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January 15: Osip and Nadezhda

January 15, 2015
osip-mandelstam_14-tnadiaRussian Jewish poet and essayist Osip Mandelstam, who led a symbolist, populist poetry movement called the Acmeists, was born in Warsaw on this date in 1891. In 1933, he composed a poem critical of Stalin, which was probably inspired by Mandelstam’s witnessing the results of the Great Famine in the Crimea. Within six months he was arrested and sent into exile. His wife of twelve years, Nadezhda Khazina, herself a Jewish writer and educator, accompanied him into exile, hid and preserved his manuscripts, and memorized much of his output while dodging her own arrest. It was she who was largely responsible for the clandestine republication of Mandelstam’s poetry long after his rehabilitation in 1956. Mandelstam died on his way to a labor camp in 1938. Khazina lived to 81. Both of them were converts to Christianity to advance their education and reputations in their anti-Semitic society. To read her last letter to him, click here. “Only in Russia is poetry respected, it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?” —Osip Mandelstam