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Doctor Zhivago, the CIA, and Feltrinelli’s visa to the USA

In April 2014 the CIA posted on line 99 documents related to the CIA role in the saga of Doctor Zhivago (click here for the documents). All of the CIA documents cited below can be accessed through the given link. Here is the description given on the site:

CIA Publishes Doctor Zhivago in Russian and Exposes Life in USSR under Communism

The CIA has declassified 99 documents describing the CIA’s role publishing Boris Leonidovich Pasternak’s epic novel, Doctor Zhivago, for the first time in Russian in 1958 after it had been banned from being published in the Soviet Union. The Zhivago project was one of many CIA-supported covert publishing programs that involved distributing banned books, periodicals, pamphlets, and other materials to intellectuals in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. This collection provides a glimpse into a thoughtful plan to accomplish fast turn-around results without doing harm to foreign partners or Pasternak. Following the publication of Doctor Zhivago in Russian in 1958, Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the popularity of the book skyrocketed, and the plight of Pasternak in the Soviet Union received global media attention. Moscow had hoped to avoid these precipitous outcomes by initially refusing to publish the novel two years earlier. There is no indication in this collection that having Pasternak win the Nobel Prize was part of the Agency’s original plan; however, it contributed to appeals to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, and it was a blow to those who insisted that the Soviets in 1958 enjoyed internal freedom. Of note, the documents in this collection show how effective “soft power” can influence events and drive foreign policy.

The documents fall into three major categories: 1) receipt at headquarters of the typescript of Zhivago and plans for its exploitation; 2) dealings with Felix Morrow (although the name is redacted he is easily recognizable) related to the ‘pirate’ Russian edition of Doctor Zhivago printed by Mouton in Holland in September 1958; 3) further exploitation of Zhivago within the book distribution program and production of a new pocket book edition of Doctor Zhivago produced at CIA headquarters (published around July 1959). Of course, this is only rough and ready, for these documents contain a great deal more than that.

The documents bring welcome further confirmation and, in some but not in all cases, more precise details to the reconstruction of the events offered in publications that had appeared before their release and most extensively in my book. Whereas all the details about the Mouton edition were confirmed by the new documents, I have to report one correction to my book that concerns the section (pp. 189-190) on the pocket book edition that appeared in 1959. In my book, I had conjectured that this edition was prepared in Germany by the anti-communist group NTS and printed by their printing press Posev. While the details about NTS cited in that section of my book remain correct, for they are statements from NTS representatives reported by newspapers at the time, it is now clear that the declarations were only intended to mislead public opinion as to the real source of the pocket book edition.

While a short summary of these new CIA documents has appeared in the book by Finn and Couvée, The Zhivago Affair (Pantheon 2014), their extensive use still awaits proper scholarly attention. Indeed, the fact that the documents are redacted leaves many unresolved problems.

In addition, we have to guard against the journalistic inaccuracies that continue to beleaguer the literature on Doctor Zhivago. Upon release of the CIA documents, a French journalist for Le Monde (Le Docteur Jivago au cœur de la guerre froide, June 20, 2014) declared that the documents showed that the typescript of the Zhivago used by the CIA was the one used in the translation of the French version of the novel: “La France est peut-être partie prenante dans l'” affaire Jivago “. L’un des documents rendus -publics par la CIA précise que sa copie du livre de Pasternak provient de l’exemplaire ayant servi à la version française. “. And Michael Scammell in an article in the New York Review of Books (click here for review) stated that the CIA documents showed that British intelligence sent the CIA a “photographic replica of Feltrinelli’s original manuscript”. The CIA documents say nothing about Feltrinelli’s typescript.

Both claims are examples of a kind of shoddiness that has affected the literature on Zhivago (Malta stories etc.) for a long time. One can only hope that it will soon become a thing of the past . To repeat, there is no trace in the CIA documents of any evidence supporting either one of the two claims. The French journalist confused mention of the Autobiography in the CIA documents with Doctor Zhivago, not a small difference. As for Scammell, his statement is all the more surprising as his article was presented as, in part, a review of my book and he mentioned having done independent research on the CIA documents. (For my reply to his review and Scammell’s reply to my reply click here)

Had he read the book carefully, he would have noticed my alerting the reader, on pp. 121-122, that the problem of which typescript of Doctor Zhivago was sent to the CIA is an important problem awaiting solution. Indeed, despite his confident claim, it can easily be shown that the Feltrinelli typescript was not the one used by the CIA. I will provide the evidence in a future post, for the contents of this post relate to something different.

In this post, I would like to show how the new CIA documents and those coming from other archives complement each other. It is important to stress two things. First of all, many of the CIA documents can properly be interpreted, on account of their being redacted, only against the background of information provided by the non CIA archival documents. This is absolutely evident for all that concerns the Mouton edition, Morrow, and the role of the University of Michigan Press. Secondly, the CIA sources are sometimes wide of the mark and one cannot accept everything they state at face value; accordingly, they have to be evaluated against more reliable information coming from non CIA sources. Conversely, the non CIA documents also benefit from being read against the background of what the CIA was up to.

By way of a case study, I would like to focus on what some of the CIA documents report about Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. But since Feltrinelli is mentioned in most of these documents, I have to narrow my focus.

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli

I will be after the issue of how it became possible for Feltrinelli to receive a visa to enter the United States of America in early 1959. His communist past and uncertainties about his allegiance in 1958 militated against inviting him. Indeed, in spring 1958 he had been denied a visa to enter the Unites States. However, the State Department had his own interest in wanting to invite Feltrinelli to come to the States, namely they were interested in acquiring all the translation rights for a huge variety of languages in order to use Doctor Zhivago in their book distribution program and their psychological warfare against the Soviet Union. This was not a secondary aim of the CIA. On the contrary it figures from the very beginning as one of the main goals. For instance in the document dated December 12, 1957 we read: “Dr. Zhivago should be published in a maximum number of foreign editions, for maximum free world discussion and acclaim and consideration for such honor as the Nobel prize.” Feltrinelli’s invitation to the Unites States, as we shall see, fits into the plan. However, the CIA documents are not so perspicuous and it is only using the resources of the Feltrinelli archive and some other documents from the National Archives that a fuller picture emerge.

The connection to the State Department emerged through Kyrill Schabert, president of Pantheon, the American publisher of Doctor Zhivago. There is an interesting document preserved at the National Archives in College Park (not part of the documents put on line in May 2014) that explains the interest of granting Feltrinelli a visa to visit the USA. The memo is sent from Louis A. Fanget of ICS [Information Center Services] to H. T. Carter of IGC [Office of General Counsel] (both ICS and IGC were organizations of USIA; for the structure of USIA click here).

United States Information Agency

United States Information Agency

The date is October 31, 1958. Subject: “Doctor Zhivago”:

In planning for exploitation of Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, ICS decided to try to acquire permission on rights for translation into the principal Asiatic languages such as Hindi, Galli, Urdu, Arabic and other similar languages. This is customary procedure on books that have special significance for our program. We were informed by the American Publisher of the book, Pantheon Books, that the rights we sought were held by the Firm of Feltrinelli, in Milan. Mr. Kyrill Schabert, President of Pantheon Books, indicated that he was well acquainted with Mr. Feltrinelli and would attempt to get the rights for us. Thus we asked Mr. Schabert to do this in a letter of October 14, 1958.

During the last two weeks a number of posts have asked for language rights for the book and consequently we called Mr. Schabert to learn of progress, if any, we had made with Mr. Feltrinelli. Mr. Schabert indicated that he had not heard, but at our request phoned Mr. Feltrinelli for the information.

Mr. Schabert stated that Mr. Feltrinelli agreed in principle to let us have the rights to the languages we sought. Mr. Schabert indicated that Mr. Feltrinelli surmised that he was seeking the rights in our behalf. Mr. Feltrinelli told Mr. Schabert that he wished to come to the States to discuss the foreign language publication aspect of the book with us. Mr. Schabert indicated that Mr. Feltrinelli was seeking permission to enter the country and was not in any way attempting to obtain a grant of funds to do so, or to obtain a trip on a quasi official basis.

We understand that Mr. Feltrinelli attempted to come to this country in June of this year to attend the Convention of the American Book Sellers at Atlantic City, but that he was unable to obtain a visa. We do not have any definite knowledge that he was denied a visa on political grounds though it is generally understood at that time that Mr. Feltrinelli was one of the leading publishers in Italy of communist books. He is an extremely wealthy person, we understand, and consequently would not need financial assistance.

If it would speed up the processes for our acquiring the rights we seek by having Mr. Feltrinelli come here, we think it would be desirable, provided of course that no serious problems would be presented by such a visit. It would be understood, also, that he would come at his own expense and would not have any official status whatever. Obviously it will be important to us to get out as many foreign language editions of the book as possble to capitalize on the propaganda gains we are making at Soviet expense on Doctor Zhivago. (Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago) H.T.C. [Harry Tyson Carter] 1958, 1958-1958. National archives Identifier: 6789835; HMS Entry Number: P 277).

The letters between Feltrinelli, Schabert and Kurt Wolff mentioning the matter are still preserved at the Feltrinelli archives in Milan. On April 9, 1958, Feltrinelli wrote to Wolff:

“I would very much like to come to the States for the international book exhibition in Atlantic City, but I fear that I may have difficulties in getting a visa. Do you know anybody who might advice me and eventually push my enquiry through in Washington?” [Feltrinelli archives]

Wolff replied to Feltrinelli on April 16:

“My colleague Kyrill Schabert (you may recall meeting him at the Publishers’ meeting in Florence in 1956) is trying to do something about this matter in Washington. I will keep you informed about the outcome.” [Feltrinelli archives]

Feltrinelli was not given a visa and his visit to the USA had to be canceled. However, a new opportunity arose in October 1958 when, just a few days before the award of teh Nobel Prize to Pasternak, the United States Information Agency (USIA) made contact with Kyrill Schabert concerning the problem of acquiring translation rights for a variety of Asian and other languages.

October 17, 1958

Dear Mr. Feltrinelli,

As you will see by the enclosed copy of a letter, the United States Information Agency is anxious to make the text of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO available,in full length or condensed version, in the languages they list.

These are all languages of countries where a translation of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO would be most unlikely, except through the USIA subsidy program. Because they will have to make their formal contracts with an American publisher, would you be willing to cede us the translation rights for the languages specified in their letter so that we in turn can grant them permission?

I would suggest that any monies paid to us by the Government under this arrangement be credited to Pasternak’s royalty account without any deduction.

I hope that you can give this your favorable consideration. Please let me know your decision as soon as possible.

Sincerely yours,

Kyrill Schabert. [Feltrinelli archives]

The document from the Agency was unsigned and dated October 14, 1959.

