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Dispelling Myths, Book Shows Jewish Role in Soviet War Effort

December 16, 2002
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A book honoring the memory of Soviet Jewish soldiers during World War II who died defending their country was recently completed.

It took a group of veterans and researchers 10 years to collect and verify the names, vital data and causes of death for Jewish members of the Red Army and Soviet navy who died during the war.

The Book of Memory demonstrates the heroism and selflessness of many Soviet Jews — who were portrayed during the Soviet era as traitors who avoided battle during World War II.

“These few lines are the only thing that is left to many families” of soldiers who died, said Marina Pilipenko, one of the editors of the volumes. “So many families don’t even know where their relatives were buried.”

The book — seven volumes, about 500 pages each — contains nearly 100,000 individual entries.

An estimated 200,000 Soviet Jews died on the battlefield, in captivity or of wounds received at the front — but information could not be found on many of these casualties, so they aren’t listed in the Book of Memory.

The work was launched and carried out by the Russian Union of Jewish War Invalids and Veterans, a group set up in 1990.

The book’s first volume was completed in 1994. Even though the project is considered complete, additional volumes will be prepared as more names become available, editors say.

The purpose of the book is “to restore historic truth and to do justice to thousands of Soviet Jews who gave their lives for the victory over Nazism,” said Moisey Maryanovsky, 83, chairman of the Jewish veterans group.

Only with the end of communism and official Soviet anti-Semitism in 1991 did it become possible to discuss those Jews who perished at war.

Soviet Jews took an active part in the fight against Nazi Germany, which cost the USSR an estimated 25 million lives.

Approximately half a million Jews served in the Red Army, and many volunteered for service at the front.

Despite this, Communist Party propagandists hushed up the truth about the Jewish contribution to the victory over Nazism for decades.

During and after the war, many in the Soviet Union would assert that Jews did not fight at the front, but stayed in the background, awaiting its outcome.

They even had a name for this spurious accusation: the Tashkent Front, a reference to the capital of the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. Many Soviet citizens, as well as Jews from other countries, were evacuated to Central Asia during the war years.

Since the end of World War II, Jewish veterans have wanted “to dispel the heinous, offensive lie that Jews didn’t fight and that they were poor soldiers,” Maryanovsky said.

In fact, the number of Jews awarded war decorations is proportionally higher than that of any other ethnic group. A total of 161,000 Jews received medals and award for bravery.

Maryanovsky, a former tank battalion commander, was among 140 Jews that were awarded the highest Soviet decorations — the Golden Star and the honorary title Hero of the Soviet Union.

Collecting the data for the book was especially challenging because many Jewish families left the Soviet Union after the war.

Jewish veteran organizations, active in every major community of Russian-speaking Jews, made invaluable contributions, the editors said.

Pilipenko said the Book of Memory also helped many people to find their long-lost relatives — through those who sent in questionnaires with information on their deceased fathers, husbands, and brothers. It even helped to correct wartime records, he said.

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