Skip to content

The Kerensky Family

June 14, 2012

Alexander Kerensky, the second elected Prime Minister of Russia

During the research for my book ‘Russians in Exile – the History of a Diaspora’, from 1974 to 1992, I interviewed hundreds of Russian princes, grand-dukes, counts, polititicans, and their children and grandchildren, who spread all over the world after the 1917 Russian revolution.

I wrote this book under my writer’s pseudonym Valerian Obolensky, which opened many doors that otherwise would have remained closed.


One of the families I learned to know in those years where the Kerenskys. Of course I knew that Alexander Feodorovich Kerensky was one of the last surviving major participants in the turbulent events of 1917, when he died in New York in 1970, but I didn’t know he had two sons and grandchildren, living in the United Kingdom.   It was Alexander’s grandson Oleg Kerensky who enabled me to attend the funeral of Rudolf Nureyev – a sad story in itself.

The Kerenskys

April 22, 1881: Alexander Feodorovich Kerensky is born in Simbirsk (Ulyanovsk).

February 22, 1917: The February Revolution. About 300,000 people strike in Petrograd. There are also strikes in Moscow, Baku and Kharkov.

March 11: A Provisional Government is formed, with Prince Lvov as Prime Minister and Home Minister, Paul Milyukov as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Alexander Kerensky as Minister of Justice, Minister of War and Minister of the Navy.
April 6: The United States declare war on Germany, which encourages the Russian troops so much, that they are able to make a hole in the Austrian lines and rout the enemy. This Brusilov Offensive lasts some weeks, but when the Russian army counts almost 60,000 casualties, it becomes clear that the German troops can’t be stopped. Kerensky prepares for a general Russian offensive and a democratical reorganization of the army leadership. He wants to force the Germans and their allies to yield the Russian areas they occupy. But Kerensky’s reorganization only contributes to the chaos in the army. The officers loose their authority and the soldiers at the front start to fraternize with the enemy. The German army leadership no longer worries about a Russian offensive, because they are convinced that the Russian army is quite busy committing suicide.
July 16: Riots in Petrograd. Headed by the bolsheviki a group of navy men and some regiments of the Petrograd garrison try to topple the government. The Izmailovsky Regiment comes from the front to put down the rebellion. Trotsky is arrested and Lenin escapes to Finland. After the rebellion of the bolsheviki Prince Lvov resigns. Kerensky succeeds him as Prime Minister, but keeps the Ministry of War in his portfolio. The majority of the cabinet is now socialist.
The crush of the first bolshevist rebellion could have been a turning point in Russian history.
Kerensky could have made his administration permanent. Sure, he had some bolshevist leaders arrested, but he didn’t ban the bolshevist party. Later he even released the bolshevist leaders, because he thought he could use them to prevent a coup d’état of the army.
Kerensky, `Lots of political prisoners were sent to Siberia by the Tsar. When my Provisional Government was in power, I released all enemies of the old regime – including Stalin, because I didn’t think he was capable of anything. That was a mistake.’
Why did he resort to the bolsheviki and not to others?
Kerensky, `Because I was driven back on them. The allies didn’t help us. If they only had given me as much help as they gave Stalin in World War II, then everything would have turned out differently.’ (Bill Clinton’s support of Boris Yeltsin showed that the West didn’t want to make the same mistake.)
July 30: General Brusilov is replaced by General Lavr Grigorievich Kornilov (1870-1918), who demands immediate reinstatement of military discipline and capital punishment for all deserters. The government commissionaries support his demands. Kornilov’s decisive measures impress entire Russia. For the first time since the beginning of the Revolution forcible language is used. The people put him on a pedestal.
During the first months of the February Revolution the supreme command of the army still follows the policy of the Provisional Government, but after General Kornilov is appointed supreme commander, the general staff becomes overconfident. Army headquarters turn into a political center of power. General Kornilov notices that his no-nonsense-policy is successful and makes three conditions: 1) the supreme commander has to become supreme power in all state matters, 2) the government is not allowed to poke its nose in his military orders; 3) military discipline has to be reinstalled (no more government commissionaries). Kerensky accepts these terms and it is clear that he now has to break off his relations with the Soviets, but that’s not what he does. Before the July Rise there are virtually two authorities in Russia: the Provisional Government and the Soviets. The bolsheviki have seized the power in the Soviets and pretend to act in name of the Soviets. Kerensky could have prevented this by banning the Soviets, because they weren’t democratic anymore, but that’s not what he did. That’s why he lost the support of the army leadership, which from that moment on acted on its own authority.
