Joshua Rubenstein discusses his book Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg"
BROADCAST: Sep. 25, 1996 | DURATION: 00:41:53
Joshua Rubenstein discusses his book "Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg" and the importance of Ehrenburg during the Stalin regime.
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Studs Terkel That's the opening of Shostakovich's most familiar symphony, the Fifth. When we think of Shostakovich now, we think of the Soviet Union, think of Russia, and we think of World War II as well as what followed, and what preceded, for that matter. And Hitler once said that there were three guys he most hated and wanted to be killed at once. One was Stalin, who he felt was conducting World War II battalions of Russians who goofed up a great deal, we gather now, and but the other two were Shostakovich, whose music we were just hearing. And the third, the most provocative of all, the journalist, the essayist, the novelist, Ilya Ehrenburg, and Josh Rubenstein has written a quite remarkable biography of him called "Tangled Loyalties", and the keyword is "tangled." Suppose you read the opening comment of "The London Daily Mirror" some years ago about this man Ehrenburg.
Joshua Rubenstein Yes. In 1966, "The Daily Mirror" made the following comment on Ehrenburg's 75th birthday: "His name is always mud somewhere or other. He is Ilya Ehrenburg, the renowned Soviet writer, who has shouldered the lifelong burden of always being blamed by somebody, somewhere, for something."
Joshua Rubenstein Sure. Ehrenburg was born in 1891, in Kiev, and he died at the end of August, 1967. He lived for 76 very tumultuous years. He was a Bolshevik as a teenager. He was a bohemian poet in Paris in the years just before and during World War I, he became a novelist, an essayist, and, of course, he was very useful to Stalin in the '30s and '40s in the struggle against Hitler and fascism, and later he became a famous spokesman against the United States during the Cold War. But Ehrenburg is remembered for so many things, including his novel "The Thaw", which lent its name to that period of Soviet history in the reform years of the 1950s under Khrushchev.
Joshua Rubenstein Well, there's no question that Ehrenburg served Stalin very usefully in the '30s and '40s. He did help a monstrous regime and because he knew so many intellectuals in the West, he was like a representative of the regime. He was the only one Stalin could send to the West who could speak French, was urbane and sophisticated, and really was part of the camouflage of the regime.
Studs Terkel At the same time, he is the one who helped the poets who were under attack by Stalin: Osip Mandelstam, whose widow respects, admires, even loves Ehrenburg, helped discover Pasternak, helped Tsvetaeva, Anna Akhmatova, the distinguished Russian poets and Babel, too.
Joshua Rubenstein Yes. Well, this is what's so curious about Ehrenburg--that at the same time he was useful to the regime, he kept a measure of integrity and independence and he tried to help so many of his friends who were just as vulnerable as he was, or more vulnerable, like Anna Akhmatova. He was very close to Tsvetaeva, to Pasternak, especially close to Isaac Babel, and he couldn't save them, he couldn't always, you know, save them from the wrath of Stalin or from being executed, but he could help their families, he could supply them with money sometimes, and give them moral support whenever he could.
Studs Terkel Almost sounds in a way like, remember the actor in the movie "Méphisto", the German actor [Grinkins?], the actual [Grinkins?], who was under [hip?] at the same time trying to help a variety of other artists along, as though it were a conscience matter.
Joshua Rubenstein Well, it's very hard to make these comparisons because Ehrenburg was not only in Moscow, but he was also in Paris representing the regime in France for many years. So he had a freedom of movement and the ability to travel when, for most Soviet citizens, the idea of leaving the country would be like, you know, going to "Alice in Wonderland".
Studs Terkel Before we come to the specifics, the details, the matter--of course, living in Paris, friend of Malraux, whom he brought to the Soviet Union, and friend of André Gide, who later attacked, you might say at the behest of Stalin, and the various artists, Picasso, and rest--Paris, he was a known figure in Paris. But aside from that, the two views of him--one, Edward Crankshaw called him "stooge of Stalin." And whereas Ivor Montagu, fellow Briton, calls him "the independent guy who survived, walked a tightrope to save others."
Joshua Rubenstein Well, of course, Ehrenburg is so complex a figure that it's hard to say that both are right or both are wrong. I think Crankshaw, at the end of Ehrenburg's life in the '60s, really was too harsh, because in the '50s and '60s, Ehrenburg played a heroic role under Khrushchev pushing the regime for reform, really struggling against censorship, and really was an inspiration to the dissident movement. Ivor Montagu was close to the communist movement and was very sympathetic to Ehrenburg, and that's true and that may have colored his views, but he also appreciated Ehrenburg's independence very much.
