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Elisabeth Markstein Collection

Identifier: MSE/REE 0017

Scope and Contents

The Markstein collection consists of: series 1, personal documents; series 2, correspondence; series 3, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; series 4, research and scholarship; series 5, photographs and drawings, and series 6, audio materials, floppy discs, and flash drives.

Series 1, personal documents, relates to both Elisabeth Markstein and her family; many of the items date from the period when the family lived in the Soviet Union.

Series 2, correspondence, constitutes a substantial portion of the papers. The first subseries, family correspondence, includes letters between Johann and Hilde Koplenig and other family members, as well as letters of miscellaneous correspondents with Johann and/or Hilde Koplenig. The second subseries consists of correspondence with the Mirov family, who were Markstein's closest friends in Russia. Markstein first met Nadezhda Iakovlevna Mirova (1927-2009) in 1938. After graduating from Moscow State U., Nadezhda Mirova taught literature in the Moscow schools until her retirement in 2008. Her husband, Lazar Ilich Lazarev (actual surname Shindel; 1924-2010) was a literary critic and the author of many books. He worked for Voprosi Literatury from 1961 and served as its chief editor from 1991. General correspondence comprises the third subseries; in a personal and professional capacity, Elisabeth Markstein exchanged letters with a wide range of individuals including Lev Kopelev, Henrich Böll, Viktor Nekrasov, Vasillii Aksenov, Joseph Brodsky, and Efim Etkind.

Series 3, Solzhenitsyn, also contains serveral subseries; however, the most important section is Markstein's correspondence with Fritz Heeb, Nikita Struve, Stepan Tatischeff, as well as with many other Solzhenitsyn scholars, publishers, and translators. The letters, the bulk of which are from 1969 through 1974, are arranged chronologically based upon Markstein's original organization. The correspondence between Markstein and Heeb hold numerous enclosures and attachments (many of which were translated from Russian to German by Markstein); they include letters by Solzhenitsyn to Heeb, legal documents such as Solzhenitsyn's will as well as publisher contracts, draft agreements, and other materials.

Series 4, research and scholarship, includes Markstein's dissertation, her teaching materials (folders and index cards), her articles, and translation work.

Series 5, consists primarily of photographs which are varied: some of them were taken during the 1930s and 1940s during the family's exile from Austria, and others are more current photos of daughters and grandchildren.

Series 6 consists of audio materials, floppy discs, and flash drives. The audio materials contain the interview that Elisabeth and Heinz Markstein conducted with Joseph Brodsky when he was exiled to the West in 1972, poetry readings by Brodsky as well as by Naum Korzhavin, and taped radio broadcasts. The computer files are varied: from research notes and article drafts to photographs of grandchildren.


  • Creation: 1890s-2013
  • Creation: Majority of material found in ( 1930s-1990s)


Language of Materials

Collection material in German and Russian

Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

Elisabeth Markstein (1929-2013) was a prominent Austrian translator and literary scholar and a courageous and dedicated human rights activist. She was a close friend of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Lev Kopelev, and Efim Etkind, and she was instrumental in bringing to the West and, thus preserving, works that had only been available in samizdat. Besides Dostoevskii's novel The Gambler, Marsktein translated works of Viktor Nekrasov, Vasilii Grossman, Friedrich Gorenstein, Vasilii Aksenov, and Vasilii Shalamov. Under the name Anna Peturnig she translated Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago.

She was born Elisabeth Koplenig in 1929. Her parents Johann (1891-1968) and Hilde (1904-2002) were important Austrian intellectuals and activists in the international communist and workers' movement. Johann Koplenig served as chairman of the Austrian Communist Party from 1945 to 1965, playing a key role in the party's activities before and after World War II. Hilde Koplenig worked as an activist and writer for the international labor and communist movements. Because of these political affiliations and because Hilde was Jewish, the family was forced to leave Austria after 1933. During the ensuing years they lived in various locations throughout Europe. Elisabeth attended school in Zürich and Paris, but she spent most of her formative years in the Soviet Union, where she lived with her parents during the 1930s and then during the Second World War. She graduated high school in Moscow and returned to Vienna in 1945.

After returning to Austria, from 1946 to 1952, she pursued Slavic studies at the U. of Vienna, spending a year at Moscow State U. In 1952 she completed her doctorate in Russian literature. The subject of her dissertation was Maxim Gorky and socialistic realism. That same year she married the journalist and writer, Heinz Markstein (1924-2008), with whom she eventually had three daughters. From 1956 to 1958 she studied at the Translation Institute in Vienna and became a certified Russian translator, and in 1966 she began her teaching career, first in Vienna, then Innsbruck, Graz, and Vienna again. From 1975 to 1976 she was a guest lecturer at the U. of Texas at Austin. She continued to teach at the Translation Institute in Vienna until her retirement in 2003. Throughout her lifetime Markstein maintained close ties with the international communist and workers' movement; however, during the 1960s such events as the suppression of the "Prague Spring" contributed to changing her views on Soviet-style socialism and the communist movement more broadly. In March of 1971 she was expelled from the party for activities damaging to the communist cause. In 2010 she published her memoirs entitled Moskau ist viel schöner als Paris.

Elisabeth Markstein achieved prominence as a translator and literary scholar. In 1989 she won the Austrian State Prize for Literary Translation (Österreichischen Staatspreis für literarische Übersetzung), and in 2014 the University of Austria posthumously established a special prize to commemorate her accomplishments in that same area. However, despite the importance of her translations, she will probably best be remembered for the key role she played in bringing the literary work of Solzhenitsyn to the West, acting as his personal liaison and connecting him with the attorney Fritz Heeb. Solzhenitsyn received the Nobel prize in 1970; from the late 1960s through 1974, the year of his exile from the Soviet Union, Elisabeth Markstein worked tirelessly, often at great personal risk, with a clandestine network of Solzhenitsyn's supporters inside the USSR as well as with Western literary agents and publishers outside the country. Using the code name of "Betta," she played a critical part in the triangle formed by herself, Fritz Heeb ("Iura"), Nikita Struve ("Kolya"), as well as Stepan Tatischeff ("Émile") to translate and publish Solzhenitsyn. She passed away in 2013 and is survived by her daughter Catherine as well as five grandchildren.


18.5 Cubic Feet (16 containers. )


Elisabeth Markstein (1929-2013) was highly regarded for her translations from Russian to German, including Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago (under the pen name Anna Peturnig). She was also a teacher and literary scholar as well as a staunch supporter of the dissident writers in the Soviet Union. This collection consists of personal documents, correspondence (family, personal, and professional), papers dealing with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, scholarly research materials, photographs, and finally, audio and computer files. The Solzhenitsyn material, dealing with the publication of his work in the West before and after exile in 1974, is particularly noteworthy because Markstein was a trusted friend of the Nobel prize winner as well as the liaison between the author and his Swiss lawyer, Fritz Heeb.


The arrangement of material within the six series and their various subseries is basically chronological with a few exceptions. For example, Markstein's general correspondence is alphabetically arranged.

Related Materials

The Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen in Germany holds an extensive collection of letters between Solzhenitsyn and Markstein. Rare Books and Special Collections at Notre Dame has digital copies of these Bremen letters.

Elizabeth Markstein Collection
Natasha Lyandres and Nathan Gerth
January 2016
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556