The literary scholar Alexander Ivich (Ignaty Bernstein) was born in 1900 in Khabarovsk, and was named after his father, a railway engineer who had died tragically two months before his son's birth, during the Yihetuan (Boxer) Uprising, when Chinese rebels shelled the steamer Odessa, which was carrying engineers and railway builders from China to Russia.
Ignaty's mother, Polina Bernstein, was a translator of German literature. Thanks to her, the Russian readership was introduced to the works of Stefan Zweig.
Initially, Polina Bernstein and her sons, Sergei and Ignaty, lived in Kiev, where they witnessed the anti-Jewish pogrom of 1905. They were later able to move to St. Petersburg. In 1917, Ignaty finished his studies at an elite private gymnasium. His brother Sergei had finished the same gymnasium a little earlier. Sergei Bernstein, who worked as an audio archivist, was friends with progressive young writers, poets, and critics, and he introduced his younger brother to that company.
Ignaty Bernstein took an active part in the February Revolution of 1917. He was a member of the guard of the Russian Provisional Government, and served as assistant to the Commandant of the State Duma.
In 1917-1918, the Bernstein brothers collected posters of decrees, tearing them down from the walls of Petrograd buildings at night. Later, during the famine of 1921, the sold their collection of posters to a museum, using the money to buy a sack of potatoes.
Ignaty Bernstein was friends with Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Mikhail Zoshchenko, Vladislav Khodasevich, and other writers. In 1922, before departing for Berlin, Khodasevich entrusted Bernstein with a folder of his poems, sketches, and essays, and Bernstein guarded these papers zealously for the rest of his life, eventually passing them on to his daughter, Sofia Bogatyreva. Thanks to her, these valuable writings were ultimately published.
Bernstein came up with the idea of establishing a publishing house. It was named "The Cardboard House", and Ignaty himself had to carry out all the attendant tasks – from printing the books to making the deliveries. The publishing house existed for a mere three years, before being forced to close down in 1923 because of financial difficulties. However, Bernstein did manage to publish several educational books. He went on to work at the Institute of Art History, but four years later he moved to Moscow, where he began a career in journalism. It was then that he adopted the pseudonym "Alexander Ivich".
Ivich turned to children's literature, and 1930 saw the publication of his book The Adventures of Inventions, which was translated into several languages, and is still in print. The book became very popular, and people would queue in libraries to lay their hands on a copy. In those years, Ivich also traveled extensively, touring the factories and construction sites of the country, and he conveyed his impressions in essays, which were a very popular genre at the time.
Following the Nazi invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941, Alexander Ivich was called up to serve in the army, where he became a military correspondent. His brother Sergei tried to volunteer for the People's Militia, but was rejected because of poor health.
Alexander Ivich served in the air force of the Black Sea Fleet. To cover the events of the war, he actively participated in combat missions and reconnaissance operations. From late October 1941 until July 1942, Ivich was stationed in Sevastopol, taking part in the defense of the city. Later, in May 1944, Ivich was present at the liberation of Sevastopol. Throughout that time, he kept writing, producing both newspaper articles and books for children and adults. In 1942, he published June Sky, a children's book about pilots.
In the course of the war, Alexander Ivich was awarded the Orders of the Red Star and the Patriotic War, 2nd class, as well as medals.
After the end of the war, Ivich returned to Moscow and continued his writing career.
In 1946, the writer Nadezhda Mandelstam (the widow of the poet Osip Mandelstam), fearing persecution by the authorities, gave Ivich an unpublished collection of her husband's poems for safekeeping. In 1954, Nadezhda bequeathed these texts to Ivich's daughter, the historian of literature Sofia Bogatyreva, who currently lives in the USA. At present,
In 1949, after the beginning of the "anti-cosmopolitan" campaign, Alexander Ivich was denounced as a cosmopolitan. Alexander Fadeyev, chairman of the Union of Soviet Writers, went so far as to declare Ivich an enemy who had found a cushy spot in children's literature. Ivich's works became unpublishable; he lost his source of income, and his books were confiscated from libraries. He was forced to sell off books from his extensive private library. His elder brother Sergei was fired from his teaching post at Moscow University.
In the mid-1950s, following Stalin's death, the ban on the publication of Ivich's works was lifted. He went on to write numerous popular science works for children and young adults. One of his most famous books, The Artist of Mechanics, was published in 1969.
Alexander Ivich died in Moscow in 1978.