Obituary: Lev Razgon

THE EVER-WIDENING gates of glasnost in the late 1980s released a stream of Soviet writers, journalists, intellectuals and academics whose itineraries in the West inevitably followed a path around the Russian departments of British universities. Among those whose memory can still evoke the excitement of those days was Lev Razgon, who visited St Antony's College, Oxford, in 1990.

At the age of 82, with a shock of thick white hair, piercing dark eyes and an impish smile, he exuded energy and youthful enthusiasm, belying the 17 years he had spent in Soviet labour camps. He recounted his life as a political prisoner without rancour. With no less amazement than his audience, he marvelled at the changes that were taking place in the Soviet Union and that had been inconceivable only a year or so earlier.

Born in 1908 in Gorki in the province of Mogilev into the family of a Jewish skilled factory worker, Lev Emmanuilovich Razgon graduated from the history faculty of the Mogilev State Teachers Training Institute in 1932, having already become known as a critic of children's and young people's literature. A Party member from the late 1920s, his career as a writer had begun promisingly with successful children's stories, when in 1938 he was arrested "for counter-revolutionary agitation" and flung into the Soviet gulag system. Unlike many inmates of military age, he was not sent to the front during the war, but sat it out until 1955, when Khrushchev amnestied vast numbers of the camp population.

Within a few years of his release and his return to Moscow, Razgon resumed writing, beginning in 1961 with a children's book, and continuing to publish every few years in the same vein, as well as stories based on the lives of famous scientists. It was not, however, until 1988 that he gained widespread acclaim as a writer, when excerpts from his memoirs, Nepridumannoe ("Not Made-up"), began appearing in Soviet journals. (They were translated into English by John Crowfoot as True Stories, 1996.)

He had been writing them for 20 years, with little hope, he confessed, that they would ever see the light of day. In the course of his time in the camps, he had encountered a wide range of individuals from all walks of life and all classes of both the old and the new society. They had told him their extraordinary life stories and he transformed them into the vivid narratives of his memoirs. Among these was a top party official, a Tsarist officer, an actor, and most amazingly the wife of Mikhail Kalinin, the titular Head of the Soviet State who remained untouched throughout his wife's ordeal, and after whom indeed the city of Kaliningrad had been and still is named.

Although Razgon was manifestly of a dissident frame of mind, his name was not associated with the dissident movement of the 1960s, nor with the campaign for Jewish emigration in the 1970s and 1980s. But in 1988 he became a member of the board of Memorial, an organisation set up to commemorate the victims of Stalinism and to secure their complete rehabilitation.

Harry Shukman

Lev Emmanuilovich Razgon, writer: born Gorki, Belarussia 1 April 1908; married 1933 Oksana Boky (died 1937; one daughter), 1943 Rika Berg (died 1991); died Moscow 8 September 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas