Page 7 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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I N T R O D U C T I O N
B
y
A . A
l a n
S
t e i n b a c h
I
S
o v i e t
Premier Khrushchev’s denunciation last March
o f
Yev-
geny Yevtushenko’s poem “Babi Yar” as containing “serious
flaws in the ideological sense,” strikes deeper than meets the
eye. It taxes credulity to believe that this twenty-nine year old
poet, writing about German slaughter of Jews and about Rus-
sian anti-Semitism, had “betrayed” Russia, as Pravda claimed.
The Premier’s excoriation and the subsequent condemnation
by the newspapers
Pravda, Izvest iya
and
Sovetskaya Belorus-
siya,
derive from a more compelling motivation. What really
prompted the campaign to denigrate Ilya Ehrenberg, Yevtush-
enko, Voznesensky and others? (Was Khrushchev’s animus ex-
acerbated by the knowledge that Yevtushenko’s wife Galia is
the daughter of Jewish parents who perished in a concentration
camp, and that she and her husband had visited Marc Chagall
at his home in South France?)
Yevtushenko was a major spokesman for the new cultural
freedom; his public readings attracted large, rebellious young
audiences. The high priests of the totalitarian monolith became
gravely concerned when Yevtushenko published his
Precocious
Autobiography.
Had not De Quincey divided all literature into
two groups—the books of knowledge and the books of
power?
And had not Disraeli written “A book may be as great a thing
as a battle”?
Stalin was never harassed by this dilemma. He simply lopped
off the Russian intellectuals root and branch, with special sharp
scalpels for Jewish writers. Refusal by the Soviet authorities in
1958 to permit Boris Pasternak to accept the Nobel Prize for
his
Dr. Zhivago
was proof positive that, while Khrushchev may
have de-Stalinized the Soviet Union, Stalin’s pathological fear of
writers and of the power of books did not “lie interred with
Caesar’s bones.”
Pasternak’s “heresy”—that the creative writer is ineluctably
obligated to lift the veils from men’s eyes and to be a witness to
the truth, whatever the cost—was being voiced by the new genera-
tion of writers. They were becoming more formidable and more
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