Елена Дубровина

With despair, poetry and pain. Youri Mandelstamm. 1908-1943





Each work of art whether it is a painting, a novel or a poem, absorbs part of the universe and represents its creator s spiritual outlook on the world around him. Profound poetry can be born out of the outmost inner suffering caused by external events. Tragedy, common to all mankind, such as war, revolution, oppressions, loss of motherland, often defines the tragedy of any given individual.

The Russian Revolution and the oppressions following it, heaved overboard a whole generation of the Russian artistic intelligentsia. At the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, the center of Russian cultural life moved from St. Petersburg to Paris. A new Russian poetic movement called “Parisian Note” began to form.

“Tragedy is the essence of every creative process. The perception of any tragedy is based on circumstances when it turns into a seed and from that seed grows a whole new generation of poets, the so-called  Parisian Note ,” once wrote the Russian poet and literary critic Yuri Terapiano.

This young generation had their own vision of the world, the result of their dramatic experience of being separated from their motherland. Many writers and poets of diverse nationalities, who belonged to the generation of Russian intellectuals, perished during World War II in German concentration camps, or disappeared in Germany or in Poland without a trace. The death of many Russian poets was as tragic as their lives. Many of them met death heroically. For example, a daughter of the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, Ariadna, a poet, was captured by the Nazis and murdered when, risking her own life, she tried to save the lives of Jewish children. Boris Vilde (Boris Dikoi), German by birth, led the Russian group in the French Resistance. He was eventually captured and shot to death in a prison yard. According to his executioners, he died like a true hero. Mother Maria, a nun, and also a poet, went to the gas chamber, taking the place of a young girl who had been condemned to that fate.

A human tragedy in a foreign land, life as a constant struggle for survival, intensified their perception of the world, their relations with one another and their interaction with the creative process. Isolation, solitude, poverty, the grief of being far from their native land, made poets take a  profound look inward and analyze their place in the world. From then on, monologues with themselves often dominated their poetry. Youri Mandelstamm is considered to be such a poet, a poet of the “inward monologue.”

By a tragic coincidence, the most famous Russian poet Osip Madelshtam vanished in one of the Soviet Gulag labor camps without a trace, and Youri Mandelstamm, who happened to be his cousin, also died, but in a German concentration camp. The name of Osip Mandelshtam is well-known all over Russia. The name of Youri Mandelstamm is regrettably and unjustifiably forgotten.

* * * * *

Youri Mandelstamm was born in Moscow on October 8, 1908 (September 25, old style), to a Jewish family. In 1920, at the age of 12, he managed to escape the country with his family after the post-revolutionary terror, and the family settled in Paris. He was educated at the Sorbonne and was a “man of letters.” He spoke French, English, German and Russian fluently. While at the lycée, he could read classical literature in the original. “He had a fantastic memory, profound erudition, an impeccable literary taste, and he had an incredible talent as a literary critic.” These are the words of his close friend Yuri Terapiano.

Youri Mandelstamm had a sharp mind with a strong-willed nature. He perceived the world with the deep power of his character which often overrode his poetic images.


O, what a night! What quietude!

Over the sleeping capital, the moon

Is shining with solemn mirth.

An obscure star is twinkling, far away,

With green and blue and pinkish flame.

And you and I are alone by the window

In solemn, silent peace –

As if there were no war, no grief.

We listen to the song of the universe,

Doomed to a perfect endless bliss.


Какая ночь! Какая тишина!

Над спящею столицею луна

Торжественную радостью сияет.

Вдали звезда неясная мерцает

Зеленым, синим, розовым огнем.

И мы у темного окна вдвоем,

В торжественном спокойствии молчанья –

Как будто нет ни горя, ни войны –

Внимаем вечной песне мирозданья,

Блаженству без конца обречены.


