Alexander Gitovich was born in 1909 and grew up in the Russian city of Smolensk, outside of the Pale of Settlement. When he was still a schoolboy, he began to publish poems in Smolensk newspapers and he joined the local association of proletarian writers. After he completed school, he moved to Leningrad, where he entered the faculty of geography of the State University of Leningrad. However, he did not complete his studies there. He served in the Red Army in 1931 and 1932. In the 1930s he was a member of a group of young Leningrad poets, including those involved in the publication of the journal Literaturnyi sovremennik (Literary Contemporary). In late 1939 he was again mobilized into the Red Army and participated in the war with Finland.
When war broke out between the USSR and Nazi Germany, in July 1941 he volunteered for the LeningradNarodnoe opolchenie (a kind of national guard). Subsequently he became a military correspondent in the Red Army and wrote for the army newspaper V reshchaiushchii boi (In Decisive Battle). He often visited combat units. In March 1942, lying in ambush as a sniper, he killed a German soldier. In August of that year he took part in a bombing mission against an enemy target. For these actions he was awarded the For Bravery medal in September 1942.
Also in that year Gitovich wrote to the prose writer, poet and journalist Ilya Ehrenburg:
""Probably my name is familiar to you: before the war my lyric poems were widely criticized. My friends, young Leningrad poets who were grouped around the journal Literaturnyi sovremennik, were also criticized. Now a majority of those who criticized us are living [in various places] in Alma-Ata, in Molotov, in Omsk [i.e., in evacuation, far from the front]. Three of us lyric poets were killed in the fighting for Leningrad – one was the navigator of a submarine, the second – a mortar-man, and the third – a sapper. And all of them were volunteers, like the others who survived."
In October 1944 Captain Gitovich, then a special correspondent for the front-line newspaper Za Rodinu (For Our Motherland), was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, 2nd class, for covering the fighting in Latvia and Estonia. After the war ended, in September 1945 for his work as a military correspondent he received the Order of the Red Star. His collection Frontline Poems had been issued in 1943. Two years after the war ended another collection of his frontline poems, Stikhi voennogo korrespondenta (Poems of a Military Correspondent) appeared. After the war Gitovich lived in Leningrad, where he translated many Chinese and Korean poems into Russian. He died in Komarovo, near Leningrad, in 1966.
Letter of Alexander Gitovich to Ilya Ehrenburg, 1942
In a letter to Ilya Ehrenburg in 1942 Alexander Gitovich noted that during the war years he began to think more about Jewish matters, including Jews in the war, to which he had given absolutely no thought in the prewar years:
"… Respected Ilya Grigorievich, previously it had never entered into my head that I was a Jew. I still don't speak Yiddish. Now, it's another thing altogether. I am very ashamed if a Jew displays cowardice. And, unfortunately, there are more cowards than one would suppose in such a war. And when I read the lists of those given [military] honors, I always look to see whether there are any Jewish names there and I am very pleased when there are.
Perhaps you too will be pleased that one poet, a Jew by nationality [he is, of course, referring to himself], has been awarded the For Bravery medal, moreover not only for his poems but for killing a German and bombing Germans from an airplane and thereby causing them some unpleasantness. I am writing all this only because I know that you will not consider this bragging…."
From: Boris Frezinskii, Pochta Il'i Erenburga: Ia shlyshu vse… 1916-1967 (The Correspondence of Ilya Erenburg: I Hear Everything… 1916-1967), Moscow, 2006, pp. 118-119.