Leo Tolstoy’s Daughter Among the Kurds

Leo Tolstoy’s Daughter Among the Kurds



Lydia Aniskovich “The man’s spirit is free!”


Alexandra Lvovna Tolstaya, the youngest daughter of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, is a  prominent and uncommon personality – holder of the St. George medals of the First World War, creator of the Yasnaya Polyana museum, publicist and public figure, founder of the international “Assistance Committee for all Russian people in need” named in honor of the father’s memory The Tolstoy Foundation. The life of this woman is truly bright and amazing.


Alexandra Tolstaya was born on June 18, 1884 in the Tolstoy family estate Yasnaya Polyana, Tula Governorate. Father – Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1828-1910), mother – Sofia Andreevna, nee Behrs (1844-1919).


The day she was born, Leo Tolstoy tried to leave Yasnaya Polyana for the first time. He was already halfway to Tula but returned: his wife’s due day was approaching and his twelfth child was to be born.



In a letter to Alexandra Andreyevna Tolstoy (1817-1904), Leo Nikolaevich’s great aunt, the chamber-maid of honor of the Imperial Court  since 1891, sent to St. Petersburg on June 20, 1884, Sofia Andreevna wrote: “It’s a third day as my daughter was born. We all decided to call her Alexandra, of course, out of respect and love to you, so that she might look like you, God willing. ”


Alexandra Andreyevna became Sasha Tolstoy’s godmother and treated her goddaughter with attention and love. Sofia Andreevna’s wish was fulfilled: just as Alexandra Andreevna Tolstaya was back in the day a bright personality in the Tolstoy family, her goddaughter Sasha became even more bright and significant representative of the family.


Alexandra Andreevna was first who drew attention to the three-year-old girl’s talent. In a letter to her older sister Tatiana, she asked to pay more attention to Sasha: “… she is an extraordinary child. Her father Lev Nikolayevich is in her head and in her eyes. ”


As a child, she was not spoiled with affection and tenderness, perhaps because of the difficult relationship between her father and mother. The girl responded with boldness, stubbornness and disobedience. Mainly her governess and elder sisters took care of her.


Alexandra Tolstaya got an excellent home education.



When she turned 16, Sasha and his father came closer. Since then she has devoted all her life to him and his ideals. She took over the secretarial work, mastered the typescript and shorthand, had corresponded in her father’s behalf. It was her father who bequeathed the copyright to his literary heritage, what caused a displeasure in the family.


In 1904, Alexandra Lvovna bought a small estate Telyatinki, a mile and a half from Yasnaya Polyana.


Alexandra Tolstaya, the only one of his famoly, was let into to the secret of Lev Nikolayevich leaving Yasnaya Polyana. She helped him in his immediate preparetions on the night of October 28, 1910. She also had to tell her mother the fateful news about her father’s departure, what was resulted in Sofia Andreevna’s suicide attemt. On October 30, Alexandra Lvovna came to her father in Shamordino to accompany him on his trip to the south and did not leave him until his death. She spent seven days and nights by her dying father in Astapovo. She told about all this later in the article “About the Rescue and Death of L.N. Tolstoy”, published in 1928.


November 7, 1910 Leo Tolstoy was gone. The death of her father changed Alexandra’s. She wrote: “With him, I didn’t have my own life, interests. All significant, real things has been associated with him. And when he left, a gaping emptiness were ramained, and I didn’t know how to fill it. ”


First of all, Alexandra Lvovna hurried to sutisfy her father will, and organized the publication of his unpublished works. The book came out in 1911.


August 1, 1914 the war began. “It was unbearable to do nothing,” Alexandra Lvovna recalling her own experiences of those days, “One by one, nephews and workers leave one by one;  they took my trotting horses. The manor was empty, everything that partially filled my life – the housekeeping, organization and work in cooperatives – everything receded into the background. ”


When  she read in one of the newspapers about the confusion in the relations between the military department and the Russian Red Cross Society in assisting the wounded, it originated a thought to become a Sister of Mercy. She possessed quite good knowledge in medicine.