Dear Mr. Schabert:

This letter will confirm our telephone conversation of October 9, 1958, at which time I discussed with you the translation rights for DOCTOR ZHIVAGO by Boris Pasternak.

            I shall appreciate your requesting from Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, Milan, Italy, exclusive translation and publication, volume and serialization rights for full length and condenced versions in the languages below.

Arabic, Assamose, Bengali, Bicol, Burmese, Cambodian, Cebriano, Farsi, Chinese, Greek, Gijarati, Hillgaynon, Hindi, Ilocano, Indonesian, Kachin, Kannada, Korean, Laotian, Macedonian, Malay, Malayalan, Marathi, Oryin, Punjahi, Serbo Croatian, Sindhi, Sinhalese, Slovenian, Tagalog, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese.

I realize that this book has appeared in a number of languages, and Feltrinelli might be negotiating directly for others. It may therefore be necessary for him to withold some of the above languages. Since arrangements for publication are made by our representatives abroad in collaboration with local publishers, the final determinations as to the languages and format in which DOCTOR ZHIVAGO will appear will be made by them.

            For the languages which you are able to obtain and release to the Agency, the following rates, which have been established as acceptable fees for non-commercial languages by American and British firms, will be paid on the basis of total copies published per language:

Book rights                             Full length versions                            Condensed versions

Up to 5,000 copies                  $50                                                      $25

5,001 to 10,000 copies            100                                                      50

10,001 to 15,000 copies          150                                                      75

More than 15,000 copies        200                                                      100

[Feltrinelli archives]

On October 31, 1958, Wolff had been very explicit that the request came from the State Department:

“The State Department’s request for exotic languages like Bengali, Sinhalese, etc. I understood that you agreed in principle to the request Mr. Schabert wrote you about and that a letter concerning this matter is on its way, stating you feel some details should be discussed verbally. We, therefore, will now take the necessary steps to make this verbal discussion possible over here. My friend Schabert tells me that he has already, over the last month, pointed out to the State Department official in question how desirable it would be to have you present here in person.” [Feltrinelli archives]

A carbon copy of the letter from Feltrinelli to Schabert to this effect, dated October 28, 1958, in on file in the Feltrinelli archives in Milan:

“Dear Mr. Schabert,

            I have received your letter of October the 17th concerning the U.S.A. request for the translation right of Dr. Zhivago. I do not think there is any objection in principle to the grant of the desired license (apart from the exclusion of some countries with which we are alraedy handling the granting of such license).

            Non the less there are quite a number of points in such an agreement which should be discussed and cleared.

            As I am looking forward to visiting the States in genuary or february with Prof. Del Bo on a contact tour with American universities (Harvard, Wisconsin etc.), I think this could be an excellent occasion to discuss and settle this matter.

My best regards,

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli” [Feltrinelli archives]

In other words, Feltrinelli saw the opportunity to use the interest on the part of the United States Information Agency to obtain the visa he had been denied in the Spring of 1958. At this stage, he

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli and Inge Schöntal

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli and Inge Schöntal

was still planning to visit the U.S. with Giuseppe del Bo, a long time collaborator in the Biblioteca Feltrinelli, for a tour of American Universities. The plan will radically change, as Feltrinelli will visit the U.S. in the 1959 with Inge Schöntal, whom he will marry in Mexico just before reaching the U.S.

On November 5, 1958, Schabert wrote to Feltrinelli:

“Dear Mr. Feltrinelli: I was glad to hear from you that, in principle, you are agreeable to let us have the rights for the languages mentioned in my letter to you. As Mr. Wolff may have told you, I have impressed upon my friend in Washington the importance of your coming here and I have been assured that this matter is having their top attention. In fact, I expect to have good news in a few days. Should this come through, I hope you will see your way free to arrive here before the months indicated in your letter. In any event, I should tell you to undertake no steps for the time being in connection with a visitor’s visa until you hear from me.

Withe kindest regards, sincerely yours, Kyrill Schabert.” [Feltrinelli archives]

Let us now see how the above documents complement those found in the CIA newly posted documents.

The first document relating to the matter is a memo that mentions in the subject “the U.S. publisher of Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago” (namely Pantheon Press and his president Kyrill Schabert). I will indicate by [xxx] redacted parts of the document. We are interested in the third and fourth points of the document.

  1. In May 1958×1958, [xxx] suggested to [xxx]x[xxx] spelling?) of [xxx] to let Feltinelli [sic] come to the U.S. in connection with a book convention. Feltinelli holds the copy right to Dr. Zhivajo. [xxx] felt that Feltinelli’s presence could have been exploited for the benefit of the U.S. Government. [xxx], however, advised [xxx] that there was “too much red-tape involved” and thus the project failed.
  2. [xxx] is of the opinion that even now it would be most [unreadable] for the U.S. to let Feltinelli come here.

A memorandum for the record, dated November 18, 1958, brought up worries about Feltrinelli’s decision concerning how to cede rights. The points below refer to a telephone conversation with [xxx]:

  1. While [xxx] was originally set up in the broad context of [xxx] publications in general, the Dr. Zhivago book has become an important feature. [xxx]

            [xxx] saw Feltrinelli in Milan some time in late October. The purpose of seeing him was to inquire about obtaining rights for the book [xxx]. Feltrinelli took the position that he would not give right to a publisher’s agent, but he informed [xxx] that if he should receive requests from specific [xxx] publishers, he would probably go along.

  1. Feltrinelli, [xxx], may decide to give rights in one of two ways, and it is at this point that there arises a possibility of duplication. He may, for example, decide to grant exclusive rights to the first publisher in a given language who might write to him, or he may on the other hand grant rights wholesale to all comers. He remarked to [xxx] that as of the date of [xxx] visit he had already received five requests for rights [xxx]. We have no other information as to how Feltrinelli may or may not have responded to these requests.

A personal letter to the CIA director, Allen W. Dulles, provides further information. It is dated December 15, 1958:

Allen W. Dulles

Allen W. Dulles

Dear Allen:

This is the letter I spoke to you about on Saturday. The writer of the letter, [xxx],


It does seem to me that if Feltrinelli had indeed broken away from his Communist associations, a useful service might be performed in bringing him to this country.

Certainly no development in Russia in recent months has been half so damaging to the Soviet position in world opinion as was Feltrinelli’s action in publishing the Pasternak book. It was good to talk to you.

            With warm regards, [xxx]

The enclosure in question, written around December 8, 1958, read as follows:

Dear [xxx],

I wonder where this will reach you – [xxx]


            I have a rather urgent and very important question to put up to you: a good friend of mine, the publisher of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli whose name you have seen in the papers on account of all the publicity given to Pasternak when he got the Nobel Prize, has rather weighty affairs to see to in the US. Unfortunately, on account of his former communist affiliations he finds it impossible to obtain a visa through the ordinary channels. Now, Feltrinelli broke off his ties after the Hungarian revolution, and, as you know, it has been tried to make him a tool [[a comment on the side says: Allen, I am not sure I grasp this particular point]] of certain cold war activities, using Pasternak’s book, which, again, has been against his will and intention.

            You could ask [xxx] about the family (a great name in Italian industry).

            Do you see any ways and means how Feltrinelli could be assisted – via [xxx] or any other of your official connections? [xxx]


I wish to add, unnecessarily I am sure, to keep this matter as confidential as possible.




On December 22, Allen Dalles replied:

Dear [xxx]

I appreciate your recent telephone call and your letter of 15 December with its enclosure, of which I have taken a copy. We know a great deal about the subject matter of this letter and I will see whether something can be done.



On December 29, we find the following letter to Allen Dulles

Dear Allen:

Than you so much for your note on behalf of our Italian “friend”. I have since been informed that the gentleman has not even made a request for a visa. How strange these people are.

With warm regards,


Of course, Feltrinelli had been told by Schabert not to apply for a visa.

A further memorandum dated January 2, 1959 with subject “Giangiacomo Feltrinelli; Application for Visa to the U.S.” read:


  1. Mr. Feltrinelli wants to visit the U.S. ostensibly in connection with the plans of the University of Michigan Press to publish a Russian-language edition of Dr. Zhivago, possibly also for talks with Pantheon Books, publishers of the American edition ­­–- though the latter would seem less important, since Pantheon, to the best of our knowledge, has properly contracted with Mr. Feltrinelli about copyright. [xxx]


  1. The bona fides of Mr. Feltrinelli’s departure from the Italian CP is subject to doubt: even if he left the party in good faith, it is conceivable that he might have been brought under the control of either the Italian CP or the Soviet IS at some later date, especially after the publication of Dr. Zhivago and the award of the Nobel Prize to Boris Pasternak made Mr. Feltrinelli such a tempting target. Even if this were not the case, it would seem rather likely that there is some Communist informant, if not a controlled agent, among his office staff or among his close friends.

But despite the reservations expressed in the last memo, the visa was granted. The report on Feltrinelli’s interview written by the American general consul in Milan, Charles Rogers, has been published in Carlo Feltrinelli’s biography of his father, th-5Senior Service (1999, pp. 170-171) and will not be reported here.

I will conclude by recalling that Feltrinelli visited the U.S. but the plan to co-opt him for foreign rights for Doctor Zhivago came to nothing. I refer to Senior Service also for details of Feltrinelli’s trip to the United States.

The last CIA document we have in this connection is dated April 2, 1959, while Feltrinelli was still in the United States:

Memorandum for the record

Subject: Conference with [xxx]

  1. On 1 April I visited [xxx]


in his office to discuss Publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli of Milan, Dr. Zhivago and other matters in the book field. We talked briefly on the same matters today, also in his office.

