Narrated: Ruvim Katz , St-Petersburg, Russia
English Translation: Mark Klionsky, webmaster's father, St-Petersburg, Russia
Editing: Daniel Klionsky with Janet (Mikhlin) Neice , Detroit
Posted on: 3 Jan, 2012
Last Updated on: 3 Jan, 2012

Red Army lieutenant
Ruvim Katz, 1939
By Ruvim Katz (1918-2018), retired Red Army lieutenant-colonel, WWII veteran and webmaster’s grandfather. After his discharge from the military service in early 1960s, Ruvim and his family lived in St-Petersburg, Russia and in 2011 celebrated his 93d birthday.

The series consist of several short stories that Ruvim narrated from memory to Mark Klionsky, webmaster’s father.

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Marshal and Defense Commissar Klim Voroshilov (1881-1969)
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Commissar of the 1st rank
Yan Gamarnik(1894-1937),
In 1937, by Stalin’s decree in the Soviet Union, a campaign developed against so-called “Enemies of the People,” targeting people who dared to express disagreement with the current regime and anyone associated with those people even by accident.

This story happened while I was attending the final 10th grade at a high school located in the town of Klimovichi , Belarus.

In our class, there was a girl name Irina Pavlova, who was the daughter of a bookkeeper working in a governmental establishment. One day, she came to school in tears, crying that her father had been arrested. She proceeded to tell her story.

In her father’s office, two portraits hung of leaders in the Red Army, Marshal Klim Voroshilov (minister of defense aka `People`s Commissar of Defense`) and Yan Gamarnik (the Head of the Red Army Main Political Office, and a Jew).

Even though, Gamarnik`s military rank was one step below of Voroshilov’s as he was a `Commissar of the 1st rank`, the powers of two almost matched.

One day, newspapers across the country announced that Gamarnik was an `Enemy of the People`, and since he expected inevitable punishment, he shot himself. (Three years after Stalin’s death, in 1956, Yan Gamarnik was rehabilitated as a victim of Stalin’s purges)

The very next morning, once Irina’s father arrived at work, he notified the cleaning woman to remove the portrait of Gamarnik that was hanging on the wall in his office.

When the cleaning woman asked what to do with the other portrait, the bookkeeper instructed her to also remove it in case Voroshilov will be declared an `Enemy of the People` tomorrow, and this will save her a second climb.

The cleaning woman gladly followed these instructions.

However, Marshal Voroshilov, one of Stalin’s closest followers, and bloody henchman himself, was not targeted at the purges and continued with his duties as a Defense Commissar.

Hence, the mere act of taking down his portrait, could have been easily interpreted in a paranoid society of Soviet Russia as an `insult` to a revered leader whom Marshal Voroshilov so successfully represented.

The cleaning woman, without giving it much thought, gossiped the episode with the portrait to her fellow coworkers.

The mighty KGB (called NKVD at the time) was spying on the people from all directions, and, apparently, someone whom janitor lady talked to, snitched on the bookkeeper to the police.

As a result, one night , the plain-cloth NKVD people showed up at bookkeeper`s home, and took him away for `questioning`.

And since then, no one in his family ever saw him again. 

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Young female solders at the front lines, 1942

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army commander Alexander Sukhomlin (1900—1970)
During World War II, in 1943, I was stationed on the Leningrad front.

I was 24 years old and in charge of a radio company that was a part of the radio-communications regiment of the 54th army headquarters.

Every night at the army headquarters, a group of 10 female typists were on duty and a male officer was appointed to be in charge.

One of those nights when I was on duty for the second consecutive night, a phone call came in. I answered: “Lieutenant Katz speaking.” The caller responded: “Army Commander speaking. Lieutenant, send the “Ukrainian girl” to my quarters right away.”

We all knew that was the nick-name of a particular young Ukrainian female typist. She was really pretty – a tall brunette, well-endowed with a waspy waist. She often spent nights at the commander’s quarters, and she was not shy talking about it.

