The famous playwright, screenwriter, and poet Aleksandr Lifshitz was born in Minsk in 1919, into a Jewish family. When Aleksandr was five, his mother died; his father remarried, and the boy was sent to be raised by relatives in Moscow.
From early childhood, Aleksandr exhibited a love for theater. As a school student, he would save his pocket money to buy tickets for shows. His cousin (who would later be killed in the war) attended a drama institute, and this may have influenced Lifshitz's choice of career.
Aleksandr Lifshitz finished school with perfect grades, receiving a golden medal. Wishing to become financially independent as soon as possible, he completed a preparatory course for teachers and traveled to a village in the Moscow Region, where he taught Russian language and literature at a rural school. A year later, in 1939, he came back to Moscow and enrolled at the Russian Institute of Theater Arts (GITIS), becoming a student at the Faculty of Theater History and Criticism. However, he did not stay there for long, being drafted into the Red Army during the mobilization that attended the outbreak of World War II. In late June 1941, when the Soviet-German War began, Lifshitz's regiment was stationed in Polotsk, Belarus. A few weeks later, the city was surrounded by the enemy. Fortunately, Aleksandr managed to escape from the encirclement. Here follow some of his recollections of that period:
"- When did you realize that the whole country was one big GULAG?
- That realization took a long time. We had just fled into the freedom of war. And we were all afraid, sitting on the defensive, that we wouldn't have the time to crush those bastards, who wished to ruin our peaceful life in our fair land! However, at a certain point I saw: This is a war against Martians. We are sitting on the defensive line; some enormous contraptions are flying overhead. Everything is deathly quiet. And somewhere behind us, we can hear dull explosions. They were using machine guns, while we had to shoot at them with tiny rifles. And then we were hit by the most dreadful realization: We were not advancing westward, but retreating eastward! We were surrounded, and it took us lots of time and effort to break out. There were deserters everywhere! Those Martians seemed invincible". 1
Over the course of the war, Aleksandr Lifshitz was a communications man, sapper, and infantryman. He took part in the bloody Battles of Rzhev, which lasted for more than a year (January 1942 - March 1943) and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Lifshitz himself was wounded, but miraculously survived. After undergoing treatment at a hospital, he returned to active duty, and was wounded once again. This second injury was very serious: a mine fragment had lodged his lung, and he was evacuated to a hospital in Moscow. That fragment was never removed, and would remain embedded in Aleksandr's lung for the rest of his life. Aleksandr Lifshitz met V-E Day in Moscow, having been granted leave after his discharge from hospital. He was awarded the medal "For Courage".
Lifshitz resumed his interrupted studies, switching to the Screenwriting Department of the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (VGIK).
In 1949, following his graduation from the Institute, Lifshitz, as a war veteran, was invited to work at a Leningrad-based scientific association that edited war films. At first, the Lifshitz family lived very modestly, and Aleksandr edited various plays and prose works to supplement his income. Gradually, he began to write himself. However, a person named Lifshitz could not get his works published during the period of "anti-cosmopolitanism", and so his publishers advised him to adopt a pseudonym. Thus did he become "Volodin", in honor of his son Volodya.
1955 saw the publication of Volodin's first play, The Factory Girl, which was staged at some of the largest theaters in Moscow, Leningrad, and other cities of the USSR. His subsequent plays – Five Evenings (1959), My Elder Sister (1961), Do Not Part with Your Beloved (1972), and others – were in high demand by all the theaters in the country. Being very modest and prone to self-doubt, he thought that his works lacked artistic merit, despite being sought after by the finest Soviet directors. Volodin also enjoyed a successful film career, writing the scripts for numerous movies, such as: They're Calling, Open the Door (1965), Adventures of a Dentist (1965), My Elder Sister (1966), Five Evenings (1978), Autumn Marathon (1979), Do Not Part with Your Beloved (1979), Nastia (1993), and many others. In his plays, Aleksandr Volodin dealt with social and personal issues, but avoided discussing the war. Naturally, he had his share of run-ins with Soviet censors and hostile officials, since his works touched some sore spots, and did not always end happily.
In 1992, Volodin published an autobiographic book entitled Notes of an Inebriated Person, which consisted of brief essays and gave the readers detailed information on the author's life.
In the second half of the 1990s, Aleksandr Volodin received numerous theater and state awards.
Aleksandr Volodin (Lifshitz) died in 2001 in Leningrad.
A poem by Aleksandr Volodin
A youth, I came before the court.
The Pioneers rejected me,
The Party would not take me in,
My tender age was no excuse.
The end of war brought no relief —
There were new charges and new trials.
I won't deny that, in those days,
I was a cosmopolitan.
In later years, I sinned again
And failed to toe the Party line.
This merited a new conviction,
And my grey hair was no excuse.
Having been tried so many times,
I do not trust the legal system.
And I declare: From now on,
My conscience is my only judge.