Abram Pogrebetskii was born in 1924 in Baku, Azerbaijan. His mother Hava, a pharmacist, was a native of Belorussia; in the early 1920s, she had moved to Baku and married a local Jew. They divorced a few years later, and Abram was brought up by his mother alone. He excelled in sports, especially in gymnastics, and in 1940 he won the first place in two categories in the Transcaucasian competition in gymnastics for juniors.
In June 1941, the Soviet-German War broke out, and Abram tried to enlist in the Red Army, but was rejected as underage. However, in May 1942, still short of his 18th birthday, he received a call-up notice. This was the period of the German offensive in the North Caucasus, and the recruitment office was prepared to draft even underage candidates. After a brief training, Abram was sent to the frontline as an infantry man. While accompanying him to the assembly point, his mother told him: "Fight the Germans to the last, but save the final bullet for yourself; don't surrender to them." Pogrebetskii would later admit that he knew nothing of the Nazi treatment of Jews at the time, but his mother's generation did know about it, mainly from the tales of the numerous refugees who were coming to Baku – either to stay in the city, or, more often, to cross the Caspian Sea into Central Asia [YVA O.93/25823]. In August-October 1942, he saw action in the North Caucasus, where the Red Army managed to halt the Wehrmacht's advance and began a counter-offensive. In December 1942, Pogrebetskii was returned to Baku, where he underwent additional military training. However, he failed to attain an officer's rank, as all the cadets were sent to the Kursk Salient, where a major operation was being planned by both sides. In July 1943, Pogrebetskii was wounded. Abandoned by his comrades, who had left him for dead, Abram was taken prisoner [ibid.]. Twice during his stay at various POW camps, Pogrebetskii was denounced as a Jew. The first time was in July 1943, in his first POW camp; the Polish orderlies who treated his wounds saw that he was circumcised and reported this to the Germans. The second time was in 1944: While being held in a POW camp in the Carpathian Mountains, Abram escaped, was caught by the Hungarians – and, once again, his captors revealed the fact of his circumcision. In both cases, it was his knowledge of Azerbaijani that saved his life.
Pogrebetskii was liberated by the Red Army on V-E Day, May 8, 1945. He underwent a three-week-long screening, and was then hospitalized for two months. In December 1945, he was discharged from the army.
After his discharge, Pogrebetskii worked as an economist. In 1990, he immigrated to Israel.
In July 1943, Abram Pogrebetskii was taken prisoner
"I was wounded on July 5, 1943, near Prokhorovka in the Kursk salient. I was lying in a field of rye. The Germans combed the area and found me. With the cry "Jude" [Jew!], one of them grabbed a sapper's shovel … but just at that moment a shout rang out. The German spit and ran off. Just then shelling started. I took my Red Army identification booklet and my Komsomol card, buried them in the ground, and began to crawl away. The shelling ended and, again, I heard voices speaking in German. Another German found me, searched me, picked me up and carried me from the hill. Then I saw captured soldiers from my regiment. The German put me behind a row of them. Germans and Vlasov men [sic!] were standing in front of the row and shouting:
'Are there any commanders here?'
The response was 'No!'
The captured Ukrainians immediately replied: 'If there were, we would have shot them ourselves.'
When I heard that, with my unharmed left hand, I daubed my face with mud so that my own Ukrainians would not recognize me. A German officer went down the row and took out Sasha Pisman and two other Jews. They were immediately shot in front of the line-up."
[Aron Shneyer, Pariahs among Pariahs: Soviet-Jewish POWs in German Captivity, 1941-1945. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2016, p. 234]
"I shouted that I was an Azerbaijani"
"Polish doctors were bandaging the POWs. … When they undressed me, they saw that I was a Jew. They immediately informed the commandant. He came with a soldier and they began to beat me. I shouted that I was an Azerbaijani. They summoned an Azerbaijani who had joined Vlasov [sic!], and he began to speak to me in Azerbaijani. I told him where I lived in Baku. It turned out that he was also from Baku and lived nearby. He told them that I was Azerbaijani. They stopped beating me, bandaged me, and brought me back to the hut."
[Aron Shneyer, Op. cit., p. 468-469]