Joshua Rubenstein Well, you know, Studs, very few people really remember or appreciate the role Ehrenburg played in World War II. He wrote more than 2000 articles during the course of the war. There's no question he was the most important Soviet journalist during the war. And many people feel he was the most important journalist on any front during World War II, the most important journalist in the world, because it's fair to say that he influenced the course of the war. Hitler himself blamed Ehrenburg for reverses on the Eastern Front. Stalin said that Ehrenburg was worth a division. You began the show by reminding us that Hitler swore to hang three people in Red Square if he were to capture Moscow: Stalin, Shostakovich, and Ehrenburg. We had a lot of wonderful journalists in America in England during the war. Mr. Cronkite, Mr. Sevareid, played enormous role, and Ernie Pyle in how we understood the war, but--
Joshua Rubenstein Yes. But Ehrenburg influenced the course of events. How the war was fought. He really was an inspiration to the Red Army. He took it on himself to teach the Red Army how to hate, because he felt that Russians still thought they were fighting the same Germans from World War I. They weren't; they were fighting Nazis.
Joshua Rubenstein You know, Ehrenburg wrote this remarkable novel, his first novel, called "The Adventures of Julio Jurenito" and he wrote it in 28 days in 1921, and he has one figure in the novel who's a prototypical Nazi named Karl Schmidt. And there's even a chapter where he foretells the Holocaust, he foretells the Jews of Europe being rounded up and burned in bonfires while the leaders of Europe watched from bleachers. It's a remarkable, remarkable chapter.
Joshua Rubenstein Yes.
Studs Terkel Now, this raises many questions. He was Jewish. Now, you raised the question of Jews, anti-Semitism of course. His role in that and throughout you have that interspersed much toward the end.
Joshua Rubenstein There's no question that even today the most controversial aspects of Ehrenburg's life and career revolve around his Jewish origins and how he behaved in the face of anti-Semitism, especially Soviet anti-Semitism between 1946 and 1953 when there was a severe crackdown on Jewish culture, on the Yiddish writers, again Ehrenburg survives when a lot of friends were executed, were disappearing.
Joshua Rubenstein Yes.
Joshua Rubenstein Yes, Mikhoels was, of course, murdered by Stalin in January of 1948 and Ehrenburg like everyone couldn't protest, couldn't point the finger at the regime, there were all these instances of evasion and silences because everyone was intimidated and afraid and only Ehrenburg is held responsible for surviving. No one else questions why Vasily Grossman, another writer and fine journalist, survived. But because Ehrenburg survived and prospered, people hold it against him. In fact, throughout his adult life, Ehrenburg denounced anti-Semitism. During the war, of course, he was a leading voice documenting the suffering of the Jewish people on Soviet territory. When a million and a half Jews were killed by Hitler, Ehrenburg organized the black book. This unprecedented project to document how Jews were rounded up and shot by the shooting units that Hitler sent into the Soviet Union throughout the Eastern Front. But Ehrenburg suffered terribly in the late '40s and '50s. He really was in such a depression because he saw the government's anti-Semitism, there was very little he could do, but at the end of Stalin's life when Stalin had this plot to round up the Jews and send them to Siberia and Birobidzhan on the Chinese border, Ehrenburg protested. He refused to endorse the pogrom three times, and he wrote a remarkable letter to Stalin protesting this plan. But then Stalin died. The deportations never took place.
Joshua Rubenstein Ehrenburg
Joshua Rubenstein Of course. Well, we know of at least two serious cases brought against him in the late '30s and again in 1952, where people were interrogated, were tortured to give testimony against Ehrenburg by the KGB or the equivalent of the KGB, but he was never arrested. The case was never completed, never brought to fruition. And, of course, the question of how Ehrenburg survived both physically and spiritually, morally is at the center of my book, and its course--in the end, Ehrenburg's survival depended on one man: Joseph Stalin. And Stalin never gave us an explanation. But I think when you look at Ehrenburg's career closely, you can see that because he never met Stalin personally, because he was useful to Stalin in very unique ways, and because Stalin had praised Ehrenburg in a very famous speech in 1924 when Ehrenburg was a little-known writer in exile in France and Germany, I think that helped Ehrenburg survive. No one else could touch him.