  1. Feltrinelli.
  2. [xxx]

received from me a sterilized list of countries and languages in which Pasternak’s novel had been published (taken from Memorandum for the Record, 23 March 1959, subject, “Editions of Dr. Zhivago”[this is one of the documents posted on line, PM]). I asked if there was some way to prod Feltrinelli himself on the subject of publishing editions in English [xxx]

  1. [xxx] remarked the lack of [xxx]

publishers on the list, and said he knew of [xxx]

now in New York studying the American publishing business. All had written to Feltrinelli months ago asking for publication rights in their respective languages but had received no answer. Their names, and the languages for which they sought rights, follow:


  1. I thereupon asked if someone could induce Feltrinelli to deal directly with [xxx] publishers on the rights question. [xxx] mentioned that he had been invited to a reception for Feltrinelli by Pantheon Books, Ind., Pasternak’s American publishers, later in the afternoon of 1 April but was unable to go. Using this as an excuse for getting in touch with Kyrill Schabert, President of Pantheon, [xxx] telephoned to Schabert in New York. Gist of their conversation was: [xxx] asked Schabert to urge Feltrinelli to answer his mail, particularly from [xxx] publishers, because a lack of interest by Feltrinelli in [xxx] requests for rights would only encourage the theft of rights by irresponsible publishers there. Schabert promised to do what he could and would report back. When I checked with [xxx] today he said he had not heard back from Schabert, but added he would phone again. He also said he would ask Schabert if he considered a direct visit to Feltrinelli by the [xxx] in New York would produce results. [xxx] hinted doubts about this approach, principally because Feltrinelli has told Schabert that his office had been handling requests for publishing rights, long before he left Italy. Even if he met [xxx] personally, Feltrinelli probably would not be able to remember the correspondence, and might not even be interested in pursuing the subject. Feltrinelli, [xxx] said he had been told, had an attitude of superiority of business details, especially as it concerned Dr. Zhivago, being more interested in “idealism”. Upon my urging, however, [xxx] agreed to do everything possible along this line.
  2. [xxx] confirmed that British Commonwealth rights in the English language, [xxx] have been conferred upon William Collins. Thus, anyone who wishes to publish Dr. Zhivago in English [xxx] must deal with Collins, whereas deals for other languages [xxx] may be made directly with Feltrinelli’s office in Milan.
  3. In the 1 April phone conversation Schabert reported he could not tell whether Feltrinelli was personally grateful to Schabert for having helped smooth the way for the American visa, but he seemed to be enjoying himself. From [xxx] account, Schabert and other in contact with Feltrinelli in New York have found it difficult to get specific with him.

And with this, I conclude this post about Feltrinelli’s visa, a representative case study of how the CIA sources and the non CIA sources must be used in tandem.

“The Writer and the Valet”: On the recent exchange in the LRB between F. Stonor Saunders and H. Hardy

The September 25 issue of The London Review of Books (volume 36, No 18) has a long and interesting article by Frances Stonor Saunders – author of a book on the cultural policies of the CIA during the Cold War, mentioned in my previous post – on Isaiah Berlin’s role in the Zhivago saga.

Isaiah Berlin

Isaiah Berlin

Henry Hardy, editor of many of Berlin’s books and essays and of a large selection of his correspondence, has criticized the article for a number of inaccuracies and for not indicating the sources of many citations. In her reply Stonor Saunders counters some of the charges and accuses Hardy of being confused about scholarly standards. For the original article and the exchange (volume 36, No 21, 6 November 2014) click here. The exchange raises a number of important issues and for a while I intended to contribute a letter to the LRB myself. But the letter grew in length and I realized there was no chance it could be published without drastic cuts. As a result, I did not submit it to the Editors, and I post it here instead.


Dear Editors,

I read with interest Frances Stonor Saunders’ article (25 September, LRB) and the subsequent exchange with Henry Hardy (6 November, LRB) . This exchange raises factual issues that are related to topics treated in my book (which was mentioned in both the original article and in the following discussion) and that can, at least in part, be addressed with the help of the documents at our disposal. Hence, I would like to contribute the following.

Given the dialectic of the debate between Stonor Saunders and Hardy, it is almost inevitable that my comments are focused on Stonor Saunders’ claims. Hardy reproaches Stonor Saunders for inaccuracy but I should like to emphasize, to begin with, two major theses that emerge from her contributions. The first is a generalized criticism of those who have discussed Berlin’s role in the Zhivago story: “In all of these thousands of pages devoted to the Zhivago affair, Berlin’s testimony is reprised without question.” The second emerges more clearly from her reply to Hardy, where, with respect to all the events surrounding the Zhivago affair, she refers to the “impossibility of drawing any safe conclusions as to what exactly happened”.

Stonor Saunders pictures Berlin as meddlesome and secretive, and motivated by the sheer desire “to be at the centre of an intrigue.” I will not pass judgment on Berlin’s motivations, but I do welcome a fresh look at the historical record. However, I should like to point out that the credibility of a renewed look at the evidence depends on the strength of the evidence provided. If the alleged ‘evidence’ rests on a misinterpretation of the documents, this will take the wind out of the sails of the revisionist reading. And this is what happens with one of the central considerations offered by Stonor Saunders for her claim about Berlin’s role in the affair. I am referring to the (alleged) evidence she cites from a reply by Martin Malia, dated 26 November 1956, to a now lost letter by Berlin. The lost letter to Berlin was itself a reply to a letter from Malia, dated April 1956, in which Malia informed Berlin that Pasternak was considering sending out a copy of Doctor Zhivago with some unnamed French students (they were Martinez, Aucouturier and Allain: see Tolstoy 2009 and Malia and Engerman 2005).

Martin Edward Malia (1924-2004)

Martin Edward Malia (1924-2004)

According to Stonor Saunders: “Berlin’s reply is not in the file, but a later letter from Malia contains its echo: Berlin wanted more exact details, in particular to know how he might make contact with the French students.” However, when one reads the letter from Malia it becomes obvious that what Berlin is inquiring about is not the French students (and their contacts in the French Embassy) but rather how to make contact with Soviet students. Malia writes: “Also my way of making contact with students would not have been of any help to you since it was largely through several normaliens at the University of Moscow, who had left by the time you wrote. The other contacts were all chance contacts for which there is no formula” (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Berlin 149, fols 166-7). This reply would make no sense if Berlin had enquired about the French students. It is obvious that Berlin was interested in making contact with Soviet students, rather than with the French students, and that is quite a legitimate wish given that he was planning to obtain first-hand reports from his visit on life in the USSR.

A different issue concerns the dating of the preparation of documents by Ivan Serov, head of the KGB, and by Shepilov. Hardy points out that the documents are dated August 24 and August 31, respectively, and thus after Pasternak’s conversation with Berlin, which took place on August 18. In her rejoinder, Stonor Saunders shifts the attention from the date of the documents to when they were prepared. She claims that the documents were weeks in preparation and she confidently asserts that the KGB informer “was most likely” a colleague of Sergio d’Angelo’s at Radio Moscow (his name was Vladlen Vladimirsky). In my book I said that it would be “ill advised” to venture conjectures as to who the informer was (and I explain why). For instance, Sergio d’Angelo’s conjecture is that it was the two Italian PCI officials, Robotti and Secchia, who informed the KGB. In short, we do not have precise knowledge of exactly when or by whom the KGB was informed. However, if the matter was thought by Serov to be so serious as to inform the Central Committee of the CPSU, it is hard to believe that he sat for weeks on this information. As for Shepilov’s memo (dated August 31, 1956), this was obviously written after the KGB memo, and a one-page memo does not take weeks to write (the accompanying enclosure by Polikarpov obviously derives from the review that had just been completed by the editorial board of Novy mir, and thus its being enclosed with Shepilov’s memo is neither here nor there as evidence for when the KGB was informed). I know very well the books And the Clamour of the Chase behind Me: Boris Pasternak and the Authorities, Documents of 1956–1972 (2001) and Ivan Tolstoy’s book Pasternak’s Laundered Novel: “Doctor Zhivago” between the KGB and the CIA (2009), to which Stonor Saunders directs Hardy. Regrettably, neither of the two books has anything decisive to say about the issue under discussion. Tolstoy’s allegation that it was Vladimirsky (whom he calls Vladimirov) who informed the KGB is not corroborated by any evidence. Moreover, had Vladimirsky been the informer, it would be surprising if it had taken the KGB from May 20 (the day of the visit of d’Angelo and Vladimirsky to Pasternak)  to August 24 (i.e. more than 3 months!) to report on it officially to the Central Committee of the CPSU. Perhaps the KGB was not a model of efficiency, but it was certainly more efficient than that. Thus, if one cannot categorically exclude that the KGB was ‘”noting” events before the conversation between Pasternak and Berlin, we also have no positive evidence that warrants Stonor Saunders’ assertion that this was in fact the case.

The case of the Ripellino quote is similar. Stonor Saunders unqualifiedly cites as Pasternak’s own words the following phrase: “to suffer as all true Russian poets have always suffered” (indeed, citing it out of context). Hardy objects that one cannot take these words, found in a letter from Ripellino to Calvino, as necessarily Pasternak’s own. Stonor Saunders retorts that Hardy is applying double standards: why is it fine to attribute to Pasternak a phrase when Berlin cites it and not when Ripellino cites it? (“If we can’t assume they were his own words, as reported by Ripellino, then how can we assume they were his own words when reported by anyone else – Isaiah Berlin, say?”) It seems to me that there is a difference in this case. In his “Meetings with Russian Writers in 1945 and 1946” and related articles Berlin is admittedly reporting conversations with Pasternak and thus, unless there are good grounds to question the faithfulness of what Berlin is reporting, we can safely attribute the reported words, or something like them, to Pasternak. But the context of the Ripellino letter is much more treacherous. First of all, the version of the letter we all worked with is the one I translated from Mangoni’s book Pensare i Libri (Einaudi 1999). Mangoni does not give the full passage and thus the citation in her book (and accordingly in my translation) is truncated after the words “to suffer as all true Russian poets have always suffered”.

Angelo Maria Ripellino (1923-1978)

Angelo Maria Ripellino (1923-1978)

Under the circumstances I would consider it imprudent to go on and attribute those words to Pasternak. For instance, how could we exclude the possibility that Ripellino might have gone on to say: “These words by Tyutchev capture Pasternak’s mood”?

As a consequence of the exchange between Hardy and Stonor Saunders I thought that having the full passage might help. Through a kind colleague in Italy, Chiara Benetollo, I was able to obtain the full context:

“E ora ai problemi editoriali. La storia del romanzo di Pasternak non è, come sai, di oggi. Pasternak cedette il testo a un certo D’Angelo prima degli avvenimenti ungheresi. Pareva allora che dovesse uscire anche in Russia. È ormai molto tempo che Feltrinelli giuoca con questo manoscritto. I polacchi lo avevano avuto direttamente da Pasternak, ma, nonostante la loro posizione polemica verso i Russi, avevano preferito non pubblicarlo, per non danneggiare l’autore. Ora le cose stanno così: la famiglia di P teme gravi conseguenze e preferirebbe che non uscisse, il poeta vacilla tra le preoccupazioni del dopo e il piacere di “soffrire come tutti i veri poeti russi hanno sempre sofferto”. I giovani che cercano nuove strade e lottano contro il conformismo temono ora per Pasternak e per la loro stessa battaglia. Si dirà: avete scelto a vostra insegna Pasternak, e Pasternak fa uscire in Occidente, proprio in coincidenza del 40° di ottobre, un romanzo “calunniatore”. Del resto, che cosa possiamo fare? L’editore s’è intestardito di farlo, dopo tutti i consigli, gli interventi, i telegrammi sovietici. Pasternak s’è pentito di non aver dato a me il ms, ma nello stesso tempo pensa che potrebbe derivargliene un’aureola di vittima. Insomma, per riassumere, è nella posizione di chi vuole e non vuole, incerto fra la gloria letteraria e le conseguenze politiche. Noi dovremmo, mi sembra, in questa occasione, rilanciare un po’ fragorosamente (non per me, intendimi, ma per la casa) il mio libro, insistendo magari sul fatto che il meglio di lui è pur sempre nella poesia”. (Cited in Benetollo 2014, pp. 79-80; original at Archivio di Stato, Torino, Fondo Einaudi, Incartamento Ripellino)

Unfortunately, the passage following “to suffer as all true Russian poets have always suffered” sheds no further light on the origin of the citation. What’s the outcome of all of this? It could be that the passage refers to something Pasternak said to Ripellino in Peredelkino (Ripellino had visited him in September 1957) but it could also be a citation from someone else. To repeat, the difference between this letter by Ripellino and the ordinary reports (such as those of Berlin) is that the ordinary reports are explicit about being a rendition of a conversation that took place. Here Ripellino does not say that. Thus, Stonor Saunders would be right in claiming that we cannot exclude the possibility that this is a quote from Pasternak, but she does not have sufficient grounds to make a firm attribution.

