The Fate of Dus-Chotimirsky's Son

The Fate of Dus-Chotimirsky's Son

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In January last year, I posted Ella Vengerova's memories about Fyodor Dus-Chotimirsky, one of the most original and eccentric players from the older generation of Russian/Soviet masters. In passing, she mentioned his son, who went MIA during the Second World War.

Fyodor Ivanovich Dus-Chotimirsky with his wife and son lived in our kitchen. Not exactly in kitchen though - beside the kitchen, in the former servant room. The area of that room was 8 or 10 square meters at most. They had exactly three items of furniture: a bed, a table and a sofa. I don't remember them having a wardrobe. Perhaps they did have one, but it was so small that I didn't notice it. Over the table, there was Dus's personal phone; a guitar with red ribbon hung over the sofa, and over the double bed, there was a portrait of a beautiful woman looking up, with her hair undone. The woman's name was Mary Magdalene, Dus's wife was named Sofia Ivanovna (Auntie Sonia for me), and his son's name was Vladimir. Volodya Khotimirsky was my first love. He was about sixteen years old then, and I was three. He would hoist me onto his shoulders and go walking with me to the Sretensky boulevard. During the war, he was declared missing in action. Only his red-ribboned guitar and his fiancee Ksenia remained, a beautiful, tall and very slender girl. She remained a spinster and would visit Dus for a long time after the war.

In the last few days, I did some research and managed to uncover rather incredible (and incredibly sad) things.

It began when I found a short article called Missing In Action ("Пропал без вести" in Russian) when doing a search for Dus' name. This article, posted on Pravmir (a blog/article platform for Orthodox Christians) in 2011, was based on an interview with Vera Glazova, a 96 years-old parishioner from Moscow who turned out to be Ksenia's best friend.

She told about Ksenia and Vladimir's relationship in some detail. They met by chance in late 1937, introduced by a mutual friend, and quickly fell in love. His father, Fyodor Dus-Chotimirsky, wasn't keen on them marrying, but only because he was a staunch anarchist and didn't believe in official marriage.

Volodya's father, the famous chess master Dus-Chotimirsky, brought the 16 years-old beautiful Polish woman, Volodya's future mother, from Vilnius. They lived in common-law marriage for decades, and Fyodor Ivanovich assured his son that the power of relationship is not determined by formal palers.
Volodya and Ksenia dreamed to have a big family with many children. But they never had a place to live together.

In autumn 1939, according to the newly-issued Act of Universal Military Service (which reduced the service duration from 5 years to 2 and decreased the conscription age from 21 to 18), Vladimir (who was 24 at the time, not 16, as Vengerova remembered) was conscripted into the Red Army. He and Ksenia would still see each other intermittently when circumstances allowed, and he was nearing the end of his service when Nazis invaded Soviet Union in 1941.

On 21st June 1941, Ksenia came to Volodya, as usual. In the morning of 22nd June, there were cries, "Volodya, quick! To the barracks! The war has started!" This was their last hug, and Volodya ran away. Ksenia ran to the barracks, but the gates were closed. People started to gather around the gates. During the day, many friends and relatives of the soldiers arrived. The gates wouldn't open. Of course, Volodya's and Ksenia's mothers also came, but they didn't get to meet Volodya. Three days later, the gates opened, and Volodya's infantry regiment walked out, towards the frontlines.

The last letter from Vladimir came in August. After that, letters stopped coming altogether.

Ksenia tried to search for him, but the only answer she ever got was, "Sergeant Sobessky Vladimir Fyodorovich went missing at the frontlines in October 1941." She lived past the age of 90, but always hoped that one day, the door would open, and Volodya would miraculously appear. Shortly before her death, she asked Vera, her faithful friend, to put all letters from Vladimir into her coffin, which she did.

Note the surname - Sobessky (Russian spelling of Polish last name Sobieski). It seems that since Dus never married his girlfriend, their son got their mother's surname at birth. And this surname helped discover the note sent to Ksenia after the war... and another thing.


The notice, issued on 6th August 1946, reads, "Notify Ms. Mironova Ksenia Vladimirovna that the serviceman, her husband Sgt. Sobessky Vladimir Fedorovich, born in Leningrad in 1915, went missing in action in October 1941." So, apparently, they did tie the knot after all during their trysts in the late 1930s, and Ksenia lived her entire life as a widow, not as a spinster.

But the story doesn't end even here! Basically on a whim, I did another search - only for the second half of Dus-Chotimirsky's surname. And, incredibly, I found another lead at the War Memorial site ( "Владимир Дус-Хотимирский" (Vladimir Dus-Chotimirsky, with his name misspelled in Russian). This search solved the mystery once and for all.


"Wladimir Dus-Hotimirsky. Citizenship: Russian. Religion: Orthodox. Civil occupation: teacher.  Military branch: infantry. Height: 170 cm. Hair: blond."

This is an entry from the Nazi POW camp ledger that describes exactly what happened with poor Vladimir. He was captured on 11th October 1941 around Smolensk, and then died (or got executed) on 21st January 1942, in camp #324 in Lososna (now Grodno Oblast, Belarus). Curiously, this document states that he was born in 1915, but in Moscow, and he gave the surname Dus-Chotimirsky, rather than Sobessky, when questioned. I can only guess that he misunderstood the question "Geburtstag und-ort" (When you were born and where?)

It seems that this document was unearthed only recently, because as late as in 2009, two years after Ksenia's death, Vera Glazova made another enquiry and still got the same reply from the officials, "missing in action". The huge databases of the Great Patriotic War participants and heroes were only assembled by Russian researchers in 2010s, so it's possible that the officials didn't know about the existence of this document yet.

Maybe it was even for the better that Vladimir's parents and wife never learned how and when exactly he died. Knowing that he's "missing in action" and still harboring hope, however slim, is surely better than knowing that "Prisoner 10702" was captured and executed by the Nazis in the first year of the war.