A Death in Morocco and the story of Nikolai Vassilievitch Kotchoubey’s stolen identity

Nikolai Vassilievitch with his first wife Varvara Alexandrovna (née princess Dolgorukova) 1910
Nikolai Vassilievitch Kotchoubey as an officer in the Life Guards Horse regiment with his first wife Varvara Alexandrovna (née princess Dolgorukova) 1910

Nikolai Vassilievitch / Николай Васильевич Кочубей (1885 -1947) was the youngest son of Vassili Arkadievitch /Василий Аркадьевич Кочубей (1826 -1897) and his second wife Maria Alexeevna (née Kapnist) / Мария Алексеевна Капнист (Кочубей) (1848-1925).

He was born late in his father’s life and his father died when Nikolai was only 12 years old.  He was born when his mother was already 38 years old. Despite, his parents’ advanced years, he lived an idyllic life in Yalta where his parents settled in their later years. After attending military school in St. Petersburg at the age of eight like his brothers before him, he graduated from cavalry school and was commissioned an officer in the prestigious Imperial Life Guards Horse Regiment / Конный лейб-гвардии полк.  In 1910, he was married to princess Varvara “Varenka” Alexandrovna (née Princess Dolgorukova) /Варвара Александровна Долгорукова (Кочубей)(1885 -1980). They had one son Arkadi Nikolaivitch / Аркадий Николаевич Кочубей (c1911-1960) but the marriage was unhappy and they were soon divorced.

There is a curious set of entries on the internet (see link) including one on the Russian genealogical website, ru.rodovid.org  that summarises Nikolai Vassilievitch’s life in a few succinct words-adjutant of Ataman Kaledina and officer in the Life Guards. This rather crude ‘epitaph’ which says that he served as an adjutant to General Ataman Alexei Maksimovitch Kaledin / Алексей Максимович Каледин (1861-1918), elected Ataman of the Donskoi Cossacks at the start of the Russian Civil War, is most likely incorrect. This conjecture is a sloppy perversion of the name of the person who did serve as Kaledin’s adjutant and that was his nephew, Nikolai Vassilievitch (?) Nasledishev / Николай Наследышев, the son of Kaledin’s sister Anna Maksimovna Nasledisheva /Анна Максимовна Каледина (née Kaledina). Without going into further unnecessary detail on the subject there is not even any evidence that he or other members of the Kotchoubey family fought or lived amidst the Don Cossacks at the turn of the 20th century.

So, the first and thus far only instance of Nikolai Vassilievitch’s activities during his lifetime revolve around WWII and are mentioned in a documentary where he is named the Department Head of the  «бюро партизанских расследований» / Bureau Of Investigation of Partisans, Nikolai Argir /Аргир. In an October 2011 article in the Independent Military Review , entitled “Герои Одесского подземелья”, the author, Oleg Kapchinsky also suggests that Argir is none other than Nikolai Vassilivitch who like his cousins served under Denikin in the OSVAG and in 1920s was fighting against the Bolsheviks within Odessa’s catacombs.

excerpt in Russian:

…Следствием по делу бадаевцев руководил начальник «бюро партизанских расследований» Аргир – под этой румынской фамилией скрывался украинец по национальности Николай Васильевич Кочубей. По иронии судьбы в годы Гражданской войны он был разведчиком в деникинской армии и в 1920 году входил в ту самую подпольную белогвардейскую организацию, в которую чекисты внедрили Николая Милана. Но прошло уже более двух десятков лет, и, по счастью, Аргир-Кочубей не узнал в своем подследственном «офицера-серба». 

By 1942, when the Romanians begin to step up the operations against the resistance,  they bring in a man who is intimately familiar with the catacombs. If it really was Nikolai Vassilievitch he was a man already in his late 50s. The documentary entitled, Одесса. Герои подземной крепости/ Odessa Heroic Underground Fortresses was shown on April 6th, 2015 on Russia-2/ “Россия -2”, and tells the story of the partisans living in the catacombs that withheld and fought against the Romanian army which occupied the city. A Russian military historian, the Deputy of the Russian Military History department of the Military Headquarters of the Russian Military, Alexei Belkov tells the story of Nikolai Vassilievitch (pseudonym: Nikolai Argir) (and other White Army officers) serving in the Romanian counter intelligence (minute 29:40) unit. Argir’s advantage is that he knows many of the people of Odessa from the early 1920s and is familiar with the city and its traditions.

