ITSIK KIPNIS (December 12, 1896-April 16, 1974)
He was born in Sloveshne (Slovechne), Zhitomir district, Volhynia. His father (Nokhum), a well-educated man and a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment, a man with a flair for music, a lover of violin playing, a tanner and son of a tanner by trade, had Itsik study in religious elementary school until his bar mitzvah and with private tutors at home. When he was eight, with short breaks, he worked with his father and also in other tanneries in the town and in the nearby environs. In the early 1920s, he was sent by his leather association to Kiev to pursue his studies. There he befriended Dovid Hofshteyn, joined a circle of Yiddish writers, and began publishing. He debuted in print in 1922 in the field of children’s literature in the Kiev monthly journal Freyd (Happiness). The simplicity and folkish quality of his style made him one of the finest children’s writers in modern Yiddish literature. He published numerous children’s books, original, adapted, and translated. After the publication of his poetry collection Oksn (Oxen) (Kiev: Vidervuks, 1923), 23 pp., he realized that prose was his genre. From the start he brought to Soviet Yiddish literature his own distinctive style, an approach to the life events—with apparent naïveté—with which his characters were endowed. He made a great impact with his book Khadoshim un teg, a khronik (Months and days, a chronicle) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1926), 249 pp. and drew the notice of readers and critics both in the Soviet Union and abroad. It describes a Jewish life masterfully and in his own innovative manner, with love for the simple common man. In the words of Zalmen Reyzen: “In the style of the primitive, idyllic, Kipnis describes in his book the Ukrainian Jewish shtetl, the war, the distant revolution, the terrifying pogroms. The tone vacillates between chronicle and lyricism, and it is more a lyrical autobiographical story than a chronicle.” In a foreword to the book, Yitskhok Nusinov took pains to justify Kipnis’s “non-proletarianism,” but he did not succeed in protecting him. Leftist-disposed critics attacked him because of the “apolitical and petit bourgeois nature” of his lyricism and his idyllic sorrow. He was frequently criticized because he defended himself against the factional pressure on his writing, and several times he was expelled from the writers’ association. And, for many years thereafter, this critique hung over his head. Whenever at conferences and writers’ meetings, people were compelled to invoke instances of “bourgeois nationalism” or “petit bourgeois-ism,” without fail they brought up his name. He lived with this persecution throughout his life. With the outbreak of the Soviet-German war, Kipnis left Kiev with the evacuation, returning with the liberation in 1944, and on the third anniversary of the massacre at Babi Yar wrote a moving lament and call to national revival—in Untervegns un andere dertseylungen (Under way and other stories), pp. 347-52. In a Holocaust-related story of May 19, 1947, entitled “On khokhmes, on kheshbones” (No calculations), he wrote: “We wish that all Jews who are now waling about with a hearty, singing gait over the street of Berlin should carry on their shoulders, side-by-side with their medals and decorations, a small, beautiful star of David as well. He [Hitler] wanted everyone to see that this is a Jew who suffered, was abused, and scorned by him. I feel as though everyone should see that I am a Jew, and my Jewish and human worth is among all freedom-loving citizens with nothing diminished.” (This citation is taken from the version in Dos naye velt [The new world] in Lodz; in Eynikeyt [Unity] in Moscow, they cut out this passage.) And for this he was expelled from the writers’ association. In late 1948 Kipnis was arrested and exiled to camps. But, happily, Kipnis was not broken physically or spiritually in the camps to which he was sent in the North. After Stalin’s death and his rehabilitation, he was freed in 1956, but for a time he was not allowed to reside in Kiev, and so he lived in Boyarke. In 1958 he received permission to return to Kiev.
