Avant-garde writer, social critic, intellectual firebrand, friends with Mayakovski, Modigliani, Picasso, Soutine, Gide, Malraux, Nizan, Bukharin, Babel, Pasternak, Akhmatova, Tsvetayeva, Mandelstam, Aragon, Elsa Triolet, Koltsov, Hemingway, Diego Rivera, Anna Seghers, Titsian Tabidze, Eisenstein, Roman Karmen, Viktor Shklovsky, Lily Brik, Vasily Grossman, Pablo Neruda, Julian Tuwim, maverick journalist, Stalinist propagandist, survivor, chameleon, after Stalin’s death champi…on of liberalization, demonized by the cultural hacks. Immensely engaging, albeit frustratingly incomplete, his memoirs led to the rehabilitatiion of many murdered and slandered personalities. Things started earlier: in January 1953, Ehrenburg was among the very few prominentt figures who refused to sign the infamous “Jewish Statement,” beggiing the despot to forgive Jews for their alleged lack of loyalty. This was too much for Ehrenburg to swallow. He execrated anti-Semitism in any form whatsoever. He was tired to act like a slave.
Ilya Ehrenburg by Marevna (1956)
When Boris Pasternak 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. When Yevgeny Yevtushenko came under attack for his poem “Babi Yar” in 1961, Ehrenburg rose to his defense by writing a letter to the editor of “Literaturnaya Gazeta.” Ehrenburg lent support to younger writers. He signed a letter in support of Iosif Brodsky, counseled Andrey Voznesensky on how best to avoid complications, protested against the sentences given to Sinyavsky and Daniel and expressed positive views about Solzhenitsyn. Highly recommended, Joshua Rubenstein‘s “Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg,” Basic Books,1996. I reviewed it, when it came out, in “The Village Voice.”
Portrait of Ilya Ehrenburg – Marevna (Marie Vorobieff), 1956