Russians who Brought Glory to France/ Ãëàâíàÿ / Russkiy Mir Foundation / Publications / Russians who Brought Glory to France
Russians who Brought Glory to France
Russians who Brought Glory to France
After the Revolution, the Russian emigration spread as a large wave across the whole world. According to approximate numbers, up to 2 million people fled from Bolshevism and more than 400 thousand found a home in France. In foreign lands, these exiles had to face the difficulties of life and take up work—some in factories and restaurants, others becoming taxi drivers. There were also those who managed to maintain a spiritual connection to Russia, while also integrating into the ways of French life and contributing much to their new homeland by placing their talents and energy in its service. Here we will start telling the story of the Russian émigrés who enriched French culture.
“That woman taught Frenchwomen how to be elegant,” the renowned Coco Chanel once said about Hélène Lazareff, the founder of ELLE magazine.
Hélène Lazareff. Photo: Find Russian Heritage
Hélène was the daughter of a tobacco magnate from Rostov-on-Don named Boris Gordon. He was one of the few who anticipated the revolution and managed to transfer all of his wealth into European banks before emigrating to Paris with his family in his own luxury train. In 1932 Hélène graduated with honors from the Sorbonne, where she studied ethnography in the philology department. After returning from an expedition to Africa, she published her travel notes in the Paris-Soir newspaper. The editor-in-chief was the young, charismatic Pierre Lazareff, who was also the son of Russian émigrés. It was love at first sight. The young couple were soon married. Hélène worked at the newspaper under Pierre’s direction and took charge of the women’s column. This beginning journalist wanted to develop her own style and strove to understand all the nuances of the publishing process.
In 1940 the married couple fled occupied Paris for America. Hélène started publishing in Harper’s Bazaar. This was where she developed the idea of publishing her own magazine.
After returning to France in June 1945, Hélène Lazareff founded a women’s weekly with the laconic name ELLE (“Her”). The first issue sold out immediately. Hélène’s well-developed intuition about journalism allowed her to sense what women wanted from the press. She could tell that in the difficult post-war period women wanted freedom and a positive outlook on the world—“humor in important things and seriousness in frivolity.” On the pages of ELLE one could find the answers to questions like, what color and style of dress was currently in fashion, how to take care of one’s appearance, what theatrical premieres and exhibition openings were worth visiting, and what was new in the lives of movie stars. The magazine became an idiosyncratic guide to the “fashionable way of life,” made up primarily of practical advice and recommendations.
Cover of Elle magazine in 1949, with 14-year-old Brigitte Bardot—a star’s debut. Photo: elle.fr
From the very beginning Hélène invested in the publication’s aesthetic profile. ELLE was meant to show its readers life in full color. The magazine was full of illustrations and it was the first French publication to come out with a colorful cover. Design experiments transformed its individual issues into real works of art.
This emancipatory women’s journal quickly achieved success, and by the end of the 1960s it had an audience of 800 thousand readers. At the time its slogan was: “If she reads, she reads ELLE.” ELLE became a trendsetter of French fashion, and people started calling Hélène Lazareff the “queen” of women’s magazines.
Today the journal comes out in 29 versions across more then 60 countries worldwide. It has more than 5 million readers. ELLE has become an international publishing empire—with the talented Russian journalist Hélène Lazareff behind its success.
Over the course of her life Hélène watched events in Soviet Russia with great attention and concern. In 1954 she and her husband were able to make a major trip to the USSR. Lazareff visited Moscow, Leningrad, Kharkov, Kutuaisi, Sukhumi, Adler, and Sochi. This trip resulted in a collection of pictures from the lives of Soviet peoples called USSR in the Time of Malenkov.
Godson of the writer Maxim Gorky, brother of the prominent Bolshevik Yakov Sverdlov, general in the French Army, recipient of fifty state prizes, and a close friend of Charles de Gaulle—such was the surprising and sometimes paradoxical life of Zinovy Peshkov.
Zinovy Peshkov was born Zalman Sverdlov on 16 October 1884 in Nizhny Novgorod, to the family of a Jewish woodcutter. The Sverdlovs were often visited by Maxim Gorky, who lived nearby in those years. He showed a concern for this capable boy early on and became his godfather.
Peshkov studied acting in the school of the Moscow Art Theater, and then worked as Gorky’s literary secretary.
Being an adventurous individual, prone to escapades and “changes of scenery,” the twenty-year-old Peshkov left Russia—first for Canada, and then to the U.S. and Italy. The beginning of the First World War coincided with his arrival in France, which became a second home for him. Without thinking, this young man began serving in the Foreign Legion. During his military career, the Russian legionnaire demonstrated unheard-of courage, fearlessly throwing himself into the most hopeless battle charges. In the Battle of Verdun he lost his right arm. Researchers claim that Peshkov was carried off the field of battle by Lieutenant Charles de Gaulle, who happened to be nearby.
