Yevtushenko, Yevgeni Alexandrovich°

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YEVTUSHENKO, YEVGENI ALEXANDROVICH°

YEVTUSHENKO, YEVGENI ALEXANDROVICH° (1933– ), Soviet Russian poet. A prolific author of topical verse, Yevtushenko became one of the standard-bearers of the liberal Soviet intelligentsia during the years following Stalin's death. After the appearance of his first poems in 1949, Yevtushenko chose subjects that were, for the most part, expressions of revolt against the traditions of the Stalin era. Though a non-Jew, Yevtushenko also wrote the most famous single poem of the Holocaust: Babi Yar (first published in Literaturnaya Gazeta, Sept. 19, 1961, see *Babi Yar). This short but moving description of the site of the Nazi massacre of Kiev's Jews and of the thoughts that the site evoked in the poet unleashed a furious controversy. Neo-Stalinists accused Yevtushenko of a variety of crimes, the most dangerous being the insinuation that antisemitism continued to exist in the U.S.S.R., and that the Jews were martyred by the Nazis not merely as Soviet citizens, but also as Jews – a fact carefully silenced by official Soviet historiography. Russian public opinion was sharply divided. To be for or against Yevtushenko was tantamount to being a foe or an advocate of antisemitism. As if to underline the fact that the choice of Babi Yar's theme was no accident, Yevtushenko returned briefly to the subject in his long narrative poem, Bratskaya ges (1967; The Bratsk Station, 1966), in which one of the protagonists is Izi Kramer, a Jewish survivor of a Nazi camp, now an engineer in Siberia, who continues to be haunted by his tragic past. In 1963, Yevtushenko published A Precocious Autobiography, which contains his account of the writing of Babi Yar, and the general antisemitic mood of the young Stalinists. In 1970 a new collection of his poems was printed in Russia which omitted Babi Yar and some of his most outspoken anti-Stalinist poems.

bibliography:

G. Reavey (tr. and ed.), The Poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, 19531965 (1965); P. Johnson and L. Labedz, Khrushchev and the Arts; the Politics of Soviet Culture, 19621964 (1965); M. Decter, in: Commentary, 36 (1963), 433–7.

[Maurice Friedberg]