Studs Terkel You point out something about Stalin here. It's the idealists who he knocked off, whereas opportunists, who many were anti-him at the beginning, he saw them as operators much like himself,
Joshua Rubenstein Well, I think you've picked on something that's very important. Stalin was not afraid of people who had, let's say, compromised political backgrounds. You know, the famous prosecutor Andrey Vyshinsky, who prosecuted Bukharin and Zinoviev and Kamenev, was actually a Menshevik during the civil war, and
Studs Terkel Anti-Bolshevik.
Joshua Rubenstein Anti-Bolshevik, and he actually signed arrest orders for the arrest of Lenin in 1917. Stalin loved Vyshinsky. He was so compromised he had to be even more loyal to Stalin. Stalin knew that Ehrenburg had written satirical journals against Lenin when he was a young man in 1909 in Paris. He knew that in a chapter in this novel I've talked about, "Julio Jurenito", there's a chapter satirizing, ridiculing Lenin. Stalin would have liked that.
Joshua Rubenstein Well, Ehrenburg joined the Bolsheviks in 1906 when he was 15 years old as a high school student in Moscow. He was inspired by his high school friend, Nikolai Bukharin, who later became one of the most important Bolsheviks during the revolution, and, of course, the most important victim of Stalin in 1938. He was a close friend of Ehrenburg's for over 30 years. They were always in touch. But Ehrenburg then went to Paris as a young boy in exile in December 1908. He met Lenin within two days of coming to Paris, and within months he was so disillusioned with the Bolsheviks, bored of their discussions, bored of their politics, he mistrusted them, that he left politics, he abandoned politics, and became a poet and a writer in Paris. And this was a glorious part of his life.
Joshua Rubenstein That bohemian aspect when he met Picasso, he met Modigliani, Apollinaire, Chagall, Leger, he knew all the great figures of European culture when they were all young men and women in Paris living poor, living on the margins of society, and extremely free. And, of course, that life came to an end with World War I and then the revolution.
Joshua Rubenstein Absolutely.
Joshua Rubenstein Absolutely. You know, I have wonderful illustrations in my book, drawings of Ehrenburg with Modigliani, and Diego Rivera, and Picasso, and [Mokshakob?]. Ehrenburg was part of that group, he was the poorest. He was just a young poet and translator living hand to mouth. But he loved that period of his life and he was always loyal to art and literature.
Studs Terkel We're talking to Joshua Rubenstein and his book, as you can gather, it's a very fascinating and provocative one. "Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg", and a tangled loyalty is, really is the key, and it's been, of course, it's been acclaimed by various scholars, Soviet scholars and others. The book is published by Basic Books. Joshua Rubenstein, who by the way, is one of the directors of Amnesty International. Now, how did you yourself, you became, well, we can say you're a Russian Not a Russian
Joshua Rubenstein I studied Russian Language and Literature at Columbia. I graduated in 1971 and I decided I was going to be a writer in the 1970s and fortunately I found a job with Amnesty International to help support myself, and I've been the regional director in the Northeast now for over 20 years, for 21 years, actually. In the 1980 I published my first book, which was called "Soviet Dissidents: Their Struggle for Human Rights". And it is really the first history of the Soviet human rights movement, and I interviewed dozens of dissidents in Russia, in Europe, in Israel, and tried to describe how they challenged the regime particularly under Brezhnev, and that was when I first came to know the name Ilya Ehrenburg, because he was a bridge to the dissidents in the '50s and '60s. This startles many people who remember him as a stooge, who remember him for his usefulness to Stalin. But in fact, in 1954, when Ehrenburg wrote "The Thaw", he wrote many essays and gave presentations about his friends who had disappeared under Stalin. This was a direct inspiration to the dissident movement. It was a bridge to the dissidents, and they respected him for that.
Studs Terkel "The Thaw" came along after Stalin's death. Brezhnev, [when there seemed to be?] a thaw. Now, he was attacked by some of the apparatchiks in "Izvestia" and the others at the time for that.