I mumbled back to the commander: “I cannot do this, comrade lieutenant general. She is on watch and the prior girl has just fallen asleep after her shift." He commanded back: "Then release her, and you take her place.”

I had no choice but to follow the order. I was fully aware of a similar scenario some time ago when another young lieutenant on duty refused to follow a comparable order from a high ranking officer, and the next day, he was sent to the front lines. Within three days of his arrival, that lieutenant was killed during the fighting the Germans.

In my case, the commanding officer was of even higher ranking!

Alexander Sukhomlin, the Army Commander, was a middle-aged two star general so far removed in command from me that I have never met him in person.
So, at daybreak, after my head was about to explode from receiving Morse Code messages, the “Ukrainian girl” was back in a good mood, joking and passing out sweets and cookies. I also had some elevating my mood.

On a side note, there was a popular belief amongst the military men that many enlisted females, once being dissatisfied with a harsh army life, which constituted of almost complete lack of rudimentary sanitation and hygiene, were specifically looking for intimate relationships with commanders.

By doing so, they become pregnant and were required by law to be discharged from the military service.

In 1958, the made-up case of the “doctors-killers” from 1953 was closed, as a result, the openly virulent Anti-Semitism subsided.

The newspapers and television spoke with enthusiasm about the undivided friendship between the people of the USSR.

In truth, the various regulations limiting the advancements of Jews in every sphere of life were not lifted at all (and stayed that way until Gorbachev abolished them in 1987).

The word `Zionist` contiuned to be used as a curse word. The `Zionist` state of Israel was potrayed as a cruel agressor towards its Arab neibours and a chrony of the United States, the Cold War arch-foe. For that reason, no Jews in the Soviet Union could be entrusted completely as they all might have had relatives living in Israel.

At that time, I was the Head of Communications with a rank of a Major in the unit that was a part of the standalone anti-aircraft division.

My regiment stationed in the town of Pavlovsk, a well-known suburb of St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). My family, wife and two daughters, Svetlana and Alla, lived in military housing nearby, enjoying the proximity to a big city.

One day, out of nowhere, a new order came in, stating that two regiments (out of three) are to be relocated: one would go to Belarus, and the second one would go to the Finnish border, to a village with an unpronounceable name of Njunjumjaki.
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A Poster depicting surface-to-air missile system
and soldier pointing towars Gary Powers plane going down

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surface-to-air missile system
С-75, circa 1958
For unknown to me reasons, the higher command decided that my regiment was going to be moved to the border with Finland.

I was devastated. My children were attending a good school and had a lot of friends whom they loved dearly. In addition, my youngest child, Alla, had recently started a music school.

My in-laws lived in Leningrad, and my children often went to visit them and stayed overnight. And now we have had to pack up and leave for a godforsaken place without a regular school.

After some deliberations, I decided to pay a visit to the Lieutenant–Colonel, the deputy commander of my division.

The deputy commander was a very affable person, and I always felt his goodwill towards me (and, of course, his compassion was a result of his wife being of Jewish origin).

Having explained my circumstances, I asked to be transferred out of my regiment ( As a general rule, such transfers were discouraged, so I was extremely anxious. )

I proposed to take a comparable position in the regiment remaining in Pavlovsk while the officer currently occupying that position to be transferred out to the regiment going to the border with Finland... Perhaps, it was not fair to that officer, but I knew that his situation with his children was not as critical.

To my surprise, the deputy commander asked me not to worry and, moreover, assured me that he knew exactly how to solve the issue for me.

And sometime later, during informal meeting, he told me how he solved my problem.

All personnel decisions were made by the Colonel, the commander of our division, so the deputy told him this: “In redeployed regiments, the new weapon - a rocket surface-to-air missile systems should arrive (that was the type that in 1961 brought down the US scout plane, and its pilot, Gary Powers, was taken prisoner).  “ - he started -

 “Why should we allow an access of this new super confidential weapon to Major Ruvim Katz, who is a Jew?”

The commander of a division could not disagree with this argument, and to my great joy, I was transferred to the regiment that remained in Pavlovsk.