August 27: The split between the Provisional Government and the army becomes visible, when in Moscow a State Conference is held under the aegis of the Provisional Government.
The bolsheviki refuse to participate in this conference, because it only contributes to the counterrevolution. 2,414 representatives gather. Kornilov is welcomed by the conservative members, while the socialists give Kerensky a standing ovation.
September 9: Kerensky sends a telegram to General Kornilov, in which he says that the general is fired.
He orders him to come to Petrograd immediately. Kornilov feels betrayed.
September 10: Kornilov lets the people of Russia know that he does not accept his dismissal as supreme commander, and that he asks for support against the Provisional Government. He lets General Krymov and his 3rd Cavalry Corps march on Petrograd. Kerensky appeals to the Soviet of Petrograd, which in the mean time is completely taken over by the bolsheviki, and becomes the support of 25,000 Red Guards and the executive committee of railroad workers, who make sure that the trains of Kornilov’s troops go in the wrong direction. Krymov’s troops finally surrender. The day after his arrival in Petrograd he commits suicide.
After his coup d’état fails, Kornilov and his helpers, the Generals Anton Denikin (1872-1947) and Alexander Lukomsky, are arrested, by order of the Provisional Government.
Kerensky thinks that his power is restored, but he’s wrong. Without the army the Provisional Government is powerless. The real power is now in the hands of the bolsheviki.
November 7, 1917: (October 26 on the Russian calendar) the bolsheviki know that Kerensky’s government can only hope to keep the power until the Constituting Assembly of December 12. On November 25, 1917 the elections would be held. The bolsheviki also know that they can never win these elections and they call the 2nd Pan-Russian Soviet Congress, to cut off the pass of the Provisional Government. The failed Kornilov-coup makes the Revolution move rapidly, quite unsuspected.
At 1.30 a.m. the main postoffice is occupied. Soldiers and navy men occupy the railroad stations and telephone exchanges. At 3.30 a.m. the battleship Avrora moors at the Nikolaevsky Bridge. At 6 a.m. the offices of the large newspapers and the state bank are occupied. At 8 a.m. the entire city of Petrograd is in the hands of the bolsheviki, except for the Winter Palace and the headquarters of the general staff.
Kerensky temporarely leaves the government in the hands of his colleague Konovalov and decides that he personally will get reinforcements against the bolsheviki. He rushes to Gachina, in a car of the American Embassy, but his mission is impossible. At 10 a.m. Lenin announces that the Provisional Government is deposed. The Pan-Russian Soviet Congress can still not be opened, because Lenin wants the Winter Palace to be beleaguered first. At 6 p.m. the Winter Palace is surrounded by the bolsheviki.
At 9 p.m. the Avrora shoots some blanks in the air, to signal that the beleaguering of the Winter Palace can begin.
In the mean time the Pan-Russian Soviet Congress gathers in the Smolny Institute. 649 representatives are present, among them 390 bolsheviki. The mensheviki and social-revolutionaries protest against the bolshevist coup, which they call a `crime against the people’.
November 8: At 1.50 a.m. the Provisional Government is finally arrested. The government is now in Lenin’s hands.
Kerensky brings his family to safety and escapes the country, disguised as a sailor.
The October Revolution of 1917 puts a timely end to Kerensky’s Provisional Government, which should have become the beginning of the Democratic Republic of Russia.

Alexander Kerensky once said, `Without a Rasputin, there wouldn’t have been a Lenin.’ Most likely he was right. The Russian people saw that a simple muzhik influenced the Russian Tsar and Tsaritsa in a negative way, which of course was unacceptable. In the end this situation resulted in Nicholas’s abdication, of which Lenin profited in a nimble way. But the Tsar didn’t have to leave because the people of Russia couldn’t wait for Lenin to became head of state!

1919: In New York Aleksandr Kerensky publishes his book The prelude to Bolshevism; the Kornilov Rising, a `Who’s Who’ of people occuring in the Russian Revolution and the Russian Civil War.

1927: Aleksandr Kerensky publishes his book The Catastrophe; his own story about the Russian Revolution.

1928: Alexander Kerensky is a professor in the Hoover Institute of  Stanford University in California. That’s where his son Gleb Alexandrovich marries the English Mary Hudson.
Gleb and Mary move to Rugby, England, where he at first works for English Electric and successively for General Electric.
Alexander’s other son, Oleg Alexandrovich Kerensky, marries the Russian Nathalie Bely, who just like him studies in London.

