Sunday, September 6, 2015

Regine-Ariane Scriabina-Knout (1905-1944)

Ariadna Aleksandrovna Scriabina, daughter of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin and Tatyana Schletzer, was born in Bogliasco, Italy on 26 October 1905.

After the death of both parents, she went to live in Paris with her aunt Boris Schletzer. In 1924 she married French composer Daniel Lazarus.

Her second marriage was to French writer Rene Mejean with whom she soon became disillusioned. While pregnant, she told him he was not the child's father, thereby breaking his heart. She left Lazarus and divorced him in 1937. Her third, and last, marriage was to poet and Bessarabian Jew, Duvid Meerovich Fiksman (Dovid Knut).

Ariadna and Dovid anxiously followed the growth of anti-Semitism in Europe, especially in Germany. Gradually, they both became convinced Zionists, and Ariadna went up to even a more extreme position than Dovid. For her Zionism was rather a passion than an abstract idea. She became intolerant to even slightest manifestations of anti-Semitism to the point that many Jews felt embarrassed by her overreaction. For example, she once said that the only two ways to solve the "Arab problem" is to expel them from "our land" or cut their throats.

In early 1939, Ariadna and Dovid managed to start publication of a newspaper Affirmation that aimed at awakening the national consciousness of the Jews. Dovid acted not only as an editor, but as a journalist. The appearance of the newspaper was an important event for the Jews of Paris and in August 1939, Knuts were invited to the XXI World Zionist Congress in Geneva.

A week after the Congress, WWII started. Knut was mobilized to the French Army on the first day of the war, 1 September 1939, and the newspaper had to close. He served in Paris, and on 30 March 1940 he and Ariadna finally registered their marriage. A few days later, she converted to Judaism and took the name Sarah. She then demanded all friends to call her only by the new name. Her conversion to Judaism was perceived as betrayal by the predominantly Christian Russian immigrant community.

With the approach of German troops to the capital, the military unit of Knut was moved to the south, while Ariadna with children stayed in Paris. She started working at a plant, but it was closed only three days later as people started fleeing from Paris. Boris Schletzer called her into the Pyrenees, but she refused to leave without her husband. Shortly before Germans entered Paris, she moved to her husband in Toulouse.

Toulouse was in the so-called "free zone", which saw no battles and occupation forces, but had local "milice" set by the Vichy regime. The attitude toward Jews was tense, so that Knuts stopped speaking Russian and used French even with their children. Most Jews tried to flee through Marseilles to South America; the Knuts tried also, but failed. Life was poor and hard, and they took any jobs available.

In early 1942, Dovid and Ariadna published a brochure titled Que faire? (What to do?) on the problems of Jews in WWII, where they argued the need for a Jewish underground organization. Dovid read the brochure to several Zionists in Toulouse, but only Abraham Polonski agreed with him while others found the idea of an underground fighting suicidal. Despite the objections of Zionists, Knuts, Polonski and his wife formed an organization, which was first named Bnei David ("descendants of David") and later Armee Juive (Jewish army).

For conspiracy reasons, Sarah-Ariadna took a nickname – Regina. She came up with an oath and a ceremony carried out when joining Armee Juive, which over the years was followed by almost 2,000 people. Armee Juive members were recruited among factory workers, students of the University of Toulouse and in the synagogues. Their first tasks were fairly simple, such as bringing food to Jewish refugees from Germany, who were kept in harsh conditions at the Camp du Récébédou near Toulouse. Later they started collecting weapons and sensitive information, hiding high-risk Jews at remote farms and monasteries and ferrying them to Switzerland and Spain. They also committed acts of sabotage against the Nazis and their collaborators. Ariadna was involved in one of the most difficult and dangerous task of ferrying Jewish children whose parents were deported to the camps. Children were taught to not cause any suspicion and properly react to unforeseen events during the travel.

In November 1942, police arrested Arnold Mandel, a member of Armee Juive who was a friend of Knuts back from Paris. Mandel gave the name and address of Knut, but the underground learned about it through their informants, and when the police raided the flat they found no criminal evidence. Yet Knut fell under suspicions and was sent to Switzerland. Being absorbed into underground activities Ariadna refused to join him, despite being pregnant.

By early 1944 Armee Juive was strong enough to form a separate Jewish Legion to help the Allied forces in the liberation of France. For this purpose, they met with British representatives in Marseille and then in Paris. However, when they sent two representatives to London, they were caught by Gestapo on the way to the Paris airport. Shortly thereafter, Gestapo arrested 25 activists of Armee Juive following the lead of their agent.

On 22 July 1944, Ariadna had an appointment of promoting a new member of Armee Juive. She and her companion Raul Leon were ambushed by two milice agents, one of whom retreated for reinforcement while the other held the suspects at gunpoint. While waiting, Leon grabbed an empty bottle and threw it at the agent, who instinctively fired his machine gun, killing Ariadna on the spot. Leon managed to escape, despite being wounded in both legs, and later provided a detailed account of the event. Toulouse was liberated three weeks after Ariadna's death .

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