David Takser was born in 1924 in Kharkov, eastern Ukraine. His father, Zinovii, was a successful nepman, i.e. a businessman of the NEP period (the term NEP refers to the New Economic Policy of 1921-29). After the termination of the NEP by Stalin, Zinovii was arrested; David's mother divorced him and married an NKVD (political police) officer, who was also an ethnic Jew. His mother's divorce and remarriage to a Soviet official spared David the harsh and humiliating status of "son of a nepman", which would have restricted his rights. David's stepfather, Leonid, adopted him, and it was for this reason that David came to bear the dual surname Tsyfrinovich-Takser.1In 1937, Leonid, too, was arrested, and David's mother remained alone.
David Takser graduated from school in 1941, right at the time of the outbreak of the Soviet-German war in June that year. In an interview given in Israel in 20092, Takser confessed that he had begun to hate the Stalinist regime at this time (with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact being the breaking point). Nevertheless, in June 1941 David, like his former schoolmates, came to the recruitment office, eager to volunteer for the Red Army. According to him, he felt that the Nazis were coming just for him, wanting to take his life. He and his comrades were rejected for being too young, and David and his mother were evacuated from Kharkov to Bashkiria (Bashkortostan) in the Urals. From there, he was sent to a military technical school in Perm (northern Russia), from which he graduated in May 1942. Since he had not yet reached the age of 18, Takser was to stay in Perm. However, he demanded to be sent to the front. David recalls a weird episode: "As I was going up the stairs [of the staff building of his future regiment] to receive the documents for my departure, I saw an officer – a man of about thirty, with the face of a nobleman, wearing polished boots and a pressed uniform – coming down. As he was passing me, he turned toward me and blurted out: 'So, you want to go to the front, you Jewish mug? Go, go! The Germans will show you what's what'."
Later, David Takser confessed that he had never been a Soviet patriot. Moreover, he had a greatly exaggerated image of the freedom and quality of life in the West – whether in the US or in France. However, he was even more afraid of Nazi Germany, and remained deaf to the pleas of his senior friends, who assured him (especially in 1941) that "the Bolshevik propaganda overstated Nazi antisemitism" and that the Germans were attacking Russia solely "in order to liberate the Russian people from Stalin's yoke".
Takser's anti-aircraft artillery regiment was being formed in Moscow. Initially, its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Kirzhner, wanted Tasker to serve as his aide-de-camp. However, the latter refused, not wishing to have it whispered behind his back that "Jews covered for, and promoted, their fellow Jews". His regiment was sent to the Kursk Salient operation, but it joined the action only at the stage of the Red Army's counter-offensive there. After the Kursk Salient, Takser took part in the crossing of the Dnieper River in the fall of 1943. In 1944, he participated in the Soviet offensive in western Ukraine and southeastern Belorussia, later entering Poland. After being wounded, Takser spent the last year of the war as a staff officer, a technician. He met V-E Day in Berlin.
At the end of the war, while serving with the Soviet occupation forces in Berlin, Takser began a love affair with a German girl named Ursula. In 1946, both of them tried to escape from the Soviet zone of occupation in Berlin to the British zone. Ursula was arrested while trying to cross the demarcation line. David crossed successfully, but was extradited by the British to the Soviets nine months later; Takser's Jewish origins most probably played a part in the extradition: the British, who were afraid of illegal immigrants hoping to reach Palestine, may have taken him for one of the latter. The Soviets arrested Takser, and he spent the following ten years in a Gulag camp. He never saw Ursula again. In the mid-1980s, David Takser immigrated to Israel.
- 1. Thus, his book of memoirs, The Twentieth Century in Songs and Dances, was published in Israel under the name Tsyfrinovich-Takser, Dvadtsatyi vek v pesniakh i tantsakh, Rishon Leziyon, 2004 (in Russian).
- 2. https://iremember.ru/memoirs/zenitchiki/takser-david-zinovevich/