Joshua Rubenstein Well, let me just make clear that as many people who suspect Ehrenburg in the West for having survived, there are even more orthodox Marxist critics and apparatchiks, bureaucrats, party bureaucrats, who absolutely hated Ehrenburg. They hated him for being a Jew. They hated him for surviving. They hated him for his independence. In the 1960s one of Khrushchev's advisers told Ehrenburg's secretary, this was in the midst of the controversy over Ehrenburg's memoirs, "People, Years, Life", which Khrushchev personally denounced, they said to her, "You know, this isn't the same Ehrenburg. This isn't the same Ehrenburg we knew during the war. The great Soviet patriot, you know, in the battle against Hitler." And what I think is wonderful about Ehrenburg is he did, he wasn't as inconsistent as people thought. The times changed and he had to change with the times, with the period he was living in. But I think he was far more consistent than people give him credit for.
Studs Terkel An acrobat? He did. So, we come--well, several things come to mind. The beginning is again, you mentioned Bukharin. He was an idealist and he was not framed, as we know now with the trial, with a journalist named Karl Radek.
Joshua Rubenstein Yes.
Joshua Rubenstein That's right, Ehrenburg was on the barricades during the first attempt to overthrow the czar. He was just a young boy building barricades. He saw fighting in the streets, he saw blood in the snow that December. Bukharin inspired him to join the Bolshevik underground, he tried to do organizing among workers in a wallpaper factory with Bukharin. Even soldiers in a machine gun unit in Moscow they approached. And that was why Ehrenburg was first arrested in 1908, you know, under by the czar's police, spent months in jail, including solitary confinement, and that's why he left the country in December 1908, that he was just being hounded by the czarist police. And, so, like many people he went into exile. He went to Paris because that's where the Bolsheviks were, that's where Lenin was, and he knew some French and he figured that was a better place to go. And within months, as I said, he was, he totally abandoned politics, he hated Lenin, he met Trotsky in Vienna. We think he was the only teenager who at that point knew Lenin, Trotsky, and Bukharin. Remarkable. And he always remained loyal to Bukharin, but Lenin he came to view very ambiguously.
Joshua Rubenstein Absolutely. I think you picked on something that's very crucial to understanding Ehrenburg. While he was always loyal as a Russian patriot and later to the Soviet Union, his second homeland was France. He lived in Paris with few breaks from December 1908 until the Germans occupied Paris in the summer of 1940. He did return to Russia during the civil war in the summer and the spring of 1917 and left in March 1921. But other than those years, he lived almost continuously in Western Europe. So here's a man who lived his entire adult life until the age of 50 in Western Europe, and at the same time is a Soviet writer. He's the only one who could manage that.
Studs Terkel He was doing so there were two definite cultures that he mastered, in a sense, too. We'll come to his being the benefactor of the poets of Pasternak and Mandelstam, Akhmatova and the others. That aspect is interesting and his fight for avant-garde or what Hitler would have called, or Stalin, too, for that matter, "decadent art."
Joshua Rubenstein Yes.
Joshua Rubenstein "The Love of Jeanne Ney." I've seen it. Of course, they totally bowdlerized the film, Ehrenburg had a much more tragic ending, whereas in the movie the hero is saved from the gallows and the true villain is unmasked and the lovers go off into the sunset. Ehrenburg hated the ending, but it's actually a very famous movie, it's written about in many film histories. Ehrenburg visited the set in the 1920s and saw Pabst filming. This is the only novel of Ehrenburg's that was made into a movie.
Joshua Rubenstein Yes.
Joshua Rubenstein Well, I think the issue here is that Ehrenburg tried to be a bridge between these two cultures, between France and Germany and Western Europe and the Soviet Union, because after all, the Bolsheviks were interested in cutting off Russian culture, Soviet culture, from the decadent, the decadence of Western Europe, and Ehrenburg used to bring film clips. In 1926 he brought a whole group of film clips of Abel Gance and other famous French film directors and showed them in
Joshua Rubenstein That's right. Ehrenburg brought a clip of that "Napoléon" film to Moscow and this was widely written about in the Soviet press in 1926. This is, of course, before the Stalin period, before this kind of activity was totally shut down and was forbidden. But Ehrenburg as long as he could tried to maintain a link between your broader European culture and Russian culture.
Studs Terkel And that was it. It was sort of an uncrowned Peter the Great. No, I'm horsing around here. But the idea is, now comes the whole matter of the poets and the artists whom he helped and encouraged.
