Dmitry Grinberg was born in the city of Uman (in present-day Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine) in 1923, in a family of modest means. His father Moisei was a seasonal laborer.
In the early 1930s, the Grinberg family moved to Birobidzhan, where a "Jewish autonomous oblast" was actively being established. After spending a year in the Russian Far East, the family relocated to Kemerovo Oblast, where Moisei found a job in construction. After a while, the family returned to Uman.
Having finished a seven-year school, Dmitry Grinberg enrolled in a vocational school at a factory. Apart from the prospect of obtaining a profession, he was enticed by the fact that the school students were fed and clothed. In May 1941, after completing a six-month training course, Dmitry was sent to work at the Kirov Machine-Building Plant in Vitebsk. In late June that year, following the Nazi invasion of the USSR, the factory was evacuated to Saratov.
Until the end of 1942, Dmitry worked at a foundry. Although he wished to become a frontline fighter, his superiors refused to release him. Realizing that his family had perished in Nazi-occupied Uman, he was filled with the desire to avenge them. Hence, in violation of the existing regulations (an exemption had to be obtained from the personnel department of the factory), Grinberg went straight to the recruitment office. Because of the wartime chaos, no one bothered to do a background check on him, and he was able to conceal the fact that he was a worker at an armaments factory. Dmitry was sent to a reserve training division. After completing a communications course, he was assigned to an artillery regiment deployed in the rear. The conditions were dreadful, with the recruits suffering from shortages of food, to say nothing of uniforms. Winter was very cold, and the soldiers were freezing in their summer clothes.
In early 1943, Grinberg was sent to the front as a signalman. He received his baptism of fire in the region of the town of Staraya Russa, which was occupied by the Germans. The Soviets kept trying to retake it, unsuccessfully. Grinberg was required to lay communication lines in marshy forested areas.
Afterward, his regiment was transferred to the Kursk area. From early July to late August 1943, this region was the site of a crucial, bloody battle, in which the Red Army managed to halt the enemy advance. Grinberg's battlefield duties included repairing wire communications that had been severed (often because of tanks driving over them).
Dmitry Grinberg was wounded for the first time by an artillery barrage during combat in the area of Gomel (Belarus). He was able to repair the broken communication line and notify his comrades about his wound. He spent the next six months convalescing in a hospital. In June 1944, Grinberg returned to the front as commander of the communications department of a guards artillery regiment.
In early 1945, Dmitry Grinberg was severely wounded for the second time, during heavy battles in the town of Grudziądz. He was evacuated from Poland to Vladimir Oblast, where he underwent two surgeries. He met V-E Day in hospital. For Grinberg, as for many of his fellow soldiers, the end of the war did not mean the end of military service. Rather, after being discharged from the hospital, he was sent to another military unit, where he served as a tank operator. Only in 1947 was he discharged from the Red Army. He then moved to Birobidzhan and found a job at a foundry, where he worked until retirement in 1990.
Dmitry Grinberg's recollections:
"As always throughout history, the Jews found themselves on the receiving end, and were treated very harshly.
On countless occasions, I was asked the question: "All of your fellows [Jews] are in Tashkent; how come you are here on the frontline?"
There was no point in trying to disabuse these people of their prejudices. At first, I tried to say: "Are you out of your mind? There is a Jew in every platoon. What are you talking about?" But I soon realized that this was hopeless. And whenever people in the regiment were nominated for awards, you always knew that you would be the last in line – and possibly be passed over entirely. Because your superiors regarded you primarily as a 'filthy Jew' and a second-class person."