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Alexandra Tolstoy (1884-1979)

Alexandra Lvovna Tolstoy was born in 1884, the youngest of the twelve children of the famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina. She adopted her father’s philosophy of helping others and dedicated her life to helping those in need through the Tolstoy Foundation.

          During World War I, Tolstoy served as a nurse. earning two Medals of St. George for her valor in the battlefield. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, she struggled to carry on her father’s work, but she found life under the new communist government difficult. She was arrested six times, the last time for allowing a group of White Russians to meet in her home, and was given a three-year sentence. At the prison camp, Tolstoy started a school and organized a chorus. She was released after a year without explanation. After her release from prison, the government forced her to stop teaching about religion in a school on her father’s estate. She decided that day to leave Russia. She would never return.

          In 1929, Tolstoy went to Japan, taking only a small suitcase and her guitar. She arrived in America in 1931 and spent the next few years working on farms in Pennsylvania and Connecticut and lecturing about the dangers of communism. During this time, Tolstoy was reunited with Tatiana Schaufuss, a fellow nurse on the World War I front, and together they conceived the idea for a center that would assist refugees who were victims of oppression. The result was the Tolstoy Foundation, which by 2000 had resettled not only Russians, but also Czechoslovaks, Hungarians, Laotians, Tibetans, Ugandan Asians, Kalmuks (a Buddhist groups of Mongolian ancestry), Vietnamese, and Cambodians.

          Tolstoy often told friends that she would not return to Russia until the communist government fell. That did not happen in her lifetime. She died in 1979 at the nursing home she helped to build. Throughout her life, she exemplified her belief that “we live by miracles and through the joy of doing something for others.”