History of the Russian Nobility Association
THE EARLY DAYS
Prince Alexis Alexandrovich Obolensky, 1933 – 1938
The Russian Nobility Association in America began in late 1933 when a group of Russian noblemen in New York headed by Prince Alexis Obolensky decided to open an American branch of the French “Union de la Noblesse Russe”. The French group, founded in Paris in 1925 and at that time headed by Prince Vladimir Troubetzkoy, sought to fill the role formerly held by the regional Nobility Unions of Imperial Russia. The primary purpose of the Union in emigration was the assembly of correct genealogical information about the members of the nobility who had escaped Russia, and to keep a careful registry of their further births, marriages, and deaths abroad.
In New York in 1933 however, the organization had a further twofold purpose; to raise money for the Russian victims of the Revolution and the Civil War who had been pouring into New York since the early 1920’s, and to help identify the “false nobles” with whom New York had become overrun. Because of the resources available to political refugees in New York, and the special attention then offered to “white” Russians, many unscrupulous people began to use false titles not simply for social prestige, but to take advantage of the financing and aid readily available in New York at the time.
The early social events of the Association were reflective of New York’s “Café Society.” They were a real mixture of the ancient Russian titled nobility and aristocracy, New York Society, and a smattering of famous performers and artists. The earliest locations for events were the Hampshire House, the Ritz Towers, the St. Regis, the Sherry-Netherland, and the many Russian nightclubs and cabarets that dominated New York nightlife, including the “Russian Eagle” at the Sherry-Netherland, and “Oussadba” on East 57th Street.
Major supporters of the association in the early days were H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia, Prince & Princess Paul Chavchavadze, multiple branches of the princely Obolensky family, Prince & Princess Serge Troubetskoy, Prince & Princess Grigorii Troubetskoy, Count and Countess Schouvaloff, Prince Nicholas Cantacuzène, Count & Countess de Berg, and others.
THE RNA AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Mr. Vasili Vasilievich Wadkovsky 1939 – 1941
Count Boris Georgievich von Berg 1941 – 1942
Count Paul Pavlovich de Kotzeboue 1942 – 1953
As the Second World War began, many members of the Nobility Association in America and in France were called to fight against fascism in Europe, and the resulting shifts in world politics brought change for the RNA and its operations as well.
One of these results was that the efforts of the Nobility Association in America expanded from simply the genealogical. The RNA moved from helping exclusively the “first wave” of Russian émigrés and their descendants, to working consciously to help any of the peoples of the former Russian Empire displaced by the Second World War, and later, by the spread of communism throughout central and eastern Europe.
In New York, the RNA’s fundraising efforts shifted from large dinner dances, galas, and Café-Concerts to smaller more concerted fundraising efforts as befitting wartime. Many of the most frequently mentioned supporters of the RNA in its efforts during the war were Mr. and Mrs. Boris Martinoff, Count Alexander de Leslie, Prince & Princess Serge Belosselsky-Belozersky, Prince & Princess Nicholas Orloff, Princess Nina Ouroussoff, Count & Countess Tchernicheff-Bezobrazoff, and Count & Countess de Berg.
THE POSTWAR RNA
Gen. Prince Leonid Vasilievich Eletskoy 1953 – 1958
Prince Serge Sergeievich Belosselsky-Belozersky 1958 – 1963
One of the major results of the War and the shifting politics of Europe was the arrival in New York of the “Karlovtsy Synod” or the “Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.” The Synod, which had formerly had its headquarters in Yugoslavia, arrived in New York in 1950.
The period of the post-war 1950’s is significant for the Russian Nobility Association, as it was during this period that the RNA began instrumental in its assistance of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, providing aid and funding to the Church, its monasteries, its seminaries, and its humanitarian efforts in the US and abroad.
In the late 1950’s, the custom of the afternoon “Thé Dansant” was revived, and frequent small dances were held around New York; at the Carnival Room of the Sherry-Netherland, the Persian Room of the Plaza Hotel, the Embassy Club of the Sheraton East, the Metropolitan Club, and the Hotel Delmonico. Major supporters of the RNA in this period were HH Princess Vera Konstantinovna of Russia, Prince & Princess Serge Belosselsky-Belozersky, Prince & Princess Sidamon-Eristoff, Count & Countess Anatole Buxhoeveden, Princess Olga Wiazemsky, and Mr. & Mrs. Serge Semenenko.
