Born May 28th 1923 Vitebsk, Belarus (moved to Leningrad as a baby).
Interviewed In: Toronto, Ontario
Medals Awarded: Order of the Patriotic War (1st and 2nd Class), Order of the Red Star and Victory over Germany In The Great Patriotic War
Tank Repair Instructor whose family survived Siege Of Leningrad.
Yakov spent most of the war in a training squad attached to a tank division. He would also assist with repairs and evacuations, cleaning up in the aftermath of a battle and salvaging what parts he could. On one occasion Yakov was involved in direct combat:
“I was a repairs squad commander. I didn’t go to the attack, except on one occasion while we were evacuating tanks, a heavy fire started. We saw a group of Germans approaching us. We took our submachine guns and started shooting back”.
Yakov stayed in the army until 1961. Despite recommendations from his commanders, Yakov was rejected from several jobs: “The department manager tried to prove that I was the best candidate for the position. The HR manager said ‘I know who we want’. I realized what kind of environment it was. Our country went through antisemitic campaigns of “Cosmopolites” and “Doctor Killers” and many more. There was nothing unexpected in store for us. When I was denied the job I was hurt because I was good for the job”.
Yakov’s family lived through The Siege Of Leningrad:
“My father passed away from starvation and cold during The Siege of Leningrad. The year ’42 was the most horrible year: the bread ration was as little as 125 gram a day, nothing more to eat. My mother served as a doctor at a hospital, and my sister worked as a civilian projectionist at the same hospital. At the beginning of ’43 the hospital was evacuated from Leningrad to the front via the Ice Road of Life, you may know what it was. As of that moment my mother and I lost communication”.
Yakov only regained contact with his family through a random coincidence. Working in an army hospital, Yakov’s mother would ask every tank soldier if they knew her son and eventually found one:
“She shows my photo. ‘That’s Yashka!’ We were in different companies but we stayed in a huge barrack. Our beds were close to each other. ‘Where is he now?’ ‘I am going to a new place, give me a letter for him, just in case’. She writes a letter”. Yakov received his mother’s letter before the war was over.