Joshua Rubenstein Yes. Well, keep in mind he was very close to Osip Mandelstam and his famous wife, Nadezhda Mandelstam. He met Anna Akhmatova in 1924, he met Marina Tsvetaeva in Berlin and Moscow in 1917, 1918. He was close to Pasternak. All these people understood that Ehrenburg was walking a tightrope but they would always come to him for help, sometimes for money. There's a very lovely scene in my book when Ehrenburg is returned to Moscow. It's 1940, '41, we have the Battle of Britain, Pasternak's relatives were living in England and the only way he could get news of what was going on in Great Britain during the war was to come to Ehrenburg's apartment and together they would listen to shortwave radio broadcasts from the BBC, probably in the French language, in order to understand what was happening during the Battle of Britain. And keep in mind at that moment the Soviet Union and Germany were allies, but both Pasternak and Ehrenburg could never accept the pact.
Joshua Rubenstein And both of them understood that eventually the Soviet Union would go to war against Nazi Germany. Ehrenburg was very sensitive to that and kept trying to warn people not to think they could get away with staying out of that war.
Joshua Rubenstein Well, he--there were several crucial moments when Ehrenburg made clear he did not accept the official line. One of them was this period during the pact, when, you know, he was in Paris when the pact was announced in August of 1939. Ehrenburg immediately lost the ability to swallow solid food. He couldn't accept the pact, he couldn't swallow it. He'd made his career as an anti-fascist, he'd thrown in his lot with the Soviet Union, with Stalin as an anti-fascist. And now here Stalin and Hitler are signing a pact. Ehrenburg refused to return to Moscow. He stayed in Paris. He witnessed the Nazi takeover, he was in Paris when the Germans walked in. He writes beautifully about it, he said it was like watching the Parisians close the shutters to their window, he said it was "like watching someone close the eyes of a corpse." The idea that the Nazis were in Paris, it was appalling to him.
Studs Terkel One of the aspects throughout, this is the fascination, to me at least, is how he was able to survive under Stalin, why Stalin did not knock him off. He was--apparently Stalin was also wondering about this guy. From earlier, he knew he was not the ideal idealist.
Joshua Rubenstein That's right. I think there are several things we need to remember. First, not everyone was executed, and Stalin knew that he needed a few people in reserve who could be useful to him in the West. After all, he didn't execute Maxim Litvinov, who was the Soviet foreign minister throughout the '30s, who was Jewish, who was a confirmed anti-fascist--
Joshua Rubenstein That's right. And, you know, there was a case being brought against Litvinov after he was sacked as foreign minister. But in the end, Stalin preserved him, and once the United States got in the war and became allies, who did Stalin send to Washington? Maxim Litvinov. Because he couldn't trust anybody else and the West wouldn't listen to anyone else. So Litvinov actually had a good relationship with Roosevelt. Ehrenburg was the same way. He needed Ehrenburg in reserve. So while other people denounced Ehrenburg, while there were cases brought against him, as I said, we know of one in '38, '39 we know again in '52, Stalin never gave the final "Okay." Without Stalin's permission, no one could touch Ehrenburg.
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible], then, of course, World War II his coverage. And then we come now to postwar and the various, what international artists of the world, writers and artists, novelists of various--
Joshua Rubenstein Well, you know, this is a very troubling aspect of Ehrenburg's career because while, you know, Hitler was the enemy of Stalin, we can accept, it's easier to accept his siding with Stalin when the issue is fascism and World War II. But what do you think about when the enemy of the Soviet Union became the United States became Western Europe and democracy in resurgent democracy in Western Europe. And here's Ehrenburg with these demagogic speeches against the U.S., against democracy, against European culture, even? That's a very difficult part of the book. It was hard for me to write it because I feel very positively about Ehrenburg but I want all our listeners to understand that this is not a whitewash and everything that was difficult and sordid and demagogic about Ehrenburg's career is in this book. But I try to explain it, not condemn him for it.
Joshua Rubenstein Yes. Initially these writers' congresses began in the 1930s against fascism and then after World War II in the midst of the Cold War, the Stalin revived these congresses now to attack the United States, and, so, there was one in Warsaw in 1948. There was one in Breslau. There were, of course, in Berlin and Paris in 1949, these were the famous "peace congresses," the partisans of peace, and Ehrenburg was one of the inspirations for this movement. This was how he re-established the place for himself, a usefulness for himself, in the Stalinist pantheon and, of course, it was also a vehicle for survival.
