David Manilovich was born in 1921 in Kanev, a town some 100 kilometers southeast of Kiev. Immediately after his birth, the family moved to the city of Dnepropetrovsk (present-day Dnipro, eastern Ukraine). Upon finishing high school there, David entered an infantry school in Odessa. On June 22, 1941, the day of the German invasion of the USSR, he was at a summer training camp of his military school. At 5 AM on that day, an hour after the first German air raids on Soviet territory, the cadets were woken up and sent on their first military assignment – combing the German agricultural colonies in the vicinity of Odessa for "German saboteurs." According to Manilovich 1, those German colonists were in a festive mood.
After carrying out their first military assignment, the cadets were sent to the frontline, near Pervomaisk in the Odessa Region. There, the unit was decimated in a German air raid, and its remnants had to walk eastward, to the area of Dnepropetrovsk. Here, Manilovich received his first rank of second lieutenant, along with a new uniform. In August 1941, he and his comrades were sent to Transcaucasia, where they were assigned to the 386th Rifle Division. This division was getting ready to take part in the defense of Sevastopol. On December 31, 1941, Manilovich arrived in this Crimean port city. On January 16, 1942, he was wounded and sent by sea to a hospital in Novorossiisk. After a two-month-long stay at the hospital, Manilovich was attached to the forces landing in the Crimea, and he participated in the abortive Red Army operation to retake the port city of Kerch. On May 15, 1942, he was taken prisoner by the Germans. The screening to determine whether he was Jewish ended happily: A Soviet attack aircraft suddenly flew over the area, strafing the troops on the ground, and the German officer in charge of the screening ran away to a shelter, leaving Manilovich alone.
In captivity, David Manilovich passed himself off as a Russian named Viktor Manilo; he would keep the first name Viktor even in the first postwar years. The Germans drove the POWs from the Crimea to a sorting camp near the town of Kherson. The POWs thought that a camp run by the Romanians would be preferable to one run by the Germans, but the Romanians would take in only those POWs who were natives of the Romanian-occupied territory of Transnistria, the area between the Dniester and the Southern Bug rivers. Thus, Manilovich claimed to be a native of the Odessa Region. In the following two years, he was held in various Romanian POW camps for officers. After his time in German captivity – where Soviet POWs were screened for "Jewishness", and the Jewish captives were shot – Manilovich was surprised to see Jewish physicians in Romanian uniform serving at the camp.
In August 1944, Romania switched sides, and the Romanians turned overnight from enemies to allies. Manilovich was released from the camp, and was even given weapons. Several days later, he was detained by the Red Army, and went through a month-long screening by the Soviet "special service". After the examination, Manilovich was assigned to a shturmbat, a kind of penal battalion for officers who had been in enemy captivity. With this unit, he took part in the battle for Budapest. On February 23, 1945, he was wounded. Manilovich would later recall that he saw Jews in Budapest, tried to communicate with them in Yiddish, but found that they did not speak the "Jewish language". He ended the war in Prague, where he was once again convalescing in a hospital – this time from malaria.
After Prague, Manilovich was sent to the Far East, but he did not take part in the fighting against the Japanese Army. In late 1945, he was discharged from the army. He went on to graduate from a dentistry school in Dnepropetrovsk. His first job was as a dentist in a camp for German POWs.
- 1. from his interview with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, O.93/37456