In 1919, the Gorlin family fled the Russian Civil War and settled in Berlin. Here Mikhail Gorlin grew up, studied — became a philologist (fascinated by German romanticism, he wrote his dissertation on the influence of Ernst Hoffmann on Nikolai Gogol) and a poet. He published his first collection of poems in German. Such mastery in a foreign language is very rare. Mikhail Gorlin created the Berlin Poets’ Club (one of its members was, well, Vladimir Nabokov). Another member was his future wife, Raisa Bloch. In 1933, the National Socialists came to power in Germany. Both Gorlin and Bloch are Jews, so they move to free Paris, where they get married and have a daughter, Dora. It’s a happy time: Paris is the cultural capital of the Russian exile, and the couple became prominent figures in the literary scene.
Misha Gorlin is very small, chubby, with small features and curly, rather blond hair. His eyes are nice — gray, intelligent, with long eyelashes: he was chubby like a girl... He was 11 years younger and a head shorter than her. (family friend Eugenia Kannakh)
No one could have imagined that France would lay down its arms so easily and that the Nazis would occupy Paris as early as 1940. The Gorlins refused to believe that the Germans, with whom they had lived side by side for ten years, now suddenly became barbarians — which is why they never left Paris. On May 14, 1941, Mikhail was arrested and sent to a transit camp in the town of Pithiviers. It was nearly a blessing: the police kept a half-eye on the prisoners and even allowed them to go for walks in the town. Many took advantage of this and escaped the camp on bicycles. But Gorlin could not ride a bicycle and spent his outdoor time working in the local library. One year passed, and in July 1942, all the prisoners were transferred to Auschwitz. Meanwhile, the academic community was fighting for Gorlin’s freedom: he was granted a visa to the United States, he was given a professorship, a bank account was opened... Mikhail Gorlin was murdered in the gas chamber in 1944. The year before, Raisa Bloch had been arrested and extradited to the occupation authorities while trying to cross the Swiss border — she also died in the camp. Shortly before her mother’s arrest, six-year-old Dora died of illness.
Dora Mikhailovna was born, like almost everything else in my life, at the very last moment, five minutes to midnight. With that said, she is a wonderful gal. (from Mikhail Gorlin’s letter)
Light smoke is rising over the roof,
My sweetheart is with another.
The trembling shadows of the night
The day would sweep aside.
The sleepy warmth has faded,
And all is clear, bare, illuminated.
And somewhere there’s a crystal house,
And there’s a quiet pond.
On a road that has no roads
The unicorn gallops along,
There’s a city of birds and fairy tales,
The capital of all the world’s capitals,
But they don’t think of us
They don’t think of us in our darkest hour,
They don’t think of us anywhere,
We burst aflame into the void.