January 9, 1930: In London Oleg Olegovich Kerensky, the son of Oleg Alexandrovich and Nathalie, is born.
Grandfather Alexander Kerensky comes to visit the new born.

1934: Aleksandr Kerensky publishes his book The Crucifixion of Liberty.

1935: Aleksandr Kerensky and Paul Bulygin publish their book The Murder of the Romanovs; the Authentic Account, which is translated from the Russian by Aleksandr’s son Gleb.

March 29, 1937: Alexander Kerensky  lives in Paris, 9bis Rue Vineuse, while his wife and two sons settled down in London. Just like the tsar, Kerensky loves to walk. During one of these walks he was watched by a Russian lady and her daughter. The lady said, `Look, look, Tania, that’s the man who wracked and ruined Russia!’ A friend of him says that Kerensky was completely cut up by this incident, and has been depressed for days.
On February 26, March 7 and March 17, 1937 Kerensky held a lecture about the tragical fate of the Russian Imperial family, in the Musée Social, 9 Rue Las-Cases, Paris.

1940: Alexander Kerensky, who until now alternately lived in California, New York, Prague and Paris, leaves Paris forgood, to join his family in London. Some time later he moves to New York.

Gleb Kerensky

1944: Gleb Kerensky is in Holland with the Allied Forces, fighting the nazi’s. He’s a Captain of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

1946: Just like his grandfather Alexander, Oleg Kerensky’s ambition is to go into politics. From Westminster School he goes straight to Christ Church, Oxford, where he becomes both treasurer and librarian of the Union. He is excused national service because of poor eyesight.

Oleg Alexandrovich Kerensky, honoured by Queen Elizabeth II

1952: Oleg Alexandrovich Kerensky, Alexander’s son, has become a very meritorious motorway engineer, who is mentioned in the Dictionary of National Biography.

After Oxford Alexander’s grandson, Oleg Kerensky, joins the BBC Worldservice, to combine his political interests with his second love, journalism.
The need to conceal his homosexuality makes his life miserable, and that’s why he decides to abandon his political ambitions. Journalism offers a happier life.

1957 : Oleg Kerensky becomes a dance critic at the Daily Mail.

1961: Aleksandr Kerensky and Robert Paul Browder publish their book The Russian Provisional Government, 1917: documents.

Oleg Kerensky with his parents

1963: Oleg Kerensky, who works for the BBC Worldservice, becomes deputy editor of The Listener.

1965: Aleksandr Kerensky publishes his book Russia and History’s Turning Point.

1968: Maurice Ashley, the editor of the BBC program The Listener, retires and Oleg Kerensky, the deputy editor, does not get the editorship. He leaves the BBC to become a freelance with the New Statesman.
The rest of his life he will write about his chief interests, the performing arts: above all ballet, but also opera, plays, musicals and concerts. As a dance critic Oleg works for several newspapers. When his father leaves his mother, Nathalie Bely, Oleg remains closer to her. Oleg’s great virtue as a reviewer is his ability to communicate his enthousiasm and enjoyment.

Oleg Kerensky

1970: Oleg Kerensky publishes his lively and well informed book Ballet Scene, which is published in the United States under the title The World of Ballet, supplemented by two new chapters and further references to American ballet.
His grandfather Aleksandr Kerensky, former Prime Minister of Russia, dies on June 11, 1970, in New York.

1971: Oleg Kerensky becomes the ballet critic of the International Herald Tribune.

Oleg Kerensky

1973: Oleg Kerensky has published several books about the ballet and the theatre. This year he publishes another biography: Anna Pavlova, his most important book, which shows that he is capable of patient research.

1977: Oleg Kerensky publishes his The New British Drama; fourteen playwrights since Osborne and Pinter, a study of postwar British playwrights. He also contributes to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Oleg Alexandrovitch Kerensky (16 April 1905 – 25 June 1984)

1978: Oleg Kerensky’s parents have passed away in London. Oleg moves to an apartment in Greenwich Village, New York, where he finds the life both congenial and economical.
He keeps his British nationality and supplements his income with writing for British papers and magazines, including The Times and The Stage.

Oleg Kerensky and Rudolf Nureyev in London

1981: Oleg Kerensky publishes The Guinness Guide to Ballet, a popular exposition of the dance world.

Poster of the film “Reds”, starring Oleg Kerensky as his grandfather Alexander

1983: Oleg Kerensky is delighted to play the role of his grandfather Alexander in the film Reds, next to Jerzy Kosinski, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, who also directed and produced the film.