The author of the reference which is posted on a Kotchoubey blog, writes about the event, very much in keeping with his patriotic views. Indeed the documentary is focused on the fate of the resistance to the Romanian occupation and does not have time to delve into the motivations of the White Army officers. It is a tragedy no matter which side one takes. The author, as does the film, seems loathe to understand how Russians could have collaborated with the Romanians / Germans and as such these points of view seem dismissive of the tragedies of the Russian civil war which were still fresh in the minds of many Russians who wished to exact their revenge on the “Reds” and retake their rightful inheritance back from the communists.

The resistance movement was successful and according to the documentary it was only crushed with the help of Nikolai Vassilievitch Kotchoubey (or Nikolai Argir) who during the Russian Civil War used the catacomb networks under Odessa to fight the Bolsheviks. It appears that as an intelligence officer within the Romanian army in Odessa in 1942, he helped lead counter-intelligence operations that leveraged his historic knowledge of the catacombs to carry out surveillance of the resistance which eventually lead to the arrest and execution of the partisan fighters.

An obscure internet forum probably confirms the information below suggests that Argir was in fact Nikolai Vassilievitch Galushko / Николай Васильевич Галушко who was born in Odessa and fled to Turkey after the revolution and then the Kishinev where he became a spy.  (see the internet forum)

This is a story that weaves the paradox of the Russians who chose to fight against the Red Army on behalf of the Germans and is the subject that concerns a number of Kotchoubeys (see: The French Fighter Pilot de Lareinty-Tholozan-Kotchoubey: Heir to the Ukrainian Throne).

The website, Young Guards, suggests that Nikolai Argir may not have in fact been Nikolai Vassilievitch Kotchoubey but Nikolai Petrovitch Glushko (or Galushko as stated above). From a superficial stand point, Kotchoubey or Glushko, the fact that the investigator had his roots in Southern Russia, Odessa or Yalta and then served in the White Army in Deniken’s army and operated in Odessa with the OSVAG certainly gave him an advantage in undermining the Soviet Resistance effort. The problem, of course, is understanding how after evacuating with the Denikin army (to Constantinople and then according to one source to London), the agent in question made his way into Romanian intelligence. The idea that Nikolai Vassilievitch Kotchoubey learned about the catacombs in the civil war days is plausible but how he came into service with the Romanian intelligence department at the age of 57 is anathema to his age. It would appear that the Kotchoubey-Argir link is a case of multiple pseudonyms being mixed into a historical parlour game of “Guess Who I am?”

See Russian excerpt:

…Оккупационными войсками в Одессе командовал румынский генерал Гинерару. Прибывшую к нему инспекцию СС возглавил один из личных порученцев Гиммлера – подполковник Шиндлер. С подполковником приехало несколько офицеров из дивизии “Мертвая голова”.

А двумя днями позже прилетел инспектор имперской канцелярии – обер-лейтенант с челкой и усиками под Гитлера.

Служба специнформации – ССИ – и румынская политическая полиция – сигуранца – в Одессе были укомплектованы в основном русскими белоэмигрантами. Первую скрипку в особо важных делах играл Николау Аргир, он же Николай Васильевич Кочубей, он же Николай Петрович Глушко – неизменным оставалось только имя. Родился он в Одессе, с деникннскими войсками бежал в Турцию, затем оказался в Лондоне и, наконец, в Румынии, где дослужился до капитанского чина. Поговаривали о его сохранившихся связях с Анкарой и Лондоном, но ловкий агент не оставлял улик. Хитрость, изворотливость Аргира пугали даже его коллег. “Никогда не знаешь, где и как укусит эта лиса”,- говорили о нем. Гладко причесанный, с легкой сединой на висках, тонким прямым носом, насмешливым складом губ, мягкой, вкрадчивой походкой – он и в самом деле походил на лису. Этому-то человеку и поручили “заняться” одесскими катакомбами.

