The prominent children's writer, poet, and translator Boris Zakhoder was born in 1918 in Cahul (in present-day Moldova). His father was a lawyer, while his mother was a translator. His parents had met at the Cahul military hospital, where his father, Vladimir, was being treated after sustaining a serious combat injury in World War I; his mother, Polina Gertsenshtein, worked as a nurse there. Boris's grandfather, Borukh-Ber Zakhoder, had been the first crown (i.e., state) rabbi of Nizhnii Novgorod (from 1874). It was thanks to Rabbi Zakhoder's efforts that a free Jewish school for poor children was established and a synagogue built in the city. He died in 1905.
Boris's family soon moved to Odessa, and then to Moscow, where Boris finished school in 1935. When he was 14, his mother, to whom he had been very close, committed suicide. It was she who had "infected" him with an enthusiasm for German literature, which would later affect his choice of career.
After completing school, Zakhoder entered the Faculty of Biology of Kazan University, but later switched to the same faculty at the Moscow Lomonosov State University. However, in 1938 he left biology for literature, enrolling in the Gorky Literary Institute. Nevertheless, he did not completely lose interest in biology: years later, he would succeed in breeding a rare type of aquarium fish. During a time of hardship, he would raise such fish and sell them at the market.
After the beginning of the Soviet-German War in late June 1941, Boris Zakhoder volunteered for army service. During the war, he was on the editorial board of the newspaper Ogon' po vragu [Fire at the Enemy], and published poems in it and in other military newspapers. In the course of the war, he served on the Southwestern Front and on other fronts, and was wounded. Because of his good command of German, Zakhoder took part in the interrogation of captured German soldiers. In February 1944, he was awarded the Medal "For Battle Merit".
Boris was discharged from the military in 1946 with the rank of senior lieutenant. He returned to Moscow, where he took up his interrupted studies at the Literary Institute, from which he graduated with distinction in 1947. His hopes for a Ph.D. degree were dashed because of the antisemitic campaign that had begun in 1948: he was rejected as a candidate for advanced studies.
His poetry collection At the Last Desk was published in the mid-1950s, and was warmly greeted by the reading public and fellow writers alike. From that time on, his poems enjoyed widespread publicity. However, he was accepted into the Union of [Soviet] Writers only in 1958. Subsequently, Zakhoder became a prolific translator of children's literature into Russian. His book Winnie the Pooh and All All All [a translation of A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner] enjoyed particular acclaim, serving as the basis for a trilogy of Soviet animated films (1969-1972).
Later, Zakhoder also produced translations of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, Lewis Caroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Pamela L. Travers's Mary Poppins, and other works. Apart from children's literature, Boris Zakhoder was enthusiastic about the works of Goethe. A two-volume translation of Goethe's works appeared after Zakhoder's death.
Boris also dealt with Jewish themes. In 1986, he wrote song lyrics for a movie inspired by Sholem Aleichem's novel Motl, Peysi the Cantor's Son. However, the film was not released. In June 2000, Boris Zakhoder was awarded the State Prize of the Russian Federation for Achievement in the Fields of Literature and Art.
Zakhoder died in November 2000 in Koroliovo (Moscow Region). He was buried at the Troekurovo Cemetery in Moscow.
"Unexpected Joy" and "Opinions about…"
from Zakhoder's book Zakhoderzost (the title is a portmanteau of the name Zakhoder and the Russian noun derzost [impertinence]).
Since morning, the shtetl has been in sorrow and alarm:
They found a murdered child on the road,
Practically at the town gates…
Oh, God, oh, God, what awaits us now?
Of course, we will be blamed for this!
And, as punishment for our sins, the rabbi has vanished somewhere
When such a calamity has befallen us!
Like sheep, the people have flocked to the synagogue;
Oh, today everyone has remembered about God!
Everyone is praying. And crying and moaning,
'How can we live? Where can we run?' They don't know…
But everyone knows – guiltless, they will perish,
And, as punishment for our sins, the rabbi is nowhere to be found –
Just now, when
We need him so!
And suddenly the shames runs in, radiant with joy.
'Jews, there's cause for celebration! And such celebration!
The rabbi says that [the victim] is Aunt Hannah's grandson,
And, furthermore, he is not dead, only hurt!...'
They will realize that we are not guilty of anything –
And there is no reason to stage a pogrom –
The danger has passed!
Everything is the same as it has always been!'
And the people rejoiced and celebrated…
But, of course, the sounds of merriment died down
And one could hear the rabbi praying –
Tearfully, he prayed to God,
That the world would change at least a bit,
So that we would no longer know such joys…
There is one problem –
Everything is the same as it has always been!" Boris Zakhoder "Zakhoderzosti" p.63-64,"Eksmo" 2010
From a series of brief poems "Opinions about …":
" … About a mentally deficient person.
The mentally deficient person disliked Jews.
Which is only natural – he was mentally deficient."
Boris Zakhoder "Zakhoderzosti" p. 99,"Eksmo" 2010