Alexandra Tolstaya completed a training course and medical practice at the Zvenigorod Hospital led by Dr. D.V. Nikitin, a friend of the Tolstoy family. After receiving news from her sister Tatyana about her grief – the death of her husband Mikhail Sergeyevich Sukhotin, Alexandra wrote to her from Pokrovsky-Rubtsovo, where the Zvenigorod hospital was located, on September 9, 1914: “It’s night, everybody sleeps. I am on duty alone. I go around these hundred suffering people, give them a drink, give them everything they need, cover them, give medicine, and these hundred people are no longer strangers to me. Every day I bandage them, I talk to them, I know where anyone came from, where they were wounded, how wounded … Many of them are striving to go back to the army …


At first I was very afraid of operations, even once I felt bad, but now I got used to it – I was seconded to the dressing room and operating room. I am getting tired so much that sometimes when I sit down, I get up and walk like a broken horse … So painful are my legs … until I get out again, but my heart is calm and peaceful. Tanya, if I write too little, it is not because I don’t think about you, but because I don’t have time to breathe ”





Alexandra Lvovna successfully passed her exams and was preparing to be sent to the front. Her father’s relatives and friends, the Tolstoyans, did not approve her actions, consider it as a betrayal of Lev Nikolaevich values. Alexandra Lvovna thought otherwise.


In the All-Russian Zemstvo Union, where she went to be sent to the front, she was offered a seat of the sister of mercy on the 187th sanitary train operating on the North-Western Front. For a whole month the sanitary train traveled along the roads of the North-Western Front, then, appearing in Bialystok, then following again to the front lines, where help was needed.


The 187th sanitary train operated to the north of Lyk station, taking wounded and sick soldiers from the advanced sanitary squads. Sometimest they picked up fighters on the road, those whocame to the railway tracks themselves in the hope of help. Day and night she had to do heavy, dirty work.  The sanitary train became for Alexandra Tolstoy a school of patience and compassion.


As fate would have it, Aleksandra Lvovna had to continue medical service in the Caucasus. At the end of 1914, the 7th advanced medical-nutritional detachment of the All-Russian Zemstvo Union was organized to work on the Turkish front, with whom Alexandra Tolstaya as the authorized Zemstvo Union made her hard journey from Tiflis to the foot of Ararat and further through the Chinchil Pass to the Turkish Armenia.


Alexandra wrote to her sister Tatiana from Tiflis: “More than a half of our detachment, headed by Sergei Glebov, went to Kars-Oltu. There the leading positions are occupied by the Red Cross and the city union. We leading by three doctors chose the direction of Erivan-Igdir near the Persian border. There is absolutely no help in this direction and epidemics are rampant: typhoid, smallpox, and most importantly, malaria. There is no road there, camels are barely making their way in some places. ”




The first news from Igdir Alexandra Tolstaya sent to her brother Sergey on January 20, 1915: “Dear Seryozha, I am writing to you from the town Igdir, almost on the border between Turkey and Persia, located at the foot of Ararat. This place is moist, paludal and so dirty that I have never seen anything like this in my life. We place a hospital in tents here. The local hospital where we are housed is too small. Here is a nice manor and a courtyard where we spend almost the whole day. After we organize everything here the most of the squad will move on further to Turkey. Most likely we will open a hospital in the Turkish city Caracalis. ”


Soon Alexandra Lvovna was awarded the first St. George Medal. Considering the award undeserved, she wrote to her mother on February 12, 1915 from Igdir: “The other day the corps commander drove to our hospital, they called me, and the general, by order of Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich, assigned me the St. George medal. I confess to you that I would be happy to receive a medal for some good work, but this medal I did not deserve and was very unpleasant for me. ”


In early March, Alexandra writes to her mother: “Dear Mom, Thank you and Tanya for the letter I received the other day. I beg you to do charity work and use outpatient money. We have a lot of work, 32 people sick and wounded, some are with typhus. Part of the detachment, including me, is leaving to Turkey, to Caracalis in 4 days. Our camels and cars came.