In her rejoinder, Stonor Saunders now grants that it was not a requirement for the Nobel Prize that the novel be available in the original Russian. I am glad she accepts this conclusion, which is the result of serious historical work in the Swedish archives by, among others, Fleishman, Jangfeldt and Tolstoy. I my book I point out that none of the actors involved in the Zhivago story ever claimed that one should speed up publication of the Russian text on account of some such requirement by the Nobel Prize Committee. The recently declassified CIA documents, as pointed out by Hardy, confirm this conclusion. Both my book and the book by Finn and Couvée explicitly report on the current state of historical scholarship on this issue. I thus wonder why (given that her article is, in some way, a review of these two new books), Stonor Saunders rehearses the old story about the (alleged) requirement by the Nobel Prize Committee without warning the readers that the most up-to-date historical research has debunked it. Just saying, as she does in her reply to Hardy, that up to Pasternak’s Nobel Prize the issue had never come up (“there was no exception to the formula”) is irrelevant to establishing whether people’s actions at the time were motivated by that assumption.

There is much of interest in Stonor Saunders’ original article and in the debate with Henry Hardy. Indeed, much more could be said about the issues they discuss, but I don’t want to tax the reader’s patience and I shall now conclude. It is true that much remains obscure in the Zhivago story but I think it wrong to jump, as Stonor Saunder does, to a conclusion about “the impossibility of drawing any safe conclusions as to what exactly happened”. What is required is careful scholarship and the rigorous elimination of old and new myths, even in matters of small detail. Here is an example. In her review Stonor Saunders says: “One is that the ‘first’ smuggled typescript – 433 closely typed pages held together by twine and wrapped in newspaper – was in the hands of Feltrinelli in Italy.” 433 pages? Where does that come from? Well, it comes from the new book by Finn and Couvée: “The manuscript was 433 closely typed pages divided into five parts.” And where does that come from? In their book Finn and Couvée thank Carlo Feltrinelli for having shown them the original typescript in Milan. Although I can’t be sure, here is a plausible hypothesis as to what happened. Finn and Couvée quickly looked at the last page and saw it was numbered 433. But that is only the last page of the fourth and fifth book (the fourth book starts at page 1). To that one must add 65 pages for part III, 109 pages for part II, and 177 for part I, all independently numbered. Total: 784 pages plus some unnumbered pages. This is only a small example of how false information starts going around. Of course, I do not object to the justified use Stonor Saunders made of this, as it turns out mistaken, piece of information. Rather, the general point is that a lowering of the standards of rigor immediately reverberates across the body of scholarship. And yet, this does not make me pessimistic about getting closer to “what exactly happened” and the reason why I oppose Stonor Saunders’ conclusion is that with proper care and scholarly work we can make progress in our understanding of the facts. The archival work of the last twenty years is the best proof of this.



Benetollo, C., Un’ipotesi di letteratura. La casa editrice Einaudi e la letteratura russa sovietica dal dopoguerra agli anni Settanta, Tesi di laurea, Università di Pisa, Dipartimento di Filologia Letteratura e Linguistica, 2014.

Malia, M. E., and Engerman, D., Martin Edward Malia. Historian of Russian and European Intellectual History. An interview conducted by David Engerman in 2003. Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 241 pages. 2005. Available on line here.

Doctor Zhivago in Poland (part III)

Zhivago in Poland (Part III)

We have seen in a previous post that the attempt to publish Zhivago in Poland in 1957 was successfully blocked by the Soviet authorities. One will have to wait until 1983 for a publication of the book inside Poland. But the 1983 publication is the outcome of a Polish edition that came out in Paris in 1959. Let us see in more detail how all these publications came about.

We have some details about how the 1959 edition came about through a letter written by Sergio d’Angelo to Giangiacomo Feltrinelli dated November 3, 1958:

 “I take advantage of the opportunity to convey a question that has been raised with a certain urgency. Mr. Gustav Herling, Polish by birth and writer, the husband of a daughter of Benedetto Croce, came to see me today to enquire whether you would be willing to grant to the publisher “Kultura”, located in Paris, the rights for the publication in the Polish language of Doctor Zhivago.

            The publishing house “Kultura”, according to what Mr Herling told me, was founded in 1948 by a group of leftist (mostly Socialist) Polish émigrés and survives without external support. The publishing house maintains very intense contacts with Polish culture. They publish a journal (with the same name) that circulates rather freely in Poland where it is the target of constant mention and criticism on the part of the official press.

            Having learned that the idea of publishing Doctor Zhivago in Poland has been decidedly abandoned as a consequence of the attitude taken by the Soviet authorities on the Pasternak case, the publishing house “Kultura” deems it appropriate to take charge of the project by publishing two or three thousand copies of the novel that would be distributed to Poles leaving abroad and to those that live in Poland but have occasion to travel to Paris.

Gustaw Herling (1919-2000)

Gustaw Herling (1919-2000)

            According to Mr. Herling, it would be easy to send to Poland one thousand copies, where the Pasternak case has made, as is well known, an enormous impression. (He also told me that poems and pictures of Pasternak have invaded the display windows of the Warsaw bookstores on the day following the announcement of the Prize)

            Of course I told Mr. Herling that I could only convey his proposal and considerations to you. And since I have been asked to ask you for a reply I brought up the issue now as I don’t know when you will be back in Milan.

            In case you will favorably receive Mr. Herling’s request, he would also ask you for the most favorable financial conditions, for the publisher “Kultura” seeks no financial gain from this project since they plan to distribute the majority of copies free of charge.

            Should you want to get in touch with Mr. Herling, let me inform you that he lives in Naples, via Crispi 69.” (Original letter in Italian in Archivio Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, Milan)

Gustaw Herling (1919-2000) had already gained international visibility as the author of A world Apart: The Journal of a Gulag Survivor (1951) which had been published with a preface by Bertrand Russell. He was married to Lidia Croce.

Doktor Żiwago 1959

Doktor Żiwago 1959

Feltrinelli gave the permission and the Polish Zhivago was published in 1959 in Paris under the aegis of the Instytut Literacki (volume 44 of the publisher “Kultura”) and printed by Édition et Librairie “Libella” in 2500 copies. The translator was Paweł Hostowiec (aka Jerzy Stempowski).

The edition carries the Feltrinelli copyright and the accompanying editorial remark says: “We thank all those who helped publish ‘Doctor Zhivago’ in Polish, in particular Mr. Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the Milan-based publisher who transferred to us without charge the copyright for the Polish edition, the Congress for Cultural Freedom in Paris that paid for the translation, Mr. Charles E. Merrill, Jr. of Boston (USA) for financial assistance, and all those who bought the subscription, in total 2500 copies, of the book” (original in Polish).

As it became clear much later, the Congress for Cultural Freedom was funded by the CIA (see Stonor Saunders 2000) and thus there is something amusing in this joint partnership of Feltrinelli with a CIA funded organization.

Title page of the Polish 1959 edition

Title page of the Polish 1959 edition

As it is clear from the conversation that Herling had with d’Angelo, part of the plan was to bring Zhivago back to Poland using visits to Paris of residents in Poland. How successfully was the attempt? An answer to this question requires a much broader analysis of two factors. The first concerns the changing levels of censorship and customs controls between 1959 and the early 1980s and, secondly, one must consider the importing of Zhivago into Poland as only one instance of a gigantic program that went under the name of “book distribution program”. The latter program, run by George Minden, was one of the most successful CIA run operations of the Cold War. Fortunately, we now have a wonderful treatment of the matter in the book by Alfred Reisch “Hot Books in the Cold War. The CIA-funded secret western book distribution program behind the iron curtain” (Reisch 2013). Using the reports written by George Minden between 1956 (year of the inception of the program) till 1973 (the reports from 1973 until 1991, the year of the dismantlement of the program, have not been located), Reisch provides a detailed analysis of the kind of books that were sent to Eastern Europe with a country by country analysis (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania).

Reisch says: “In the secret and also not so secret ideological and cultural warfare between East and West during the cold War, it is estimated that during a period of 35 years, some 10 million books were mailed and smuggled across the Iron Curtain, despite the futile attempts of the communist postal censors and customs inspectors to stem the flow” (Reisch 2013, p. 305)

Title page of the 1967 edition

Title page of the 1967 edition

In many cases the books were not blocked by the censors but did not arrive to the addressee because they were simply pilfered at the post office and resold at high prices in the black market.

In addition to the mail program, there was also the person to person distribution program, which exploited the presence of visitors from Eastern Europe to Western Europe for conferences or other events to hand out free copies of books that were then brought back to their countries. Sailors, sportsmen, students, clergymen, (and in one case even a zoo director, see Reisch, p. 236), and all other kinds of visitors were given free copies to bring back home. In 1958 “a visiting horse-jumping team [visiting Italy from Poland] with their own rail-trucks with horses took over 70 books and hid most of them in the hay” (Reisch, p. 240). The Seventh World Youth festival held in Vienna from July 26 till August 4, 1959, provided a wonderful opportunity for the person to person distribution program (it is estimated that in 10 days the total number of copies distributed to Polish delegates exceeded 5000 copies, see Reisch, pp. 241-242). The event was a communist-organized propaganda event that was exploited by the book distribution program to its advantage.

Immensely valuable are also the letters, extracts of which are given in Reisch’s book, that many of the recipients of the free books sent often providing important information about the censorship operating within their country (both in the mail distribution centers and at the boarder) and their reaction to the books they received.

