Arkadii Akkerman was born in 1923 in Odessa as Avrum-Sender Akkerman. Before the Russian Revolution of 1917, his father David owned an apartment building. After the Revolution, he was expropriated, and worked as a tailor. The family was Yiddish-speaking, and moderately religious. After finishing a 7-year Yiddish school, Avrum-Sender began to attend the so-called Yevrabmol – a large Jewish vocational school – which he finished with the diploma of an electric welder. For a short time, he worked at a factory.
In June 1941, the Soviet-German War broke out, and Akkerman's factory switched to a "barracks regime", meaning that the workers could not leave the factory, and they even slept on its premises. Akkerman would later recall that he was motivated not so much by patriotism as by a profound loathing of "fascism", because he knew what this "fascism" had done to Jews in Germany and Poland [O.93/12552]. For this reason, he, together with his peers, attempted to volunteer to enlist in the Red Army. The recruitment office rejected the boys, telling them that they had to wait for an official call-up notice. However, on August 21, 1941, a general mobilization was declared, and Akkerman was drafted. On August 22, the fresh recruits were issued uniforms and rifles (most of them obsolete World War I-era weapons), and, on the next day, without receiving any military training, they were sent to Dalnik, to take part in the defense of Odessa. A few days after arriving in Dalnik, the boys were caught in a barrage of enemy artillery and aircraft fire. After a day and a night of this ordeal, there were only two survivors left, out of a battalion of five hundred newly conscripted boys. Akkerman was one of these two. He managed to find his regiment; with it, he fought in the defense of Odessa. On September 15, 1941, he was wounded, and later evacuated from Odessa by sea.
In the following years, Arkadii Akkerman served with the Southwestern (from October 1943, the 3rd Ukrainian) Front, mainly as a driver. With this front, he took part in the final stages of the Stalingrad operation (January-February 1943), in the Red Army offensive in Ukraine, and later in the liberation of Bessarabia (present-day Moldova). In fall 1944, he participated in the Soviet invasion of Bulgaria. While in Ukraine, he first saw traces of the Nazi mass murders of Jews. In early 1945, he was assigned to the newly formed 422nd Mortar Regiment, once again as a driver. With it, he took part in the takeover of Hungary and Vienna. Arkadii met V-E Day in Linz, Austria. His highest rank during the war was senior sergeant. He was awarded several medals, including the medal "For Courage".
Akkerman was discharged from the army in 1946, and returned to Odessa. He went on to work in the textile industry.
In 1991, Akkerman immigrated to Australia, in the footsteps of his children. He settled in Sydney, and was active in associations of Jewish World War II veterans.
Arkadii Akkerman died in 1998.
The liberation of a Nazi transit camp for Jews in Austria
A column of Red Army vehicles, with Akkerman's car among them, passed through the Hungarian town of Kőszeg and crossed the Austrian border. In the first Austrian village they entered, his car was accidentally hit by enemy aircraft. Akkerman and his companions were forced to stop in the village to fix the car. Akkerman the driver went out into the village to look for the required replacement parts in the vehicles left behind by the Nazis in their retreat from the village – and he stumbled upon an abandoned concentration camp at the village's edge.
"Suddenly, I saw a fence before me, with barbed wire on it. I entered through a kind of checkpoint […] At the door of a barrack, a man is standing. He is tall, long-legged, thin, dressed in a Hungarian army uniform…, and he is crying to me: 'Ich bin nicht deutsche, ich bin nicht deutsche!', meaning that he is not a German – 'Ich bin nicht magyar', meaning that he is not a Hungarian. I understood him. I approached him and asked: 'Wer bist du?' [Who are you?] He answers: 'Ich bin a Jud' [sic; mixed German and Yiddish for "I am a Jew']. As soon as he said 'Ich bin a Jud', believe me, some spasm began to choke me. I say: 'It is a concentration camp, isn't it?' He says: 'Yes, but I managed to hide. Yesterday evening, they drove all the Jews away'…. I say: 'Are there any other Jews here?' He says: 'Yes, there are also five women here'. I say: 'Call them here". He hesitated.… I said: 'Go'. He went away, and in a few minutes, all of them came out, frightened as they were. These were skeletal figures, dressed in rags…. The women looked at me with frightened eyes, and I said to them: 'Go down the street until you see a damaged car. Wait for me there, I will be back soon'.… I was back in an hour…. I entered the [nearby] house…. Some woman went out: 'Das ist mein Haus!', meaning that she was the owner. There were chickens and ducks running across her courtyard. In a word, it was a peasant household. I told the women: 'Come in'. I led them into a room and told the mistress of the house: 'Slaughter a chicken, take some potatoes, and make some soup for them. They are hungry.' And she was afraid, but she complied with my order.… I woke the doctor up: 'Listen, Leonid, I've brought some Jews here. There is a concentration camp at the edge of the village. I have ordered some soup to be cooked for them'. He spoke with them, since he knew German, too. Now the mistress of the house brought the soup, plates, and cutlery. Their eyes were full of tears, because it was a formidable thing after the camp.… The doctor says: 'Take care! They cannot eat all of this. Take away this American canned stew and dry sausages. They should eat only spoonful by spoonful'.
And suddenly, one woman began to sing. They are sitting down at the table, and the girl is singing. And she has such a beautiful voice! I told her: 'Meidele, zing, zing shein' [Yiddish for 'Girl, sing, sing beautifully']. They say: "Sie ist nit kein Meidele, sie ist a Singerin fun Budapester Opera' [mixed German and Yiddish for 'She is not a little girl; she is a singer from the Budapest Opera']. She made such trills as I had never heard in my life. The doctor tells me: "Arkadii, take her in your arms, hold her tightly. I will give her an injection, since she is delirious'. 'How?' 'You will lay her on your lap and pull up her skirt, and I will give her the injection'. I attempted to take her, but she resisted, and she was strong – but I was not a weak man, either, so in the end I prevailed, sat her down in a chair, pulled up her skirt – but, please forgive me, there was no place to give her an injection; she had no buttocks, only joints of bones, and her skin was so blue – have you ever seen plucked dead chickens? I stretched her skin, and he gave her the injection… She went on singing. She sang and sang, and then she fell asleep, as though turned off. I laid her down on a sofa."