Post War France For A Russian Emigre

George Trofimoff had survived the end of the war and escaped to France. This had been the path of many White Russians. It was a story of disarray, lost family members, societal confusion and the persistent attempt to regroup and reorganize. Thus, the Russian community enclave in Paris began developing even as World War II was ending.

As a teenage boy, George was struggling just to survive in Paris. He had been separated from his family and had no connections that could help him get established in his new surroundings. At a local Russian Youth organization, he met a young man, Alexander Mitkaleff, nickname “Shurick”, the son of a former Imperial Guards colonel, who was killed during the revolution of St. Petersburg. They bonded quickly. Shurick’s mother was barely making a living as a seamstress. She taught the boys a technique for painting design on silk scarfs.

George and Shurick, who had artistic talent, immediately developed a business in hopes of selling enough to buy food and shelter. Shurick prepared master designs on linen. George painted the silk scarfs in accordance with the colors and schemes shown on the master design. It took about a month to prepare a sufficient number of different model designs on silk material in the form of ladies’ and gentlemen’s scarfs and ties to feel comfortable in marketing.

Then, the boys went from store to store trying to sell their scarfs and ties. They tried a number of famous stores in the Boulevards, in Montmartre, in Montparnasse, and even along the Champs Elise, but everywhere they were turned down with the final statement that the stores had their own steady sources and that they were not in the habit of purchasing products from unknown artists.

Life was not looking good. The boys would move from one park to the next for a place to sleep and were relying on handouts from other emigres for food. Then, a Russian friend suggested they go to the Pathe film studios. The chief make-up artist there was a well-known Russian. His name was Boris Nikolayevich Karpov. George and Shurich were by this time feeling hopeless but decided to give it a try. They actually anticipated being turned away at the door of the large studio.

At the Pathe, the receptionist announced George’s name (“Trofimoff”) over the intercom to notify Mssr. Karpov. After a few minutes, the big man came running into the reception room, grabbed George in a bear hug and began saying this was impossible! He explained that he was a class mate of George’s father in the Imperial Pagen Cadet Academy and that his sister had known George’s dad since early childhood in St. Petersburg.

The scarfs and ties became a hit at the Pathe studios. While in Paris, George and Shurick never missed another meal, and with the help of Mssr. Karpov, they  found a small apartment where they could afford the rent.

I write of the life of George Trofimoff in my book:  “Observer: The Colonel George Trofimoff Story, the tale of America’s highest ranking military officer convicted of spying”

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