One of the two covers of the 1983 edition

One of the two covers of the 1983 edition

Doctor Zhivago figures as one of the most requested books in Poland and other Eastern European Countries (“Dr. Zhivago was one of the most coveted books among East European readers” (Reisch 2013, p. 35)). Even a leading member of the Sejam (Polish parliament) asked distributors abroad for a copy of Doctor Zhivago! (see Reisch, p. 97, note 14). While copies in French and English had to be smuggled to the remaining Eastern European Countries, as of 1959 in Poland one could send the version in Polish produced in Paris.

Poles were at times stopped at customs and their copies of Zhivago were confiscated by the customs officers. There is for instance a letter from Jan Nowak to Jerzy Giedroyc dated 17 July 1961 in which Nowak informs Giedroyc (long standing chief editor of “Kultura”) that Polish visitors returning from Paris to Poland were stopped at customs and that copies of the journal Kultura and Doctor Zhivago have been confiscated. Then Nowak added that someone else who came back to Poland a few days earlier said that it was becoming more and more difficult to bring a copy inside the country. (see Platt 2001, p. 253) The letter bears witness to how the publication abroad was being smuggled into Poland and to the different levels of censorship that affected Poland in the period between the 1950s and the 1980s. I refer to Reisch’s book for more details.

Here is a reaction of a recipient from Warsaw who had successfully received by mail Doctor Zhivago:

“Your priceless publications [Doctor Zhivago and Song of Bernardette] will serve not only me but a large group of friends as well […] and will be treated as sensation! Your gift means so much to me, because I know now about your existence, about your willingness to help a lonely Polish scholar, about your understanding of our needs and desires […].” (Quoted in Reisch 2013, pp. 251-252; the original monthly report by Minden is dated May 9, 1959)

Title page of the 1983 edition

Title page of the 1983 edition

In a different letter to Nowak dated 17 February 1966 (Platt 2001, p. 281) Giedroyc says that he recently received the stenographic record of the meeting of the Moscow Writers’ Association which expelled Pasternak. He proposed preparing a radio broadcast about this. The translation of these transcripts into Polish was the main novelty of the second edition of the Polish Zhivago that was published in Paris in 1967. The title page gave the title Doktor Ziwago and added: “and a stenographic record of the general meeting of the Moscow writers from 31.X.1958 related to the case of B. Pasternak”. My 1967 copy however, despite the title page, does not contain the announced stenographic record. The colophon of my copy indicates that I have a second printing “Réimprimé en Belgique”. It is possible that the first printing done in Paris on April 28, 1967 (Imprimerie Richard) might have contained the stenographic record. If the first printing done in Paris in 1967 contains this stenographic record it should be found exactly on pages 501-542, which, to repeat, are not in the second printing. [[Added February 21, 2016: I was able to find the first printing of the 1967 edition, which does indeed have the stenographic record on pp. 501-542]]

Regardless, the stenographic record was included in the Polish edition that came out in 1983 in the midst of the new political atmosphere in Poland. The edition came out under two different formats. Both formats contain a four page introduction (Introduction to the national edition) by Andrzej Drawicz and the transcription of the stenographic record appears on pp. 501-542.

Andrzej Drawicz

Andrzej Drawicz

Apart from these differences and the covers, the translation and the page setting of this 1983 edition are like the one for the edition published by Kultura in 1967 although the format is smaller in size.


Platt, D., ed., Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, Jerzy Giedroyc, Listy 1952-1998, Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Ossolineum, Wrokław, 2001

Reisch, A., Hot Books in the Cold War. The CIA-funded secret western book distribution program behind the iron curtain, The Central European University Press, Budapest, 2013

Stonor Saunders, F., The Cultural Cold War. The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, The New Press, New York, 2000

[Added on February 13, 2016]: Of great interest in connection to the topic of this post is also an article that was recently brought to my attention by Dr. Jan Dierick, whose helpfulness is gratefully acknowledged. The reference is: Zdzislaw Kudelski “Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, Jerzy Giedroyc, Listy o Pasternaku, podał do druku i oprac. Z. Kudelski, „Zeszyty Literackie”, 2011, nr 116, pp. 159-173”. The Russian translation (“Nowaja Polsza” 2011, nr 9 (133), pp. 8-18.) of this publication is available on the Novaya Pol’sha-website (click here). The article contains passages on Pasternak and Doctor Zhivago excerpted from the correspondence exchanged between Giedroyc and Herling-Grudziński between 1957 and 1959. Among the topics discussed are the Polish translation of Doctor Zhivago, Fedecki and Ripellino’s negative evaluation of Doctor Zhivago, and the contacts with the Feltrinelli publishing house through d’Angelo.

An interview with Ziemowit Fedecki (Doctor Zhivago in Poland, part II)

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009) played an important role in the publication of Doctor Zhivago in Opinie (1957). In the previous post, I quoted some passages from an interview with Fedecki by Anna Żebrowska, which appeared in 2003 in the issue 46 of Przeglad (for the original Polish text see This post contains the translation into English of the interview. I am grateful to Rafal Urbaniak for his translation.

In the shadow of “Doctor Zhivago”

Friends of the red heir.

 Gałczyński and Pasternak asked me for my remarks about their work. I had to vow that I would tell what I really think. 

 Ziemowit Fedecki

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009)

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009)

Żebrowska: They call you “the red heir”.

Fedecki: As the Polish saying goes, only a cow doesn’t change her views. I will be such a cow, because I confess I have socialist convictions. I am a son of a pre-war work inspector. In Białystok, which was then  an industrial region focusing on textile production, my father closed two factories, which produced uniforms for Japanese army. To make them cheaper, they were made from second hand material – they tore rags. To make them even cheaper, they employed children for the nights. Their lungs lasted three to four months. Then even the strongest one would die. Unemployed families would give up their kids to die in order to avoid starvation for four months. When someone has seen the unbelievable poverty and atrocities of capitalism those days…

Żebrowska: So I have an explanation of “red”. And “heir”?

Fedecki: I was only a kid, when I inherited an estate called Great Lebioda from my grandfather Józef Michniewicz. It was located at the crossing of the roads leading to Lida, Grodno and Szczuczyn. Around 450 ha was occupied by a forest which couldn’t be cut. In 1920 Prażmowski-Belina camped there with the Soviet cavalry and big heads from the HQ decided that the forest was of strategic importance and was to remain intact till the next war. I didn’t grow up to be a “real” heir, I was a few years too young. After the Russian invasion in 1939, the old building was left unattended and unrenovated, so it fell apart after a dozen years or so. It’s a real shame, it was a very beautiful historic building, renovated and shown in many architecture textbooks.  We burned wood in XVIIIth century Dutch stoves, which survived the conflagration of war. And in “my” forest we woud steal wood for my bosom friend’s house, Wałodzi Malec. It was thanks to him that I got to know the exceptional charm of Belarussian folk songs, which charmed Mickiewicz and Czeczot.

Żebrowska: Why atheism in a boy from a good family, gentry?

Fedecki: Maybe you need a gift to believe, and I don’t have it. My grandmother was raised in a convent, but my parents were leftists and “Poprostu”  [“directly” or “straight”] was published in our apartment – the first one, from Wilno. For their activity in POW [Polish Military Organization] and other merits for Polish independence, my parents received Crosses of Valor; on account of the leftist “Poprostu” my father was suspended from work. During the [German] occupation my mom waged her private war against the Gestapo, stealing children from the Wilno’s ghetto who were meant to be put to death with injections. In my bed slept a Jew with a shot in his chest and a woman already drenched in lime during the Jew massacre in Ponary.

Żebrowska: How did you get out of Wilno?

Fedecki: In 1944 Putrament and Jędrychowski flew in, and they needed people for the PKWN [Polish Committee of National Liberation]. Jędrychowski offered me a job in their radio. Meanwhile my friends from AK [Home Army] were in great danger. Wilno was taken by joint AK and Russian military effort, after which the Russians raided the Poles, sending them to a forced labor camp in Kaluga. I went to Putrament and asked if he couldn’t get at least a few AK members to Lublin. “Bring them the day after tomorrow to the airport”. With Janek Mietkowski (later, the president of Radio Three and a minister) we buried his weapon in a flowerbed, gathered the others, and went to the airport. Putrament told the Russian security detail “Eto moia grupa” [This is my group, in Russian], he put us on a Dakota and we landed in Lublin. I was even curious whether our friends wouldn’t run straight to the forest, but it wasn’t proper to ask. It turned out they were sick of both war and forest. Forests were terrible, it is enough to watch Różewicz’s “Into the ground”. They went to university, got civil jobs. Only few of them ended up in the army.

Żebrowska: My father also did that – from the NSZ [National Armed Forces] he escaped from the NKVD to the army. You, however, ended up in diplomacy.

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009)

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009)

Fedecki: Already before the war ended I left for Moscow as a press attaché of the Polish embassy. I was there, watching from the gradinata in front of Kremlin the famous victory parade, when Russian solders would throw German flags in front of the Mausoleum. To prove myself that everything passes I kept my pass for the funeral of the all-mighty ideologist Andrei Zhdanov.

Żebrowska: Who were your friends in Moscow?

Fedecki: Mostly friends from the university, because without telling anyone I enrolled to study biology. I will never meet such amazing people. They came back from the front lines often without legs, without hands, they knew everything about Stalinism, we understood each other in half words. I left the university when they kicked out those professors who disparaged Lysenko’s theories. One of my friends was Alexander Werth, a correspondent for the “Manchester Guardian”, with whom we illegally went to the Republic of Chechnya, which was liquidated after the war. Kilometers of emptiness – empty houses, no living soul. Our guide was a journalist of “Socialist Ossetia”, who knew everyone there. On the face of it, there was no trace of Chechens, but the commandant of the old stronghold complained: “Pigs, those Chechens! They come back secretly to their settlements, especially the elderly. One knows all the paths, covers himself with leafs if he needs to, we can’t trace him. Then he reaches his village and hangs himself, right in plain sight. Later, an inspection issues complaints from the Party, forgets about us in promotions, because we weren’t good guards. How can we watch them, pigs, sons of…!”

Żebrowska: Boris Pasternak’s son, Evgenii till today tells the Poles about how you financed their family.

Fedecki: I was honored to.

Żebrowska: Was in the years of the fights with the cosmopolitans?

Fedecki: Yes, I even joked one day: “Boris Leonidovich, I thought I was done helping Jews after the occupation, but I see there’s plenty of work to be done”… Pasternak had a large family to maintain. It’s difficult to make ends meet making money on poetry, anywhere in the world. Pasternak made some money preparing translations. He even translated from Polish, even though he didn’t know the language, and didn’t understand much from Słowacki’s or Leśmian’s poetics. Jokingly he apologized that he was doing this ” for milk for the children.” When after the war the anti-semite mess began, they stopped printing his work, Shakespeare’s plays in his translation were taken off stage.

