Avraham Fainshtein was born in 1924 in Janow (in Poland), a shtetl in the vicinity of Pinsk (now Ivanava, Belarus). His family held Zionist views, and Avraham spoke Hebrew from his childhood. In the late 1930s, he was a member of the local Zionist Youth (Hanoar Hazioni) group. In 1939, he finished school in Janow and was planning to continue his studies in Pinsk, but the Soviet-German war broke out and the Soviet occupation of the area thwarted his plan.
The Fainshtein family failed to flee in time and, thus, fell under German occupation. They survived the first murder operation in Janow in August 1941 but in 1942 were forced into a ghetto. In September 1942 the ghetto was liquidated by the Germans and most of its inmates were shot. Avraham Fainshtein, as well as his father Shimon and one of his brothers, survived this second murder operation. Avraham spent the winter in the forest, where, from time to time, he encountered Soviet partisans or bandits. In the spring of 1943, he and his father succeeded in joining a newly formed Soviet partisan unit, with which they fought against the Germans and their collaborators. Avraham's unflagging desire was to take revenge on the Germans for the murder of members of his family.
In March 1944, while his unit was fighting in the forests of Ukrainian Polesia, Fainshtein met soldiers from the advancing Red Army. When he realized that this unit was going to liberate his native Janow, he was eager to take part. Only reluctantly did the commander of his partisan battalion gave Fainshtein, along with other Janow Jews who wanted to follow Avraham's example, release papers from the battalion so that they could fight with the Red Army. These Jewish survivors from Janow were first sent to a training camp to form an infantry squad. After two weeks, in March 1944, they were marched to the western Ukrainian town of Kovel, where fierce fighting was taking place. When Kovel was recaptured by the Soviets, the commander decided that the "Janow cadets'" two weeks military training was not sufficient so they were transferred to another training camp. On the way, Fainshtein and his comrade Hayim Reznik fell ill with typhoid fever and were hospitalized in Kiev. The two of them were released from the hospital two weeks later, but were weak and needed to rest. The city commandant of Kiev refused to recognize their certificates of sick leave and sent them to a military camp. The same thing happened with the commander of the military training camp, who referred to them as: "Two lazy Jews who don't want to fight" and ordered them to continue training. Avraham's solution was to desert and later, after fully recuperating, to volunteer for another military unit. Such an act might have ended with the execution of both soldiers, but Avraham was lucky. He was not arrested and, following another medical examination resulted in his being sent to a military labor camp in the Urals, where he did clerical work. At the end of 1944, fearing that the war would end without his having the opportunity to take revenge on the Germans, Fainshtein submitted himself to another medical examination and, then, was permitted to volunteer for combat.
In January 1945 Fainshtein found himself in Latvia, where he took part in the Soviet re-capture of the Riga area and, then, in the liquidation of the Courland pocket. On May 6, two days before VE-Day, he was seriously wounded.
Fainshtein recalled that immediately after the war popular antisemitism in the Soviet Union increased significantly. In October 1945 Fainshtein was demobilized and found his father and brother Ben-Zion. After that, he worked at a boarding school for young apprentice workers in Pinsk, in southern Belorussia. After he heard an antisemitic remark from one of the apprentices, he slapped him. The result was that Fainshtein was arrested and spent more than two years in prison. In March 1948, as a former Polish citizen, he was released from prison and "repatriated" to Poland. At the end of that year, together with his father, Avraham left the USSR and settled in Israel.
Avraham Fainshtein died in 1990.
[Based on Avraham Fainshtein's book of recollections Masa hayim, 1924-1990 (in Hebrew), edited and published by his children]
An incident in a military hospital immediately after the war (1945)
"I spent two months in a hospital in the Urals, and my shoulder wound had healed. I was recuperating. One day I heard a soldier speaking to another soldier. He said: 'These Jews, the parasites, are not fighting or contributing anything to our victory. What a pity that Hitler did not finish the work that he began.' Furious, I entered the room where they were lying and tossed a chair at one of them. There was a great uproar, and the chief physician demanded an explanation from me. I told him that I was not prepared to hear such talking without reacting to it. I had survived the Holocaust. I had fought at the front in the ranks of the Red Army, and nobody had the right to say in front of me things like those two soldiers had said. The physician did not say a word, but when the demobilization commission came to demobilize from active service all those born in 1923 and 1924, I was kept in the ranks of the army – a kind of punishment. I had to perform various kinds of work for the army for three more months."
[Avraham Fainshtein, Masa hayim, 1924-1990, p. 46]