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Zabara, Nosn

(1908–1975), Yiddish writer. Born in Rogachev, Ukraine, into the family of a potter, Nosn Zabara received a traditional Jewish education, studied at a secondary school in nearby Novograd-Volynskii, and later worked in a Kiev bookstore. His first publications appeared in 1930. Zabara studied at the aspirantur (graduate program) of the Kiev Institute for Jewish Proletarian Culture, and soon was recognized as an accomplished prose writer. Zabara’s first novel, Radio-roman (Radio Novel; 1932), devoted to Red Army soldiers and officers, was published after his demobilization.

Zabara’s second major work, the novel Nilovke (1935), is set in a contemporary shtetl where Jews sought to find a place for their traditions amid Soviet surroundings. In fact, many of the writer’s pre–World War II characters come from the fictional Volhynian shtetl of Nilovke: Nilov, the reverse spelling of Volin (Volhynia), with the toponymical suffix -ke. A novel, Fun land tsu land (From Country to Country), written as a Soviet remake of Mendele Moykher-Sforim’s Masoes Binyomin hashlishi (The Travels of Benjamin the Third), and a collection of documentary stories, Mentshn un tsayt (People and Time), were published in 1938. Der foter (The Father; 1940 [Russian translation, 1961]) was the final work of Zabara’s Nilovke series.

During World War II, Zabara served in the army, also writing Russian stories for military newspapers. After the end of the war he was stationed in Germany, where he wrote for the Berlin Tägliche Rundschau. He established contact with Jews in the British and American occupation zones, received published materials from abroad, and attended synagogue. Arrested by the Soviet secret police in 1951, he remained imprisoned in the gulag until 1956.

After his liberation, Zabara was active in the unofficial Jewish cultural life in Kiev and was among the first Hebrew-language teachers in the city. In the 1960s, he contributed frequently to the Moscow journal Sovetish heymland. Apart from a few stories, he published two novels: Haynt vert geboyrn a velt (A World Is Being Born Today; 1965; Russian translation, 1968), about the last day of the war in Berlin, and A poshete mame (An Artless Mother; 1967). Between 1972 and 1977, Sovetish heymland serialized his best-known novel, Galgal hakhoyzer (The Revolving Wheel). Its protagonist, Yoyel, is the son of the prominent medieval Hebrew satirist Yosef ben Me’ir Zabara, whom the writer apparently regarded as an ancestor. Although the novel, conceived as a tetralogy, remained unfinished, it appeared in book form in 1979.

While the vast majority of Soviet Yiddish writers, including Zabara in his earlier years, usually limited themselves to contemporary topics, Galgal hakhoyzer is set in the South European Sephardic communities of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and portrays rich intellectual life in medieval Jewish ghettos. One of the most negative characters of the novel is the convert Donin, whom some commentators compared to Judenräte members during World War II. The novel attracted the attention of critics in the Soviet Union and abroad, and also provoked a discussion between the author and a few Soviet critics, including the leading Yiddish linguist Elye Falkovitsh, who was dissatisfied with Zabara’s penchant for Hebraisms. The novel’s Russian translation, Koleso vertitsia, by Iakov Volfas, was published in 2004 by the Russian Israeli publishing house Gesharim.

Suggested Reading

Mikhail Krutikov, “Documents of Anti-Jewish Trials in Ukraine in 1948–1952,” Jews in Eastern Europe 1 [41] (2000): 112–118; Israil Serebrianyi, Sovremenniki i klassiki (Moscow, 1971), pp. 210–222.