Abram Oretskii was born in 1921 in Gomel, Belorussia. Before 1939, he graduated from a teachers' college in his native city and worked as a math teacher in a nearby village. In 1939, Oretskii decided to pursue another career. He explained his decision as follows:
"The global situation was getting tense: the [civil] war in Spain, … Hitler's occupation of European states…" .1
Thus, in 1939 Oretskii entered the Leningrad [St. Petersburg] Military-Engineering School. In June 1941, two days before the German attack on the Soviet Union, Oretskii received his first officer rank – lieutenant – and was sent to western Ukraine.
In summer 1941, Oretskii's regiment was in retreat, and his primary duty was blowing up bridges before the advancing German army. In September 1941, he was wounded. After his discharge from hospital, Abram stayed in the Soviet rear and managed to locate his mother and sister. Their reunion dispelled his fears that they had stayed behind in Nazi-occupied Gomel. After recovering, Oretskii was assigned to the 69th Rifle Division as a member of a separate sapper battalion; with this Division, he took part in the defense of Moscow in winter 1941-42. In 1942, he saw action in the region of Smolensk, west of Moscow. There, he was promoted to major, and became the commander of his sapper battalion. In 1943, Major Oretskii participated in the Kursk Salient Operation and in the crossing of the Dnieper River in autumn that year. During the latter operation, his battalion enabled and safeguarded the transport of heavy tanks across the Dnieper by building a pontoon bridge (Oretskii was subsequently awarded the Order of the Red Banner). In 1944, he took part in Operation Bagration (the liberation of Belorussia). In January 1945, Oretskii was ordered by the Red Army Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Marshall Zhukov, to secure, within 24 hours, the passage of a tank army across the Vistula River near Warsaw. At this point, the Vistula was 500 meters (0.31 miles) wide, but Oretskii's battalion managed to build a pontoon bridge in time. Later he participated in the crossing of the Oder River, and ended the war in Berlin. In the course of the war, Colonel Abram Oretskii was awarded a total of eight military orders, as well as several medals.
After the war, Oretskii continued his military career. After 1961, he served in Kuibyshev (present-day Samara, Middle Volga region), settling there after his retirement in 1975.
Abram Oretskii died in 1995.
- 1. Evrei Samary na frontakh Velikoi Otechestvennoi, vol. 1, Samara, 2005, p. 201