Stefan Żółkiewski (1911-1991)

Stefan Żółkiewski (1911-1991)

At that time, Stefan Żółkiewski, the editor of Kuźnica, came to Moscow, a charming man. I told him that Pasternak had no money to live. “We’ll figure out something – said Żółkiewski – I’ll prepare bills for the articles that didn’t go through the censorship.” When I went to Moscow, I took the money. I gave it to him, waited till the 1st of the month and again brought an envelope [with money], saying that another royalty had arrived. This continued for a few good months. I was making quite a lot, so I was giving him half of my salary. That’s probably why he gave me later the manuscript of Doctor Zhivago. When translations returned to the [theater] stages, Pasternak said “I don’t need royalties anymore.” Perhaps he had some idea as to where the money came from, given his dedication on a volume “To Dear Ziemowit as a proof of friendship and to remember the times, when he was the good soul for me and my family.”

Żebrowska: A few people harboured a grudge against you, because you didn’t publish the whole of Doctor Zhivago.

Fedecki: For God’s sake, it was mid-50s, there were no private publishers or secondary circulation.  In the journal Opinie [Opinions] we could only publish part of the story, which we did one year before the Nobel prize and it was the first publication in the world. The translator, Ms Maria Mongirdowa, fell ill and died. I passed it on to Seweryn Pollak, who signed a contract with PIW [Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy].

Seweryn Pollak (1907-1987)

Seweryn Pollak (1907-1987)

In the West no one cared about the piece until Pasternak got the Nobel prize. And in Poland we couldn’t publish a book considered to be anti-Soviet, whose author was expelled from the [Soviet] writers’ association. When they later called Pollak from PIW, they were even afraid to mention the title of the piece: “Mr Seweryn, we have a contract with you for this piece, you know which one. Please do not refund us the advance, and in general, we won’t talk about it.” Perhaps, Herling-Grudziński [Gustaw Herling-Grudziński], who wrote that Doctor Zhivago did not appear because of Fedecki’s pettiness, has not heard of censorship in the PRL [Polish People’s Republic], but a few people still remember it.

Żebrowska: I browsed through the first issue of the quarterly Opinie. Apart from Pasternak, there were quite a few authors at that time prohibited in the USSR: Babel, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva. How come this could appear in 1957?

Fedecki: Diplomatic manouvers. We applied for funding at TPPR [Polish-Soviet Friendship Society], which later ran into troubles because of that. What’s worse, we started cooperating with Władysław Siła-Nowicki, who just got out of a UB [Polish Secret Police] prison — he reviewed books for us. But Opinie was the only periodic of TPPR that disappeared from news stalls in two days.

Żebrowska: I can imagine the reaction in USSR.

Fedecki: Literaturnaia Gazeta published a piece “Whose opinions are these?” (Western revisionists’, they discovered). The eulogist of “a real man”, Boris Polevoi, petitioned for a “social” trial of the editorial board. They wrote about me that I’m a perfidious exhumator of pseudoliterature [Actually, this takes place in a second article published in July 24, 1958, in Sovetskaia Kul’tura, titled Trojan horse, where one finds Polevoi’s attack against Fedecki]. For a long period I was not sent to Moscow, they stopped inviting me for movies at the Russian embassy. Opinie appeared only twice, but in the second issue the censorship’s interference was so strong that with Pollak we refused to sign it.

Żebrowska: Kira Gałczyńska wrote that it was you who discovered Mazury and Pranie.

Fedecki: I lived there in the summer, at a friendly forester, Mr Popowski. From Moscow I brought only 100 dollars of savings, the rest of the money I spent for books in second-hand bookshops. For 100 dollars I purchased a SHL (it’s a great motorcycle), and with Janek Mietkowski we went to Mazury. They reminded us of Wileńszczyzna [Wilno’s surroundings], we discovered places very much like our places back in Wileńszczyzna. But for a long time now I haven’t gone to Mazury, where nowadays teams from Zakopane build highlanders’ huts for ladies from the society. I have a small house in Tuchola.

Żebrowska: Jan Gałczyński ended up in the forester’s lodge in Pranie?

Fedecki: Only by accident. I had an appointment with a lady-friend in a café. She didn’t come, it turned out that at that time she was getting married for the second or third time. I waited for her for half an hour, the evening seemed empty, so I dropped by Gałczyński’s place.

Natalia and Konstanty Gałczyński

Natalia and Konstanty Gałczyński

He wasn’t there, and Mrs Natalia [Gałczyński’s wife] complained that she’d like to take Konstanty [Gałczyński’s first name] as far away from holiday pals, she was worried about his heart after the heart attack. I proposed to organize a summer in Mazury for them, where the nearest pub is 13km across the forest. I telegraphed Popowski, he responded quickly – he agreed. Gałczyński came with Ms Natalia, Kira and Jerzy Zagórski’s grandson. We drove them with Popowski on old German motor boats through the, at the time, completely virgin Mazury, from Ruciane to Pranie. Gałczyński had his revelation, it was so beautiful. You can also see how much he wrote in Mazury. And the ways we had fun in Pranie: during dinner he was the governor, I was the special task official, and we changed roles on the following day. We wrote together an anthem for USSR  according to Saltykov-Shchedrin, but alas, I only remember the last line: “Remember, citizens, don’t think!” [in Russian]. As a talented man, Gałczyński was not even a bit jealous about other poets. He was happy when someone wrote something good.

Żebrowska: What does friendship with a great poet look like, do you have to praise him?

Fedecki: Both Gałczyński, and Pasternak, when we were in closer relationships, asked for honest remarks about their work. I had to vow that I would tell what I really thought. Gałczyński gave me his “Wit Stwosz” to read. I adore Gałczyński, but I think “Wit Stwosz” is rather average. As a result result, he didn’t talk to me for over a month. I was one of the first readers of Doctor Zhivago and it bored me to death, I used to make coffee to stay awake. I told Pasternak that this is revolution seen through a window vent of his cabin in Peredelkino. As a 23 year old pup I would never dare to review it like this, but since he made me vow? Pasternak listened, went upstairs and didn’t come downstairs for dinner. I packed my things (I was staying at his place in Peredelkino for holidays) and I started my goodbyes. He ran down the stairs: “Please stay, if you leave, then I will be really offended!”

Żebrowska: Everyone loves criticism in superlatives.

Fedecki: In this respect Iwaszkiewicz was an extraordinary person. Twice I didn’t print his poems from “Twórczość” [Creativity], where he was editor-in-chief and my boss, not to mention that he was the president of the Writers’ association. After Gagarin died, he wrote the poem “To Gagarin’s daughters.” I told him, that it’s a greater loss when a drunk motorcycle driver hits and kills Ms Kowalska standing at a bus stop. Her daughters don’t even get any compensation. For Gagarin it was an occupational risk. He only asked “Really, is it so bad? Throw it out, then.”

Żebrowska: How do you look at “Doctor Zhivago” these days?

Fedecki:The same. If a writer wants to focus on revolution, he needs to get to know it up close, like Babel. Pasternak spent his most stormy years keeping a warm job. He knew all European languages, and since all the NSZ [National Armed Forces] officials ran after the revolution, he translated diplomatic correspondence. And that’s very good, because he received barley, pork fat, his family didn’t starve.  For a novel, however, he didn’t have enough material. Apart from that, he accepted the pointless theory, that one has to write like Lev Tolstoi. “Isn’t it enough that you write like Pasternak?” I asked. Doctor Zhivago did not become a point of reference in the history of literature. Babel’s Red Cavalry is something different, or Zoshchenko’s stories – without them, our picture of Russia would be incomplete.

Żebrowska: Actually, how did you meet Pasternak?

Fedecki: We went to Peredelkino with Jerzy Pomianowski and  Zivov, a translator from Polish.  Zivov was his friend, Pomianowski was publishing an anthology of Russian poetry and had some business [in going], and I just really wanted to meet him.

Jerzy Pomianowski

Jerzy Pomianowski

Already at the beginning Pasternak said: “Stalin, this bandit…” We heard a snap – Zivov fainted. Pomianowski, who graduated from a medical school, told us to put him on a couch. Later it turned out that  Zivov fainted every time Pasternak talked about Stalin in the presence of unfamiliar people. He was afraid that the foreigners, unaware of anything would tell in Moscow what the poet was saying about the leader and that the powers that be would use him as a witness. He didn’t want to hurt Pasternak, so he fainted not to hear anything.

Żebrowska: Were the poems in which Pasternak glorified the USSR written sincerely?

Fedecki: Half-half, I think. In the USSR  their system of values was out of balance, at the border of split personality. In the poem “Visokaya bolezn” Pasternak gave a real picture of Russia bathed in blood, and three pages further he was writing a pean to honour Lenin… I love early Pasternak, but his volume “Vtoroe Rozhdenie” [Second Birth] – how he felt like newly born after the revolution – is a failure. Or take a look at this statement: ” The soul is leaving the West, She has nothing to do there “. It is funny when Rilke’s friend and constant correspondent calls the West soulless!

Żebrowska: Apart from Pasternak you promoted in Poland also the work of the Oberiuts [Absurdists], Okudzhava, and Trifonov. Did any of these publications cause a storm like Doctor Zhivago?

Fedecki: There was a hell of an argument after Okudzhava’s  “You will live”. The ZLP [Association of Polish Writers] received a series of denunciations, Iwaszkiewicz every few days would say, “Come, dear Ziemek, we have a new denunciation thingy for you”. In USSR the story appeared in the provincial “Tarusskie Stranicy”, and most of the circulation was destroyed, Okudzhava was blamed for pacifism and other sins.  And we published it boldly, in a separate issue. Thanks to the Polish edition Bulat [Okudzhava] became known internationally. I convinced a German translator to prepare a translation, he didn’t know Russian very well, I helped him. In German Okudzhava was read and translated into Swedish, French. Trifonov went to France and also through Poland.

Żebrowska: Russian fates…

Fedecki: I’ll tell you a different story from our battle with cosmopolitism. Molotov’s wife was arrested, Mikhoels was murdered, the Jewish Theater was disbanded, the leader of the Jewish Anti-Fascist movement Solomon Lozovsky was executed… And then Literaturnaia Gazeta publishes a regime critic saying that idealism is the weapon of world capitalism, and Pasternak is an idealist. You can guess the rest of the reasoning. In the evening, without any appointment, Pasternak’s friends met at his place. I went there too. Pasternak was dressed elegantly, English style. Wine was served in green glasses, no one mentioned the article. At midnight we heard knocking on the door, which might have meant arrest, everyone froze. Pasternak straightened his jacket and opened the door.  The author of the article opened the door and kneeled, weeping “Forgive me Boria!” Pasternak did not accept the apologies, he only said with disdain, “Better have some wine,” everyone returned to the previous conversation. The critic mooched around for a bit and left silently.