Kisses to all of you, do not forget me. Your daughter Sasha.


On March 17, she sent her first news from Caracalis to her relatives: “So I am in Turkey and have distanced from you all for the whole five days that took us to go here. From Igdir to Caracalis is 150 versts and a road is we have no idea in Russia about it. Riding horses were covered in the mud till their bellies, we were riding half-roads on horseback, half-roads on foot and in catss. Monotonous raw nature, without forest. The road goes through snowy mountains and through muddy valleys.


All the buildings we saw almost destroyed … All the cattle was killed, there was no food, there was no bread, no fuel. The inhabitants – Kurds and Armenians – are savages who live worse than our cattle … In Caracalis we live in tents that are heated with a kerosene burner. Camels and mules bring our supply. The hospital is in tents. There are wounded people who were brought up after a successful battle with the Turks. ”



Two weeks later she wrote to her mother: “For almost two weeks now I’m in Turkey. We set up here a big camp. We arranged a tent hospital for 50 people, a sauna, a pharmacy, a dressing room, a canteen, and nine sisters live in the same tent. The other day there was a firefight nearby, but, fortunately, there were no dead or wounded. Our business is going great in this area… “.


Military operations became more active in spring, and Russian troops in all sectors of the Caucasian front were crowded the Turks, moving towards Erzerum. The front was moving away from Caracalis, and the work of the sisters of mercy noticeably decreased.


Alexander Lvovna was recalled to Igdir to fulfil the next task. It was decided to send her as part of a small detachment to the city of Van, where the Armenian-Kurdish massacre recently broke out. A thousand and two hundred Kurds, who miraculously survived the massacre, mostly old people and children, found shelter and protection in the American mission. They needed sanitary and medical care. The only American doctor, Sime Yarrow, was unable to cope with this problem and asked for help Igdir detachment. Alexandra Lvovna was instructed to recruit people, take some medicine and supplies and go to help the Kurds.


A week later after dealing with the sick people, Alexandra Lvovna’s assistants  were infected by typhus. She had to shoulder all the problems, including the care of sick assistants. In addition, the only doctor of the American mission Syme Yarrow fell ill. Alexandra Lvovna nursed him as well.


In August 1915, Alexandra Tolstoy managed to get a vacation to Moscow. During these two months in Moscow she was ill three times. She suffered from fever, headaches and toothaches, forcing her to stay in bed. Exhausted and depleted body  revealed itself.


A.L. Tolstaya was not yet fully recovered but she got a new referral to the Western Front. She was appointed as Zemstvo Union commissioner to organize children’s shelters. November 15, 1915 Alexandra Lvovna was already in Minsk.


In her new position, she traveled a lot across the vast area from Minsk to Vilna, organizing shelters, providing them with adequate equipment for canteens and schools and completing them with necessary personnel.


In December 1915 she fell ill with relapsing fever. After the illness in mid-January 1916, she managed to come to Moscow for one day.


In late February, Alexandra Tolstaya received sad news from the family about death i of her brother Andrei in Petrograd. Then she wrote to her mother: “I want to write to you that I have been thinking about you all these days, about Katya, Masha and Andryusha, whom we all loved, and who so unexpectedly left us. Terribly sad … But I was also charged with new case, which I think to start immediately: the organization of an independent advanced surgical detachment with tents and vehicles for the wounded. To work from morning till night, so not to think about anything, not dwell on anything, is the only possible condition for me now. It very hard to live in the world now… “.



Although her health left much to be desired, Alexandra Lvovna actively began the organization of a flying squad. In a short time, she managed to get 125 horses, 30 gigs adapted to carry the wounded, 16 carts, a camp kitchen and other equipment.


She pass on the organization of the children’s shelter canteens to her brother Ilya’s wife – Sofia Nikolayevna Tolstaya.


In mid-May, ambulance vehicles moved towards the front. Before leaving, Alexandra Lvovna reported to Yasnaya Polyana: “Now I am going to the front. I arrange a detachment and a hospital for 400 beds. I am very, very busy. Write to me – Molodechno. 8th Sanitary Zemunion’s Transport “.



