One day in June 1941, when the Germans were advancing on Vilnius, the recent capital of Soviet Lithuania, two NKVD officers and soldiers arrived at Teodor Shanin’s home to arrest his family because of their family background. Teodor was 10; he was there with his parents and little sister of 4. One officer did something surprising: he said that because of the hard life in the area they were being deported to, he would turn a blind eye if they left the little girl behind with someone. Which they did, leaving her with her grandfather.
The father was sentenced to forced labour and sent to a camp in Siberia. Teodor and his mother began a long trek as resettlers to various villages from the Altai Mountains to Samarkand. When his father was released from the camps, he joined them and at the end of the war, Teodor left the country and made his way to Vilnius to look for his sister. He did not find her. She suffered the fate of all the Jews in Vilnius and was shot shortly after the Germans arrived in the city.
Teodor then went to Poland but quickly moved on because of anti-Semitic violence. He went to France, Israel and then Britain where he became a university lecturer, one of the greatest specialists on the Russian peasantry. As soon as perestroika began, he started teaching in Russia as well as Britain.
Alain Blum and Juliette Denis
The interview with Teodor Shanin was conducted in 2008 by Juliette Denis and Alain Blum.
Entire interview with Teodor Shanin - original language (English)
There follows the full audio of Alain Blum and Juliette Denis’s interview with Teodor Shanin, 8 December 2008 in Moscow (in English; recorded in Teodor Shanin’s office at the Moscow School for the Social and Economic Sciences).
19/03/2011 Teodor Shanin - Testimony of a survivor
Major witness: Teodor Shanin, former Gulag deportee, currently President of the Moscow University for the Social and Economic Sciences.
One day in June 1941, as the Germans approached Vilnius, once again capital of Soviet Lithuania, an NKVD officer and soldiers arrived at the home of Teodor Shanin’s family. They had come to arrest them all because of their social origins. Teodor was 11 and his little sister 4. The officer did something amazing: he said that because of the harshness of the area they were being deported to, he would turn a blind eye if they left the little girl with someone. Which they did, entrusting her to her grandfather.
Teodor’s father was sentenced to forced labour and sent to a camp in Siberia. Teodor and his mother began a long journey of deportation to various villages from the Altai Mountains to Samarkand. Once Teodor’s father was released from the camp, he joined them.
When the war was over, Teodor left the country and passed through Vilnius to find his sister. He did not find her, because she suffered the fate of all the Jews in Vilnius. She was shot soon after the Germans arrived in the city.
Teodor Shanin’s testimony is one of the life stories that can be found on the website of the virtual museum “Sound archives – European memories of the Gulag”, initiated by RFI and the CNRS, http://www.gulagmemories.eu Its aim is to make available to internet users more than 150 testimonies, videos, propaganda films and personal photographs of survivors. “This interview was a notable one,” remembers the researcher Juliette Denis. “In a sober manner and with precise details about the events in his family’s history, Teodor Shanin was telling his life story for the first time, in full confidence. We in the team with Alain Blum were even more emotional than Teodor Shanin.”
Valérie Nivelon, with Marta Craveri, coordinator of the project “Sound archives of the Gulag”, researcher at CERCEC; Alain Blum, director of the project “Sound archives of the Gulag”, director of CERCEC; Juliette Denis, researcher at CERCEC, member of the team of 13 European researchers on the project “Sound archives of the Gulag”.