Erenburg Family
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#erng-13:Ilya Ehrenburg (1891-1967) - name also written: Il'ia Grigor'evich Erenburg
Prolific Jewish Russian writer and journalist who played as a link between Soviet and Western intellectuals before and after the Cold War. From the 1930s to the 1960s Ehrenburg was one of the most visible Soviet figures, who spent the second half of his life as a respected messenger of the Soviet state. Without being a member of the Communist Party, he moved freely in foreign countries and held important cultural positions. Ehrenburg published poetry, short stories, travel books, essays, and several novels, which combined patriotism with cosmopolitanism. Ehrenburg adapted his writings to Soviet political demands and avoided conflicts, that destroyed many other writers and artist.
"How can the folk in tropics dwelling,
Where roses in December grow
Where people hardly know the spelling
Of the words like 'blizzard' and 'ice floe,'
Where even azure, even pleasant,
Above the sails a silken sky,
Since time primordial to the present,
The selfsame summer soothing the eye.
How can they even for a twinkling,
In a slumber, or in daydream learn,
How can they have the slightest inkling
Of what it means for spring to yearn,
Or how in freezing winter vainly,
When dour despondency holds sway
To wait and wait until ungainly
And massive ice gets under way."
Ilya Ehrenburg was born in Kiev, Ukraine, into a middle-class Jewish family. When he was five his parents moved to Moscow, where his father operated a brewery. In his memoirs, People, Years, Life (1960-65), Ehrenburg tells that he was pampered in his childhood and it was a mere chance that he did not become a juvenile delinquent. He attended First Moscow gymnasium, but he was arrested in his early teens for revolutionary activities and excluded from the 6th grade. Among his close friends during these years was Nikolai Bukharin, the Russian revolutionary who was shot in 1938 during Stalin's terror. Ehrengburg was imprisoned for five months. After release he went to Poltava where his uncle lived. In 1908 Ehrenburg immigrated to Paris to avoid trial for revolutionary agitation. He spent much time in Left Bank cafés, met V.I. Lenin, who wanted to hear news from Moscow, and started to write poetry under the influence of Verlaine, Francis Jammes, and Konstantin Dmitrievich Balmont. His first collection of verse appeared in 1910. In France Ehrenburg's become friends with such legendary figures as Picasso, Apollinaire, Ferdinand Léger, who showed him drawings made in the trenches of WW I, and Modigliani.
During the war Ehrenburg was a war correspondent at the front. His anti-communist poem, 'Prayer for Russia', appeared in 1917. After returning to his home country, he lived in Kiev, where he worked as a teacher, Kharkov, Kerch, Feodossiia, and Moscow. He also traveled to Georgia with Osip Mandel'shtam. His other friends included Mayakovsky, Marina Tsvetaeva, S.A. Jesenin, and Pasternak read him poems. Later Ehrenburg criticized Paternak's famous novel Doctor Zhivago - he considered it false. In 1919 Ehrenburg married his cousin Liubov' Kozintseva; they had one daughter. Ehrenburg traveled with her and his mistress Jadviga Sommer through the chaotic Russia. His last great love was Liselotte Mehr, who was married to the Swedish politician and governor Hjalmar Mehr.
From 1921 to 1924 Enrenburg lived in Berlin and Belgium. His first novel, The Extraordinary Adventures of Julia Jurenito and his Disciplines, appeared in 1922 and ridiculed both the capitalist West and the communist system. The work - a parody of the Gospels - was in many ways controversial: it was blasphemous toward Christianity, it attacked socialists, pacifists, and all governmental organizations. The central character is a cynical prophet Julio Jurenito, whose seven disciples are thrown in the global turmoil. The novel also includes authentic characters, such as Mayakovski, Picasso, Chaplin, Riviera, and Tatlin. In 1925 Ehrenburg was called a nihilist in a book written by I. Tereštšenko.
Julio Jurenito dies at the age of 33 in a provincial Russian town. He is a cynical prophet, an Antichrist, whose teachings are based on hatred, he promotes the destruction of beauty and all arts unless there is a Utilitarian purpose for their products. His involvement in behind-the-scene plotting, somehow connected with the progression toward World War I and the Russian Revolution, never becomes clear. Among his seven disciples are such ethnic stereotypes as an American industrial entrepreneur, an easy-going Italian, a militaristic German, and a noble and naïve African. Ehrenburg himself is the first disciple and the author-narrator.
Ehrenburg's The Stormy Life and Lazar Roitschwantz (1928) was a version of Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier of Svejk and Voltaire's Candide. The hero is a Jewish ghetto tailor who escapes from Russian anti-Semitism and whose adventures take him through a half a dozen countries and several prison. Lazar works as a rabbit breeder in Tula, rabbi in Frankfurt, police informer for Scotland Yard, film actor in Berlin, a starving pioneer in Palestine, and painter in Paris. Ehrenburg's satirizes among others the phoney artists of the Quartier Latin and the speculators in the Weimar Republic. He also viewed skeptically the era of the New Economic Policy in the Soviet Union. Zhizn i gibel Nikolaya Kurbova (1923) was about the downfall of a Soviet secret policeman and The Love of Jeanne Ney (1924) depicted a love affair between a Russian Communist and a French woman. Out of Chaos (1934) was an apologia for Socialist Realism, and in Ne perevodya dykhania (1935) the writer accepted the official Communist policy in economic and political matters.