Żebrowska: Real Dostoevsky material.

Fedecki: The critic was an ultrasonofabitch and at the same time he adored tied words. He had a priceless collection of XXth century Russian poetry, our common friend secretly copied some unavailable poems from it for me. He collected books with authors’ signatures, he loved Pasternak, but whenever the powers that be wished so, he could publicly accuse anyone of anything. During the critic’s funeral, when the casket entered the furnace, one of the attendees said: “It smells of fried dastard”.

Żebrowska: Are you happy about reality nowadays?

Fedecki: Not so much, I was raised in the spirit of tolerance, which I think died in Poland. In our village for holidays, the guests usually were: my uncle, colonel doctor Krzywiec, fanatically anti-Soviet and well noted in Rome, strongly communistic Henryk Dembiński and atheistic youth from “Poprostu”, priests Śledziewski (specialist in Wilno’s baroque) and Marcinkowski (Polish studies), music teacher Załkind, Jew, and Jasienica’s cousins – Gienia and Zosia Tatarkówna. The meeting was patronized by my grandmother, who grew up in a convent. Such different people sat at the same table and I remember no issue, no disrespect. Back then people thought that if a person is decent, that’s enough.

Zhivago in Poland

At the beginning of April, I went to give a talk in philosophy of mathematics at the University of Krakow at the behest of my colleague Tomasz Placek. Tomasz had been aware of my interests on the history of Doctor Zhivago since I had consulted him for the translation of some editorial remarks in the first Polish edition of Doctor Zhivago. Not surprisingly we came back to the topic of the history of Zhivago and Tomasz told me that he had been involved in a distribution operation of a Polish version of Doctor Zhivago in the early eighties. In fact, he was later awarded a medal for his work in the underground. My curiosity was piqued and I asked which edition they had distributed. He could not recall the precise details but was quite definite that it was an edition printed in Poland. This I found quite surprising as I was unaware of any edition printed in Poland before the fall of the USSR. He promised he would track down the book, which he eventually found in his sister’s house. It was an edition I had never seen before printed in Poland in 1983. To my delight, Tomasz was even able to find me a copy of the book which was generously offered to me by his university colleagues Jola and Milowit Kunisnki. I want to thank them all for their generosity. I would also like to thank another philosopher of mathematics, Rafal Urbaniak, for having kindly translated an interview from Polish featuring Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009): some passages will be quoted in this post and the next post will give the full interview (the interview, by Anna Żebrowska, appeared in 2003 in the issue 46 of Przeglad; for the original Polish text see

While the first complete edition of Doctor Zhivago came out in Italian in November 1957, the first extensive excerpts from the novel came out in Poland in August 1957 in the journal Opinie, a literary quarterly that had been founded with the aim of presenting Polish readers with the most interesting recent developments in Soviet literature.

Opinie, First issue, 1957

Opinie, First issue, 1957

The editorial board consisted of Ziemowit Fedecki, Wanda Padwa, Seweryn Pollak, and Andrzej Stawar. The excerpts from Doctor Zhivago were translated by Maria Mongirdowa. The published passages were illustrated with beautiful drawings by Włodzimierz Faworski. This issue of Opinie also contained selections from Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva, Yashin, and Babel. The extensive selection published in Opinie (about 30 pages) indicated that a full translation of the book was being undertaken.

But how did Opinie get hold of Doctor Zhivago? The text came from a copy of the typescript given by Pasternak to Ziemowit Fedecki. Fedecki had known Pasternak since 1945 when he was in Moscow as a cultural attaché of the Polish Embassy. The description of his first visit to Pasternak is too amusing not to be quoted:

Interviewer: – Actually, how did you meet Pasternak?

Fedecki: We went to Peredelkino with Jerzy Pomianowski and  Zivov, a translator from Polish.  Zivov was his friend, Pomianowski was publishing an anthology of Russian poetry and had some business [in going], and I just really wanted to meet him. Already at the beginning Pasternak said: “Stalin, this bandit…” We heard a snap – Zivov fainted. Pomianowski, who graduated from a medical school, told us to put him on a couch. Later it turned out that  Zivov fainted every time Pasternak talked about Stalin in the presence of unfamiliar people. He was afraid that the foreigners, unaware of anything would tell in Moscow what the poet was saying about the leader and that the powers that be would use him as a witness. He didn’t want to hurt Pasternak, so he fainted not to hear anything. 

The editorial note accompanying the excerpts of Doctor Zhivago in Opinie

The editorial note accompanying the excerpts of Doctor Zhivago in Opinie

As to the date when exactly Pasternak gave Fedecki a copy of his typescript (which is still owned by Fedecki’s widow) we have a good terminus ad quem given in a letter from Pasternak to the Italian scholar Angelo Maria Ripellino. The letter is dated August 17, 1956, and in it Pasternak advises Ripellino to contact Fedecki to arrange to see the typescript:

But since you know Fedecki, address your request to him. Unfortunately, I do not have his address; otherwise, I would have written to him myself. Ask him to somehow find a way to get the manuscript to you; he has a copy of the complete text. I would have been less upset by a complete miscomprehension and misunderstanding of all my work than his being blindsided by argument of precaution, concerns about my well-being, and his complete blindness about what is idling on his bookshelf without any utility for anyone.

It is safe to assume that Fedecki must have received his typescript soon after May 1956, that is only a little time after d’Angelo was given the typescript for Feltrinelli. Indeed, there is a recollection of the meeting given by Wiktor Woroszylski who was also present. It not only helps with dating the event in May 1956 but it also shows that Boris and his wife Zinaida were at odds on the issue of handing the typescript to foreigners. Woroszylski writes:

An illustration by Faworski (from a cycle on Dante's Vita Nuova) used to illustrate the excerpts of Zhivago in Opinie.

A drawing by Faworski (from a cycle on Dante’s Vita Nuova) used to illustrate the excerpts of Zhivago in Opinie.

It was May 1956 … we got off at a small station and started off walking down the wood sleepers and then later turned off, bumbling along on a boggy road past a birch meadow and cemetery on a hill with a small white church at the top. … ‘This is more important, than poems. I have worked on this for a long time,’ [Pasternak] said, handing Yaromir [Ziemowit Fedecki] two thick, bound folios. We looked at the doorway – in it, Zinaida Nikolaevna was standing, tall, massive, slightly hunched over. We did not hear her walk it, but felt her presence. She looked at Yaromir with displeasure: ‘You must know that I am against this! Boris Leonidovich is suffering from thoughtlessness: yesterday he gave a copy to the Italians, today to you. He does not realize the danger and I must look after him.’ ‘But, Zinaida Nikolaevna,’ the poet replied, ‘everything has changed. It is about time to forget about fears and live normally. And then, the book will soon be available here – they have promised me.’ ‘I am against it,’ Zinaida Nikolaevna repeated dryly. And yet, Yaromir did not show any desire to part with the thing that he was now holding in his hands. (Woroszylski, 1977, p. 49; cited also in Wójciak-Marek 2009, pp. 152-153; translated from the latter)

If the reference to the handing over of the typescripts to the Italians is correct, then the meeting with Fedecki took place on May 21, 1956. Fedecki himself was not a great fan of Doctor Zhivago and this perhaps explains the despondent words that Pasternak wrote to Ripellino about the fate of his typescript in Poland. We get more information about Fedecki’s attitude in a long interview titled “In the shadow of Doctor Zhivago” (see next post for the full interview). Fedecki says:

I was one of the first readers of Doctor Zhivago and it bored me to death, I used to make coffee to stay awake. I told Pasternak that this is revolution seen through a window vent of his cabin in Peredelkino. As a 23 year old pup I would never dare to review it like this, but since he made me vow [Pasternak had asked Fedecki to vow that he would be completely honest in his criticism]? Pasternak listened, went upstairs and didn’t come downstairs for dinner. I packed my things (I was staying at his place in Peredelkino for holidays) and I started my goodbyes. He ran down the stairs: “Please stay, if you leave, then I will be really offended!”

This must have been in 1946 when the novel was still unfinished. But in 1956 Pasternak gave Fedecki the finished product. And contrary to Pasternak’s suspicions, the typescript was not idle.

An illustration by Faworski (from a cycle on Dante's Vita Nuova) used to illustrate the excerpts of Zhivago in Opinie.

A drawing by Faworski (from a cycle on Dante’s Vita Nuova) used to illustrate the excerpts of Zhivago in Opinie.

Indeed, the issue of Opinie in which the Zhivago selections appeared in 1957 became a source of great annoyance and anxiety for the Soviets. That issue (50,000 copies) had sold out in no time. But how had this publication been possible? Here is from Fedecki’s interview again:

Interviewer: I browsed the first issue of the quarterly Opinie. Apart from Pasternak, there were quite a few authors at that time prohibited in USSR: Babel, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva. How come this could appear in 1957?

Fedecki: – Diplomatic manouvers. We applied for funding at TPPR [Polish-Soviet Friendship Society], which later ran into troubles because of that. What’s worse, we started cooperating with Władysław Siła-Nowicki, who just got out of a UB [Polish Secret Police] prison – he reviewed books for us. But Opinie was the only periodic of TPPR that disappeared from news stalls in two days.

Interviewer: – I can imagine the reaction in USSR.

 Fedecki: – Literaturnaia Gazeta published a piece “Whose opinions are these?” (Western revisionists’, they discovered). The eulogist of “a real man”, Boris Polevoi, petitioned for a “social” trial of the editorial board. They wrote about me that I’m a perfidious exhumator of pseudoliterature [Actually, this occurs in a second article published by Literaturnaia Gazeta, titled Trojan’s horse, where one finds Polevoi’s attack against Fedecki]. For a long period I was not sent to Moscow, they stopped inviting me for movies at the Russian embassy. Opinie appeared only twice, but in the second issue the censorship’s interference was so strong that with Pollak we refused to sign it.

