A pensioner from the city of Voronezh survived the horrors of Nazi and Stalin’s concentration camps thanks to his opera singing.
The fate of Mikhail Krasnopevtsev, an 84-year-old resident of Voronezh, would become a plot for a blockbuster in Hollywood. As a boy he was taken prisoner and spent two and a half years in a concentration camp. After the defeat of Nazism, he found himself in Stalin’s camp. His unusual vocal abilities saved him from death – Mikhail sang in an artistic troupe of detainees.
Mikhail Krasnopevtsev was born in Voronezh in 1925. The first day of the Nazi occupation of Voronezh in the summer of 1942 became a crucial point for him.
“I was driven along with other citizens over the Don River. They made us build fortifications, - Krasnopevtsev tells. – Then they put me into a special train and sent me to Germany. At the end of 1942 we arrived at a concentration camp in the centre of Nürnberg,” the man said.
Mikhail was put into a smithy. The prisoners were fed with filthy swede soup and sometimes ate a couple of potatoes and several grams of fat.
From the end of 1944, American aircraft began raiding Nürnberg. The concentration camp was bombed, barracks caught fire, and many detainees and guards burnt alive.
On 17th April 1945 the Americans marched into the city. The liberators surprised the captives with the fact that tracks of their tanks were made of hard plastic not to hurt asphalt roads. An American officer learned that Mikhail liked to sing and used to sing in barracks and asked him to perform at a concert. Krasnopevtsev sang some Russian folk songs, and afterwards the Americans offered him to go to the USA to receive musical education there.
In 1945, Mikhail came back to Voronezh and started to work at a factory as a turner. Next year he was called up for military service, but in 1948, he was arrested, though he was a secretary of the Young Communist League (Komsomol). Someone reported that he had dared to call Stalin names in a friendly conversation. Mikhail was at first sentenced to be shot, but the execution was replaced with a 25-year prison term.
Coal mines in Inta in Komi Region (Russia’s Far North) were to become Mikhail’s place of living and work for a quarter of a century.
“I met there renowned singer Nikolay Pechkovskiy, a soloist of the Leningrad Theatre of Opera and Ballet, - Krasnopevtsev remembers. – He became my teacher. The art was the only thing that saved me in the camp. Artists were treated more loyally.”
Once in February 1949 the camp’s “king” invited Krasnopevtsev to his hut and asked to sing “something sad” for him. Mikhail sang a mournful song eight times in a row. For this, the ‘gangster’ gave him a whole heap of food.
In 1956 Mikhail was released, was fully exonerated in 1991.