From 1925 to 1945 Ehrenburg lived in Paris, working as a foreign editor of Soviet newspapers. At intervals he returned to the USSR. With the American director Lewis Milestone Ehrenburg composed in 1933 a screenplay for a film, based on one of his stories, but the film was never realized. When the International Writers Congress was held in Moscow in 1934, he opposed Gorky, who advocated the doctrine of Socialist realism.
During the Spanish Civil War Ehrenburg wrote for the Soviet newspaper Izvestiia. He met Ernest Hemingway in Madrid - according to Ehrenburg he was at that time young and thin. In 1941 he returned to Moscow and listened Stalin's radio speech after the Nazis had attacked the Soviet Union. Stalin was nervous, he drank water and called his listeners "brothers, sisters, friends". Ehrenburg worked as a war correspondent. His ambitious novel, The Fall of Paris (1941-42), depicted the decline of capitalist France. Ehrenburg's reputation made him a target of Goebbel's propaganda. As late as January 1945 Hitler claimed that Stalin's flunkey Ilya Ehrenburg manifests, that the people of Germany must be destroyed.
The Storm (1949) and The Ninth Wave (1951-52) reflected the atmosphere of the Cold War - Stalin himself defended against critics The Storm, in which a Soviet citizen falls in love with a French woman. In The Thaw (1954-56) Ehrenburg tested the boundaries of free speech in the relatively less rigid but short period starting in the mid-1950s. Ehrenburg's connections to the top of the Soviet political hierarchy were exceptionally good and just before Stalin's death rumors spread in Moscow that the writer Ilya Ehrenburg had been picked to deliver a petition to Stalin begging him to let Russia's Jews emigrate to Siberia. Behind the scenes, Stalin planned to launch another purge and use Jewish doctors and their absurdly invented "crimes" as an alibi.
The title of Ehrenburg's famous novel OTTEPEL (1954-56, The Thaw, also: A Change of Season) referred to the period after Stalin's death and the mild de-Stalinization program of Nikita Khrushchev, who was the secretary general of the Communist Party from 1953 to 1964. The novel's main character is Dmitrii Koroteev, an engineer who is unhappily in love with Lena. She is married to Ivan Zhuravlev, the influential director of a factory. With the story of these three characters Ehrenburg interlinks lives of an opportunist painter and his counterpart, an old-guard communist and a Jewish doctor. Externally the story moves slowly, in the end Zhuravlev is called to the capital never to return again, but the lengthy inner monologues touch in passing with some taboo subjects of the Soviet history, including the arrest of Koroteev's stepfather in 1936 and the anti-Semitic hysteria in the early 1950s. The book secured Ehrenburg's place among the reformers, although he was better known for his loyalty to the Stalinist regime.
Ehrenburg received the Stalin Price in 1942
and 1948, and the International Lenin Peace Prize in 1952. In 1946 he visited Canada and the United States, where John Steinbeck said to him, "if you spit in the mouth of a lion, it becomes tame." When newspapers and magazines stopped printing his writings in 1949, Ehrenburg sent a short letter to Stalin. The ban was lifted, and he continued his travels in different parts of the world. In China he was astonished by the discipline of the people. He met Pablo Neruda in 1954 in Chile, and in Japan he felt that Kipling's famous lines, "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet," are not only wrong but dangerous. Ehrenburg was the Vice President of World Peace Council (1950-67) and a Deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR from 1950. Ehrenburg died in Moscow on August 31, 1967. The last years of his life Ehrenburg devoted to his memoirs, People, Years, Life, which portrayed a number of famous writers and artists he had known. He also campaigned to have published works by writers who had earlier been politically condemned by the regime. When Boris Pasternak was awarded
was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 for his novel Doctor Zhivago and Soviet authorities started a protest campaign, Ehrenburg refused to participate in it.
The Canadian Jewish News further writes:
... the recent disclosure that Ehrenburg arranged to transfer his private archives to Jerusalem's Yad Vashem library and archive, while still alive, comes as a stunning revelation.
The reason this information has come to light only now is that Ehrenburg agreed to transfer his archive on condition that the transfer, and his will, remain secret for 20 years after his death.
On Dec. 11 [1987], wit the 20-year period expired, Israel's daily Maariv related Ehrenburg's story ... "
The collection includes material about the important wartime Jewish partisan movement Among the documents in the collection is one concerning a pogrom in Malalchovka, a village near Moscow, which took place in 1959.
This new revelation about one of the most influential figures of Me Stalinist regime shows that, whatever he may have said for public consumption, Ehrenburg never privately disavowed Zionism or ever forgot his ancestry.