Arnold Fabrikant -- Jewish Soldier's Red Star

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With an introduction and epilogue narrated by Sixty Minutes correspondent Morley Safer, here is a story, produced by Brad Rothschild and Gustavo Villalonga in New York, of a Soviet Jewish soldier from the Ukrainian city of Odessa.

 

Arnold Fabrikant introduces us to his parents, who were both doctors. When war came, Arnold's father served as surgeon in Kiev, and rather than be taken prisoner by the Germans, shot himself. While Arnold's mother fled to Central Asia during the war, Arnold served in an artillery unit and fought all the way to the center of Berlin.

 

At war's end, Arnold went looking for his girlfriend Natasha. When they married, they were so poor Arnold had only his army uniform; Nathasha's shoe soles were made of wood.

 

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Arnold became an active member in the Front Line Veteran's Committee, where elderly Jewish veterans meet each month and talk of the times when these Jews fought the Nazis-- and won.

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Arnold was born in Odessa in 1923. During Arnold's childhood, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and just six years before he was born, had been part of the Russian Empire.

Ruled by the Romanovs, Russia's royal family of three hundred years, the world of imperial Russia came to an abrupt end with the revolutions of 1917. Learn about the Russian Revolution and the establishment of communist society here: this article provides an overview of the Revolution, while this timeline of events offers a Marxist perspective. 

Arnold's father served in the First World War, having attended a military academy in the town he briefly lived in, Voznesensk. After the Revolution, he joined the Red Army, the military of the new communist state. Jewish author Isaac Babel worked briefly for the army's newspaper, and in 1926 published a collection of short stories, Konarmiia (in English, The Red Cavalry), that reflected the experiences and events of the 1920 Russo-Polish War. This fascinating review of The Red Cavalry discusses Babel's experiences as a Jewish man living in the early years of the Soviet Union.

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There has been a Jewish presence in Ukraine since Greek traders settled there BCE. Jewish life in Ukraine has been marked by intermittent periods of tolerance and persecution: read about Ukranian Jewish history here.

Arnold spent much of his life in Odessa. Learn more about the history of its Jewish community, and find a map of the city from 1928, when Arnold would have been growing up there.

His grandfather lived in Pinsk, a town in Belarus, near the capital, Minsk. Information on Pinsk's Jewish history can be found here.

Soviet authorities had a complex, and at times antagonistic, relationship with religion. Religions and Churches in the Soviet Union experienced some repressions and some freedoms between 1917 and 1991. Learn about the Soviet state's early battles with religion in this article.

Find here an account of Jewish life in Ukraine in the second half of the twentieth century.

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Arnold joined the Soviet Army in 1941. Following Germany's violation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the Soviet Union joined the Allied powers and took up arms against the Axis Alliance. The Soviet-German War began with the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, resulting in great destruction and loss of life. The war is referred to in Russia as the Great Patriotic War: view a collection of photos here, and read a series of recollections of the conflict here. A narrative of the war from a Ukrainian perspective can be found on this page.

During the invasion, Axis ally Romania occupied Odessa, where anti-Semitic legislation was put in place and violent persecution took place on a horrific scale. About half the Jewish population of Odessa had fled before the arrival of Romanian forces, and the half that remained were subject to random mass-murder, ghettoisation, and deportations. More information on the Holocaust in occupies Odessa can be found here.

This website contains a number of interviews with Jewish veterans of the US Army, and their reflections on the anti-Semitism and brutality they witnessed in occupied Europe.

An image of Polina Gelman is visible at the beginning of the film. She was one of the first renowned women pilots and belonged to the small group of Jewish soldiers awarded with the medal "Hero of the Soviet Union".

Part of the First Ukrainian Front, Arnold took part in the Soviet liberation of Berlin, the battle that effectively ended the Second World War. In narratives of this event, the experiences of soldiers, civilians, and the military high commands differ significantly between Western and Soviet perspectives. Read a Soviet and an Allied account of the Seige of Berlin, and consider their similarities and differences.

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Soviet-Anglo forces invaded and occupied Berlin in 1945, signalling the end of the war in Europe. Part of the terms of peace was that Germany would be occupied by the former Allied powers: at the Potsdam Conference, representatives of the Soviet Union met with those of Britain, France, and America. Together they divided Germany (and within that, Berlin) into four zones of occupation, where each power would oversee government and administration. Read about life in divided Berlin here.

In Berlin, Jewish veterans of the Red Army have formed a social club. The celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II made them proud, but also reminded them of the anti-Semitism they faced in the Soviet Union. Read an article on their life in today's Germany. Arnold belongs to a similar Jewish veteran's group in Odessa.

There are a number of organisations in the former Soviet Union that act to ensure Jewish welfare. Arnold speaks highly of the Gemilut Hesed (find here a publication on Hesed Centres). The Claims Conference and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee also operate in Ukraine and other areas of the former Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, after three years of protest and revolution in which many of the communist states in Eastern and Central Europe were overturned.

Film Details

  • Duration:
    00:10:56
    Countries:
    Ukraine

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