At the beginning of June, the 8th ambulance transport from Molodechno moved to the front line to the location of the 64th Infantry Division, where the hospital was deployed.


It was dangerous on the front line, the hospital, despite the flag of the Red Cross, was bombed from airplanes. Afterwards Alexandra Lvovna wrote in her book “Daughter”: “I remember one night. I was going to go to sleep. And suddenly the familiar noise of the airplanes get closer and closer. Somewhere a bomb exploded, then another one. In the underwear, unsoed, disheveled orderlies abandoned patients and fled to the dugout …


– Where are you going?! – I shouted with my voice changed. – You left patients? Go  back! Get your guns, bastards! .. – I do not remember what I was shouting. ”


In the middle of June, Alexandra Lvovna wrote to her relatives: “Tomorrow I will move out my dressing squad with transport two miles away from the Germans, we will be placed in dugouts, underground.

… A team consist of 150 people, 25 pepole of staff, and all this must be held in the hands, guided, reconciled…

150 horses, cows, 60 carts. It is interesting to create, create new and new things, move forward, helping the sick and wounded.

… The troops are in great mood, and I firmly believe that the Germans are nearly finished.”


Soon the location of the 64th division was attacted with a gas. 2,000 people died on this day. At the end of June, Alexandra Lvovna wrote to her sister about this tragedy: “We collected them near the trenches, on the roads – everywhere. Many were suffocating, wheezing, asking for help, and … dying same time. We worked all day. Patients were not only in tents, but also in the yard – everything was filled out. The fight continued next night. So we worked without sleep, without rest for four days. I could not look at the selfless work of doctors, paramedics, sisters without emotions.”


In early July, Alexandra Tolstoy was called to Moscow to the All-Russian Zemstvo Union to submit a report on the work sha had done. She was forced to stay in Moscow against her will, because of another malaria attack. Alexandra Lvovna wasn’t waiting for the final recovery and left to Minsk, where she again was laid up with malaria. After recovery, she traveled again for the Zemunion between Minsk and Zalesye.


In September 1916, Alexandra Lvovna Tolstaya was awarded the second St. George medal. In her memoirs, she describes this event in such way: “I jumped out and ran to a small group of people who surrounded the apparently important military people. It was Adjutant General Prince Yusupov, Count Sumarokov-Elston. I stopped in front of these important people in complete embarrassment: why did these people come? What do they need? What am I supposed to do? If we were in the rear, in thehigh-society, I would not be confused, would go to the general and simply say hello to him. And here, at the front, everything was done in a military way. ” According to the memoirs of Alexandra Lvovna, the general approached her, praised and thanked the detachment for their dedicated work during the gas attack to rescue the poisoned soldiers, inquired about the situation and “awarded in the name of His Majesty the Emperor with St. George medals of different degrees doctor, one nurse, two soldiers and me”.

Alexandra Lvovna did not tell anyone, even her sister, about this significant event.



In October, the Tolstoya’s squad was almost destroyed by a bomb. She was  away on this moment. Alexandra Lvovna came through this tragedy with such courage.



And again she undertook to organize sanitary detachments, again she shouldered hard job: trips to Minsk, Molodechno and Smorgon, getting equipment for cabinets, laundries, baths, disinfection chambers, as well as gigs, carts, horses, not to mention people.


On December 10, 1916, she wrote to her sister Tatiana: “Recently I have not written to you at all. There was no time. Within a month, the detachment recovered from the shock that fate had brought on it in Zalesye, and it grew even more, it became even better. Two, a so-called mobile group and a base, which supplies these troops with forage and supplies and leads the entire office, grew out of one detachment. Each unit has its own infirmary, clinic, dressing room, dental office, laundry room, sauna, disinfection chamber, and 30 gigs with 125 horses for transporting the wounded.


Each mobile group is attached to a division, for its disposal and as part of it …



We and the patience live in dugouts, huts and tents. I live nowhere – and everywhere. I appear here and there, I try to maintain my mood, restore order, pick up a team.

