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Helene Scriabine papers

Identifier: IWA0080

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Scope and Contents

The Helene Scriabine papers date from 1940 to 1996 and measure 12.75 linear inches. The papers arearranged in six series: Biographical information, Book reviews and publicity, Correspondence, Diaries, Manuscripts, and Photographs and visual materials. The papers date almost entirely from the period since the 1960s, after she moved to Iowa City to teach at the University and during which time her books were published. In her publications, Scriabine used pseudonyms for her family to protect their identities against possible repatriation to Russia. Konstantin Dmitriovich became Sergei, Alexander Konstantinovich became Dmitry (Dima), and George became Yuri.

The Biographical information series (1940-1996) includes documents, passports, university records, biographies of Scriabine, and interviews focusing on her life and her publications. Information about her honorary degree from Grinnell College, as well as memorabilia, guestbooks, a 1980 diary of a trip to the western United States, and two books about the Skopje earthquake in 1963, in which her son Yuri died, complete the series.

Reviews and newspaper articles about Scriabine's diaries and memoirs comprise the Book reviews and publicity series (1963-1980). The series includes the German media coverage of Leningrader Tagebuch (1972), a one-volume German publication of Siegeand Survival and After Leningrad; and of Les Faux Dieux (1963), Scriabine's doctoral dissertation, based on literature of the Russian and French authors Mikhail Zoshchenko and Marcel Ayme.

The Correspondence series (1951-1993) includes a chronological arrangement of letters from friends and colleagues as well as more extensive materials from the following correspondents: Almanac Press (1979-1982), which published Scriabine's Russian-language works in the United States; Marcel Ayme (1957-1967), the French author and subject of her doctoral dissertation; Dr. Karl Miltner (1974-1989), a German government official; Barry Morrow (1982-1983), film director and friend who has been interested in producing a TV film about Scriabine's wartime experience; Harrison Salisbury, who wrote the introduction to three of Scriabine's books and is the author of The 900 Days: the Siege of Leningrad in which he used Scriabine's eyewitness account; and Albert Speer (1977-1981), Hitler's munitions director, to whom Scriabine wrote after reading his book, Spandau, and subsequently visited in Germany.

Scriabine's recent Diaries cover the years 1984-1991 and are in Russian.

The Manuscripts series (1950-1988) includes typescripts in French, German, Russian, and English of a short story, "Five Encounters," and drafts of sections of Scriabine's books.

The Photographs and visual materials series (1920s-1996) includes pictures of Scriabine's family and friends, many snapshots from receptions and publishers' parties honoring Scriabine, and posters of the Leningrad blockade.

Siege and Survival: The Odyssey of a Leningrader; After Leningrad: A Diary of Survival (paperback); The Allies on the Rhine; and Coming of Age in the Russian Revolution (paperback) are shelved in the printed works collection, along with Russian-language paperback editions of Siege and Survival; Coming of Age in the Russian Revolution; the short story, "Five Encounters;" and the 1994 Russian publication of Pages of Life.


  • Creation: 1940-1996


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be 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 owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

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 Konstatin Dmitriovich Scriabine, an engineer, and a relative of the composer, Alexander N. Scriabin. Their two sons were Alexander Konstantinovich (Dima) (1926) and George (Yuri) (1936-1963).

After the Germans invaded Russiain June 1941, and Konstantin 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 Alexander 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 March 25, 1945.

Helene and Konstantin Scriabine each believed the other had perished during the war. Konstantin 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 George arrived in New York. Alexander, 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 George 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.


12.75 linear inches

1 audiocasette [AC252]; 2 videocassettes [V37-38] Cassettes

Language of Materials



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.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 231) were donated by Helene Scriabine in 1994 and subsequent years.

Natalie S. Brody, 1995.
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Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)