His poetry is close to mystical symbolism where enigmatic images grow from the music of his verse. We can see in his poetry a “multicolored world,” a spectrum of colors. He expressed his feelings of despair and suffering with the help of these multicolored images. The blue star became a symbol of his poetry: “Your star – not better than the Blue one – shined with its golden ray for you.” 

In November of 1938, his wife, Ludmila (Mika) Stravinsky, died of tuberculosis.


And only in the hours of grief,

Forgetting everything, I do extend my hand –

But in return there is no loving hand...

I would accept it all – but only her death –

O, how to accept?


Я верю, Господи, что это знак,
В котором благодать Твоя и сила,
Что вечный свет, а не могильный мрак
Узнала днесь раба Твоя Людмила.


Я верю, что дарован ей покой,
Что Ты и жизнь ее, и воскресенье,
И от нее отвел своей рукой
Болезни, воздыханья и сомненья.


И даже то, что не могу понять,
Без ропота стараюсь я принять.


Лишь в долгие часы ночной тоски,
Забывшись, вдруг протягиваю руку –
И нет ответной, любящей руки...
Я все приму – но как принять разлуку?


She was only twenty-nine years old. Mika was the oldest daughter of the Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky. Her terminal illness caused her to be confined in a sanitarium in Haute Savoy, in Switzerland. Later, she was moved to Paris, where she died surrounded by her family. After his death, Youri Mandelstamm s daughter, Kitty, became an orphan and was raised by Ludmila s brother Theodore Stravinsky, and his wife.

Soon after Youri s wife passed away, a new theme began to appear in his poems – it was the theme of death, the death of his beloved.


You re not with me, but I am still alive.

And all serenity and all the silent air,

I ll call by any name,

But not the one that hides all my despair.


Тебя здесь нет, а я еще живу.
Но тишину твою и безмятежность
Каким угодно словом назову,
Но лишь не тем, в котором безнадежность.


His poetry was imbued with a deep, piercing sense of loss, enveloped in the tragic notes of Brahms  music, philosophical comprehension of love, life and death and, most of all, his profound personal grief.


There is no end to joy and sorrow,

When life and death have always us to follow.

Let death so slowly and stubbornly erase

The features of her lovely face –


Love will be calling us to stay alive

With memory so simple, so eternal.

Our union is unshakable. It lives.

It shines on me with its sincere bliss.


Ни радости, ни скорби нет конца.

Любовь и смерть всегда в единоборстве.

Пускай черты любимого лица

Стирает смерть в медлительном упорстве –


Любовь их снова к жизни призовет

Движеньем памяти, простым и вечным.

И наш союз незыблем. Он живет.

Он светит мне лучом нелицемерным.


His inner emotional reservation and his ability to look into the core of surrounding events, his philosophical approach to life, happiness and love were the essence of his poetry.


Happiness is not in worldly slime...

But even if to heaven we will fly,

We won t forget the previous emotion,

A simple sadness, primitive devotion.


And do we have to look up at the sky,

Accepting death from any loud thunder,

When life is still so beautiful and shy,

Life that will not require any wonder.


В житейской тине счастья не найти . . .

Но и взлетев в небесные пространства,

Мы не забудем прежние пути,

Простую грусть, простое постоянство.


И стоит ли смотреть на облака

Нам, обреченным смерть принять оттуда,

Пока еще прекрасна и легка

Жизнь, где нам не надо чуда.


Any literary period has its specific creative style. Poets of the “Parisian Note” were close to the poets of the prerevolutionary “Silver Age” movement in Russia. And although Youri Mandelstamm s creative process was formed in France, he was still close in the way he expressed himself to this literary movement which greatly influenced his writing. There were the same tragic motifs, deep spirituality, predominance of the inner, in-depth analysis of outer events, an almost mystical premonition of death and a strong will to live. Here are some verses from a poem written in the concentration camp shortly before his death.


And if one day I could return to you,

An animal, escaping persecution,

Without any word – or any resolution,

I d put my head into your burning palm.


And then, if it exists, a tearless embrace,

You ll understand it when we meet, you will!

