Boris Shvartsman was born in 1911 in Odessa. He was drafted into the Red Army on June 23, 1941 – i.e. on the second day of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. He began his service at the Southeastern Front of the Red Army, in Ukraine. In 1942, he was transferred as a technician-quartermaster of the 2nd rank (equivalent to a senior lieutenant) to the 96th Rifle Division, which took part in the Stalingrad Operation in the autumn and winter of 1942-43. His main duty was broadcasting propaganda at the German soldiers on the front lines through a speaking trumpet. Shvartsman's first recommendation for a military award mentions more than 200 broadcasts made by him in January 1943 alone. His second function was that of a military translator, interrogating German POWs during the Battle of Stalingrad and later. He also occasionally took part in combat, sustaining three injuries in 1941-43.
Shvartsman's family – his father Bentsion, wife, and seven-year-old son – were killed in Odessa during the first days of the Romanian occupation.
In January 1943, Shvartsman's younger friend Boris Ginzburg was killed in combat, and his death was a serious blow for Shvartsman. Boris Ginzburg had been born in Gomel, Belorussia, in 1924, and drafted into the Red Army in 1941. Ginzburg's family was evacuated. Boris was wounded in the battles for Gomel in summer 1941, and sent to an officer school after a stint at hospital. In December 1942, having finished the course, Lieutenant Ginzburg was attached to the battalion in which Boris Shvartsman was serving. Three weeks later, Lieutenant Ginzburg fell in battle. Boris Shvartsman sent his father and brother a letter in which he promised to avenge his friend's death.
Boris Shvartsman survived the war; he was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, 2nd class, and medals.
Boris Shvartsman writes a letter to Boris Ginzburg's father and brother
"July 3, 1943.
Esteemed C[omrade] Ginzburg!
This letter is written by a man who fought side-by-side with your son and brother. Boria served in our unit for only a brief while, but we, both the commanders and the rank-and-file, came to love him a great deal.
In the winter of 1942-43, we encircled and destroyed the [enemy] Stalingrad group; I was to go into battle with Boria, and he was merry and fearless in combat…
On January 17, 1943, in the midst of our active offensive, Boria was killed. He fell as a hero… The Fritzes paid dearly for his death, leaving hundreds of corpses in the field. I was wounded on that day…
Now, I am going back to the front lines (for the third time). I will take revenge for my family, for the broken lives, and for Boria.
It has been two years since I lost my family, and not a single letter from anybody has been received [by me]. I am eager to strike up a correspondence with you. Let my letters assuage your grief.
Some time ago, I lived in Odessa, leading a peaceful worker's life. I had a family: an aged father, a wife, and a little son, who would have been nine years old now. I have lost everything, and no longer have anybody. I am looking forward to a letter from you".
Sokhrani moi pis'ma…, vol. 1, eds. Ilia Altman, Leonid Tiorushkin. Moscow, Tsentr "Kholokost", 2007, pp. 128-129