The Second World War Told By Jewish Soviet War Veterans
We wanted to make the veteran interviews and stories relatable to the reader and to show a glimpse of the wartime world of the former Soviet Union. To that end we turned to academic experts in the field to provide verified historical notes detailing Soviet wartime leadership, battles where the veterans participated, the significance of their medals, and an overview of the Jewish experience in Soviet/Russian society before and after the war.
During the course of our historical research we uncovered some remarkable and sadly forgotten facts. The most fascinating being the history of The Jewish Anti Fascist Committee (JAC) and a biography of its Chairman Solomon Mikhoels. Mikhoels and JAC raised over ten million dollars for the war against Germany in the largest pro-Soviet rally on America’s soil. Stalin turned on JAC after the war, executing most of its members and justifying his actions with an anti-Semitic conspiracy known as The Doctor’s Plot.
The information on this website is meant to draw attention to a neglected aspect of Jewish history. Together the videos and historical context honour Jewish soldiers’ sacrifice by making their story available and accessible for future generations. This initiative could not have been created without the hard work and dedication of a number of committed people. Please visit our acknowledgments page to see the full list. Please contact us for full transcripts of the interviews
This project could not have been done without the organizational help of child survivor and partisan, Alex Levin, who sadly passed away in 2016. His liason to the Russian-speaking Jewish veterans helped to bring this project to life. Please read more about him at the Azrieli Foundation and in his book Under the Yellow and Red Stars.
The website would not exist without following people’s hard work and dedication:
Anna Shternshis, Associate Professor University Of Toronto. Specialization Russian Jewish History.
Amy Di Nardo
Nella Feldsher, Executive Vice President at Jewish Agency for International Development
Galit Keren, Senior Campaign Associate United Jewish Appeal
Alex Levin, Consultant WWII Veteran
Maris Rowe McCullough, PHD Student Eastern European Studies
Adam Schwartz, MA English Literature
Videographers and Interviewers:
We would like to thank the United Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto for their support with location resources and coordination of the Toronto portion of the interviews.
We would like to thank Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre for archiving the veteran photos featured in the Toronto video interviews.
JEWISH VETS HONOURED 70 YEARS AFTER END OF WWII
By Barbara Silverstein – May 11, 2015
TORONTO — Eugene Kats looked very distinguished in his side cap and navy blazer, which was pinned with dozens of military medals.
Kats, 90, fought with the Polish Resistance until 1944, when the partisans were absorbed by the Red Army. He was in the heavy gun division and part of the Soviet force that drove the Germans out of Russia.
Arkadiy Novokolsky, 93, was an engineer and pilot in the Russian air force. He developed a night-vision camera for reconnaissance work and flew missions to test the equipment.
Valentin Rabinovich, 93, fought in the anti-aircraft artillery corps of the Red Army and helped to break the siege of Leningrad, which lasted from September 1941 to January 1944.
Kats, Novokolsky and Rabinovich were among the Jewish veterans who were honoured May 8 at a celebration marking the 70th anniversary of VE Day, when Nazi Germany surrendered to Allied forces in Europe.
Shternshis noted that Jewish soldiers played a vital role in the fight against the Nazis. Of the 1.5 million Jewish soldiers who fought in the war, 550,000 were American and another third or 500,000 were in the Soviet Armed Forces. “Some of the soldiers who fought against fascism are here in this room.”
She said that many Soviet Jews who served were over-represented in the infantry, where they were very vulnerable. Many of these Jewish infantrymen were killed.
However, Shternshis pointed out that Ukrainian Jewish infantrymen had a higher survival rate than their mothers, because Jewish civilians were targeted and killed by the Nazis. “Less than one per cent of the Jewish civilians who stayed in Ukraine survived war.”
Kwinter stressed the importance of remembering the history of the war and the ultimate sacrifice made by so many soldiers. “Victory came at a high cost.”
The evening’s lead sponsor, the Steinberg/Brodie family, provided funding in honour of the Soviet Jewish veterans.
Elen Steinberg, a philanthropist and entrepreneur, is also the founder of SovietJewishVeterans.com, a website that documents the individual histories of the Russian Jewish veterans who came to Canada.
She started the project in 2010 because there was so little information about Jewish World War II vets who had served in the Soviet Armed Forces.
Steinberg said she felt an urgency about moving forward on the project quickly because of the advanced age of the veterans. “I thought if not now, then when? We have to do something now to remember them. We’re running out of time.”
Other local organizations associated with the VE-Day celebration included Jewish War Veterans of Canada, the Azrieli Foundation, the Memory Project, the National Council of Veterans Associations, and SovietJewishVeterans.com.