Interviewed In: Toronto, Ontario
Medals Awarded: Order of the Patriotic War (1st and 2nd Class), Medal For Liberation of Warsaw, Victory over Germany In The Great Patriotic War and Medal For Capture of Berlin
Infantry – Junior Sergeant Rifle Battalion, Liberation of Rostov, Kishinev, Warsaw and Berlin
“After the war began, we were informed that the Germans were landing their airborne troops at the rear of our troops. Therefore, groups or teams were formed out of the staff of our rifle battalion, regiment and 127 Kharkov Division. The groups were given horses to patrol the nearby villages in the vicinity of Bobrik, in the evening time. Although I wasn’t a cavalryman, I still rode the horseback to the nearest village, in the dark of the night, as the lights were not to be seen, we tied the horses up to the stable. We were afraid there were paratroopers around. I ordered my detachment to charge their guns. This is normally done like this: you take 5 cartridges and insert them into your gun. Then you close and shoot. That’s it. It was a night time. I had a feeling that 4 cartridges instead of 5 had been inserted. I put the lock in place, positioned the gun and shot. I hit my horse’s jaw! I was beside myself for what I’d done. Someone called a veterinary. He started attending to the horse. He put the horse a tampon. We received a message saying, “Wrap up and go back home”. All of my people were horseback riding while I walked beside my injured horse headed to our station.”
When the weather started turning cold, Yakov talks about how it affected the war. “The Germans were stopped somewhere near Kursk, and it was a cold winter, the first winter of the war. We were stationed there. The trenches were in the snow, the Germans were not active at the time, they didn’t have appropriate clothing, not prepared for the winter. The
Germans held their lines with difficulty. On January 15th, 1942, walking on ice, I, together with our units, crossed the river Don.We fought and liberated Rostov and almost reached Taganrog. Near Taganrog, the Germans stood solid, not letting us advance further.“ It was when he reached Taganrog that Yakov was promoted to the rank of Sub Lieutenant.
Yakov describes the scene as they advanced southward. “We were moving towards Mineralnye Vody for a couple of weeks. On arrival in Mineralnye Vody we were told that the top commanders… rather the commandant’s office was in Pyatigorsk. We went there. In the city was “looting”. Everyone knew we were retreating and the Germans were about to invade the town; the townspeople were looting warehouses. Even shops and stores were being looted. People knew they were in for hard times.”
At one point Yakov was taken prisoner by The Germans, and forced to dig holes, and build a concentration camp for himself and the other prisoners. He witnessed 3 Jews being taken into the camp who were shot and killed in front of him. “I thought to myself, ‘I should flee’. My men who were lying next to me said, ‘Yasha, don’t be afraid, we are not going to sell you out’. But you know, afraid or not, I decided that instead of staying I’d better run away from the camp. All ‘weapon’ that I had at the moment was a good steel spoon tucked inside my high boot, you know that was a soldier’s ‘weapon’, a steel spoon. I started looking for a spot where the wire was elevated from the ground because in the Caucasus the dirt wasn’t very soft. I started moving little by little. By the time it was dark… there were no lights there…I found myself lying side by side with other men, 5 or 7 meters away from the wire fence. The Germans were walking along the perimeter, meeting and parting on each side, using their flashlights. It was like this: a guard walks towards the other guard, using his flashlight. They meet up, talk to each other and part. I used the time when the guards were far from where I was. Little by little, I crawled and placed myself near the fence. When they parted for the last time… well I had my back scratched all over, never mind, I crawled under the wire fence with my spoon. When the guards returned for the second time, I lied still, they parted again, I crawled again…I had a feeling I was moving too slowly, taking too long, I don’t know how it was in reality. Finally, I started running in the dark. I ran until the morning, making my way through the bush, jumping over tussocks. I was beaten and scratched all over. “
Yakov was the only Jew who escaped, and was hidden in Kislovodsk by ordinary people until his troops entered the city and he rejoined them.