Natan Zabara

Inventory of the archive


Natan Zabara (1908–1975) was a Yiddish writer.

Natan Zabara was born in the village of Rohachiv in Volyn region. He graduated from the school of working youth in Novohrad-Volynsky. In 1925, Zabara moved to Kyiv and entered the Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture (IJPC) of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. He started to publish his works in 1930. A year later, in 1931, he was drafted into the Red Army. After his demobilisation, Natan Zabara became an IJPC postgraduate. From 1941 to 1947, he again served in the Soviet military.

In 1951, Natan Zabara, like many other Jewish writers, was arrested for “nationalist propaganda”. Moreover, he was accused of “subversion” and “contacts with foreign intelligence”. The Special Judicial Collegium of  the Interior Ministry of the Ukrainian SSR found the writer guilty and sentenced him to 10 years in Magadan camps. At Kolyma, Natan Zabara organized Passover Seders for Jewish youth and engaged them in national traditions and culture.

In 1956, Zabara was exonerated and allowed to return to Kyiv. In the final years of his life, the writer was gravely ill, which resulted from his imprisonment. He died in Kyiv in 1975.

The archive holds Natan Zabara’s manuscripts of writings, letters, various documents etc. (1,100 storage units overall). 

The most valuable items of Natan Zabara’s archival legacy are Yiddish materials related to his work on the epic historical novel The Wheel Is Turning (or The Wheel of Eternity): manuscripts of the novel’s separate parts (in different versions), drafts, and preparatory papers, which allow us to study the writer’s thorough work on this massive masterpiece step by step. 

The Wheel Is Turning is not only the pearl of Natan Zabara’s creative writing but also one of the best twentieth-century novels written in Yiddish. The novel describes the life of the Jewish people in various West European countries, especially France and Spain, in the Middle Ages (the early thirteenth century). Natan Zabara was writing the novel from 1967 until his death in 1975.

The original name of the book was Galgal ha-hozer, which is an ancient Jewish idiom. It translates from Hebrew as “Everything repeats”. The archive holds the manuscripts of some chapters of the novel under this exact title. However, the translator and the editor decided to translate the book title as The Wheel Is Turning.

The novel was published in the magazine Sovetish Heymland [Soviet Homeland] in 1972–1975. In 1979, the Moscow publishing house Sovetskii Pisatel [Soviet Writer] printed the novel as a separate book. The editor (or, rather censor) of this publishing house, Moisei Bielienky, following a “good tradition” of Soviet editing, butchered the novel and cut out whole episodes about Palestine from it. 

Based on the author’s versions of the novel held in the archive, one can carry out an interesting study and determine the level of Soviet editorial and censoral interference in the original text. 

Natan Zabara’s last wish was to see his book published in Israel in Russian and Hebrew. The Russian translation of the novel came out in Jerusalem in 2004. As for the Hebrew edition, there has not been any yet. The archive has all essential materials for translators who would like to fulfil the last will of the writer and make the novel available in Hebrew.

The archive also holds the manuscripts of other Zabara’s novels (some of them are in multiple versions or fragments). These manuscripts are unique sources for studying the development of the Yiddish prose in the second half of the twentieth century:

  • the novel Ordinary Mother (published in 1968). The archive holds the manuscripts of different parts of this piece in Yiddish (1965);
  • the novel Father (published in 1961). The archive holds a manuscript in Russian (no date);
  • Today the World Is Being Born is, perhaps, Zabara’s most commercially successful thriller, published in 1968 (Yiddish and Russian translation from Yiddish). The archive holds different versions of this work entitled Erika’s Birthday and The End of the Season

In the archive, there are also manuscripts of the novels, of which there is no evidence as to whether they were ever published:  The General’s Son (Yiddish, 1947) and The Uncle (Yiddish, 1969).

Plays and film scripts. Natan Zabara’s dramatic works held in the archive include the stage adaptation of his prose work Erika’s Birthday (Russian, 1948), as well as the plays May… and It Should Be Spring (Yiddish, 1946–1947), Spring in the Underground (four versions, Russian and Yiddish, 1958, 1964), and Moscow Is Speaking (two versions, Yiddish, 1949).

Zabara worked in a popular twentieth-century genre of cinematic novella. The archive holds four versions of the cinematic novella End of the Season (Yiddish and Russian, 1964) along with the film script of Allow the Truth to Sleep Over in This House (Russian, no date). These manuscripts can be interesting for researchers of the twentieth-century drama.

Natan Zabara has left substantial legacy in a genre of short prose (novelettes, essays etc.). The archive has manuscripts of more than twenty works in Yiddish, Russian, and Ukrainian, among which are the novellas and stories Shevchenko in Volyn (Yiddish and Ukrainian, 1963), Hoax (Russian, no date), Fate of My Father’s Diary (Yiddish and Russian, 1969), Three Non-fictional Stories (Yiddish, 1961), and others. 

Since Natan Zabara published short writings mostly in magazines and newspapers, today it is difficult to determine which works from those present in the archive were printed during the writer’s lifetime. It is highly possible that there are manuscripts of writings that have never been published. 

Correspondence. Natan Zabara’s archive holds about 750 original letters of the 1950–70s in Yiddish, Russian, and Ukrainian. These letters are valuable sources for scholars not only because they help explore the writer’s work on his particular texts but also because they recreate his psychological portrait and give us an insight into the Soviet literary life of those decades. Zabara corresponded with writers, editors, and publishers, among them the writers Isaak Kipnis, Yosyp Bukhbinder, Dora Khaikina, and Ikhil Falikman, the editor of Sovetish Heymland Aron Verhelis, the translator A. Semenovker, etc. Worth attention are thirty-seven letters Zabara wrote to his friends, relatives, editors, and publishers. His correspondence with the editorial office of Sovetish Heymland concerning the publication of The Wheel Is Turning is especially interesting. 

The archive also holds the texts by other authors, for example, by the writers Shapinsky, Kozyrsky, and Piatyhorsky (in Yiddish and Russian). Apparently, Natan Zabara was preparing reviews of their writings or helped edit them. Twenty-two Yiddish poems of the famous poet Matvii Talalaievsky were found among those materials. Both writers lived in Kyiv at the same time and undoubtedly knew each other. How and why Talalaievsky’s poems ended up in Zabara’s papers is yet another enigma for future researchers.