Lazar Schindel was born in 1924 in Kharkiv, in a Jewish family.
The Schindels later moved to Zaporizhzhia, and from there to Dnepropetrovsk (present-day Dnipro, Ukraine).
On the eve of the outbreak of the Soviet-German War, Lazar Schindel submitted documents to the Mikhail Frunze Higher Naval School in Leningrad. For this reason, in the summer of 1941 he moved to Leningrad, which came under enemy siege shortly thereafter.
In the spring of 1942, the school where Lazar Schindel was studying was evacuated from the besieged city. He then underwent practical training in the Caspian Sea. By the autumn of 1942, Schindel was a lieutenant in the marines, having graduated ahead of time after a three-week period of infantry training.
Lazar Schindel went on to serve as a frontline fighter for a about a year. During that period, he commanded a platoon, then a separate rifle company, and finally a reconnaissance company (he was nineteen years old at the time). He took part in the Battle of Stalingrad and in the fighting on the Mius-Front near the Dnieper. In the course of his year of service, Schindel was wounded several times, and in late August 1943 he was severely wounded in both hands. This took place during the fighting at the Saur-Mogila heights (in the Shakhtarsk Raion of Donetsk Oblast). He was hospitalized for a long time, and became permanently disabled. In April 1944, Lazar Schindel was discharged from the army, having been awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, 2nd class, and some medals.
After his demobilization, Lazar Schindel moved to Moscow and enrolled in the Faculty of Philology of Moscow State University. After his graduation in 1950, he remained at the university as a postgraduate student.
That same year, he began to publish articles in the Soviet press. It was at that time that he adopted the pseudonym Lazarev, since his Jewish last name, Schindel, made it difficult for him to get published during the "anti-cosmopolitan" campaign.
In 1955, Lazar Lazarev began to work at the Literaturnaya Gazeta newspaper, and shortly thereafter he became deputy head of its literature section (in reality, he was the head of that section).
During the Khrushchev "Thaw", Lazarev recruited some young and promising individuals into his department. One of these was the poet Bulat Okudzhava.
In late 1950, Literaturnaya Gazeta began to carry a humor section. In the mid-1960s, a collection of parodic sketches was published. Lazarev intended to produce a sequel, but these plans came to naught, because of a change of editor and the increasingly authoritarian political climate in the country, which resulted in many authors falling into disfavor and their work being banned from the press.
In the early 1960s, Lazarev quit his post at Literaturnaya Gazeta and found a job at the Voprosy Literatury magazine, where he would go on to work for almost fifty years, becoming editor-in-chief of the magazine in 1992.
For decades, the war remained the driving obsession of Lazarev's literary career – he would always circle back to this subject, no matter what he was writing about. He was also fascinated with the Russian poet Konstantin Simonov, defending a thesis on the latter's works.
Another important facet of Lazar Lazarev's life was his collaboration with the famous Soviet film director Andrei Tarkovsky, whose works were sharply at odds with the strictures of the official "social realist" cinema. Lazarev edited several films by Tarkovsky: Andrei Rublev, Mirror, Solaris, and others. He also helped Tarkovsky during the periods when the state apparatus was trying to obstruct the director's work.
Lazar Lazarev wrote three books of memoirs: Memorable Moments (1990), The Sixth Floor, or: Going through Our Dates (1999), and The Notes of an Aged Man (2005). He also authored monographs on Vasil Bykov, a Belarusian-language war writer. Many of his journalistic essays were published in Literaturnaya Gazeta, in the Novy Mir and Znamya magazines, and in many other periodicals.
Lazar Lazarev died in Moscow in 2010.
About the award
"And here is another thing. When I was awarded the order, I had already learned to accept my decorations with equanimity. By that time, I had already lived through a considerable chunk of the war, and I had come to realize that the value of military awards was relative: Some worthy candidates are passed over, and the decoration goes to an undistinguished serviceman. And yet, when we were lined up to be decorated, I suddenly recalled that young pilot who had returned from Spain, sporting an order. I remembered the awe in which we had held him back then. I admit to having felt a tremor in my soul, albeit only for a moment: The pompous award ceremony quickly sobered me."1
About the wounds
"My last war wound was in the hands, yet I landed up in a hospital specializing in leg wounds. I was the odd man out, sticking out like a sore thumb: The five patients in my ward had a total of six legs among them. I recall how three of the "wounded-sick" men (this was the official term) – who were already "proper" amputees, with attached prosthetics – went in search of vodka ahead of their discharge. With the help of some schoolboys, two of the men scaled the fence, while the third one, who was missing both legs and an arm, said (within earshot of me): "Guys, you are stronger than me, so hold me tight: If I fall, I'll go to pieces, seeing as I'm half-wooden."
The older soldiers took pity on me, and one of them told me: 'I still got a pair of functioning hands, and I'll be able to provide for my family even without a leg. But you, lieutenant – how will you survive with hands like these? You can't even roll a cigarette, and you have no profession'."2
Memories of the war
"I don't know, can't tell you now, what kind of company commander I was at eighteen. All the other men in my reconnaissance unit were older than me, some twice my age. I tried not to show fear, as far as this was possible under enemy fire. Alas, my options were very limited: I had to keep the soldiers safe, and I strove to be even-handed. As to whether I succeeded, and to what extent – I don't know, don't dare judge it today. Neither do I know how my men saw me, how I appeared to them. After all, interpersonal relations there, on the front, were extremely simple: I give the orders, having received the appropriate instructions from my superiors, and the men carry them out. And that was all…
There is only one incident I can recall, which sheds a certain light (so to speak) – and, to be perfectly frank, it warms my heart to this day.… On August 27, 1943, near the Mius, at the Saur-Mogila heights, I was wounded for the last time. There were three shells — two ordinary ones, and one explosive bullet. I lost two fingers on one hand, and a chunk of bone from the other (it was 3.5 centimeters long, as I would learn at the hospital, after having an X-ray taken). I was then close to the German trenches — no more than a hundred meters from them. The sniper must have been aiming at my head – but, thank God, he missed."3
- 1. Lazar Lazarev, The Sixth Floor, p. 363 (The Knizhny Sad publishing house; Moscow, 1999.
- 2. Lazar Lazarev, The Sixth Floor, p. 363 (The Knizhny Sad publishing house; Moscow, 1999
- 3. https://magazines.gorky.media/znamia/2001/6/zapiski-pozhilogo-cheloveka-...)