Ilya Ehrenburg

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ehrenburg, Ilya Grigor’evich


Born Jan. 15 (27), 1891, in Kiev; died Aug. 31, 1967, in Moscow. Soviet Russian writer and public figure.

The son of an engineer, Ehrenburg took part in revolutionary Bolshevik organizations. He was arrested in 1908, and in December of the same year he emigrated to Paris. His poetry collection Verses About the Eves (1916) expressed his antipathy toward “perishing Europe” and the imperialist war. In July 1917, Ehrenburg returned to Russia. As may be seen from the book of poems Prayer for Russia (1918), he initially failed to understand the October Socialist Revolution. Later, sincerely welcoming the birth of “a different, great era,” he experienced “excitement and awe inspired by the present age” (the collection Eves, Berlin, 1921, p. 3).

From 1921 to 1924, Ehrenburg lived in Berlin and contributed to the Soviet press. In 1922 he published his philosophic-satiric novel The Extraordinary Adventures of Julio Jurenito and His Disciples, in which he gave a mosaic picture of life in Europe and Russia during World War I and the Revolution. The chief psychological conflict appearing in his works written in the 1920’s, such as The Life and Undoing of Nikolai Kurbov (1923) and The Love of Jeanne Ney (1924), is the conflict between feelings and duty and the opposition between the individual and society. He criticized capitalism and bourgeois morality and analyzed the contradictions of bourgeois culture in Thirteen Pipes (1923) and Trust D. E. (1923). Ehrenburg published the book Portraits of Russian Poets in 1922. In this period he aiso wrote the sociopsychological novels The Grabber (1925) and In Protochnyi Lane (1927).

In the early 1930’s Ehrenburg moved to the USSR. The philosophic concerns of the novel The Second Day (1933; separate edition, 1934) derive from his impressions of the great construction projects of the first five-year plan and from a reexamination of his previous skepticism; the novel is pervaded with an interest in the intellectual culture of the new man.

During the National Revolutionary War of 1936–39 in Spain (Spanish Civil War), Ehrenburg was a war correspondent for Izvestiia. A prolific writer of essays and fiction in this period, such as the short-story collection Without Armistice (1937) and the novel What a Man Needs (1937), he also wrote poetry, for example, the verse collection Fidelity (1941). In 1940 he began work on the novel The Fall of Paris (1941; State Prize of the USSR, 1942), which deals with the political, moral, and historical reasons for the defeat of France by the German forces in World War II.

With the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, Ehrenburg became widely known for his publicist writing. He exposed the policies and moral philosophy of fascism. Appealing to the conscience of nations he strengthened people’s belief in victory over fascism and their sacred feeling of hatred toward the enemy. His publicist articles appeared regularly in the newspapers Pravda, Izvestiia, and Krasnaia Zvezda and were later published in the collection The War (vols. 1–3, 1942–44). During the war Ehrenburg developed the idea for the novel The Storm (1946–47; State Prize of the USSR, 1948), which depicted the basic conflict of the age—the opposition of fascism and antifascism—through the portrayal of unrelated persons who experienced the historical cataclysm.

In the postwar years, Ehrenburg published the novel The Ninth Wave (1951–52); the novella The Thaw (1954–56), which provoked sharp debate; and essays of literary criticism such as The French Notebooks (1958) and Rereading Chekhov (1960). The most important work of his latter years was his memoirs People, Years, Life (books 1–6, 1961–65). Critics highly praised Ehrenburg’s literary portraits, but they disputed his conception of literary art and his understanding of certain events of public life.

Ehrenburg was a deputy to the third through seventh convocations of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and in 1950 he became vice-president of the World Peace Council. In 1952, Ehrenburg was awarded the International Lenin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Nations. He was awarded two Orders of Lenin, two other orders, and various medals. Ehrenburg’s works have been translated into the major languages of the world.


Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–8. Moscow-Leningrad, 1928–29.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–9. Moscow, 1962–66.
“Avtobiografiia.” In Sovetskie pisateli: Avtobiografii, vol. 2. Moscow, 1959.
Letopis’ muzhestva: Publitsisticheskie stat’i voennykh let. [Foreword by K. Simonov; afterword by L. Lazarev.] Moscow, 1974.


Trifonova, T. Il’ia Erenburg: Kritiko-biograficheskii ocherk. Moscow, 1952.
Trifonova, T. “I. G. Erenburg.” Isloriia russkoi sovetskoi literatury, 2nd ed., vol. 4. Moscow, 1971.
Fedin, K. “Il’ia Erenburg.” Sobr. soch., vol. 9. Moscow, 1962.
Vospominaniia ob Il’e Erenburge: Sbornik. Moscow, 1975.
Russkie sovetskie pisateli-prozaiki: Biobibliograficheskii ukazatel’, vol. 6, part 2. Moscow, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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(8) Joshua Rubenstein, Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999), 132-33.
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At the First International Congress of Writers in the summer of 1935, several Soviet or pro-Soviet writers, notably Ilya Ehrenburg and Louis Aragon, had viciously attacked antifascists who opposed Stalin's Popular Front policy, including Leon Trotsky and his followers, the anarchists, and certain surrealists, specifically Andre Breton.