Страшили катакомбы оккупантов. Целую дивизию, усиленную саперными частями, пришлось держать захватчикам “для охраны Одессы”. Оккупированный город продолжал воевать.

В плановости, продуманности и оперативности диверсий чувствовалось централизованное, единое руководство. И никаких следов, словно действовали невидимки.

Но Аргиру все же повезло – совершенно случайно он напал на след.

Заглянул мимоходом в палеонтологический музей. Там был только сторож – мрачный, нелюдимый горбун, но Аргир сумел многое у него выпытать. Выяснилось, что у сторожа к Советам есть свой “неоплаченный счет”. В прошлом он был репрессирован как спекулянт. Для контрразведки такой человек – находка. Горбун рассказал Аргиру, что в последние дни эвакуации в музей приходили трое – два старика и один молодой, по выговору москвич, как видно, из “руководящих”.

Разговаривали они в кабинете, с наглухо закрытой дверью, но горбуну удалось кое-что услышать. Речь шла о катакомбах Дальника, о двух тупиковых штреках и сбойке. Потом профессор попросил папку с картами катакомб и вернул с неаккуратно сложенной схемой. Горбун показал ее Аргиру. На ней действительно были вычерчены два штрека и сбойка. Таких могло быть, конечно, десятки в любой из шахт Дальника. Все же контрразведчик взял схему с собой. Горбун сообщил также, что одного из приходивших к профессору стариков видел потом в санатории имени Дзержинского, где, по слухам, формировался партизанский отряд.

Аргир установил за санаторием и Дальницкими катакомбами круглосуточную слежку. 

Anyway, returning back in time. Following the revolution, Varvara moved with her young son to Austria and most likely to Vienna. It was at this point in the formative years of Arkadi’s upbringing that he was swept up into a world of pro-German sentiments. The key factor in this new post-Russian imperial world was the post-Austrian imperial world of the Princes von Schönburg-Hartenstein. The family welcomed Varvara Alexandrovna and her young son into their world and he grew up with (author’s conjecture) the children of Furst Alexander Hieronymus Maria Aloys Karl Innocenz von Schönburg-Hartenstein (1888-1956) who was married to  Agathe (née Princessen von Auersperg) (1888-1973). The couple had twelve children who while younger then Arkadi became his childhood playmates. Given certain chance encounters in the latter part of the 20th century, the Kotschoubeys could have also spent time at Schloss Enzesfeld where Prince Johannes Maria Aloys Otto Heinrich Alexander von Schönburg-Hartenstein  (1864-1937) lived with his wife Sophie (née Princesses zu Oettingen-Oettingen u. Oettingen-Wallerstein (1878-1944) and their nine children (see web reference of family tree on http://genealogy.euweb.cz/schonburg/schonburg7.html). Both were sons of the formidable General and Austrian politician Prince Eduard Alois Maria Alexander Konrad von Schönburg-Hartenstein (1858-1944) whose family straddled both the German and Austrian empires.

It was in this environment that, Arkadi Nikolaivitch, was swept up in these pro-German sentiments of his “adopted” family and in the difficult interwar period he most likely moved with his them to Berlin at the beginning of the war. Princess Serenissime Maria Alexandrovna Gortchacow (née Wyrouboff) 1913-2000) remembers meeting the dashing Arkadi in London before the war and he presented himself in society as Prince Arkadi.  Although the title was not appropriate, it was a moniker that nonetheless seemed to have made the necessary impression in society circles and not unusual for someone who was brought up in the pidantic and hierarchichal world of Austro-German princely families whose genealogical tables stretched back to before Charlemagne’s reign. In the late 1960s, Andrei Sergeivitch (1938-) and his wife Daria Constantinovna (née Princesse Serenissime Gortchacow) (1944-1992) met on Long Island in Water Mill a Princess Schönburg-Hartenstein (could it have been one of the daughters of Prince Alexander such as Eleonore Maria “Loremarie” Johanne Agathe Gobertina Victoria Emmet who married Thomas Emmet in Rome in 1950 and then divorced in 1961?)   In another coincedence, Andrei Sergeivitch met another von Schönburg-Hartenstein in the 1980s in New York who was from Venezuela and both ladies were absolutely smitten with Arkadi and as a result the Kotchoubey family.