THE COLD WAR
Col. Peter Martynov 1963 – 1971
The period of 1960-1970 was in many ways a transitional one for the Russian Nobility Association in America. As many of the “first wave” of émigrés born in Russia before the revolution advanced in age, the Association lost many of their earliest members and supporters, and many of the events with which the Association were most closely connected in this decade were associated with memorial occasions. The 1960’s began with the deaths of the two sisters of the last Tsar, and the memorials of many of the association’s early founders followed. In fact, the ranks of members had become so reduced that from 1960 until 1963, General Prince Leonid Eletskoy served as president of both the Russian Nobility Association in America, and L’Union de la Noblesse Russe in Paris.
Despite this, a renewed interest from the younger members of the Association began to bring back some of the Association’s early vibrancy. Black or White tie dinner dances again became the RNA’s primary fundraising activities, and these dances were held in Ballrooms around town; The Plaza Hotel, The Pierre, The Waldorf-Astoria, the Metropolitan Club, and Delmonico’s Hotel. The many names associated with this period include HH Princess Vera of Russia, Countess Vera Buxhoeveden, Mme. Boris Martinoff, Prince & Princess Alexis Scherbatow, Princess Peter Wolkonsky, and Prince & Princess Vladimir Galitzine.
THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION
Prince Alexis Pavlovich Scherbatow 1971 – 2002
The 1970’s and 1980’s began with a difficult financial period in New York, and continued political difficulties between the Soviet Union and the United States; but as continued numbers of artists, intellectuals, and political refugees left the Soviet Union, the Nobility Association responded by beginning to present lectures and discussions on Russian history and Russian culture. Under the aegis of historian Prince Alexis Scherbatow, the Association maintained its genealogical and historical integrity while expanding its charitable reach to St. George’s Pathfinders, and other Russian-American children’s charities, as well as assisting the indigent elderly of Russian descent abroad.
In 1992, the Communist government in the Soviet Union collapsed. For the first time in its history, the Nobility Association was able to send direct aid to Russia and to Russians. A delegation of board members of the Russian Nobility Association, including Prince Scherbatow and Irina Dvorjitsky SanFilippo, were able to visit Russia, and to see the devastation that was left after years of communist rule. The delegation also saw the possibilities inherent in the development of Russia and Russian resources. Association members formed foundations and independent organizations were created to restore monuments, rebuild churches, fund orphanages and supply hospitals, assist in education, sponsor cultural exchanges and aid the many new groups that were forming as Russia began to rebuild.
This renewed interest in Russia and Russian history swelled the ranks of members and supporters and the events of the period filled the ballrooms of The Waldorf-Astoria, Delmonico’s and The Plaza as well as events at the Metropolitan Club, Doubles, Régine’s, and even Area. This period was marked by the help of HH Princess Vera of Russia, Prince & Princess Kirill Scherbatow, Prince & Princess Alexis Scherbatow, Count & Countess Nicholas Bobrinskoy, Prince & Princess Vladimir Galitzine, Prince & Princess Ivan Obolensky, T.S.H. Prince & Princess Andrei Wolkonsky, and others.
Dr. Cyril Erastovich Geacintov, 2002-2017
Prince Vladimir Kirillovich Galitzine 2017-2018
During the period under Dr. Geacintov’s leadership, the RNA entered not only the digital age, establishing its first website and digital resources for scholars, but also The Russian Nobility Association continued as a thriving organization supporting a wide spectrum of activities in the United States as well as in Russia. The Association continued its mission of acting as is has since 1933 primarily as an organization both genealogical and philanthropic in its nature.
In the changing era of relations between the Russian Federation and the United States, Dr. Geacintov sought and maintained positive relationships between the Association and any and all Russians visiting the United States. A firm advocate of diplomacy and and détente, Dr. Geacintov believed that strong interpersonal ties between the association, Russians abroad, and Russian citizens was of paramount importance. Education, he believed was a key to that mission, and together with board member Irina Dvorjitsky San Filippo, The Prince Alexis Scherbatow Scholarship Fund was created to assist in that mission, by providing scholarships to students in need of assistance,
With Dr. Geacintov’s support, the RNA’s important library and historical records were relocated to the Russian History Foundation in Jordanville, New York, where the entire collection is being conserved and cataloged to be made available to scholars and researchers.
The Association continues in its work to support independent legitimate charities in the United States and in Russia in their work to assist the elderly, to support children, to aid the Russian Orthodox Church, and to promote the cultural legacy of Imperial Russia through education. The Prince Alexis Scherbatow Scholarship Fund was created to assist in that mission. The Russian Nobility Association in America is proud of its legacy, and mindful of its core mission, unchanged since 1933.