Joshua Rubenstein Well actually, the attacks on Gide were in the late 1930s because Gide had begun as sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Then after visiting the Soviet Union in 1936, Gide attacked the Soviet Union in a famous little book. And, so, Ehrenburg had to take up the cudgels against Gide, yes.
Joshua Rubenstein Yes. Ehrenburg was in Paris when the civil war began in Spain in Madrid, and he rushed to Spain. He always identified with the Republic. He spent three years in Spain writing about the conflict for "Izvestia". This consolidated his image in the Soviet Union as the leading anti-fascist, but at the same time Ehrenburg understood that Stalin was playing a double game, and Ehrenburg was disheartened by what he saw in Spain, that Stalin wasn't 100 percent behind the Republic. Ehrenburg saw the purges. And, so, while he was in Spain reporting on the struggle, he also learned to keep his distance. He was very discreet. He was very quiet in some ways and even Hemingway wrote about Ehrenburg in Spain in "For Whom the Bell Tolls". This was a very crucial part of Ehrenburg's life.
Joshua Rubenstein Well, in fact he treats Ehrenburg in two paragraphs in a very famous chapter that's the central chapter in the book in the Hotel Gaylord. He treats Ehrenburg in a very negative way. They were close, but Ehrenburg never held it against Hemingway. He admired the novel, he championed the novel. He tried to get it published in the Soviet Union, but the Communists forbade it, because in the novel Hemingway exposed the duplicity of the Communists and the communist cause in Spain and Ehrenburg was part of that and he portrays Ehrenburg very briefly without naming him, but it's unmistakably Ehrenburg, as a very naive, idealistic supporter of the Communist line. And I think it's an overdrawn portrait. But Ehrenburg did not take it personally. He loved the book. He wanted to see it published in the Soviet Union. But, of course, it was forbidden by the Soviet bureaucrat.
Studs Terkel Joshua Rubenstein is my guest and he's describing one of the most fascinating figures of the century, I think, in Ilya Ehrenburg. His novels are very popular, too, certain ones were, "The Thoughtful One", and what was that last one? "The Fall of Paris", too.
Studs Terkel That's right. That was the one. "Tangled Loyalties", you couldn't think of a better name than that. Joshua Rubenstein, the biographer, Joshua Rubenstein is the regional director in the Northeast of Amnesty International. Rather interesting, dealing with human rights groups as you are--
Joshua Rubenstein Well--
Joshua Rubenstein Let me just share with you one little anecdote. You know, Amnesty International was founded back in 1961 and when we were established by a British lawyer named Peter Benenson, he wrote to many famous liberal figures, cultural figures, around the world to solicit their support, their assistance. And when I was in the archives in Moscow, I found a letter from Benenson to Ehrenburg just when Amnesty was founded, and that meant a lot to me, because it kind of joined my life to him.
Joshua Rubenstein Well, I think at that point in the 1960s, Ehrenburg was a signal figure, a liberal figure in the Soviet firmament. He stood out for his opposition to censorship. Keep in mind his memoirs
Joshua Rubenstein It's still Khrushchev. It's still this very ambiguous period of back and forth, pro-conservative, pro-liberal, pro-conservative, and Ehrenburg is again trying to negotiate his way through it and trying to help Soviet culture open itself up to Western
Joshua Rubenstein Well, Ehrenburg stuck up for the independent artists and he was denounced by all the Soviet bureaucrats. You know, Ehrenburg is responsible in 1956 for the first Picasso exhibit in Soviet history, because they were old friends and Ehrenburg arranged for that exhibit. It was an enormous effort on his part to overcome the objections of Soviet bureaucrats, and even today, when I give talks about my books I meet Russian emigres from Moscow, from Petersburg, they tell me they attended that exhibit, it meant so much to them for the first time to see avant-garde modern European art exemplified in the work of Picasso. Ehrenburg was responsible for introducing that work to the Soviet public.
Studs Terkel As you're saying that sequence, quoting from the book: "Ehrenburg never lost faith in the power of artistic creativity to bridge the boundaries of geography and culture. His greatness as a public figure is best reflected in this consistent belief, the devotion it evoked in millions of people, and the hatred Ehrenburg invariably provoked on the same political figures who at different times found it necessary and proper to honor him."
Joshua Rubenstein Yes.