From 1922 he was contributing to: Shtrom (Current) in Moscow; both anthologies of Barg aroyf (Uphill) in Kiev (1922, 1923); Kiev’s Komfon (Communist banner); Di royte velt (The red world) and Shtern (Star) in Kharkov; Ukrayine (Ukraine) (Kiev, 1926); Lenin un di kinder, kinstlerishe zamlung far kinder (Lenin and the children, artistic collection for children) (Kharkov-Kiev, 1934); Almanakh, fun yidishe sovetishe shrayber tsum alfarbandishn shrayber-tsuzamenfor (Almanac, from Soviet Jewish writers to the all-Soviet conference of writers) (Kharkov, 1934), appearing in the journal Farmest (Competition) 5-6; Sovetishe literatur (Soviet literature); and other Soviet publications. His stories were also published in various periodicals outside the USSR, such as: Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) and Khalyastre (The gang) in Warsaw; Frayhayt (Freedom) and Morgn-frayhayt (Morning freedom) in New York; and elsewhere. His last work, published while he was still living, entitled “Amol iz geven a meylekh” (There was once a king), was published in Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture) (New York) 6, 7 (1973), 2, 4 (1974). He translated a series of general works, mostly of children’s literature, such as: Ernest Thompson Seton, Di kleyninke proim oder a mayse (The little savages or a story [original: Two Little Savages]) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1925), 223 pp.; Jack London, Bek (Goats [original: Call of the Wild]) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1925), 94 pp.; Arturo Carotti, Nina un tshiko kegn di fashistn (Nina and Chico against the fascists) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1925), 130 pp.; Émile Zola, Dos geviser (The flood [original: L’Inondation]) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1925), 30 pp.; Fridtjof Nansen, In nakht un ayz (In night and ice) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1925), 62 pp.; Volodymyr Vynnychenko, Fedke khalemitnik (Fedko the troublemaker [original: Fedko-khalamydnyk]) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1926), 41 pp.; A. Kuprin, Der vayser pudel (The white poodle [original: Belyi pudel’]) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1926), 52 pp.; D. Grigorovich, Dos gumene ingele (The rubber boy [original: Guttaperchevyi malʼchik]) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1927), 64 pp.; M. N. Pokrovsky, 1905 (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1927), 62 pp.; V. Dmitriev, Mayna vira (Majna-Vira) and E. Yakhontov, Khabarda (Forward!) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1927), 66 pp.; Charles Dickens, David koperfield (David Copperfield) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1928), 340 pp.; Mark Twain, Hoklberi fin un zayne avantyures (Huckleberry Finn and his adventures) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1929), 349 pp.; Ostap Vyshnia, Shmeykhlen (Smiles [original: Usmishki]) (Kharkov: Ukrainian State Publ., 1929), 259 pp.; Anton Chekhov, Shlofn vilt zikh (I want to sleep [original: Spat khochetsya]) (Kharkov: State Publ., 1930s), 31 pp.; Kuzma Garbunov, Dos ayz geyt, roman (The thaw, a novel [original: Ledolom]) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1930), 287 pp.; L. Vepritskaia, Tob ivanovitsh in kinder-gortn (Tob Ivanovich in kindergarten [original: Tiab Ivanovich u ditiachomu sadku]) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1930), 26 pp.; Yakov Kal’nitskii, Khushi (Khushi) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1930), 47 pp.; S. Bogdanovich, Pyoter kropotkin (Pyotr Kropotkin) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1930), 163 pp.; V. Bianco, Afn groysn yam-veg (On the great route) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1930), 71 pp.; Menukhe Bruk, Draytsn undzere (Our thirteen) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1930), 71 pp.; Nikolai Oleynikov, A vunderlekher yontev (A wonderful holiday) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1930), 16 pp.; and Oleinikov, Tankes azelkhe, ober shlitlekh avelkhe (Such tanks, but such sleds [original: Tanki i sanki]) (Kiev: Kultur lige, 1930), 19 pp.; V. Shklovsky, Gardi der tsveyter (Gardi II) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1930), 19 pp.; Miguel de Cervantes, Don kikhot, zayne aventyures, un alts, vos mit im hot pasirt (Don Quixote, his adventures and all that happened to him) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1930), 413 pp.; A. Serafimovich, Af der ayznban (On the train) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1930), 39 pp.; Serafimovich, Der tsunoyfshliser (The interlacer) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1930), 31 pp.; Feliks Kon, Unter der fon fun revolutsye (Under the banner of revolution [original: Pod znamenem revoliutsii, vospominaniia (Under the banner of revolution, memoirs)]) (Kharkov: Ukrainian state publishers for national minorities, 1933), 196 pp.; Daniel Defoe, Robinzon kruzo, zayn lebn un ale modne umgeherṭe pasirungen, ṿos hobn zikh miṭ im geṭrofn (Robinson Crusoe, his life and all the strange surprising adventures that befell him) (Kharkov: Ukrainian state publishers for national minorities, 1935), 245 pp.; Aleksei Ivanovich Lebedev, Tsum ayzin harts fun der arktik (To the frozen heart of the Arctic [original: K ledianomu serdtsu Arktiki]) (Kiev: USSR state publishers for national minorities, 1936), 347 pp.; Jules Verne, Dem kapitan grants kinder (Captain Grant’s children [original: Enfants du capitaine Grant]) (Kharkov-Odessa: Kinder-farlag, 1937), 639 pp.; François Rabelais, Gargantyua un pantagriel (Gargantua and Pantagruel [original: La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel] (Kiev: USSR state publishers for national minorities, 1940), 290 pp. We have no bibliographic information for Kipnis’s translation of Panait Istrati’s Mayne vanderungen (My wanderings).
His work also appeared in: Yugnt (Youth); Shlakhtn (Battles) (Kharkov-Kiev, 1932); Komsomolye (Communist Youth) (Kiev, 1938); Af naye vegn (On new roads) (New York, 1949); Lo amut ki eḥye (I shall not die but live on) (Merḥavya, 1957); Dertseylungen fun yidishe sovetishe shrayber (Stories by Soviet Yiddish writers) (Moscow, 1969).
