Posted By: Brothers Al and Igor Tolstoy
With Father’s Day fast approaching, we began to reflect on memories of our father and the stories he told us of his father, our Grandfather, Boris Anatolyevich Tolstoy. We remembered bits and pieces of the story of a man who had seen the rise and fall of empires and had lived through one of the most tumultuous periods of history. We talked to family members about the stories about our grandfather, and what we remembered from talking to him as young men and were able to unearth some unbelievable facts about his life.
Paying tribute to a father, or a grandfather, means understanding the life he led and the events that helped shape him into the man we remember. In honor of our grandfather we present some of the highlights of his amazing life in hopes that it inspires you to learn about the stories of your own fathers and grandfathers’ own lives.
Boris was born in Russia during the summer of 1877 on the brink of the Russo-Turkish War. The son of an Imperial Army Lieutenant and Princess of the Russian noble houses, he enjoyed a privileged childhood in St. Petersburg. As a young boy, he was blessed by the last living saint of Russian Orthodoxy, who predicted a long and fulfilling life for Boris.
Boris seemed to have it all, attending the most prestigious schools in Russia and getting a degree in Law just at the turn of the century. He married, and was awarded a position in Czar Nicholas II’s court as a legal advisor. The same Czar of the infamous Rasputin and Anastasia!
In 1917, with the Bolsheviks on the brink of revolution in Russia, Boris’ wife Vatslava is killed under suspicious circumstances while working as a Red Cross nurse in Minsk. As a member of Russian aristocracy, Boris and his children were in grave danger to remain in Russian territory. To save his children and his sister from the fate of the Czar and his family, Boris coordinated their escape to Egypt.
The privileged life of a noble was over, as Boris was forced to leave behind his amassed fortune. And things only got worse. Boris discovered there was a price on his head, and had no choice to but to flee again to Alexandria, taking a job ironing clothes to get by.
After some time, it seemed life would return to some semblance of normalcy and Boris and his family did find a peaceful life in Lithuania. And then, on September 1, 1939 Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich invaded nearby Poland and plunged Europe into chaos. As the Communists moved into the Baltics, Grandfather and family were on the move once again. Due to Boris’ royal family connections, Germany was actually a safe place for him and his family to end up after the war as the German nobles had close ties to the Russian aristocrats.
Because of Boris’ education and a previous status in the Czar’s court, he was able to secure a job as a judge in West Germany and made a comfortable living until his retirement.
After the war, Boris helped his son Anatoly, our father, to move us to Canada and came to visit many times over the years. His jovial spirit and positive approach to never despair struck us as being particularly uplifting unusual, but after examining discovering the story of his life, his ability to enjoy a difficult life well into his 90’s is inspirational.
Boris led a life filled with high and lows that few will ever experience, but it’s those stories of his, that made him the man that we knew and the man that we remember. Fathers all have their stories to tell, so this Father’s Day, take the time to discover yours.