In one of the mobile groups I live in a dugout, where I can not straighten up to my full height. At first there was wet, but now it’s dried out and even became cozy. ”


In the middle of January 1917, Alexandra Lvovna was expected in Moscow, but instead she found herself in the Minsk surgical hospital, where she was operated on for leg inflammation in February.


On February 25, Alexandra Tolstaya wrote to the sister Tatyana from the infirmary: “… when you live as we do now – in huts and dugouts, where the water is cold, you see how many unnecessary and superfluous things we start. Needs like rubber – tightened and stretched. As we froze through this winter, it seems that if it were warm and clean, then nothing more was needed.”


Meanwhile, the February revolution took place in Russia. Many years later, Alexandra Lvovna, recalling these events, would write in her memoirs: “I was in a Minsk hospital, I just had an operation. Tropical fever, which I picked up while working on the Turkish front, was added to the pyemia. My head was cloudy because of very high fever. But the disease did not bother me. Revolution? What is coming? .. My favorite doctor, an elderly comely Jew, entered the room, sat down by the bed and checked my pulse.

– Tell me, doctor, how are you?

– Well, the wound will heal soon. High temperature is because of malaria.

– I’m not talking about that … I’m talking about the revolution, what’s going on? Are there any changes?

– Yes, Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich abdicated the throne.

– My God! .. So … Russia has gone …

– Yes. Russia has gone! – the doctor repeated sadly and left the room.


After the February Revolution, as a result of the Bolshevik agitation, dissosiation and desertion began in the Russian army. Alexandra Lvovna understood that being in such an army is dangerous. She couldn’t leave her post nadreturn to Moscow without permission, as others did. Alexandra Tolstaya continued to work, waiting for the right occasion to leave the squad. Finally, there was someone who wanted to take over the leadership of the detachment, and she returned to Moscow.


In Petrograd, with the participation of the well-known in Russia lawyer A.F. Koni, academicians V.I. Sreznevsky and A.I. Shakhmatov, writer A.M. Hir’yakov and others was established a society for study and distribution of the L.N. Tolstoy’s heritage. This society received a legal status of a public organization, which was later transformed into the Cooperative Partnership. Little funds were found and that allowed a small group of people to start work on the Tolstoy’s heritage at the Rumyantsev Museum.


Despite the famine and cold, Alexandra Lvovna, attracted to this work, was so get carried away that she seemed not to notice anything around her. Her brother Sergey Lvovich helped her. Together they analyzed their father’s manuscripts and diaries. Even Sophia Andreevna, who lost her interest in life, also renewed her spirits.


The new government conceived construction of a school in Yasnaya Polyana, and Alexandra Tolstaya began to go there often, taking the matter under control. In order to clean up the estate and protect it from strangers, Alexandra Lvovna appealed to the people’s commissar of education Lunacharsky. On May 27, 1919, the People’s Commissariat for Education gave her a Security Certificate, which certified that the estate and all things in Tolstoy’s house have “exceptional cultural and historical value,  are a national property and are under the state protection”.


In April 1919, the representatives of the opposition created the organization called Tactical Center, the purpose of which was to restore the nation unity of Russia and change the form of government. Alexandra Lvovna, not satisfied with the new government, provided her Moscow apartment for meetings of the Tactical Center.



On May 31, 1919, Lenin, fear the growth of popular unrest in connection with the escalation of the White Guards, called to rise to fight with spies and White Guard traitors. The activity of the Chekists in Moscow intensified, arrests began. In the middle of July 1919, Alexander Lvovna was also arrested, but due to the lack of evidence of her involvement in the counter-revolutionary activities, Tolstaya was released. Soon she was arrested again and again released on bail.


In November 1919, Sophia Andreevna died of pneumonia. They buried her next to the church in Kochety, the former estate of Tatyana Lvovna, near of her daghter Masha’s grave.


