During his time in the West, Ehrenburg met Russian Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin and became friends with numerous avant-garde writers and artists. He also began to write poetry, publishing his first book in 1910.
During World War I Ehrenburg became a war correspondent. His anticommunist poem "Prayer for Russia" appeared in 1917. He then returned briefly to Russia and became affiliated with the anticommunist White (named for the color of the monarchy's flag) forces during the period of the Russian Civil War (1918–1921). He lived first in Kiev, where he became a teacher. He finally settled in Moscow, counting among his friends the writer Boris Pasternak.
From 1921 Ehrenburg again lived in the West, in Berlin and Belgium. He settled in Paris in 1925. His first novel, The Extraordinary Adventures of Julio Jurenito and His Disciples (1922), was a parody of the Gospels and critical of both communists and capitalism. Other novels followed almost yearly, and despite his political history, he was one of the favored writers of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. By the 1930s Ehrenburg had embraced communism. His Out of Chaos (1934) was an apologia for Soviet socialist realism in literature and the arts. By the next year he had accepted the official communist line in other areas. By the early 1930s he served as a foreign correspondent for the Soviet newspaper Izvestia, and in the later years of his life he served as one of Stalin's main cultural emissaries to the West.
Ehrenburg traveled to Madrid during the Spanish Civil War. He then returned to Moscow at Stalin's behest and, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, served as a war correspondent. Ehrenburg's novel the Fall of Paris (1941–1942) depicted the decline of France from the mid-1930s. He became known during the war for his ringing literary condemnations of Nazi Germany.
Ehrenburg continued to publish voluminously during the Cold War. Two of his best-known novels were The Storm (1949) and the Ninth Wave (1951–1952). One of Stalin's favorite authors and one of the few prominent writers to survive the many Soviet purges, Ehrenburg received the Stalin Prize in 1942 and 1948. He was also one of the few Soviet citizens permitted to travel abroad, and in 1946 he visited Canada and the United States. He served as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR from 1950.
Following the death of Stalin in March 1953, Ehrenburg tested the limits of free speech in his novel The Thaw (1954–1956), which gave name to this period in Soviet history. During the last years of his life he penned his memoirs, published in six volumes as People, Years, Life (1960–1965). They provide interesting portraits of the many famous people he met during his lifetime. Ehrenburg died in Moscow on 31 August 1967.
Spencer C. Tucker
Goldberg, Anatol, and Erik De Mauny. Ilya Ehrenburg: Writing, Politics and the Art of Survival. New York: Viking, 1984.; Laychuk, Julian L. Ilya Ehrenburg: An Idealist in an Age of Realism. Bern and New York: Peter Lang, 1991.; Rubenstein, Joshua. Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg. New York: Basic Books, 1996.