Abram Fradkin was born in the town of Klintsy, Belarus, in 1911. His parents were Mordekhai (Mark) and Mira Fradkin. His father worked in the logging industry, and the family owned a large house, which was later expropriated by the Soviet regime. As a boy, Abram attended a cheder. The family was religious, and they observed all the Jewish holidays. Even under Soviet rule, his mother always baked matzo for Passover. At home, the parents spoke Yiddish. While Abram’s elder brothers could not speak the language, they could understand what was being said.
Following the death of Abram’s father in 1922, the life of the family changed greatly. In the mid-1920s, Abram left Klintsy for Kirovobad (Transcaucasia), where his maternal uncle lived, and entered a workers’ high school (rabfak) of the railway industry, while also working in the railway system. After finishing his studies in 1934, he moved to Leningrad and enrolled in the Institute of Railway Transport Engineers. After graduating, Abram was sent to the city of Lviv, which had been annexed by the USSR from Poland in 1939, to work as a communications engineer. He stayed there until the outbreak of the Soviet-German War in 1941.
On the first day of the war, he sent some money and a telegram to his mother, who had remained alone in Klintsy, asking her to leave the town as soon as possible, and evacuate to the safety of Transcaucasia. She did as told, and was thus able to survive. During the evacuation, she repeatedly heard the claim that the Jews had no wish to fight, preferring to escape to Tashkent. She would reply that her sons were already fighting on the front lines.
As a qualified railway engineer, Abram had an exemption from military service, but he did not want to stay in the rear, so he quit his job and volunteered for frontline duty. Having been assigned the rank of junior lieutenant, he was dispatched as a military engineer to the southwestern region, to coordinate the retreat of the Soviet troops. With them, he reached Kamenets-Podolsky (Ukraine) and took part in the bloody battles for this town.
One day, Abram was sent from Kamenets-Podolsky to carry some ammunition to the neighboring town. On his way back, he had to cross German-occupied territory. After many difficulties, he managed to get back to his unit with a convoy of trucks. Shortly thereafter, in August 1941, the Soviet 6th and 12th Armies, with a total of about 150 thousand soldiers between them, were surrounded near Uman. They were ordered to break out of the encirclement, but, because of the shortage of ammunition, the attempted breakthrough failed. Abram, fearing that the Germans would kill him as a Jew, shredded his papers and adopted a Russian-sounding name, along with a made-up biography. Many of his fellow Jewish officers committed suicide, not wishing to fall into the Germans’ hands. Information about the Nazi atrocities had already begun to spread among the troops.
Abram and another soldier escaped into the forest and tried to reach Soviet-controlled territory, but got lost. Suffering from thirst, they went to a village to ask for water. There, they were taken prisoner by the Germans. For several days, they were held in a large barn together with other prisoners. During this time, the Nazis executed the officers, political instructors, and Jews, but Abram managed to survive. Soon, the prisoners, with Abram among them, were taken to Uman. They had to walk a long distance, and many of the exhausted people were shot along the way. Upon reaching Uman, the survivors were housed in a temporary POW camp that was nicknamed the “Uman Pit.” It was located in the clay quarry of a brick factory. The quarry was about 300 meters wide and about one kilometer long, and surrounded by sheer walls that reached 15 meters in height. However, there were no structures in the territory of the quarry, so the inmates had no shelter from the torrential rain and the scorching sun. More than 70 thousand POWs huddled there simultaneously. As Abram would recall, at first the inmates were given neither food nor water, so they had to drink from puddles on the quarry grounds, until there were no puddles left. Later, two huge iron barrels were brought into the camp, to cook food for the inmates. However, even though this makeshift kitchen worked around the clock, it only had enough capacity to feed 2000 people, at most. As a result, the POWs starved to death in large numbers, and their bodies were left lying there for a long time. Every day, the Nazis would find Jews among the inmates, taken them out, beat them, and shoot them. Eventually, Abram was able to escape with the help of some locals. He headed in the direction of the frontline, but was soon captured again, and sent to a POW camp in the village of Maidanets in Central Ukraine. Abram was sick and in poor physical shape, but he received some help from a local peasant family, because he had been assigned to labor duty at the mill, and had permission to leave the camp for a time.
When his health had improved, Abram escaped from the camp. This time, he went to Kharkov, where a Red Army counteroffensive had begun. However, it was unsuccessful, and ended in the city being reoccupied by the Wehrmacht. Abram and a friend of his were captured by the Nazis and sent to the Gestapo. Upon interrogation, Abram told his made-up story and gave the false name he had adopted. Thanks to this, he was not shot, but sent to Kharkov to take part in the construction of a bridge. When the Red Army approached the city in the winter of 1941-1942, all the POWs were sent by the Nazis to Germany. On the way, Abram escaped. After a long period of wandering, he finally managed to rejoin the Soviet troops. He received medical treatment, and was then sent to the Voronezh Front. He later took part in the liberation of Ukraine, saw action in Germany, and fought in the Vienna Offensive and the Battle of Berlin. He was discharged from the army in 1946.
After the war, Abram Fradkin returned to Kirovobad, where his family lived. Because of Stalin's repressive policy vis-à-vis former POWs, he was barred from working in his field. He eventually found a job in construction. He married in 1948, and went on to have a daughter. In 1995, he immigrated to Israel with his family.