March 29, 1920, Alexandra Tolstaya was arrested for the third time. Considering the members of the Tactical Center testimony, she was forced to admit the fact of the meetings in her apartment. The Tolstoy society defended her. Fearing close attention of the public, the authorities decided to release Tolstaya before the trial began. In May, she was released. In her memoirs, Alexandra Lvovna wrote: “Before leaving the cell, I wrote in huge letters all over the wall:“ The human spirit is free! It can not be limited by anything: no walls, no bars! ”


The Tactical Center case was considered by the Revolutionary Tribunal under the chairmanship of I.K. Ksenofontov from August 16 to August 20, 1920. The main prosecutor at the trial was Krylenko. The court session was held in the Polytechnic Museum. According to Aleksandra Lvovna Tolstaya, the Revolutionary Tribunal decided: “Imprison for three years in the concentration camp” Two armed chekists escorted Alexandra Tolstoy across all Moscow to Novospassky Monastery – the place of her imprisonment. There she was visited by an American doctor, Syme Yarrow, who was trying to help to his rescuer.


Alexandra Kollontai stood up for Alexandra Tolstaya and wrote a petition to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee for early release of Tolstaya. In February 1921, Alexandra Lvovna was released.


In Moscow, Alexandra Tolstaya did not stay long. After meeting with Kalinin, she was appointed “guardian commissioner” of the house museum “Yasnaya Polyana”, where she was to create a cultural and educational center with a library and school, organize lectures, performances and tours. In 1921, more than 3,000 people visited the museum.


Alexandra Lvovna helped Yekaterina Pavlovna Peshkova in the work of a human rights organization called Pompolit, which Peshkova headed in the fall in 1922.


In 1925 Tatyana Lvovna with her daughter Tanya left Russia. They settled in Rome, where Tanya successfully married an Italian, a successful lawyer Leonardo Albertini. Earlier, brother Ilya emigrated to America.


Alexandra Lvovna, tired of fighting with local authorities for maintenance in Yasnaya Polyana the moral spirit that her father preached, was also thought about emigration more and more often.


Since 1925, intense preparations were made for the L.N. Tolstoy’s centenary (1928). On the anniversary in the Kuzminsky wing, the first exhibition opened – “Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana”; the 90-volume L.N. Tolstoy’s complete works was published, a school was named after L.N. Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana. Alexandra Lvovna played a great role in the creation of the museum and its development in the 1920s. From 1925 she became the director of the L.N. Tolstoy’s museum in Moscow.


Realizing that she cannot work anymore in militant atheism and lawlessness environment, Alexandra Tolstaya made her final decision on emigration. She appealed to the People’s Commissariat of Education with a request to send her to Japan under the pretext of familiarization with Japanese methods of teaching and reading a series of lectures about her father. She was denied a passport several times. In the late summer of 1929, she received an invitation to visit Japan to give lectures about her father, so she visited the people’s commissar for education Lunacharsky and finally obtained permission to leave. Nothing but the necessary manuscripts, books and lecture notes were not allowed to take. In the fall of 1929, Alexandra Lvovna arrived in the Land of the Rising Sun.


They knew and honored Leo Tolstoy in Japan. A real lecture boom dedicated to the great writer began. However, it gradually dropped and the fees for the lectures decreased, and Alexandra Lvovna found herself in difficult material circumstances.


Alexandra Tolstaya’s official journey lasted for 20 months. Her long stay in Japan alarmed Kremlin authorities. A letter from the Consul General of the USSR came from Tokyo, ordering Alexandra Lvovna to come to the Soviet consulate regarding her stay abroad. In response to this letter, Alexander Tolstaya appealed to the people’s commissariat of education with a statement about the refusal to return home, citing the fact that all Tolstoy institutions, including house museum “Yasnaya Polyana”, are used by the Soviet authorities in anti-religious propaganda and it contradicted the point of her father’s teachings. So she became a political emigrant.


She chose the United States of America as a permanent place of residence, and in 1931 she left Japan.


After moving from Japan to the United States, Alexandra Lvovna gave lectures about her father in different cities, receiving very scanty fees. In addition to lectures, she appeared in the press with protests against the Bolshevik’s repressions, against the persecution of the church, the persecution of dissent, in defense of universal moral principles. Many of her relatives, including her older sister Tatyana were not shared  her political activities.


