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Timeline: A Violin's Journey - Part 2

This is a pre-bombing aerial shot of the city of Hiroshima, the home of the Palchikoff family in the 20s and 30s.
U.S. Public Domain
This is a pre-bombing aerial shot of the city of Hiroshima, the home of the Palchikoff family in the 20s and 30s.

Over the past few episodes we’ve been telling the stories of hibaku-pianos and violins, musical instruments that survived the atomic blasts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago. In our last episode we were telling the tale of Sergei Palchikoff and his violin.


We left off with Sergei, his wife, his infant daughter, his former “White Russian” troops and his beloved violin fleeing Soviet Russia on a Japanese cargo ship. They were now international fugitives, refugees, seeking political asylum in Japan.

Sergei and his family settled in Hiroshima. The Caucasian Palchikoffs really stood out in that city, but Sergei’s musicality served him well. He made a living and a name for himself performing for silent movies, on the radio and began to give violin and cello lessons at the Hiroshima Jogakuin School for girls.

It was a happy time for the family. They welcomed two more children, Kaleria’s two brothers, Nikolai and David. The family lived in the center of the city. They had a beautiful home with a koi pond and everything. It was a favorite place for Kaleria and her brothers as they grew up. Nikolai, Sergei’s oldest son, left home at age of 16 to go to school in the United States.

I just discovered that Sergei was an avid photographer, taking so many pictures of his children and his life. Sergei’s grandson, Anthony Drago has around 300 of these photographs. They show the daily life of the Palchikoff family in Hiroshima in the 20s and 30s; the children playing and Sergei conducting ensembles and orchestras, baton in hand in front of his students.

Then war broke out and everything changed. Sergei was met with suspicion due to his Russian past. He had been teaching Russian Language at the Military Academy in Japan, but his skills in the Japanese language led to confusion and ultimately imprisonment. According to one account, Sergei was overheard mispronouncing the word ‘cheese’ which in Japanese sounds an awful lot like the word ‘map’. Sergei was accused of being a spy and spent a year in prison.

Upon his release, Sergei reunited with his family. Not long after, the Japanese military claimed the Palchikoff home and forced the family to leave. With nowhere else to go, the Palchikoff’s moved to a suburb of Hiroshima a little under two miles away. Across the Pacific, Nikolai became involved in the American war effort. His skills in English, Russian and Japanese languages made him an ideal translator and radio operator.

This is where the Palchikoff family was on August 6th, 1945, living only two miles from what would become ground zero of the most powerful weapon ever released on humans.

Continue the story of the Palchikoffs and Sergei’s violin and follow the Timeline.

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.
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