “witnesses” of those frightening years. These materials can be interesting for researchers of 1948–1953 mass repressions against Jewish intelligentsia. 

Correspondence. The archive contains more than 3,370 letters, postcards, and telegrams of the period from 1941 to 1978.

It is worth paying particular attention to about 550 front letters (including triangle ones) and  telegrams Talalaievsky wrote to his wife Klara Zeltsman-Talalaievska and his daughter Iryna in 1941–1945 (languages: Russian and sometimes Yiddish). He wrote to his wife almost daily. The responses from his daughter and wife are also present in the archive. Noteworthy are also readers’ letters to Talalaievsky, to his co-author Zelman Kats, and to front newspapers where their writings were published. 

Military censors thoroughly checked all correspondence at the time (stamps on the envelopes are the evidence), hence the writer could not write freely on what was happening at the front. Nevertheless, an attentive researcher can find a hidden truth even between the lines: about the soldiers’ daily life, methods of Soviet propaganda, and the difficult life of evacuated women and children in the Soviet rear. World War II letters from Matvii Talalaievsky’s archive are unique documents that can attract the attention of everyone interested in wartime reality, everyday life as well as the psychology of front soldiers and civilians.

Those who study the 1950–70s literature and relations between the members of Soviet Ukraine’s Writers Union (its Jewish section in particular) might be interested in the letters sent to Matvii Talalaievsky by his fellow litterateurs. Among them were Mykola Bazhan, Sava Holovanivsky, Lev Kassil, Zelman Kats, Vitalii Korotych, Roman Lubkivsky, Hryhorii Polianker, Mykhailo Stelmakh, Ikhil Falikman, Dora Haikina, Natan Lurie, Ryva Baliasna, and members of the Writers Union’s board (the languages of letters are Yiddish, Russian, and Ukrainian). The names of the senders and recipients of about 50 letters written in Yiddish have not been identified. Therefore, these materials are still waiting for curious researchers. 

Documents. The archive has a great amount of original materials to offer to those who study Soviet documentation. The earliest document is the certification of Matvii Talalaievsky’s assignment to Crimea for negotiations with various institutions (1924). Some documents of the 1930s (minutes of a theatre’s creative board meetings, licenses for business trips) are also preserved. Among the World War II documents, there are Talalaievsky’s identity card as a military correspondent (1941), proof of award (1944), etc. Historians of Stalinist repressions can find interesting the documents forcefully taken from Talalayevsky during the secret police search on 15 November 1951, the writer’s letters to the Kyiv regional committee of the Communist Party on “admitting mistakes in his works”, certificates of losing (after the arrest) and renewing (after the release) his residence permit in Kyiv. Papers of the 1960–70s concern the preparation of Talalaievsky’s original writings to publishing (applications, contracts, calculations, and preliminary agreements). 

Theatre historians might find it useful to look through the documents related to the work of Kyiv Young Spectator’s Theatre, where Matvii Talalaievsky served as a head of the literary section for many years. Aside from this, the archive also has other materials pertaining to the theatre’s activity: posters, programmes of performances, invitations to recitals, letters, and press publications.

Research work. Historians of Ukrainian theatre are encouraged to get familiar with Matvii Talalaievsky’s 1972 research co-authored with M. Mykhailov and entitled “Ukrainian Operetta Theatre (Notes about Ukrainian Operetta and Its Creators).” This study was not published during the writer’s lifetime (the archive holds negative reviews and letters of rejection). Taking into account a prejudiced attitude of Soviet critics towards the research dedicated to anything Ukrainian and national, it is worth reconsidering Matvii Talalaievsky’s monograph from the perspective of modern theatre studies.