The fact that Arkadi’s aunt, Varvara Vassilievna who lived in Brussels and knew the family of Nikolai Vassilievitch purposefully omitted Arkadi and his half brother, Nikolai from the family genealogical tables which she compiled in the late 1970s was indeed an underhanded attempt to remove them from the family records. This was all the more evident when the genealogical table in question went so far as to include all the children who had died in childbirth as far back as the 18th century.  It speaks volumes of their reputations within the family and it is for this reason that only traces remain of these Kotchoubeys in family lore and nothing seems to have been written so Arkadi’s story was buried with him in the sands of the Moroccan dessert.

Project Zeppelin, an Agent Provacteur in the serivce of the SS

It may have been that Arkadi’s initial sentiments toward Germany’s National Socialist was nothing more complicated then a fraternal desire to serve Germany as did many members of the Schönburg family with whom he found comraderie and purpose when moving to Germany. Most likely, Arkadi like some White Russians and Soviet POWs during the initial period of WWII, believed that Bolshevism was a greater evil than Nazism.  The Russians who were robbed of their homes and homeland, had a burning desire to seek restitution and some were ready to believe the corrupt ideology of National Socialism. The fact that the Slavic race was considered inferior by the Nazi propaganda machine seemed to have been lost on these eager young Russian officers pining for historical justice.  According to a number of articles (see: Link) Arkadi’s personal convictions led him to chose to serve in the Schutzstaffel during the war in what was probably only a desk job in Berlin. A significant number of Russians served in one or another unit of the German military apparatus whether it was with the cossack units in Ukraine or special regiments of Russians or Albrecht Speer’s armament department. The complexity of that association can be rooted in a variety of factors but during the German occupation of the Ukraine during the Russian Civil War, the white Russians in Crimea were largely protected by the Germans from renegade Red units who were harrassing Tsarist remnanents who had fled south.  Hetman Pavlo Skoropadskiy was considered by many to be a puppet of the Germans during his brief rule of Ukraine in 1918 and after the end of the Civil War he left for Germany where he died in 1945.  Again from 1941-1944, the Germans occupied Ukraine and some like Elena Mikhailovna Wikberg (nee Kotchoubey) used their occupation as a means of fleeing the Soviet Union with her daughter and other family members.

Whatever Arkadi’s personal motivations, some family members whispered that his role in the German army may have been the reason for his untimely demise many years after the end of WWII. Arkadi, married Ekaterina “Katia” Nikolaievna (née Kleinmichel) / Екатерина Николаевна Клейнмихель (1913-1990), who was a Russian noblewoman of German descent.  She features in Arkadi’s cousin, Marie Ilarionovna “Missie” Harnden (née Princess Vassiltchikov’s) / Мария Илларионовна Васильчикова (1917-1978) ‘s book Berlin Diaries 1940-1945  as Katia Kleinmichel who is a close friend of the author’s and appears in the opening pages of the diary in an entry dated Friday, January 19th, 1940:

Katia Kleinmichel is working with the English department of the D.D. (Drahtloser Dienst or Wireless Service). She may be able to find a job for me too. We are getting rather desperate , for we have not heard from the American embassy and yet cannot harrass them.  We are very broke with the arrival of the family , what money we had has dwindled fast. We went to see a man at I.G. Farben, but they need people who can do German shorthand  perfectly and that is not our forte.

The diary is unique for many reasons and describes the wartime years in Berlin and sheds light on the world of White Russian émigrés and their struggles to find work, live their lives and most importantly enjoy the company of their friends through the horrors of WWII.  While their wedding in not mentioned in the diaries as a large part of the diaries from 1941-1943 have been lost, Ursula Ryshkoff-Karr/ Урсула Рыжкова-Карр (29.06.1904-29.06.2000) who was a Russian of German descent also living in Berlin at the time remembered that the wedding was the highlight of the social season.