The Yarrow family helped Alexandra Tolstoy to buy a small farm in Connecticut, where her new working life began. Her friend Olga Alexandrovna Khristianovich, a teacher from the Yasnaya Polyana school, settled with her on the farm. She followed with her daughter Alexandra Lvovna, first to Japan and then to the United States.


Working life on the farm took a lot of energy; nevertheless, Alexandra Tolstaya continued to lecture and write.


Soon her brother Illya died in her arms from cancer. And there was a flood, which brought big damage to the farm. Alexandra Lvovna dreamed of a trip to Europe, but material need did not give her such an opportunity. “If I had 300 dollars … I would go to Italy to say goodbye to my sister, maybe forever,” she thought.


In the late 1930s. Tatiana Aleksandrovna Shaufus, front-line friend of Alexandra Tolstoy, came to America. They had the idea to create a Committee to help Russian refugees.


In her book “The Daughter,” Alexandra Lvovna wrote: “In 1939, in early spring, the was first organizational meeting including B.А. Bakhmetyev, B.V. Sergievsky, S.V. Rachmaninov, gr. S.V. Panina, a friend of the former President of Hoover, Dr. Colton, Professor M.A. Rostovtsev, attorney Grevs, T.A. Schaufus and me.


It was decided to call the committee In memory of my father L.N. Tolstoy – the Tolstoy Foundation, and it was registered in New York state on April 15, 1939. A new, very important stage has begun in my life.”


Soon the Second World War started. Throughout all the years of the war, the Tolstoy Foundation, headed by A.L. Tolstaya, provided assistance to immigrants arriving in the US, Russian prisoners of war and refugees from other countries that fell under the communist yoke – from Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia.


Among others, Alexandra Lvovna got an American visa for the writer Vladimir Nabokov in 1940. “For another Russians, leaving France was very difficult,” he remembered, “and I would hardly have left without the help of my dear c. A.L. Tolstaya. The biggest difficulty is to get a visa. But if you get the visa, the French will let you go without any delay.”


It should be noted that Nabokov thanked Alexandra Lvovna in a very peculiar way for her help. When the publication of her novel “Predawn Fog” began in 1942 in the New York’s New Journal, Nabokov, who was published in the same journal, gave an ultimatum to the editor-in-chief — either Ms. Tolstaya or me. The continuation of the publication of the Tolstaya’s novel did not follow, and its full text is not known.


In 1941, Alexandra Lvovna was granted of American citizenship. In May 1945, in connection with the end of the Second World War, mass repatriation of prisoners of war and civilians (Soviet nationals) to the USSR unfolded in Europe and continued until January 1, 1952. The exception concerned only residents of the territories that became part of the USSR in 1939-1940.


The fate of repatriates at home was tragic – executions, camps, exiles, forced labor, deprivation or restriction of rights and freedoms. The Tolstoy Foundation played a huge role in saving repatriates.


The closest Alexandra Tolstaya’s assistant, Tatiana Shaufus, was sent from New York to Munich for the Russian refugees protection. All those years she was headed the immigration department of the American Committee for Refugees. On September 22, 1947, she opened the European office of the Tolstoy Foundation in Munich. Then, in total, thanks to the efforts of the Foundation, about 13,000 Russians were rescued from the camps. In total, from May 1947 to 1952, more than 213,000 people were took to the USA, Canada, England, Belgium, France, Brazil and other countries from the western zones of Germany and Austria.


When another human tragedy broke out in New York in the summer of 1948, Alexandra Tolstaya, without hesitation, defended her compatriot, citizen Oksana Kosyenkina, who was in official trip in the USA. Kosyenkina taught English at a technical school for Soviet sales representatives and consular staff. Decided to stay in America, she turned to the Tolstoy Center, asking for political asylum and shelter.