The journal had been shut down following a Soviet intervention that is now chronicled in detail in the documents from the archive of the Central Committee published in Le Dossier de l’Affaire Zhivago (Gallimard 1994) and Boris Pasternak i Vlast’ (Rosspen 2001). Here is how D. Polikarpov, director of the department of culture, informed the Central Committee of the CPSU on August 30, 1957:

Central Committee of the CPSU

Krakow’s weekly Zycie Literackie [Literary life] of August 18, 1957 gives news of the beginning of publication of a quarterly journal titled Opinie [Opinion], dedicated to issues of Soviet culture. The first issue has just been released. Judging from the selection of works published in this first edition, the quarterly Opinie has a direction hostile to us.  Under the pretext of informing “in all honesty”, the editors have taken the course of publishing books which contain “questions of painful historical revisions” and praising ideologically corrupt books, which come under sharp criticism in our country. Among the works of Soviet authors published in the journal we find Yashin’s Levers as well as excerpts of the unpublished anti-Soviet novel by Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago. Given the foregoing, the Department of Culture of the Central Committee would consider it necessary to charge the Soviet ambassador in Poland to draw the attention of our Polish comrades to the unfriendly nature of the journal Opinie and to suggest to them, in a suitable fashion, that a critical statement on the part of the Polish communist press regarding the positions taken up by the journal Opinie, as well as the suspension of further publication of Pasternak’s work, would be received very favorably by Soviet public opinion. It will also be prudent to recommend to the Secretariat of the Soviet Writers’ Union and to the editorial board of Literaturnaia Gazeta to organize, as soon as they will have received the quarterly journal, the publication of an open letter by a group of prominent Soviet writers that will subject to criticism the positions taken by this journal. And to send this letter to the Polish press for publication, including the editorial board of the journal Opinie. Awaiting instructions. Text of the telegram to the Soviet ambassador in Warsaw is enclosed.

Director of the Department of Culture


Administrative Inspector

E. Trushchenko      

A note appended on September 30, 1957, written by B. Riurikov, deputy director of the department of culture, stated “The necessary measures regarding this issue have been taken”. And taken they were. A thirty-page summary of the contents of the journal, together with a copy of the journal, were sent to the Central Committee on September 7, 1957. Polikarpov sent a telegram to the Soviet ambassador to Poland and encouraged the ambassador to draw the attention of “our friends” to the “tendencies hostile to the USSR of the journal Opinie”. The telegram invited the ambassador “to make our friends understand that the Soviet public opinion would know how to value the suspension of the publication of Pasternak’s novel as well as a critical declaration on the part of the Polish Communist Press concerning the positions of the journal Opinie“. The ambassador did his job well, since Opinie was suspended. The vitriolic article already mentioned, titled “Whose opinion is it?”, appeared in Literaturnaia Gazeta of September 18, 1957 (there was also a second article in the same journal against Fedecki).

Ziemowit Fedecki

Ziemowit Fedecki

Meanwhile, Pollak had signed a contract for the publication of Doctor Zhivago with Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy. Needless to say, the contract was revoked:

Interviewer: A few people harboured a grudge against you, because you didn’t publish the whole of Doctor Zhivago.

Fedecki: For God’s sake, it was mid-50s, there were no private publishers or secondary circulation.  In the journal Opinie [Opinions] we could only publish part of the story, which we did one year before the Nobel prize and it was the first publication in the world. The translator, Ms Maria Mongirdowa, fell ill and died. I passed it on to Seweryn Pollak, who signed a contract with PIW [Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy]. In the West no one cared about the piece until Pasternak got the Nobel prize. And in Poland we couldn’t publish a book considered to be anti-soviet, whose author was expelled from the [Soviet] writers’ association. When they later called Pollak from PIW they were even afraid to mention the title of the piece: “Mr Seweryn, we have a contract with you for this piece, you know which one. Please do not refund us the advance, and in general, we won’t talk about it.” Perhaps, Herling-Grudziński [Gustaw Herling], who wrote that “Doctor Zhivago” did not appear because of Fedecki’s pettiness, has not heard of censorship in PRL [Polish People’s Republic], but a few people still remember it.

It appears that the decision of the PIW was taken as a consequence of a memo circulated by the Polish Ministry for Culture and Art that forbade throughout Poland the distribution and the printing of texts of Soviet authors that were unpublished in the USSR. In addition, according to the editors of Pasternak i vlast’, the editors of Opinie were summoned to Moscow for the “necessary conversations”.

And this sealed the fate of the publication of Doctor Zhivago inside Poland. But if publication could not be achieved in Poland, forces outside Poland soon began planning a Polish edition abroad. That story will be recounted in one of the next posts where I will present the history of the printed Polish editions of Doctor Zhivago.


Afiani, V. I., Tomilina, N. G., eds., A za mnoiu shum pogoni: Boris Pasternak i vlastʹ: dokumenty 1956-1972, ROSSPĖN, Moskva, 2001.

Le Dossier de l’Affaire Pasternak, Archives du Comité Central et du Politburo, Préface de Jacqueline de Proyart, Gallimard, Paris, 1994.

In the shadow of “Doctor Zhivago”, Interview with Fedecki by Anna Żebrowska, Przeglad, 46, 2003 [full interview in the next post]

Wójciak-Marek, M., [in Russian] Pasternak i Pol’sha: Pervaia publikatsiia Doktora Zhivago, in L. Fleishmann, ed. The life of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, Stanford, 2009, pp. 142- 155.

Woroszylsky, W., Literatura. Powiesc, Instytut Literacki, Paris, 1977

Three lectures on Inside the Zhivago Storm

In the summer of 2013, Guido Tendas, the mayor of my home town (Oristano, Sardinia), got wind of the forthcoming book and discussed with me the possibility of organizing a special event in Oristano.

Poster by AR Grafica

Poster by AR Grafica

His idea was to combine the event with an award (“Stella d’argento città di Oristano”) that the city of Oristano now bestows on those citizens who have distinguished themselves in their careers. I was of course quite flattered but I also insisted that what we should offer in the first place was something of substance related to the book.

It was soon decided that we should invite Carlo Feltrinelli as one of the speakers. In addition, we thought of adding to the program Giacomo Mameli, Antonio Pinna and, for the musical entertainment, the Tenores di Neoneli, one of the most well-known groups of tenores in the world (and personal friends, I should add). Everyone accepted and the event took place on February 28 at the Teatro Garau in Oristano.

It was a touching moment for me. I saw friends whom I had not seen in many many years and this was a splendid occasion to renew old acquaintances and meet new people. The music of the tenores, with its centuries-old Mediterranean polyphonies was incredibly touching and sharing this moment with my family and friends made it very special.

But the event also cemented my friendship with Carlo Feltrinelli, the inspirator and publisher of Inside the Zhivago Storm. More about him in a different post.

From left to right: Tenores di Neoneli (standing), A. Pinna, C. Feltrinelli, G. Tendas, P. Mancosu. (Photo by G. Mameli)

From left to right: Tenores di Neoneli (standing), A. Pinna, C. Feltrinelli, G. Tendas, P. Mancosu. (Photo by G. Mameli)

I gave two more talks on Zhivago in spring 2014. On April 8, I presented the book at the invitation of Professor Stefano Garzonio in the Department of Lingue e Letterature Straniere at the University of Pisa. The other presentation was at the Center for Advanced Study in Munich on April 29. This lecture inaugurated the Berkeley lectures at LMU (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität). Insight LMU (second issue of 2014, pp. 1-2) has a short article in English on the event (click here). For those who read German, the Münchner Uni Magazin devotes a three page article to it (no. 3, 2014, pp. 18-20; for a pdf of the issue click here).

Meeting Sergio d’Angelo

Pasternak described the story of the publication of Doctor Zhivago as “the novel about the novel”.

Sergio d'Angelo in the Soviet Union (1956)

Sergio d’Angelo in the Soviet Union (1957)

One of the protagonists of that story is Sergio d’Angelo and my book, accordingly, devotes quite a bit of attention to his role. Most importantly, d’Angelo was the person who physically received the manuscript of Doctor Zhivago from Pasternak on May 20, 1956 and handed it over to Feltrinelli a week later in West Berlin. At the time d’Angelo was employed at the Italian section of Radio Moscow and was also acting as Feltrinelli’s literary scout in the Soviet Union. In late April 1956 he happened to read a piece of news from the central office of Radio Moscow announcing the imminent publication of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. He made a note to himself in a notebook he used to keep a record of interesting publications to bring to the attention of the Feltrinelli publishing house (see picture below) .

Having informed the publishing house about this possible scoop, he received the go ahead from Milan and went to visit Pasternak on May 20, 1956. It was the beginning of “the novel about the novel”.

D'Angelo's notebook (April 1956)

D’Angelo’s notebook (April 1956)

D’Angelo’s role in the story goes well beyond this initial encounter with Pasternak. He remained very close to Pasternak and Olga during his stay in Moscow and even after he went back to Italy (in December 1957). During 1959 and 1960 he was instrumental in the scheme, approved by Pasternak, to deliver some of the Zhivago royalties to Pasternak. This was done through couriers, usually members of the Italian Communist Party visiting Moscow.

The last of these deliveries of rubles in August 1960 (hence two months after Pasternak’s death in May 1960), was ill-fated, because it gave the Soviets an excuse for prosecuting and condemning Olga and her daughter Irina to eight and three years, respectively, of hard labor camp. This led in 1961 to an international campaign in favor of the two women to which d’Angelo participated with an open letter to Surkov, Pasternak’s irreducible enemy in the Soviet Writers’ Union, and with a private letter to Khrushchev.

Finally, Sergio d’Angelo was involved in a protracted legal battle against Feltrinelli concerning Pasternak’s royalties which began in 1965 and went on for several years. Some of these aspects of d’Angelo’s role have been analyzed in my book and d’Angelo provides his first-hand account of the facts in his captivating book Il Caso Pasternak (Bietti, 2006) that can be downloaded in English from his website

Il Caso Pasternak (Bietti 2006)

Il Caso Pasternak (Bietti 2006)

I had tried to contact Sergio d’Angelo when I was writing my book but he had changed email and my attempt was unsuccessful. I was thus very happy when I got an email from him on January 18, 2014, in which he congratulated me on Inside the Zhivago Storm. This quickly led to an intense exchange of emails, for this was a splendid opportunity to clarify many things that I would have gladly asked him while I was writing the book. Quickly it was resolved that I should go and visit him in his town close to Viterbo, San Martino al Cimino. I went to visit him on February 22. In addition to being a most generous host, he had also prepared for me all the documents in his possession that related to his involvement in the Zhivago affair. There were unpublished autographed letters by Pasternak and by Olga, drafts of d’Angelo’s letters to them, the notebook where he had jotted down the news of the impending publication of Doctor Zhivago, and many other important documents. I was thrilled and even more so as Sergio allowed me to take pictures of all these materials and to use them in my further research on the Zhivago story. We spoke for eight hours. We did not always agree on the interpretation of the events, but that was part of the fun, for while Sergio is a man of strong opinions, he also respects the fact that one might take different stands in interpreting such complex events as those that made up the odyssey of Zhivago. During my visit, he also brought up his desire to donate his papers to an international institution where scholars would be able to consult them. This he has since done by donating all his materials on the Zhivago affair to the Hoover Institution Archive at Stanford.

Meeting Sergio d’Angelo was a delightful experience. Given his role in the Zhivago story, one can’t get any closer to the eye of the Zhivago storm.