Coincedently, another person who appears in Missie’s diaries is the above mentioned Loremarie Schönburg who was a few years older than Missie but would have known Arkadi in her childhood and certainly knew Katia in Berlin.  The interesting aspect of her friendship with Missie is Loremarie’s role in the July plot to assassinate Hitler which placed the Schönburg family squarely in the circle of German patriots who saw the need to end Hitler’s reign as the single most important goal. In an obituary, written for her cousin Peter by his son-in-law, she is remembered as having asked Pope Pius XII for his benediction to assasinate Hitler. This was something he was not willing to do but at the same time he was apparently prepared to condone the act.  It was a sort of tacit complicity that so very much defined the Vatican’s stance towards the totalitarian regimes of Europe during WWII.  What it also suggests is that perhaps Arkadi and his childhood friends, the Schönburgs were serving German for all the right reasons but like many old families realized that Hitler and his cronies were not the answer to Germany’s future and so this act pushes them into a grey area of Germans who are not guilty directly of being part of the Nazi regime’s ultimate ambitions.

That said, towards the end of the war, whereas Missie met and fell in love with an American officer, Peter Harnden and Loremarie met and fell in love with US army officer, Thomas Emmet, their friends Arkadi and Katia sensing the dangers awaiting former German officers, left for Argentina before the end of WWII. Meanwhile, Arkadi’s mother Varvara Alexandrovna visited her cousin Sergei Mikhailovitch (1896-1960) and his wife Irina Georgievna (née Gabrichevsky) in Florence on her way to Rome where she settled after WWII and where she ultimately passed away in 1980.

Arkadi & Katia’s marriage produced no children and the unhappy couple were soon divorced in Buenos Aires. Russians in Buenos Aires remember Arkadi being quite indiscreet about his pro-German sentiments and on occasion he would be found singing German songs on the streets of his neighborhood.  Shortly after their divorce, Katia married another Russian nobleman who in this case was actually born in Buenos Aires in 1909. His name was Count Alexei Igorovitch Uvavrov/ Алексей Игоревич Уваров (1909 -1987).

In the years during WWII and afterwards, Buenos Aires and Montevideo had a thriving Russian community which included the Gortchacows, Wyrouboffs, Cheremeteff and members of the Romanoff family like the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. Buenos Aires counted more than five Russian Orthodox churches within its city and Montevideo would eventually have one church, too.  Despite the many links with his Russian roots and a milieu that would have welcomed him, Arkadi was unhappy in Argentina and after he was divorced from Ekaterina in the late 1940s, he continued to live in Buenos Aires but he was increasingly keen to be closer to Europe.  Thinking that his wartime service was now largely forgotten, he decided to return to Europe but via Morocco.  In 1960, on the way to visit his mother, Varvara Alexandrovna in Rome he was found dead in his hotel room in Rabat. At the time in Morocco there were the remnants of a thriving Russian community which included members of the Troubetzkoy, Cheremeteff and Khlebnikov families as well as members of Arkady’s Dolgorukov relatives.  His mother’s distant cousin, General Prince Alexander Nikolaivitch Dolgorukov /Александр Николаевич Долгоруков (1873 -1948) was living in Rabat during and after the War and he died there in 1948.  The general’s only surviving daughter, Maria Alexandrovna Dolgorukova / Мария Александровна Долгорукова (1901 -1992) was an economist and she lived in Brussels and died in France in 1992.  The Kotchoubey – Dolgorukov families were certainly close as they both chosen to seek their fortunes in Africa following the Revolution.  To cement these family ties, Princess Maria Alexandrovna was chosen as the godmother of Arkadi’s nephew Piotr “Petro” Vassilievitch /  Пётр Васильевич Кочубей (1937-) son Nikolai Petrovich (1972-).