Using threats and blackmail Kosyenkina was trapped in the Soviet consulate, where during a conversation with the consul she jumped out of a window from the third floor. The injured woman was sent to the hospital by police. Alexandra Lvovna made a call not to extradite Oksana Kosyenkina to the Soviet authorities.


In the USSR a reaction was followed immediately. Numerous articles appeared in the central press “exposed” Alexandra Tolstoy as a spy against the USSR.


One of Alexandra Lvovna’s nephews, Sergey Mikhailovich Tolstoy, who emigrated to France, in his book “Tolstoy’s children” wrote about this: “Her nephews, who remained in Russia, signed “The protest of the L.N. Tolsoy’s family members against the espionage activity of the Homeland traitor A. Tolstaya in America.” This “letter to the editor”, compiled in the best traditions of the cold formal language, was published in Pravda on September 21, 1948. The letter called “all honest people” to stigmatize those “who, in the name of the great Russian writer and patriot, try to cover up dirty, spy, misanthropic cases against peace, progress and freedom. The name of Leo Tolstoy cannot stand next to the names of fascist scum, American gangsters, lynchmen of blacks, murderers, stranglers of democracy, enemies of freedom-loving peoples. “”

Under various pretexts, this letter was not signed by Anna Ilinichna and Sergey Sergeevich Tolstoy.


For more than 50 years, employees of the Tolstoy Foundation were not allowed to work in Russia. Officially A.L. Tolstaya was rehabilitated only in 1994.


Alexandra Lvovna, in spite of everything, continued to engage in human rights activities and literary works. Three years before her sister Tatiana death in 1947, Aleksandra wrote to her: “How sad that we cannot talk in old age, a lot of things would be so clear, and we would find a common language immediately… I live like this: I get up at six in the morning and I write, at 8.30 I am driving to New York. I work here until eight in the evening, sometimes until 12 at night. And five days are like this. Two days I am working at the farm. Personal life, except writing, – I don’t have. Well, that’s ok … After all, I will turn 63 – an old woman.”


In 1953, her book “Father. Life of Leo Tolstoy” was published in New York. In the 1965th in Washington – “Gleams in the darkness.”


In 1970, the construction of a comfortable complex for the elderly on the territory of the Tolstoy Center was completed and Alexandra Lvovna took an active part in it. By this time, the Tolstoy Foundation already had a lot of branches in Europe and South America.


In 1974, the Tolstoy family gathered in New York to celebrate Alexandra Lvovna’s  90th anniversary. After returning from the family celebration S.M. Tolstoy wrote from Paris that Alexandra Lvovna in her 90 years is “in a bright mind, very gentle and kind; she finds it difficult to walk, but she works a lot and continues to write, her last little stories are lovely.”


On June 9, 1979, Russian Americans honored A.L. Tolstaya in connection with being awarded the title of laureate of the Russian-American Chamber of Glory. Founded in the United States, this chamber was intended to honor the outstanding American citizens of Russian origin for their contributions to science, technology, art, social and spiritual life in the United States of America.


On that memorable day in June, more than 200 members of the congress and guests gathered at the Tolstoy Center, located in the Valley Cottage, to offer their congratulations to the new winner, Alexandra Lvovna Tolstaya. The disease did not allow her to attend to her own celebration.


A few months before her death, seriously ill Alexandra Lvovna saw her latest book, “The Daughter” being published.


Alexandra Tolstay died on September 26, 1979, a few months after her 95th birthday. She was buried on the Novodeyevsky monastery cemetery in Spring Valley, New York.


An amazingly courageous woman, Alexandra Lvovna Tolstaya, devoted her whole life to the protection of the disadvantaged people. Her philantropy has received worldwide recognition. Let us keep in memory the bright image of our compatriot.



We are grateful to Kurdish Historian Mr. LETİF MEMMED BRUKİ supplying this historical document.





  1. Yu. Hechinov.- Alexandra Tolstoy’s steep roads. M, 1996
  2. T. Ulyankina. – The role of the Tolstoy Foundation (USA) in saving Russian emigrant scientists from repatriation in post-war Europe (1944-1952)
  3. N. Azarov. – Passion personality.



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