Life and times of Anatol Kagan

After many years of research I came to conclusion that anyone born in Imperial Russia at the end of 20th century or at the beginning of 21th century was part of history.  We all are, but those who were born around this time, experienced the history to the fullest:  Russo-Japanese war in 1905, World War I in 1914, Civil War, World War II, Revolutions and major uprisings were part of these people’ life.

So much happened to them, that you can write a book about anyone’s life.  So it was not a surprise to me when I came across a life of a Russian-born Australian architect Anatol Kagan and about his “part of history” experiences.

Child of the Russian Revolution

As soon as I started learning about Anatol’s life I knew- his was an extraordinary. Anatol was born in St Petersburg on 4 October 1913 in a family of a professor, university lecturer and publisher.

Anatol’s obituary in The Age newspaper called him “a child of the Russian Revolution”. His memory of “being hurried home by his nanny as police were chased down the street by angry workers, with shots ringing out from snipers on the rooftops” is probably a much later recollection of stories he heard from his parents. Anatol was only 4 years old, when the 1917 Revolution broke out.Доходный дом М. П. Шадрина

But the story of his family living in 1917 close to Znamenskaya Square, where the February Revolution began, is absolutely correct. The 1917 address book for Petrograd states that Abram Saulovich Kagan, professor, living at Khersonskaya Street, house number 1, rental house of M.P. Shadrin.  This house is still standing today, obviously renovated and refurbished, in the centre of St Petersburg, 5 minutes walking distance from either square of Aleksandr Nevskiy or Uprising Square (which was called Znamenskya Square before 1918).

After the events of 1917 the family stayed in the town.  Anatol’s father continued lecturing and publishing.

The Philosophy Steamer

What happened to Kagan’s family later was described in detail by Lesley Chamberlain in her 2006 book “The Philosophy steamer. Lenin and the exile of the intelligentsia”. It is an amazing story of how nearly 200 best-known and most highly qualified men in Russia together with their families were deported by Russian government to Germany. They included cultural critics, religious thinkers, university teachers, journalists and philosophers.  Among them were Vladimir Abrikosov, Nikolai Berdyaev, Semyon Frank, Prince Sergei Trubetskoy and Sergei Bulgakov.The Philosophy Steamer

The book was written based on records from at least four different Russian archives, which opened in early 1990s. The lists of deportees have been published since and researched by many historians.  The lists are in no way complete, as the number of individuals, who left the country in 1922, was much bigger. At the end of the book you will find the names of deportees from Moscow and Petrograd with short summaries of their lives and some photographs.

Amongst them was Anatol’s father, Abram Saulovich Kagan, who was born 7 April 1889 in Lyadi near Vitebsk.  Nothing is known of his early years but his high education was received at the law faculty of St. Petersburg University, from which he successfully graduated.

At first, Abram Saulovich Kagan worked as an assistant attorney in the Petrograd District Court. By 1917 he was a rector of Political Economy and Statistics department at the Petrograd Academy of Agricultural Sciences and after the Revolution opened his own publishing company and became a head of the well-known printing company “Petropolis”.   During his life in Russia Abram became a Chairman of the Union of Writers in Petrograd and systematically subsidized economists and other publishers in their endeavors.

As a result of the police action of August 1922, Abram Kagan with his wife and two kids were expelled to Germany and settled in Berlin.  To illustrate the different fate of dissidents under Lenin and Stalin, Kagan-senior would point out that his family was given first-class tickets on a liner that took them to Germany.[1]

In Germany Abram Saulovich Kagan successfully re-established his publishing business and his son Anatol commenced the architectural studies at the Technical University in Berlin.  After completing his Diploma of Architecture in 1937, Anatol found himself unable to obtain work in Berlin, as he was a foreigner.  The increasingly unstable political situation in Germany at the time prompted the family to leave Berlin. The family settled in the United States, and Anatol moved to Australia in 1939.

But this is not all.

Russian version of Sydney Opera House

Opera House design by Anatol Kagan
Opera House design by Anatol Kagan

An iconic building of Australia, Sydney Opera House, was designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon and was formally opened on 20 October 1973. A controversial international design competition was launched in 1956 and received 233 entries, representing architects from 32 countries. The competition brief provided broad specifications to attract the best design talent in the world.  It did not specify design parameters or set a cost limit. The main requirement of the competition brief was a design for two performance halls, one for opera and one for symphony concerts.

One of hopefuls to win the prize was Russian-born Australian architect Anatol Kagan.  While his entry was unplaced, his drawings were later displayed as part of an exhibition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the competition in 2007. [2]

By that time Anatol Kagan worked in the offices of several prominent architectural firms of the day and even opened his own firm Blumin & Kagan in 1942. His major commissioned work was the campus for Mt Scopus War Memorial College at Burwood.


More sources:

Jews of Vitebsk- 1880-1920s-

Jews on the Philosophy Steamer-





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