Scriabin’s daughter in the French Resistance and Pushkin’s great-grandsons fighting at the front: Five wartime stories of famous families

May 14

Most families take pride in their prominent ancestors. During the Great Patriotic War, everybody wanted to contribute to defeating the Nazis, and descendants of classic Russian authors and composers fought side by side with the rest. They include heroes who served in various Allied countries’ armies and in the ranks of the French Resistance. and the Mosgortur travel agency collected stories from the Alexander Scriabin Museum, the Vladimir Vysotsky Museum, the Sergei Yesenin Museum, the Marina Tsvetayeva House and Museum, and the Battle of Moscow Museum.

Alexander Kologrivov and Oleg Kologrivov

Historians count 14 of Alexander Pushkin’s descendants among WWII veterans, 10 of whom fought for the Soviet Union, including the famous poet’s great-grandsons, brothers Oleg and Alexander Kologrivovs.

The older brother, Alexander, was a student at Murom Communications College when he was drafted. He and his comrades defended Moscow as the enemy approached the city. After Hitler’s troops were beaten back, Alexander advanced west with the Red Army, liberating the Motherland from the invaders.

In February 1942, Alexander was seriously wounded in his leg by a landmine fragment. He was in hospital for four months, returned to college and graduated, and then went right back to the front.

The younger of the Kologrivov brothers, Oleg, was among the students who put out fires on Moscow roofs during the air raids of summer 1941. Later he volunteered to serve at the front and participated in breaking the Siege of Leningrad, liberating the Baltics and capturing Berlin.

Several months after the end of the war, by miraculous coincidence, Alexander and Oleg ran into each other in Berlin. The brothers were beside themselves with joy. They had not seen each other for four years.

Soviet artist Vladimir Pereyaslavets, also a veteran, painted a group portrait of Alexander Pushkin’s descendants who participated in the Great Patriotic War. The Kologrivov brothers are featured in the portrait, Oleg on the left and Alexander on the right. Today it is part of the Battle of Moscow Museum collection.

Georgy Efron

Marina Tsvetayeva’s son Georgy Efron, or Mur as she affectionately called him, was born in 1925 in Prague, where his father Sergei Efron worked at the time. Only several months after his birth, Tsvetayeva moved with him to Paris. Mur was an inquisitive boy, fully bilingual from an early age. In addition to Russian and French, his mother taught him German. The Tsvetayev-Efron family returned to the Soviet Union in 1939.

When the war broke out, 16-year-old Mur and his mother were evacuated to Yelabuga. After Marina’s death, he returned to Moscow where he attended a boarding school. However, he did not stay long in the capital. In October 1941, he was evacuated again, this time to Tashkent. Mur graduated from high school and ended up back in Moscow to fulfill his long-time dream of attending the Literature Institute. However, he was not able to complete his studies.

Georgy Efron

Literature Institute students were not given draft deferment and after one year, he received a draft notice. The Marina Tsvetayeva House and Museum has a letter that Georgy sent to his sister’s partner, Samuil Gurevich, dated 8 January 1943.

“You already know from my recent telegrams that, firstly, I am enlisting in the military and, secondly, that I have been drafted to join the labour front and must report at the station with my belongings,” he wrote.

Georgy’s family, his older sister Ariadna and aunt Anastasia, were in the dark about his fate for many years. It was not until the 1970s that they found out that Tsvetayeva’s son was severely wounded in combat in Belarus in July 1944 and sent to an infirmary. That is the last that was heard of him. There is no information about where Mur died or was buried. He was only 19 years old.

Georgy Efron’s letter

Ariadna Scriabina

Many émigrés of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union fought against Germany during WWII, including Ariadna Scriabina, the daughter of the great Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. She had been living in France since 1924.

In 1940, she married Jewish poet Dovid Knut, which marked a turning point in her life. She converted to her husband’s faith. Ariadna took a new name, Sarah, and responded only to her Hebrew name from then on. When the war started, the Knuts joined the French Resistance.