His own works, children’s stories: Mayselekh far kleyne kinder (Stories for small children) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1922), 58 pp.; Hoyf khaveyrim (Courtyard friends) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1923), 12 pp.; Hinde un hershele (Hinde and Hershele) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1923), 12 pp.; Mayselekh (Stories) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1923), 16 pp.; Dos pantofele (The little slipper) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1923), 12 pp.; A ber iz gefloygn (A bear was flying) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1923), 37 pp.; Di farshterte khasene, kinder pyese in eyn akt (The spoiled wedding, a children’s play in one act) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1924), 18 pp.; Rusishe mayselekh (Russian tales) (Kiev: Sorabkop, 1924), 50 pp.; Mayselakh (Stories) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1924 [should be date: 1927]), 69 pp.; O a. (OA) (Minsk: Central Publ., 1929), 23 pp.; Undzer meydele lane (Our girl Lana) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1929), 35 pp.; In klem (In a predicament) (Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1929), 35 pp.; Tateshi, tateshi un andere mayselekh (Daddy, daddy, and other stories) (Minsk: Central Publ., 1929), 49 pp.; S’kert zikh a velt (The world turns) (Minsk: State Publ., 1929), 44 pp.; Ot ver mir iz haynt gefeln (Whom do I like today), poetry (Moscow-Minsk: Central Publ., 1930), 41 pp.; Dodl un shay-khali (Dodl and Shay-Khali), a poem (Moscow: Central Publ., 1930), 13 pp.; Mayselekh (Moscow: Central Publ., 1930), 23 pp.; Shtendik greyt, a gegramte poeme far kinder (Always prepared, a rhymed poem for children) (Moscow: Central Publ., 1930), 26 pp.; Buru-muru, mayselekh far kleyne kinderlekh (Buru-Muru, stories for little children) (Kharkov-Odessa: Kinder-farlag, 1935), 17 pp.; A nomen vet shoyn zayn (A name will be there) (Kharkov-Odessa: Kinder-farlag, 1935), 28 pp.; Freyd, dertseylungen far kinder (Happiness, stories for children) (Minsk: State Publ., 1935), 86 pp.; A sheyne ordenung (A lovely arrangement) (Moscow: Emes, 1936), 31 pp.; Durovs shul (Durov’s school), a poem (Moscow: Emes, 1937), 16 pp.; Kleyne dertseylungen (Short stories) (Kiev: Ukrainian state publishers for national minorities, 1937), 30 pp.; Az der zeyde iz geshlofn (When Grandfather slept) (Kiev: Ukrainian state publishers for national minorities, 1938), 28 pp.; Yung un alt (Young and old) (Odessa: Kinder-farlag, 1938), 81 pp.; Tsip, tsip, bobinke (Little, little, grandma) (Kiev: Ukrainian state publishers for national minorities, 1938), 72 pp.; Ver es lakht der letster (Who laughs last) (Moscow: Emes, 1939), 23 pp.; Der ershter trot (The first step) (Kiev: Ukrainian state publishers for national minorities, 1939), 148 pp.; Kleyn un groys (Little and big) (Kiev: Ukrainian state publishers for national minorities, 1939), 174 pp.; Far di kleyne kindervegs (For the little children’s ways) (Moscow: Emes, 1940), 43 pp.; Tog un tog (Day and day) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1980), 438 pp.
