Yakov Gelfandbein

Yakov Gelfandbein

Born: 1922 Kherson, Ukraine. Passed Away: August 13, 2014 Montreal, Quebec.

Interviewed In: Montreal, Quebec

Medals Awarded: Medal for Battle Merit,  Medal For Defense of Stalingrad,  Medal For Defense of Moscow,  Order of the Red Star,  Order of the Patriotic War (1st and 2nd Class) and Victory over Germany In The Great Patriotic War

2nd Leningrad Artillery Corps And Later Paratrooper. Defence Of Leningrad, Battle Of Stalingrad, Ukrainian Front, Liberation Of Auschwitz

 

“As it turned out later, I am the only survivor from the division to date”

Yakov was in artillery camp near Leningrad at the start of the war. He was at a train station when the Germans first bombed the city. Yakov’s unit mobilized quickly and was sent to a small town called Tappa in Eastern Russia. They were positioned to intercept a group of Nazi planes:

“After a while we heard the humming sound of airplanes and saw an armada of about 70 airplanes approaching us from south-west. Then we saw them turning and approaching the landing strip. However, the moment the first airplane signaled to light the landing strip, a series of red flares came from under the bomb stack, and the airplanes took off without landing and flew back to their airdrome. The operation failed. The search for those who gave the signal didn’t give any result. However German submachine guns, gas masks and other equipment were found under the stack”

Fearing the Germans had learned their position, Yakov’s unit moved to another small town called Volosovo:


“The Germans were hoping to manage a break through to Leningrad and to capture Leningrad by storm. They spread themselves along the embankment, 3 km long. We decided that the right-hand guns will fire one gun from tail to head, and the left-hand howitzers will fire one gun from head to tail. So when they entered the embankment, there was a command to open fire. All the 70 tanks were destroyed on the embankment. That was our response… that’s how we saved Leningrad from being captured directly”.

SMERSH investigated Yakov in the winter of 1941, after his unit fought through encirclement near Leningrad:

“I was interrogated by SMERSH like everyone else. I proved that I was a Jew. My Jewish passport had entries of my date of birth and the place the passport had been issued and so they trusted me”

Yakov was transferred to The Ukrainian Front after being cleared by counter intelligence. He was wounded near Tula. After recovering Yakov was promoted to assistant battery commander and sent to the Stalingrad front.

Resources were scarce during The Battle Of Stalingrad. As a commander Yakov was responsible not only for hitting the target but choosing the most appropriate time to fire:

“A German platoon led by a corporal came out. One of them looking like a real German pig got in the car and started playing a cheerful march “Nach zu Est” – March to the East. And so when he played “Nach zu Est” I commanded fire! 2 batteries of 24 guns, 2 seconds, running fire.”

After Stalingrad Yakov participated in the Battle of Sevastopol. Red Army soldiers crossed a river using discarded Nazi caskets as boats:

“They brought the caskets to the northern side’s bay. We captured the caskets in the evening. Soldier’s wisdom, captured the caskets and caulked them. Every casket cover gave us an oar, because we removed the upper part. The lower part was caulked and was used as a boat. This way we had 4000 boats and 8000 men. The Germans realized they wouldn’t be able to keep Sevastopol despite the fact that they had kept it for 173 days. We captured it in 3 days.”

Yakov continued fighting as part of Operation Bagration, recapturing Belarus and Poland after Sevastopol. His unit liberated Auschwitz concentration camp in January 1945:

“When we came to Auschwitz we saw 2000 exhausted people, mainly women and children. We moved them out, took them not far from Oppeln”

Yakov was in Poland when the war ended. He became a scientist and worked on the Soviet Space Program with Sergei Korolev before immigrating to Montreal.