Dina Gurvich was born in 1921 in Zhytomyr, northwestern Ukraine, into a family of teachers. In 1939, she graduated from school and became a student at the Department of English Language and Literature in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) University. Following the example of her parents and grandparents, Dina wished to be a teacher. She wrote poems and short fiction, drew, and practiced sports – in particular, she was a good swimmer. During the Soviet-Finnish war of 1939-40, Dina volunteered to serve at a military hospital as a sanitary worker. While at the hospital, she decided that she ought to pursue another career, and become a physician rather than a teacher. She left the University and submitted her papers to the Leningrad Medical Institute, dreaming of the career of a surgeon. However, her application was rejected, and she returned to Ukraine, where she was admitted to the Department of Therapy of the Kiev Medical Institute.
Dina was able to complete only a single academic year before the outbreak of the Soviet-German War in June 1941. After spending some time digging trenches, she tried to volunteer for the Red Army, but the military authorities denied her request. As the German army was approaching Kiev, she left the city with a column of evacuees. She arrived to Luhansk (then known as Voroshilovgrad), in eastern Ukraine. There, she was finally able to enlist in the Red Army.
Dina's military service began at the Voroshilovgrad hospital, from which she was transferred to the north, to work at various military hospitals. In the spring of 1942, the Soviets tried to launch an offensive in Ukraine, and Gurvich was returned to Voroshilovgrad, serving as a sanitary instructor (equivalent to a sergeant of medical service). She had to flee the city in July 1942, when it was about to be captured by the Germans. Being a strong swimmer, she managed to swim across the Aksai (a tributary of the Don River), thereby saving her life. In September 1942, while fighting in the North Caucasus, Dina Gurvich was "lightly" wounded (shell fragments hit her hand, foot, and face), but she refused to leave the battlefield and continued to evacuate wounded soldiers from the area. A month later, she was severely wounded (in the spine), and in 1943, after recuperating at a hospital, she was recognized as disabled and discharged from military service. After her discharge, Gurvich went to Central Asia, to where her mother had been evacuated. She graduated from a university there.
In 1945, after the war, Dina Gurvich was nominated for the prestigious Order of the Patriotic War, 1st degree. Instead, she was awarded the medal "For Courage". She was not to receive the Order of Patriotic War, 1st degree, for another 40 years: it would finally be awarded to her in 1985, during the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the victory in the Soviet-German war.
After the war, Dina Gurvich returned to her native Zhytomyr, where she taught Russian language and literature in school. The businessman Iakov Geller, a former student of her, recalls:
"It was in the year [1969 – Y.V.] of the conflict over Damansky [Zhenbao] Island. In those days, we, young idiots, came running to the technical school. Our teacher of literature, Dina Izrailevna Gurvich, was a great woman. She instilled a love of reading and analysis in us, taught us to use metaphors and quotations. So, we ran up to her and cheerfully told her that a Chinese shoemaker had been beaten at the market: 'It serves them right! Let them keep their hands off our Damansky!'. She looked at us and said: 'My poor, poor boys! God, I feel so sorry for you. Do you not realize that, today, they have been allowed to beat a Chinese, and tomorrow they may be allowed to beat you?'"
At the end of the war, Dina's former schoolteacher, Eva Kaufman, who was a friend of her parents', sent a letter with Dina's biography to the Moscow-based Yiddish newspaper Eynikayt, asking them to publish an article on the Jewish heroine. We do not know whether such an article was ever published in Eynikayt. [The letter has been deposited at the JAFC (Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee) collection, GARF 8114-1-179].