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