1988: Oleg Kerensky learns that he is HIV positive and knows from now on that he will have his life cut short.

September 1992: Oleg Kerensky begins to lose his appetite. His doctor put him on AZT and his appetite problem improves. He has a melanoma skin cancer surgically removed.

Mourning service for Rudolf Nureyev in Opéra Garnier, Paris

On Wednesday January 6, 1993 Rudolf Nureyev died, at the age of 54, of AIDS. He was unique, charming, aristocratic and captivating, but also boyish, inconstant, arrogant and rude.
My good friend Christian Orlov has known Nureyev well.
Christian, `He was very particular when it came to photographs of himself. One day I sat next to him, when he after a performance auditioned in his dressing-room in the Metropolitan.
While he took off his make-up, he received his fans, who were waiting for their turn in a long file in the corridor. An elderly man, who did not conceive that he admired Rudolf, showed him a series of photographs of Rudolf, which he had taken from the auditorium. Nervous, like an insecure child before his school teacher, he showed the photographs one by one, and Rudolf tore them to little pieces, one photo after another – which he threw into the waist-basket. The man was very disappointed. Sure, it was Nureyev’s second performance that evening, and later, at a reception in a nightclub, there would be a third and a fourth performance, but I thought it was rather cruel.’
Rudolf Nureyev’s death covered almost every front page. Newsweek, `Aids and the arts – a lost generation. Rudolf Nureyev 1938-1993.’ Paris Match, `NOUREEV POUR L’ETERNITE – Le prince charmant du Kirov refugié a l’ouest etait devenue le Tsar mondiale de la dance.’ Le Point, `Noureev: une étoile s’éteint.’ USA Today, `GIANT OF THE ARTS – Rudolf Nureyev 1938-1993. He brought grace to the stage and glitz to the world of ballet.’

Nureyev’s photo in Opéra Garnier (see photo above)

Oleg, a close friend of Nureyev, was of course invited to the funeral, but he was too ill to come to Paris. At the time I was living in Paris, so I attended the funeral, using Oleg’s invitation.

The funeral procession left from the Opéra Garnier, on January 12, 1993, and attracted a great deal of attention. Among the interested were Prince Aga Khan, Jack Lang, Rudi van Dantzig, Flemming Flindt, John Taras, Carla Fraci, Hugues Gall, Bob Wilson, Jane Hermann, Yoko Morishita, Lynn Seymour, Zizi Jeanmaire, Pierre Lacotte, Nina Vyrubova, Marika Bersobrassova, Serge Golovine, Dominique Khalfouni, Cyril Atanasoff, Stavros and Victoria Niarkos, Baron and Baroness Guy de Rotschild, Count and Countess Guy and Marina de Brantes, Baron Alexis de Redé, Pier Luigi Pizzi, Briony Brind,  Ivan Nagy, and many other celebrities.
Rudolf Nureyev was burried in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, tomb 8328, plan III, about a hundred feet from his artistic predecessor Serge Lifar de Kiev.

May 1993: Oleg Kerensky feels ill and a second melanoma skin cancer is removed; he never recovers from this operation, as the cancer has metasticized and is all through his body.
Oleg knows death is imminent.

New York, October 6, 1993, 3 a.m.: Oleg Olegovich Kerensky, aged 63, dies of AIDS. He is fully awake when he dies. He is cremated and his ashes are returned to his cousins in England, for internment in the family plot in Putney Vale. A memorial service is held in London. The Times publishes a three column obituary on Oleg. He loved to travel, yet he never managed to visit Russia, the homeland of his grandfather.

When I met him for the first time, in Greenwich Village, New York, he highly blamed me for reminding him of his Russian origin. `I spent most of my life trying to escape my Russian inheritance,’ he said to my astonishment.
`I’m just not interested in mixing with Russians. Never had the urge to do so.’
`Can you explain what’s the reason for that?’
`No, I haven’t got the time for it, and moreover I’m absolutely not in the mood for it.’

Some weeks later we met again. I discovered that since our last meeting a strange thing had happened, which I since witnessed with many other descendants of Russian refugees: a sudden interest in their Russian origin, as if I had awoken something in them. This time Oleg was very accessible, but he still didn’t want to go into my question why he always had avoided other Russians abroad. He did however tell me everything he knew about his family, and years later he helped me with my search for the `last of the Mohicans’.

