Lazar Magrachev was born in St. Petersburg in 1914. He was the youngest, fifth child in the family.
After finishing school, Magrachev studied at a construction technikum, and later enrolled in the Leningrad Herzen Pedagogical Institute. He also attended a musical school. Despite these wide-ranging studies, he never obtained an academic degree.
Lazar Magrachev began to work on the Leningrad Radio in 1937. Originally hired as a freelancer, he quickly became a full-time broadcaster.
In late June 1941, following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Lazar Magrachev was assigned as a correspondent to a frontline editorial office.
The Siege of Leningrad began in September 1941 and lasted until late January 1944. Throughout this time, Lazar Magrachev kept making radio reports, both from the broadcasting office and from the front lines. The terrible hunger and cold that gripped the besieged city made it very difficult to work, but the fighting spirit of the people of Leningrad had to be kept up at all costs. The radio was one of their few sources of information. Lazar traveled out of the city and reported from the Baltic Fleet and from air force units, interviewing frontline combatants.
In his book Reporting from the Siege, he recalled those days:
"It was an honorable position. I was aware of its importance and knew that people were listening with bated breath to reports about the situation on the front lines. And so, I served at my post with pride."1
Unfortunately, Magrachev's wartime career was marred by an unpleasant episode: He was accused of making fake broadcasts – allegedly interviewing his subjects at the studio, and then adding in the sound of gunfire and explosions, to create the illusion of frontline reporting. Lazar was fired from his job. Fortunately, he was exonerated six months later, and allowed to resume his radio work.
During the last months of the war, after the lifting of the siege, Magrachev was sent to the 1st Belorussian Front, which was advancing on Berlin.
"The prophecy of the old man from St. Petersburg has come true! It came back to me as I was walking among the remains of the houses of Berlin, which were sticking out of the ground like the rotten teeth of a dragon. A little earlier, before the beginning of the assault on the city, I had run into the battery commanded by Ivan Nikoforovich Sinelnikov. Back in 1942, I had had the opportunity to report on their activities near Leningrad. And now, three years later, we met again, this time near Berlin."2
On May 2, 1945, it was Lazar Magrachev who made the following broadcast to Leningrad:
"Attention! This is Berlin speaking! Your correspondent has turned on his microphone in the central street of this city. It is called Unter den Linden. And I am announcing to you from there, dear comrades: Soviet forces have captured the capital of Nazi Germany…"3
Magrachev witnessed the signing of the German instrument of surrender on May 7, 1945.
"The whole world knew what was happening in Karlshorst. It was an hour that hundreds of millions of people had been dreaming about for so long. It was a minute for which so much blood had been shed, so much grief and suffering endured. And we, the Soviet people, watched the former German Field Marshal Keitel approach the table to admit the defeat of Fascism in front of the whole world, and we were filled with great pride for our people, for our army…"4
After the end of the war, Lazar Magrachev returned to Leningrad and continued working at the radio.
The late 1940s saw the beginning of the anti-cosmopolitan campaign and the notorious "Leningrad Affair". It was decided to destroy the wartime radio archives that mentioned the leaders of the country. Lazar Magrachev secretly smuggled the compromised materials out of the Radio House, thereby saving some unique recordings. One of these was Konstantin Simonov's famous poem "Wait for Me", read by the poet himself.
The war remained Magrachev's driving obsession for the rest of his life. He treasured his collection of wartime recordings, about 100 in total. Twenty years after V-E Day, Magrachev sought out the "protagonists" of these recordings and spoke to them, later using these materials in war-themed broadcasts. He went on to write several books about the war.
Lazar Magrachev died in Leningrad in 1988, and was buried at the Preobrazhenskoye Jewish cemetery.