Joshua Rubenstein Yeah, I think you found the very useful observation on my part that the same Soviet officials that honored Ehrenburg for his work in the peace movement, for his work against Hitler, at the same time hated him because he championed Western art, Western culture, he exemplified, he personified the idea of Western culture in Moscow. And, so, they never knew what to make of him. He was such a contradictory tangled figure for them.
Joshua Rubenstein Ehrenburg was very moved by Jewish suffering throughout his life, and he always understood that as a Jew, that he was a prime enemy of Hitler. He never stopped saying that during the war, that the Jews had more reason than anyone to oppose Hitler, and he said this in the Soviet press. I would say Ehrenburg's coverage of the Holocaust needs to be emphasized in two ways. First, writing in "Red Star", the Army newspaper, and then in "Pravda" and "Izvestia" also, Ehrenburg, whenever he could, wrote about pogroms, wrote about massacres, and he wrote about how Jewish soldiers were heroically part of the Red Army. But at the same time Ehrenburg organized several dozen journalists and writers in this project called "The Black Book", where they as the Red Army pushed the Germans back westward, they would interview survivors, interview soldiers, interview partisans, and put information together about what happened to the Jews on Soviet territory. Remember Studs, most of us, when we read about the Holocaust, we're reading about what happened in Poland or we read about Anne Frank, but we had less information about what happened on Soviet territory where a million and a half Jews were killed by Hitler. Ehrenburg wanted to document that tragedy, and he worked hard to do it. But in the end Stalin forbade the publication of "The Black Book" in the Soviet Union. It wasn't published as a volume until 1980 in Jerusalem.
Joshua Rubenstein Yes. In 1944 Ehrenburg visited Kiev, which was his hometown, he had many relatives, people who were killed by the Germans in the opening months of the war in September of 1941. Ehrenburg wrote the first poem entitled "Babi Yar", and even years later we mentioned Anne Frank, Ehrenburg was responsible for the Russian translation of "The Diary of Anne Frank", which was published in Moscow in 1960. Without his intervention, that book would not have been made available in the Soviet Union.
Joshua Rubenstein He was serving a brute when Stalin was alive, and he remained part of the Soviet establishment until his death. You know, he was one of the few Jews elected to the Supreme Soviet in 1949 and he remained a member of this nominal Soviet legislature, this fake Soviet legislature, until his death in 1967. He had a state funeral. There were 10,000 people in the street to honor him when Ehrenburg died. On September 4th, 1967 was the date of his funeral and another 20,000 were at the cemetery. So here was this figure that it was very hard to grasp "Who was he?" How did he combine all these different impulses, being useful to the regime and maintaining his independence?
Studs Terkel Who was this acrobat? The question is, "his name is always mud," as you said in the beginning, "The Daily Mirror" of London in 1966. Somewhere other he has [earlier? easily?] earned part of the renowned Soviet writer who has shouldered a lifelong burden of already being blamed by somebody somewhere for something.
Joshua Rubenstein That's right. He was always blamed. He was always--they were always pointing the finger at him, for surviving, for being useful to Stalin, for being helpful to the Jews. There was always somebody angry with Ehrenburg, you know, in the '20s orthodox Marxist critics, you know, castigated his books. In the '30s the Nazis burned his books, in the '40s Hitler denounced him. Ehrenburg was always the target of someone's anger.
Joshua Rubenstein Well, you know, this is amazing. In 1958 Ehrenburg is nearing his 70th birthday. He has cancer. It's weakening him and, yet, he gets this idea that he should write his memoirs. He had such a unique and fascinating life. And between 1960 and 1965 he published twelve hundred pages of memoirs in serial form in the Soviet press, in "Novy Mir", the most important literary journal. He had to overcome consistent--
Joshua Rubenstein That later became, you know, one of them one of the truly important journals trying to publish dissident--well, it's hard to call it dissident material, because it was published officially.
Joshua Rubenstein And "Novy Mir", remember is when Solzhenitsyn published his first story, "Ivan Denisovich", in November of 1962. But before "Denisovich", Ehrenburg's memoirs were the most explosive thing published in "Novy Mir". And he had to overcome consistent objections by the censors mentioning Bukharin, mentioning anti-Semitism, mentioning his many contacts in the West, mentioning Pasternak. He was the first one to write positively about Pasternak after Pasternak had been savagely criticized by the regime for "Doctor Zhivago", and Ehrenburg tricked the regime into allowing his chapter on Picasso (sic) in the memoirs to be published.
