Biography of Isaac Babel

A Ukrainian with Jewish roots Isaac Babel, whose stories about the Russian army and life in the ghetto made him a popular author in the 1920s, compromised his credibility with the Soviet authorities and was executed in 1940.

General information

Isaak Emmanuilovich Babel was born in a family of Jews on July 13, 1894 in Odessa. He studied at the school and university, then served in the Russian army. Later he became known as a writer, first publishing small stories, and later publishing his collections of short stories “The Cavalry” and “Odessa Stories”. Despite initial praise for realism and not embellished data, over time, the Soviet authorities subjected Babel to strict censorship. And in 1940 he was executed by the NKVD.

Youth and Education

Isaak Emmanuilovich Babel was born on July 13, 1894 in a city near the Black Sea – Odessa. His parents, Manush Itskovich and Feiga Bobel, were Jews and raised him and his sister in abundance.


after the birth of Isaac Babel his family moved to Nikolaev, a port city located 111 kilometers from Odessa. There his father worked for a foreign agricultural equipment manufacturer. Babel, when grown up, entered the commercial school named after S. Yu. Witte. His family returned to Odessa in 1905 and Babel continued his education with private teachers until he entered the Odessa Commercial College named after Nicholas I. He graduated from the college in 1911 and entered the Kiev Commercial Institute, which in 1915 during the First World War The war was relocated to Saratov. Babel graduated from the institute in 1916, after which he devoted little time to the study of jurisprudence at the Petrograd Psychoneurological Institute.

Published works and service in the army

Babel met his future friend, the writer Maxim Gorky, in 1916. Their friendship became the main stimulus of his life. Gorky printed Babel’s short stories in the magazine Chronicle, in which he worked as an editor. Thanks to this Babel began to cooperate with other magazines, as well as the newspaper “New Life”.

At the same time Babel joined the ranks of the cavalry of the Russian army in 1917, after serving on the Romanian front and in Petrograd. He stayed in the army for several years, during which he wrote his notes on the service in it for the newspaper Novaya Zhizn.

In 1919, Isaac Babel married Evgenia Gronfen, daughter of a wealthy supplier of agricultural equipment, which he had met in Kiev earlier. After serving in the army, he wrote for newspapers, and also spent more time writing stories. In 1925 he published the book “The Story of My Dovecot”, which included stories written on the motives of stories from his childhood. In 1926, after the publication of the book “Cavalry,” he received recognition as a writer. The collection of stories written on the basis of his participation in the Soviet-Polish War of 1920 shocked readers with his rigidity, and also impressed with humor, even in the face of cruelty, and accessible to the manner of writing.

Recognition and solitude in the 1930s

In 1931, Babel publishes “Odessa stories” – a series of short stories that occurred in the Odessa ghetto. And again he is praised for realism, the simplicity of writing and skilful images of heroes from the periphery of society. In the “Odessa stories” the heroes became a Jewish gang and their leader Benya Creek. In 1935, Babel wrote the play “Mary” and four stories, among which were “The Court” and “Kiss.”

During the 1930s, the activities and works of Babel came under the scrutiny of critics and censors, who sought even the slightest mention of his disloyalty to the Soviet government. Periodically, Babel visited France, where his wife and daughter Natalie lived. He wrote less and less for three years alone. His friend and closest supporter, Maxim Gorky, died in 1936.

Arrest and death

Like many of his peers, in the late 1930s Babel was persecuted during the “Great Cleansing”, which began with Stalin. In May 1939, when he was 45 years old, he was arrested by the NKVD and accused of membership in anti-Soviet political organizations and terrorist groups, and also that he was spying for France and Austria. His relationship with Yevgenia Gladun-Khayutina, wife of the head of the NKVD, was a factor accompanying the arrest. And although Babel tried to challenge his sentence and denied the testimony that he gave under torture, he was executed on January 27, 1940.

After the death of Stalin in 1953, the good name of Babel was restored, and his books were lifted the ban. His work began to print little by little in the Soviet Union and even in other countries. At the moment he is one of the best novelists in the world.


“Well-thought-out stories need not be like real life.” Life is struggling to be like a well-thought-out story. “

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Biography of Isaac Babel