Born 1919 Sarkovshizno, Poland.
Interviewed In: Toronto, Ontario
Medals Awarded: Order of the Patriotic War (1st and 2nd Class), Order of Glory, Medal for Defense of Leningrad and Victory over Germany In The Great Patriotic War
Artillery Commander – Leningrad, Continuation War, Mongolia.
“It was either live or die. If I had chosen not be in the army, I wouldn’t have been in the army, but I knew if the Germans would win, what they would do to us.”
Shlema was drafted in 1937. He was a commander on the western front, near Leningrad, when the war with Germany began. Early in the war, Shlema was wounded during a minor offensive:
“We started an attack in the night. I was wounded in the hip. I was taken to a tent. I don’t remember how I get to Gorky Region. Staying out of army was worse. After the recovery I was out of the front. You walk into a store, ‘Our husbands are fighting at the front, why aren’t you?’ They didn’t know that we were injured.”
Shlema only away from the front lines for a few months, he returned to his post on the western front as soon as he was able.
Shlema’s unit was given The Order Of Glory for destroying a Nazi train near Leningrad in the winter of 1943:
“An armoured train was running and firing at our position. I was ordered to stop it. There was a swamp. The place was inaccessible for the horses. We had to carry the gun on our shoulders. We stopped the armoured train. Stopped…rather destroyed it.”
They were stationed away from where The Siege Of Leningrad was taking place. Instead, they were tasked with holding the land still under Soviet control:
“We took a defensive position. We didn’t do anything, just holding a defensive position. When attacked we fought off. Close to Leningrad, the Leningrad Front. When they attacked us, we fought back. That was the Leningrad Front.
Shlema also fought against Finland in The Continuation War, serving at Karelofinna and Vladivostok (contested territory with near Amur Bay) in 1944:
“We had hard time fighting against the Finns. The Finns used to come at night throwing knives. They used to put down the guards with their knives. They killed a lot of our soldiers. They gave us a hard time. They were skiers. The temperature was 40 below zero, freezing cold.”
After the war, Shlema tried to start a business but was arrested for profiteering:
I started a job and was “awarded” for good work with 27 years of imprisonment 17 years in prison and 10 years in exile ‘A Jew is a profiteer’. I was lucky I was a Polish citizen. In ’57 the government issued an order allowing the Jews who had lived in Poland before the war to return to Poland. I was transferred to and let go in Poland.
Shortly after his release, Shlema joined his brothers who were already living in Canada.