Ariadna Scriabina

At the end of 1941, Sarah, Dovid and their friends founded an undercover organisation called David’s Descendants. It was later renamed Armée Juive (“Jewish Army”). The number of supporters gradually grew and reached almost 2,000 by the end of the war. The scope of the organisation’s activities grew with its size. Members raised humanitarian aid, printed leaflets and even committed acts of sabotage against collaborators. Sarah and her friends also helped refugees to hide and cross the border.

Sarah’s life was tragically cut short in the summer of 1944, a year after her son Joseph was born. On 8 July, while returning to a safe house, she and another Armée Juive member, Raul Leon, were ambushed. Their comrade Tommy Bauer returned to the safe house while it was being searched. Leon took advantage of the confusion and threw the first thing he could reach – a bottle – at the Milice agents. The agents opened fire. A machine gun bullet struck Sarah in the heart.  

Sarah Knut’s efforts were commemorated by the French government. She was awarded the Resistance Medal and the Cross of War posthumously. In 2017, a promenade in Jerusalem was named after her.

Konstantin Yesenin

Konstantin Yesenin is remembered not only as the son of a genius poet. He was passionate about football since his youth and became a leading expert in Soviet football statistics. He wrote for Soviet Sports, Football and other major sports media outlets. He fought in the Great Patriotic War although he never liked to look back on those hard times.

In June 1941, Konstantin Yesenin was a student at the Moscow Institute of Engineering and Construction. In November, he decided to volunteer to serve at the front. In 1942, he helped defend the besieged people of Leningrad.

Konstantin Yesenin

The poet’s son was wounded four times over the course of the war. One of the times his fellow soldiers were sure Konstantin was dead. It happened in the summer of 1944 at the Karelian Isthmus. The company commander and his deputy were killed in a fierce battle and junior lieutenant Yesenin had to take charge.

While Konstantin was leading soldiers in an attack, he was hit by an explosive bullet. Amidst the commotion of the battle, he was dragged away by a medic from a different unit. His comrades could not find his body on the battlefield and took him for dead. The newspaper Red Baltic Fleet even published an article about Konstantin’s death titled “By the Deep Blue Sea”. His family was notified of his death.

Despite the severity of his wound (the bullet ripped through one of his lungs), Konstantin survived. The surgery left him with a 17-centimetre scar on his back. Many years later, Konstantin joked: “Whenever I go to a doctor, as soon as I take off my shirt, they immediately offer to put me on medical leave.”

Semyon Vysotsky

Veterans of the war against Nazi Germany commemorated by memorial museums include not only descendants but also ancestors of prominent figures, such as Vladimir Vysotsky’s father. Vladimir Vysotsky wrote many poignant songs about the Great Patriotic War, including “Mass Graves”, “The Height”, and “Reconnaissance by Fire”. Although he was only three years old in 1941, Vysotsky’s lyrics are praised by soldiers for their authenticity. He had heard stories about the war from his veteran father, Semyon Vysotsky.

Semyon Vysotsky chose a military career as a young man. As a student of the Polytechnical Communications College, he took a paramilitary training course and attained the rank of junior lieutenant. His military service began even before Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union.

Semyon Vysotsky

In March 1941, Semyon’s whole family came to the Kievsky Railway Station in Moscow to bid him farewell. Little Volodya was eager to go with his dad and reluctant to let him go. The future poet was even allowed on board to wait with his father until the train departed. He was eventually lured out of the train car: somebody told him he still had a few minutes to spend with his father outside. Once he was back on the platform, the train pulled out of the station.  

“Suddenly, I see him waving his handkerchief. Uncle Yasha, Gisya Moiseevna’s husband, carried me back home because I was completely at a loss and could not say a word. I felt cheated. I was about to go with my father – and then they left me,” Vladimir Vysotsky remembered years later.

Semyon’s service started in Idritsa, a town in the western Soviet Union where his garrison was based. The poet’s father took part in military operations all over the country. He participated in the Battle of Moscow, liberated Lvov, Donbass, stormed Prague and Berlin. Semyon Vysotsky came out of the war as a major.


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