Julian Oksman, 1894-1970. October 1970 (16.12)

«No 16 : 31 October 1970»

Professor Julian [Yulian] Grigorevich OKSMAN, Doctor of philological sciences, died on 15 September 1970 in his seventy-sixth year.

J.G. Oksman was born on 30 December 1894 in Voznesensk, Kherson Province [Ukraine]. After leaving high school in 1911 he entered the History and Philology Faculty of St. Petersburg University. For about a year he worked abroad, studying the history of civilisation and the science of source materials [istochnikovedeniye] in Bonn, and attending lectures in Heidelberg. From the summer of 1915 he began to work in the archives [presumably in St. Petersburg], studying the history of Russian censorship and the press. After the February Revolution he took part in the preparation and implementation of the archive reform.

From 1919 to 1923 he taught in institutes of higher education in Odessa, and was the acting head of the archive of the Odessa Region. From the end of 1923 he was a lecturer at Leningrad University, then reader and later professor. From 1927 Oksman was the chairman of the Pushkin Commission at the State Institute of Art History. In the thirties he was deputy-head of Pushkin House (the Institute of Russian Literature at the Academy of Sciences). He was the initiator of much research in the field of Russian literature and the social movements of the nineteenth century. He took part in the preparation of the Academy’s Complete Works of Pushkin, the multi-volume The Decembrist Uprising [1825] and many other works, including — in recent years — the Complete Works of Herzen.


Arrested in 1937, J.G. Oksman was fortunate enough to return from imprisonment and exile in 1947. He worked at Saratov University. After his rehabilitation he worked at the Institute of World Literature in Moscow, led the Herzen group and prepared for the press Belinsky’s Works and Days [Trudy i dni], for which he was honoured with the Gold Medal of the Academy of Sciences.

In 1963 Oksman‘s flat was searched. He was under suspicion of supplying the Western press with material about the provocative activities [1] of a number of Soviet writers (Elsberg, Samarin, Lesyuchevsky) [2-4]. In autumn 1964 Oksman was expelled from the Union of Writers, and at the same time compelled to leave the Institute of World Literature. Since then his publications have either not appeared or have appeared under pseudonyms. His name is removed from finished works, and the censorship crosses out all mention of him. A few weeks before his death a KGB official, briefing translators for the International History Congress [in Moscow], named Oksman as one of the “representatives of the Soviet intelligentsia who easily fall for western propaganda”.

J.G. Oksman was buried at the Russian cemetery at Vostryakovo on 18 September. It proved impossible to place a notice about Oksman’s death in the Moscow press.



[1] Published in Possev, Frankfurt, 5 July 1963.

[2] Ya.E. Elsberg is referred to in the “Extra-judicial persecution” section of CCE 14.10 as “the well-known informer and witness at the secret trials of the thirties and forties”.

[3] R.M. Samarin, Professor of Foreign Literature at the Institute of World Literature was a critic in 1958 of the journal Foreign Literature (for its careless selection of material for translation), and in 1969 of vol. 5 of the Concise Literary Encyclopedia for its excessive liberalism.

[4] In the Soviet Union it is said that N.V. Lesyuchevsky, board chairman of the Sovetsky Pisatel publishing house, denounced the poets Benedict Livshits (1887-1938), Boris Kornilov (1907-1938), Nikolai Zabolotsky (in camps, 1939-1943) and the prose-writer Yelena Tager.