Studs Terkel So this gets to, now we come to the book itself, and here is revealed his fears, his seeking to survive at the same time to help, and we've come back again--that haunts me, his close buddy for years was this man Bukharin.
Joshua Rubenstein Yes.
Joshua Rubenstein Ehrenburg tried to rehabilitate Bukharin in the '60s. In his memoirs, "People, Years, Life", and Khrushchev personally made the decision that it was too early, that Bukharin could not be rehabilitated and all references to Bukharin had to be removed from the memoirs. Here and there Ehrenburg snuck in references, calling him by his name and patronymic, Nikolai Ivanovich, and everyone understood that that was Bukharin, his childhood friend. So Ehrenburg tried to express his love for Bukharin, but the pages, and in fact the whole chapter on Bukharin, was removed from the memoirs in the 1960s and wasn't available to the Soviet public until the late 1980s. So this was a very complicated project on Ehrenburg's part and what's remarkable, Studs, in the spring of 1963 in March, Khrushchev gave a speech for two hours in which the main purpose was to denounce Ehrenburg and to denounce Ehrenburg's memoirs specifically because Ehrenburg described how he had to remain silent, how everyone had to remain silent under Stalin. Ehrenburg called it "a conspiracy of silence," and Khrushchev denounced him and in the same issue of "Novy Mir" where the copy of Khrushchev's speech appears at the beginning--
Joshua Rubenstein That's right. In the same issue of "Novy Mir" where the copy of Khrushchev's speech appears denouncing the memoirs, a chapter of the memoirs also appears. Now that's unprecedented, they couldn't stop the publication.
Studs Terkel So, finally Ehrenburg dies [in at?] the end and the turn out [as you say?], and how do we, we know that Prague, under attack at the time [unintelligible] Czechoslovakia. The appeal of the Prague patriots was to whom?
Joshua Rubenstein Yes. Well, this was a very curious thing. I was, of course, reading all references to Ehrenburg in the international press and "The New York Times", and I found this amazing article on the day of Ehrenburg's funeral, September 4th, 1967 that "The New York Times" carried a front page article, an appeal from Czech writers, asking for their help against censorship, against repression in Czechoslovakia. Keep in mind this is September of 1967, the months leading up to the Prague Spring, and who did they appeal to in the Soviet Union? They appealed to Solzhenitsyn, they appealed to Yevgeny Yevtushenko, they appealed to Ehrenburg. Well, who else could they go to? Voznesensky. They appeal to Ehrenburg on the day he's being buried in Moscow, "The New York Times" carries an appeal from liberal Czech writers to defend them against Communist repression.
Studs Terkel So as we end our conversation--I think we have time. We could probably end with the fourth movement of the Shostakovich Fifth or a familiar one, but before that, Harrison Salisbury says of your book, my colleague here, my guest is Joshua Rubenstein, his book is "Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times" of this incredible figure, Ilya Ehrenburg, Basic Books. Harrison Salisbury wrote, "Joshua Rubenstein has written a brilliant analysis and biography of Ilya Ehrenburg, a famous Russian iconoclast"--that's interesting--"and critic. It is a pity that Ehrenburg is not alive to appreciate the quality of this work and the merit which is thus cast on his reputation." Any thought?
Joshua Rubenstein Well, you know, Harrison sent me a letter with this quotation two weeks before he died, and it meant a lot to me. I interviewed Harrison Salisbury twice for this book. He knew Ehrenburg during World War II, and he used to see him in Moscow after the war, and he very much admired Ehrenburg, although he understood how ambiguous a figure he was. But he very much admired him, and he gave me a lot of very useful information, particularly about the war, some very vivid anecdotes about Ehrenburg's writing, about the monologues he would give criticizing the Americans, criticizing the Western Allies, wanting the Second Front to be opened. That was his main concern, of course. So it meant a lot to me that Harrison Salisbury admired my book and gave me such a wonderful quotation for the book jacket, actually.
Studs Terkel Anyway, this is by way of thanking you very much for this incredible figure, recreated, Ilya Ehrenburg, "Tangled Loyalties". After this break, we'll hear that of Ehrenburg, the other one whom Hitler wanted hanged, Dmitri Shostakovich, fourth movement of the Fifth Symphony will wind up this hour.