Boris Amiton was born in 1915 in Mariupol, southeastern Ukraine. His father Osher was a vendor in a shop, and he later worked as a cobbler. The family was observant. In 1933, during the Ukrainian Famine, Boris' mother died, and he dropped out of school, moved to northern Russia, and found employment at a factory. In 1936-39, Boris studied at a technikum (technical college). In 1939, he was drafted into the Red Army as an artilleryman. With his unit, he took part in the Soviet invasion of Eastern Poland in September 1939, and the occupation of Lithuania in 1940. A week before the beginning of the Soviet-German War, he was transferred to Bessarabia. Thus, the outbreak of war found him on the Pruth River, the new border with Romania.
Amiton's regiment, decimated as it was, retreated eastward. In mid-July, the remnants of the regiment were surrounded by Germans in the area of Mykolayiv, and Boris was taken prisoner. As the POWs were being screened by the Nazis, who were looking for "Jews and Communists", he gave his captors the first Russian name that came to him: Nikolai Kuznetsov; his comrades did not denounce him. During a transfer of POWs to another camp, Amiton managed to escape. The Germans pursued him, but he miraculously evaded their sleuthhound and reached a Ukrainian village north of Mykolayiv. There, he spent the next two and a half years. The Germans needed laborers in the villages, where virtually all the men had been drafted into the Red Army, while the peasants felt compassion for the POWs. Amiton had to deal with two problems: First, he had no experience of agricultural work, and had to learn it from scratch; second, he refused to cohabit with any young woman who would take him into her household not only as a laborer, but also as a temporary husband – Amiton was circumcised, and he was afraid of being denounced. The headwoman of the village realized that he was Jewish and advised him, to prevent rumors of his identity from getting out, to move to another village, into the household of a reliable Ukrainian woman.
In early March 1944, the Red Army approached the area where Amiton lived. He fled from the village and ran into a Soviet artillery unit. Dressed in rags, he approached a 45-millimeter cannon and said to the commander: "This is my gun!" The commander asked: "Who are you?"; Amiton replied: "I am a gun-layer, and nowadays a captive." The unit needed a gun-layer, and Amiton was immediately allowed to join it. That was how he resumed his frontline service. According to him, his only goal was revenge 1. Remarkably, even in the Red Army Amiton kept his alias, Nikolai Kuznetsov.
Amiton went on to serve as a gun-layer of light 45-mm guns and 76-mm divisional guns, and as an anti-tank rifleman. With his 157th Guards Artillery Regiment, he saw action in Ukraine and Poland (participating in the liberation of Warsaw in January 1945 and the Battle of Poznań in February that year). He took part in the Battle of Berlin in April-May 1945, and was shell-shocked in the fighting over the Reichstag.
Amiton was wounded three times during his combat service. As "Nikolai Kuznetsov", he was awarded the medals "For the liberation of Warsaw", "For the Capture of Berlin", and others.
Amiton's father and sister were murdered by the Nazis in Mariupol.
After the end of the war, Boris returned to Mariupol. In 1960, he was able to officially revert to his original name, Boris Amiton. He worked at a pipe casting plant.
Amiton's daughters eventually chose to marry non-Jews, and this caused him great distress.
- 1. [YVA O.93/45482]