Zinovy Peshkov / Photo: Wikipedia
Beginning in 1917 Zinovy Peshkov served as a diplomat. Living separated from his homeland, Peshkov took the Russian Revolution very hard. He convinced his superiors to send him to Russia as part of a diplomatic mission. Peshkov established friendly relations between western countries and the anti-Bolshevik leader Admiral Kolchak. This resulted in a curious situation: while the younger brother, Yakov Sverdlov, was the chairman of the Central Committee and practically the number-two person in Soviet Russia, the older brother, Peshkov, was the power broker of the White resistance. Zinovy sent his brother a telegram: “Yashka, when we take Moscow we’ll hang Lenin first and you second—for everything you’ve done to Russia!”
When the situation on the front of the Civil War came to a breaking point, Peshkov managed to organize an evacuation to France for a significant portion of the White officers. He was himself one of the last to leave Russia, like the captain of a sinking ship.
With the outbreak of World War II, he moved to London and joined the ranks of the French Resistance, where he once again met de Gaulle. Soon he became one of de Gaulle’s closest comrades-in-arms. The General recognized him to be a brilliant negotiator and sent him to China, and then to France as the head of a diplomatic mission. Peshkov, who was already getting up in years, mastered Chinese and Japanese, which he spoke (like the other five languages he knew) with a Nizhny Novgorod accent.
In 1950 he retired at the rank of Corps General—the only foreigner to receive such a high rank.
Zinovy Peshkov was married once, to Lidia Burago, who gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. He died on 7 November 1966 and was buried with military honors at the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Russian Cemetery near Paris. The major Parisian newspapers wrote: “Zinovy Peshkov is no more. He was a great personality, a bright color on the palette of Liberated France,” and: “He earned his French citizenship with the blood he spilled.”
Zinovy Peshkov had a dizzying and impressing career in spite of his foreign heritage, his battle injury, and his lack of a formal education.
Anna Marly: Muse of the Resistance
“You turned your talent into a weapon for France,” General de Gaulle told her. Anna Marly was an aristocrat from Petersburg who became the author of a hymn of the French Resistance.
Anna was born to an aristocratic family in Petrograd during the days of the October Revolution. Her ancestors included the poet Mikhail Lermontov and the politician Pyotr Stolypin. Her father, Yuri Betunlinsky, served in the Senate and was shot by the Bolsheviks before her first birthday. At that time, her mother fled Russia with Anna and her nanny. They settled in the south of France. There, the little girl entered a Russian school, and her mother started teaching private lessons.
Anna received a guitar for her tenth birthday, and this instrument would determine her life going forward. She took classes with the famous composer Sergei Prokofiev, who immediately noticed her musical talent. Anna later started to write songs and accompany herself on the guitar. At the age of 17 she debuted with her compositions at an extravagant Paris cabaret called Scheherazade. Because the name “Betulinsky” was too difficult for the French to pronounce, she took on the pseudonym “Marly,” picked at random from a phonebook.
The onset of World War II starkly changed Anna’s life: She was forced to flee occupied Paris for London. In Great Britain, Marly participated in concerts and was invited to perform on the radio.
Anna learned from the newspapers that Germany had invaded the Soviet Union. “It stirred up everything Russian within me, set my soul aflame. In a flash, I composed the ‘Song of the Partisans,’” Marly remembered. This confessional, emotional composition was written in Russian. With soulful sorrow and tragic overtones, the song extolls the courage, resolve, and heroism of those who dared to fight as partisans.
Journalist Joseph Kessel and writer Moris Druon translated the “Song of the Partisans” into French, and it was broadcast by the BBC and soared over to French airwaves. This melody had an exceptional emotional effect on the French: it gave them hope and inspiration to fight fascism. People living under occupation could feel how close these words were to their own state of mind, their own thoughts and feelings. The intonation of the “Song of the Partisans” is such that it can be sung quietly or even whispered. The underground started to use the melody as a call sign in their radio communications. It allowed them to identify each other without words. The “Song of the Partisans” became so popular that after the war there was even talk of making it the French national anthem.
Anna Marly was the Muse of the Resistance. She performed for the soldiers, and after the war was won she participated in a grand celebratory concert in Paris. It truly became a national song, though the author’s name remained forgotten for many years. In 1985, for the fortieth anniversary of France’s liberation, Marly was awarded the Legion of Honor as recognition for the role that the legendary “Song of the Partisans” played in French history.