Arkadi’s sudden and unexpected death may have been from natural causes or it may have been due to a reprisal for his role in the Germany during World War II.  Was it a coincedence that Alfred Eichmann was famously captured in Buenos Aires in May 1960 and was Arkadi’s death part of the closure of so many loose ends from the horrors of World War II?  Whatever the reason, we will never know but it fell upon the shoulders of Arkadi’s first cousin and Petro’s father Vassili Petrovich /Василий Петрович Кочубей (1909-1977), who was a long time resident of the Belgian Congo (later Zaire) to travel to Rabat from Belgium to identify the body and arrange for his funeral and burial in Morocco.

The tragic death of Arkadi and his unfortunate choices in life may have stemmed from his parent’s early divorce and the fact that his father, Nikolai divorced Varvara while they were still in Russia. Perhaps the desperation that comes from loosing a war, and facing an uncertain future in the early days of a violent revolution made him face his true feelings.  Nikolai’s affections were pointing elsewhere and he sought the love and affection of an all too familiar person, Irina Alexandrovna (née countess Mussin-Pushkin) / Ирина Александровна Мусин-Пушкина (1894-) who was the sister of Lubov Alexandrovna (née countess Mussin-Pushkin)/ Любов Александровна Мусин-Пушкина (1885-1946) and married to Nikolai’s brother Piotr Vassilievitch / Пётр Васильевич Кочубей (1880-1918).To complete the Mussin-Pushkin-Kotchoubey family relationship which goes back further to the Kushelev-Bezborodkos, Nikolai’s niece* Ekaterina Vassilievna / Екатерина Васильевна Кочубей (1894-1965)  married a second time in 1923 to count Nikolai Alexandrovitch Mussin-Pushkin / Николай Александрович Мусин-Пушкин (1892-1967), the brother of Irina and Lubov.

Nikolai was blessed with a second son when he and Irina welcomed Nikolai Nikolaivitch / Николай Николаевич Кочубей (  ) who was born after his parents fled Russian and were living in emigration in Belgium. However, like his half brother he caused a number of minor scandals that family lore believed caused problems for the family. One such case which ignited the imagination of Nikolai Nikolaivich’s cousins happened in 1949.

In July 1949, Elena Sergeievna “Nelly” (1935-) was traveling to Belgium on her way to London, a young fourteen year old in post-War Europe on her way to visit relatives. Based on incorrect information received at the Belgium consulate in Florence, she was traveling without the necessary visa and was stopped at the Luxembourg-Belgium border. The lack of a visa and her now notorious name, which later transpired was known to the border guards for other reasons meant an unpleasant encounter with the officials at the train station.  Sent back to Luxembourg in a locked train cabin in what was a rather unceremonious and unpleasant fashion, Nelly received her 48 hour transit visa through Belgium the next day at the Belgium embassy. She traveled to Brussels where she stayed with her father’s sister, Elena Mikhailovna “Nelly” Wickberg (née Kotchoubey) and she met her father’s cousin Princess Varvara Vassilievna Devlet-Kideev (née Kotchoubey).

Nelly’s visa problems at the Belgian border was only one part of a broader family saga which later became clear when it was uncovered that her father’s cousin, Nikolai Nikolaivitch threw an unauthorized lavish party in Luxembourg and charged it to the Belgium Embassy. He then left the country without paying the bill and was wanted for the debts that he owed.  Nelly’s problems at the border where just a minor inconvenience in a post war Europe full of travel document requirements and the repercussions of dubious aristocrats throwing lavish parties at the expense of the diplomatic corps of their newly adopted homelands. In any event, Nikolai fled across the borders before he could be apprehended and brought to account for his brash display of largesse. He never married and was a confirmed bachelor. He was known to be a bon vivant  and like his half-brother was written up in the society pages as Prince Nikolai. In vain another cousin in Switzerland, Nikolai Vassilievitch (1903-1984) (not to be confused with his cousin Nikolai Vassilievitch (1885- 1947)) would learn about these moments of pretention and write to the newspapers to ask that corrections be made to his cousin’s use of the title ‘prince’ but to no avail as Europe was awash in fun loving, impoverished Russian princes.

* Ekaterina’s parents were third cousins as her mother, Varvara Vassilievna was the granddaughter of Vassili Vassilievitch and her father, Vassili Petrovich was the grandson of Vassili Vassilievitch’s first cousin Piotr Arkadievitch.

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