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Skri︠a︡bina, Elena, 1906-1996



  • Existence: 1906 - 1996


Helene Scriabine (Elena Skrjabina), author and Professor Emerita of Russian at the University of Iowa, was born on February 13, 1906 in Nizhny Novrgorod (Gorky), Russia. She grew up in St. Petersburg, where her father was a member of the last Russian parliament before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Scriabine studied comparative literature at the University of Leningrad. In 1925 she married Sergey Scriabine, an engineer, and a relative of the composer, Alexander Scriabin. Their two sons were Alexander (Sasha) (1926- ) and George (Yuri) (1936-1963).

After the Germans invaded Russiain June 1941, and Sergey Scriabine was drafted into the Red Army, Helene Scriabine, her sons and mother remained in besieged Leningrad until they were evacuated in February l942. During the perilous three-month journey to Pyatigorsk in the Caucasus Mountains, Scriabine's mother died and her son Sasha suffered a severe illness. The family remained in Pyatigorsk for only five months. The Germans occupied the city in August 1942, and early in 1943 when the Red Army threatened the lives of all Russian males between the ages of sixteen and fifty-five, the Scriabines, with many other Russians, escaped. They arrived at their ultimate destination, Bendorf, near Koblenz in the Rhineland, in December 1943, where they lived in a labor camp and Helene Scriabine worked at the Konkordia munitions plants until the Allies liberated the city on March25, 1945. Helene and Sergey Scriabine each believed the other had perished during the war. Sergey remarried and died in 1946.

As inhabitants of the French zone, Helene Scriabine and her two sons escaped repatriation and remained in Germany until they obtained documents to immigrate to the United States. In May 1950 she and Yuri arrived in New York. Sasha, recently married, remained in Germany to pursue his medical education. After more than a year as a maid in a Croton Heights (New York) hotel, Scriabine was invited to teach at the Air Force Russian Language Training Program at Syracuse University. After two years as a deputy chief instructor, she entered a doctoral program in comparative literature at Syracuse and received her Ph.D. in 1962. In 1960, she began her academic career at the University of Iowa, where she remained until her retirement in 1974. She taught also in summer sessions at Columbia University, Middlebury College, the University of Portland, and the Institute of Soviet Study, Munich. In 1978 Scriabine received an honorary degree from Grinnell College.

Helene Scriabine has published numerous books. She is best known for her three wartime diaries and a memoir. The diaries are Siege and Survival: The Odyssey of a Leningrader (1971), an account of the Leningrad siege and her flight to Pyatigorsk; After Leningrad: From the Caucasus to the Rhine (1978), about life in Pyatigorsk, her escape to Bendorf, and the time there until the Allied evacuation in 1945; and The Allies on the Rhine, 1945-1950(1980). The memoir, Coming of Age in the Russian Revolution: The Soviet Union at War(1985) recounts her life from childhood in prerevolutionary Russia to the tragic death of her son Yuri in 1963 during an earthquake in Skopje, Yugoslavia. Scriabine has also edited books of Russian grammar and literature.

Russian-language editions based on materials from her diaries and her memoir include Siege and Survival, published in France(1975) and entitled Years of Wandering; Coming of Age in the Russian Revolution (It Happened in Russia) published in the United States (1980); and Pages of Life, published in Russia in1994.

Helene Scriabine died in Iowa City on October 22, 1996.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Helene Scriabine papers

Identifier: IWA0080

Author and Professor Emeritus of Russian at the University of Iowa, who emmigrated to the United States after surviving the siege of Leningrad in 1941.

Dates: 1940-1996