Interviewed In: Toronto, Ontario
Medals Awarded: Order of the Red Star, Order of the Patriotic War (1st and 2nd Class), Medal For Capture of Berlin and Victory over Germany In The Great Patriotic War
Katyusha (rockets) Platoon Commander 303 Guards Mortar Regiment: Ukraine, Poland, Kharkov, Capture of Berlin.
“On June 22nd, ’41, all the students were gathered in front of the building. We were told that Viacheslav Molotov, our Foreign Minister, would be making a speech. In his speech he said “Today, at 2 a.m. the German Nazi troops attacked, without declaring the war, our
border squads and peaceful cities. Many cities and garrisons were bombarded. The German troops crossed our border”.
Soviet army wasn’t prepared for war and along with all other Soviet troops his unit retreated from 1941 to 1943. They stopped retreating in Ukraine and went on an offensive, advancing through Ukraine and Poland, liberating cities and Majdanek Concentration Camp.
“I saw them [concentration camp survivors]. They were behind the fence looking very exhausted and famished. We exchanged words with them. But our task was to move further. They were happy to have survived. They were in rags and famished. However, their faces looked happy. It looked like a huge settlement of barracks painted green. Do you want me to go on speaking? I saw rails near the gates. “Arber macht frein” was written on the gates: ‘Labour makes one free’. Those words were targeted at those who were about to be annihilated.”
His unit continued their march west, eventually reaching Berlin where he ended the war. Yakov was part of the initial artillery assault during The Battle of Berlin, in 1945:
“When we were in Berlin we saw it in ruins because it had been bombarded by our artillery, Katyushas, aviation, and Allies’ aviation. Berlin’s streets were in ruins. They got what they were planning to do to other nations. We were happy to have survived, to have our comrades with us.”