Other writings: Oksn (see above); Khadoshim un teg, a khronik (see above); Mayses un dertseylungen (Tales and stories) (Kharkov: State Publ., 1929), 328 pp.; Dertseylungen (Stories) (Kharkov: State Publ., 1930), 166 pp.; Zelik der radist un andere dertseylungen (Zelik the radio operator and other stories) (Moscow: Emes, 1933), 72 pp.; Khoreve nestn (Nests destroyed) (Kharkov-Kiev: USSR state publishers for national minorities, 1933), 54 pp.; 12 dertseylungen (1922-1932) (Twelve stories, 1922-1932) (Kharkov-Kiev: USSR state publishers for national minorities, 1933), 208 pp.; A land vos shaynt far der gantser velt (A land that shines before the entire world) (Kiev, 1937), 10 pp.; A kaylekhdik yor, dertseylungen (A circular year, stories) (Moscow: Emes, 1938), 41 pp.; Khane-rive geyt a tants, pyese in dray aktn (Khane-Rive goes to dance, a play in three acts) (Moscow: Emes, 1939), 61 pp.; Fun di yunge yorn (Of youthful years) (Kiev: USSR state publishers for national minorities, 1939), 173 pp.; Di shtub (The house), a novel in three parts (Kiev, 1939), 244 pp.; Tsum nayem lebn (To a new life), stories (Kiev: State Publ., 1940), 137 pp.; Di tsayt geyt, bilder un dertseylungen (Time goes by, images and stories) (Kiev: USSR state publishers for national minorities, 1940), 286 pp.; Tsum lebn, dertseylungen (To life, stories) (Moscow: Sovetski pisatel, 1969), 294 pp.; Untervegs un andere dertseylungen (Under way and other stories) (New York: IKUF, 1960), 352 pp.; Mayn shtetele sloveshne (My small town, Slovechne) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1971), 465 pp. (In accordance with the wishes of the author, revisions were made in this publication, and several chapters were added from the first, unpublished variant of Afn vihon [In the pasture], of which small fragments were published in Royte velt [Red world] in 1927.) “Just as an aroma,” noted Dovid Bergelson, “reminds you that there is no comparable, similar one that you might have sensed, so the book Khadoshim un teg reminds you in its fundamental tone of a comparably rare and great book. For a moment you will not believe your own eyes—so successful is the internal voice of this book to the voice of a beloved and heartfelt acquaintance. His name is: Motl Peysi the cantor’s son.” “Without a doubt,” wrote Meyer Viner, “Kipnis is…one of the most talented and strongest writers of Soviet Yiddish prose. There are here points and pages of masterful [writing]. In certain artistic details, for example, for intimate lyricism—which for him is bound to a thoroughgoing method of realistic description—and for intensity, immediacy, and originality in painting of mood and genre (people, animals, landscape, items, conditions of nature, and the like)—he has assumed an independent place in Soviet Yiddish literature.” “If in Khadoshim un teg one can with more or less justification (more less than more) speak of an influence from Sholem-Aleichem on Kipnis,” noted Shloyme Bikl, “then in Untervegns (Under way) this is vivid and clear, as Dovid Bergelson, the author of Nokh alemen (When all is said and done) [Vilna, 1913] and Opgang (Sewage) [Kiev, 1920], has not had such a writerly close and devoted a pupil as Itsik Kipnis…. It is entirely possible that Bergelson’s healthy critical sensibility aroused in Kipnis’s manner of writing at the time the Bergelson scent, and Kipnis thus became fond of him, and he was extravagant with praise.” Kipnis often wrote and demonstratively in the years following his release from the Gulag and detention as Yitskhok. He died in Kiev.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 3; Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index; Aleksander Pomerants, Di sovetishe haruge malkhes (The [Jewish writers] murdered by the Soviet government) (Buenos Aires, 1961), pp. 17-18, 491; Dovid Bergelson, in Frayhayt (New York) (March 27, 1927); Bergelson, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) 29 (1929); Yashe Bronshteyn, Atake (Attack) (Moscow-Minsk, 1931), pp. 306-18; Meyer Viner, foreword to Kipnis, 12 dertseylungen (Twelve stories) (Kharkov-Kiev: USSR state publishers for national minorities, 1933); Literarish-kritishe etyudn (Literary critical studies) (Kiev, 1940); Shmuel Niger, Yidishe shrayber in sovet-rusland (Yiddish writers in Soviet Russia) (New York, 1958), pp. 132-38; Nakhmen Mayzil, introduction to Kipnis, Untervegns (New York: IKUF, 1960); Yidishe shriftn (Warsaw) 3 (1962); Shloyme Belis, Portretn un problemen (Portraits and problems) (Warsaw: Yidish bukh, 1964), pp. 95-107; Shloyme Bikl, Shrayber fun mayn dor (Writers of my generation), vol. 2 (Tel Aviv, 1965); Ester Rozental-Shnayderman, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 61 (1967); A. Gilboa, in Moznaim (Tel Aviv) (April-May 1968); Gitl Mayzil, introduction to Kipnis, Mayn shtetele sloveshne (My small town, Slovechne) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1971); B. Grin, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (June 2, 1974); Dovid Sfard, in Yisroel-shtime (Tel Aviv) (June 12, 1974); M. Ḥizkuni (Moyshe Shtarkman), in Hadoar (New York) (Sivan 3 [= May 24], 1974); M. Altshuler, Yahadut berit-hamoatsot baaspaklarya shel itonut yidish bepolin, bibliyografya 1945-1970 (The Jews of the Soviet Union from the perspective of the Yiddish press in Poland, bibliography) (Jerusalem, 1974/1975), pp. 163-64.
Dr. Eugene Orenstein
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), cols. 483-84; Chaim Beider, Leksikon fun yidishe shrayber in ratn-farband (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union), ed. Boris Sandler and Gennady Estraikh (New York: Congress for Jewish Culture, Inc., 2011), pp. 335-37.]
 A lengthy bibliography of Kipnis’s dozens of original children’s books may be found in Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), nos. 2672-2704.