Some weeks before he died we met once more. `If democracy survives there, I am thinking of making my first visit to Russia before too long,’ my friend said hesitating, as if he should be ashamed of this sudden interest in the country of his ancestors. In the mean time my informer `Feodor’ Romanoff, who has the same age as Oleg, had told me why the Kerensky’s and lots of other Russian refugees were at daggers drawn. `By many Russian refugees, particularly by the Russian nobility, Alexander Kerensky was considered the man who bartered away Russia to the bolsheviki. Of course this was absolutely unjustified, because if Lenin had not been helped by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, Kerensky’s Provisional Government would have founded a democratic Russia, and nobody would have had to flight. Alexander Kerensky, Oleg’s grandfather, was often denigrated, particularly by Nina Berberova and her likes, and unfortunately today someone with the name of Kerensky still wouldn’t be welcome in certain Russian circles. I can imagine very well why Oleg doesn’t
feel like justifying the fancied misbehaviour of his grandfather, and why he doesn’t feel like socializing with a group of the population so ignorant and intolerant.’

Stephen Kerensky, Oleg’s cousin

There was another reason, though. Oleg’s cousin Stephen Kerensky told me, `We had very little contact with other Russians; my mother is English and I do not speak or read Russian with any fluency, although I’m learning. Both Oleg and a family friend, daughter of one of my father Gleb’s colleagues, spoke Russian until they dropped it within weeks of going to English schools, so no serious attempt was made to teach me or my elder sister Katherine. We did celebrate our saint’s days as lesser birthdays when we were children and we continue to make kulich and pashka at Easter. Oleg’s parents were both Russian, and the actually resented all things Russian very much when he was a child. He wanted to be English and, even more than me, became so at Westminster, Christ Church and the BBC. However, he developed a great affection for Russia through his love of ballet and always refused to stand for the Soviet anthem at performances by their ballet companies. He also came to knowledge that much of his character stemmed from a Slavic warmth and sociability. I also felt a certain alienation from what I saw as the strangeness of Russian relations. Society in all countries demands a degree of conformity, and being called `Russian spy’ at school was not exactly fun, even if it didn’t last very long as a nickname.
After 30 years when I considered myself to be completely English, my most direct feelings of being Russian come from my style of argument and my attitudes to friendship. We always had terrific political arguments at home, conducted with a venemence that the English find intimidating. My father Gleb fought all his life against the prejudiced ideas of pre-revolutionary Russia, the distorted histories of 1917 that are still current and I have taken op the cudgels to some extent, because I believe quite strongly that a many ills of the 20th century derive from Lenin. However, not a few also stem from the commercialism of the USA, and that country’s bizarre notions of religion, truth, decency and freedom, as ridiculed by Mark Twain, Tom Lehrer, Lenny Bruce and Frank Zappa.’

Oleg Kerensky

Oleg considered to return to London forgood. His uncle Gleb had passed away, but his aunt Mary still lived in Rugby, just like her son Stephen. Daughter Katherine Walker lived in Farnham, Surrey. Her eldest daughter studied Russian in the university of Durham, and called herself Tanya Kerensky Walker.
Daughter Elizabeth Hudson lived in Titley, Herefordshire. Knowing he was dying Oleg wanted to send me photographs of him and his grandfather, he wanted to visit Russia, and he wanted to leave New York to join his relatives in England. He didn’t make it. In the last seven years he lost a large portion of his closest friends, some quite young, to AIDS, the disease that eventually struck him down as well. Before he died he completed his autobiography, but Oleg’s friend, Arthur G. Lambert Jr., thinks it’s unlikely that it will ever be published. That would be a pity.

Oleg, I raise a glass of vodka to you, my friend, and I hope that you’ll be happier up there than you ever were down here.

Jack Vanderwyk

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Schrijvers Academie permalink
    June 16, 2012 9:26 am

    Sterke onderwerpkeuze. Ik heb kerenski (maar ik begrijp nu dat ik voortaan deze naam als kerensky moet opslaan) altijd een zeer intrigerende figuur gevonden. Er bestaat geen ‘What if history’, behalve dan in onze geest, maar wat als Kerensky een goede stevige regering had kunnen vestigen.

    • June 16, 2012 10:49 am

      Hoi Leo, bedankt.
      De transcriptie van cyrillische namen is voor elke taal verschillend. In het Engels is Kerensky de schrijfwijze, in het Nederlands, Duits en Frans schrijft men Kerenski.

      Jaap van der Wijk

      • Schrijvers Academie permalink
        June 16, 2012 3:11 pm

        Dank je Jack, ik ga je volgen en ik weet nu waar je website woont.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: