6: Two photographs of Isaac Babel, circa 1920s and 1939.
Isaac Babel was executed by the Soviet government in January 1940 at the age of forty-five, a victim of Stalin’s purges. The first image here is Babel’s final, police photograph, taken after he was arrested and imprisoned on false charges of terrorism and espionage. Most likely, he was arrested because of his friendships with high-up Communist Party officials whom Stalin deemed threatening to his power. The second photograph appears to be a formal portrait of the writer in his thirties.
Babel was “rehabilitated” (that is, the charges against him were revoked) posthumously in 1954. In a rehabilitation certificate, cited by his daughter Nathalie Babel in her 1964 article, the Supreme Court of the USSR stated: “The sentence of the Military College dated 26 January 1940 concerning Babel, I.E., is revoked on the basis of newly discovered circumstances and the case against him is terminated in the absence of elements of a crime.”
Suggested Activity: Show these images to students. Ask them whether the formal portrait of Babel conforms to the image they have of Lyutov in “My First Goose.” What is similar and what is different? Then ask: What story do the mugshots of Babel, at the time of his arrest in 1939, tell us? Discuss the difference in Babel’s appearance between the formal photograph and the police mugshots. Share with students that Babel was put to death in 1940 under Stalin along with a number of other cultural and political figures. Ask them: What do you think Babel might have gone on to write about had he outlived Stalin, who died in 1952?
Sources: Photos available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Исаак_Эммануилович_Бабель.