Chronicle: Akito Hirotani—Miracle violin that survived the A-bombing, Part 2

by Akito Hirotani, former English teacher living in Hiroshima City

Sergei Palchikoff (1893–1969) was born in the town of Menzelinsk, in the northeastern part of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, located in western Russia. His entire aristocratic family had a profound knowledge of music, and he began to play the violin at the age of four. Instead of choosing music as his career, however, he studied law at Kazan State University. When World War I began, Mr. Palchikoff served in the army as a commissioned artillery officer. In the Russian Revolution, he fought against the Revolutionary Army as a member of the anti-revolutionary White Army (Russian Imperial Army). As the White Army gradually lost ground, however, Mr. Palchikoff fled to the east. On the way, he met Alexandra, a woman born into the aristocracy. They married in 1920. The following year, the couple’s oldest daughter, Kaleria, was born in the port city of Vladivostok.

In October 1922, Vladivostok was flooded with Russians fleeing from the approaching Revolution Army in an attempt to make their way overseas. Mr. Palchikoff, unable to find a vessel on which to escape, boarded a private ship with his family and friends and, brandishing a gun, forced the captain to leave port. Sympathizing with the family, the ship’s captain proposed to treat them as refugees if they would simply lay down their weapons. If they continued to threaten him, however, he said they would be viewed as pirates and punished accordingly. Shortly after they threw their weapons into the sea and the ship set sail, Vladivostok fell.

No detailed information exists about the Palchikoff family immediately after their arrival in Japan, but they made it to Hiroshima sometime in February 1923. At that time, many White Russians had immigrated to the cities of Yokohama and Kobe. Why did Mr. Palchikoff choose Hiroshima? His grandson Tony Drago wrote in his book Surviving Hiroshima that Mr. Palchikoff liked the Hiroshima’s cultural atmosphere. Another possible reason for his selection of Hiroshima, a safer city, was because as an aristocrat and a military officer he always felt at risk from assassination. Once in Japan, his family experienced financial difficulties because Mr. Palchikoff could not understand Japanese, although he was proficient in several other languages. After much agonizing, Mr. Palchikoff headed for a pawnshop with his beloved violin in his hand.

(Originally published on August 17, 2021)