You ll understand it looking at my face,

Where the executioner has left his ugly seal.


И если я приду домой,

Как зверь, ушедший от погони,

Без слов – в молчаньи – головой

Я припаду к твоей ладони.


Но если есть бесслезный плач,

Ты все поймешь в минуту встречи,

Смотря на согнутые плечи,

Где знак поставил мне палач.


During the war, his poetic voice became even more powerful. His devotion to God helped him to stay strong in the havoc of war and personal tragedy.


No, not everything subjected to destruction!

Even in the days of war and grief,

The heart still hears joyful singing,

And silence of the war, its whiff.


Говорили — все погибнет в мире,

Если это повторится вновь.

Но луна плывет в небесной пыли,

Но волнуется живая кровь.


Нет, не все подвластно разрушенью!

Даже в дни печали и войны

Сердце внемлет радостному пенью,

Веянью зенитной тишины.


It was neither the war nor its cruelty that the poet feared the most, but solitude, the inconsolable grief that the war brought along with its destructions. He was afraid to see the dark nailed windows, behind which its future victims were hiding. He feared that tragic silence before the burst of sorrow. The victory of death over life deeply troubled the poet.


There is no love and even inspiration,

All that remained – integrity and truth,

And here I look into the dark abyss

And see the night (I thought before – the light).



Борису Дикому

Любви и вдохновенья больше нет,
Остались только: пристальность и честность.
И вот – смотрю со страхом в неизвестность,
И вижу тьму (а раньше думал – свет).



Изображение - savepic.org — сервис хранения изображений


Youri Mandelstamm was only thirty-five years old when the hand of the executioner ended his young life. On March 10th, 1942, he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent first to the Royallieu-Compiègne and then to Drancy, the internment concentration camps near Paris, created especially for French Jews, who were later deported to the extermination camps. Several times he was transported from one camp to another, until, finally, in July of 1943, he was sent to Auschwitz, in Jaworjno, Poland, where he died on October 15, 1943  in the gas chambers. Although the exact circumstances of his death and the last days of his life are still unknown, his poetry found a place in the hearts of the young generation of poetry lovers, as well as in the history of Russian literature. His deeply moving verses, the memory of his inspired poetic and human deeds will remain forever.

During his lifetime, Youri Mandelstamm published three books of poetry; after his death a fourth one came out in 1950. His literary and philosophical essays were often published in French and Russian periodicals and a book of his essays The Seekers was published in Shanghai in 1938. His untimely death left a deep scar in the hearts of his friends. He died as tragically as he had lived, but his poetry still touches the hearts of many, allowing us to understand the tragedy of a whole generation, lost and forgotten in a foreign land.


Foto: Youri Mandelstamm (from archive of Marie Stravinsky, granddaughter of the poet)


1. Youri Mandelstamm spelling is in accordance with his French documents.


Дубровина Елена – поэт, прозаик, эссеист, переводчик. Родилась в Ленинграде. Уехала из России в конце семидесятых годов. Живет в пригороде Филадельфии. Является автором сборников стихов «Прелюдии к дождю» и «За чертой невозвращения», на английском языке романа «In Search of Van Dyck» и сборников рассказов «Portrait of a Wandering Soul», и «The Dying Glory». Составитель и переводчик антологии «Russian Poetry in Exile. 1917-1975. A Bilingual Anthology» (Charles Schlacks, Publisher, 2013). В течение десяти лет была в редакционной коллегии альманаха «Встречи». Является главным редактором американских журналов «Поэзия: Russian Poetry Past and Present» и «Зарубежная Россия: Russia Abroad Past and Present». Ee стихи вошли в антологию английской поэзии «Liquid Gold». Рассказ «Solitude» был номинирован журналом “Cantaraville” на лучший рассказ в интернете. В 2013 году Всемирным Союзом Писателей ей была присуждена национальная литературная премия им. В. Шекспира за высокое мастерство переводов.






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