The Don Cossacks Choir “Ataman General Kaledin” (Chor der Don-Kosaken “Ataman General Kaledin”) was founded in Munich in 1935 by the conductor Nicolas Nikolaïevitch von Leuchtenberg and it was composed of 14 White Russian émigrés living in the Bavarian capital. The choir seized to perform in 1937, after a sudden death of von Leuchtenberg.
Nicolas Nikolaïevitch, marquis de La Ferté-Beauharnais, Duke von Leuchtenberg (1896-1937), was born in a Russian noble family in a town of Gory, near Novgorod. During the Russian Civil War he fought for the White Russian army until its defeat by the Red Army, when he emigrated through Istanbul to Munich, to live with his uncle Georg von Leuchtenberg.
Von Leuchtenberg was a 19th century Bavarian noble title of the family, owing a large city palace close to the Munich Residence.
Nicolas von Leuchtenberg studied music in Munich and, in 1935, under the influence of the highly popular Don Cossack Choir Serge Jaroff, which was touring Germany in the early 1930s, founded his own choir, composed of 14 Russian émigrés.
The choir bore a radical White Russian name “Ataman General Kaledin”, after Aleksei Maximovich Kaledin (1861 –1918), a Don Cossack Cavalry General, who led the Don Cossack White movement in the first months of the Russian Civil War, and committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, after Rostov-on-the-Don was lost to the Red Army.
According to contemporary newspaper articles the choir’s performances were organized by Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) organization, a Nazi led state organization, created to promote the advantages of National Socialism to the people and a tourist office.
In the 1930s many White Russian émigrés in Bavaria were socially connected to the Nazi party, as they were hoping the German army would defeat the Communists in Russia and they could return to their homeland after the war.
The mission of the name of the choir is explained in the introduction of one of their pamphlets:
“… Ataman Kaledin konnte diese Schmach nicht ertragen – er erschoß sich. Sein Schuß erweckte die Kosaken und sie erhoben sich alle wie ein Mann gegen die Bolschewisten. Mit den Namen Kaledin verknüpft sich heute für den Don-Kosaken die Idee der Befreiung Rußlands und damit die Hoffnung auf die Rückkehr in ein glückliches Vaterland.“
(…Ataman Kaledin could not take this shame – he shot himself. His shot evoke the Cossacks and they arose as one man against the Bolsheviks. With the name Kaledin associates for the Don-Cossacks today the idea of the liberation of Russia and the hope of the return to a happy fatherland.)
On May 5, 1937, Nicolas von Leuchtenberg died aged 40, after a severe illness and the choir seized to perform.
Not much is known about the choir today. Most of the information come from the newspaper articles with this small archive, which according to a note on one of them, belonged to a friend of Nicolas von Leuchtenberg.
This collection of three photographs and two pamphlets offers a small insight of not yet well researched story from a cultural life of Russian émigrés in Munich on the eve of WWII.
a. Chor der Don-Kosaken “Ataman General Kaledin“. Dirigent N. Herzog von Leuchtenberg Rittmeister a. D. Im Lieb-Kosaken-Regiment.
Place and Year: München: Knorr & Hirth GmbH [probably 1937]. Format: 8°:  folded brochure (Very Good)
b. Chor der Don-Kosaken “Ataman General Kaledin“. Dirigent N. Herzog von Leuchtenberg Rittmeister a. D. Im Lieb-Kosaken-Regiment.
Place and Year: München: Knorr & Hirth GmbH [probably 1937]. Format: 8°:  folded brochure (slightly stained, old annotations within text).
Two almost identical musical programs include explanation of the name of the choir and its mission to evoke the nationalistic feelings of the Russian émigrés to regain their country from the Bolsheviks. The pamphlets also include titles of 24 songs with refrains and most important parts translated to German. One of the pamphlets bears contemporary notes on the numeration of songs on the concert.
c. Dirigent des Don Kosaken Chors Herzog N. von Leuchtenberg
Author: A. Köstler. Place and Year: München: A. Köstler [between 1935-1937]. Format: Original black and white photograph 22,2 x 15,7 cm (8.7 x 6.2 inches), contemporary mounted on card with embossed lines and photographer’s name 31,5 x 22,5 cm (12.4 x 8.8 inches) (Very Good, card slightly stained with tiny tears and folds in corners, light white stains on the portrait).
A black and white studio portrait of Nicolas von Leuchtenberg in a Cossack uniform.
d. Dirigent des Don Kosaken Chors Herzog N. von Leuchtenberg
Author: A. Köstler. Place and Year: München: A. Köstler [between 1935-1937]. Format: Original black and white photograph 22 x 16 cm (8.6 x 6.3inches), contemporary mounted on card with embossed lines and photographer’s name 33,5 x 24 cm (13.2 x 9.4 inches), old manuscript annotation in black ink in the lower margin, old newspaper article mounted on verso with a tape (Very Good, card slightly stained with tiny tears and folds in corners).
A black and white studio portrait of Nicolas von Leuchtenberg in a Cossack uniform. An old annotation on the bottom marks a date of his death on May 5, 1937. An old article, mounted on verso, reports on the renovation of the Leuchtenberg Palace, which was destroyed in WWII. A hand-written note on the bottom reads: “Nicolaus v. Leuchtenberg was a friend of our family”.
e. Don Kosaken Chor Nam. Ataman General Kaledin. Dirigent Herzog N. von Leuchtenberg
Author: A. Köstler. Place and Year: München: A. Köstler [between 1935-1937]. Format: Original black and white photograph 15,4 x 21,6 cm (6 x 8.5 inches), contemporary mounted on card with embossed lines and photographer’s name 22,7 x 31,8 cm (8.9 x 12.5 inches), old hand-drawn arrow in the upper margin (Very Good, card slightly).
f. 2 additions: 2 contemporary newspaper articles on the choir, cut from the newspapers.