Chaim Kutz was born in 1922 in the shtetl of Bereźne, in Volhynia Province, Poland (now Berezne in Ukraine). Before World War I his maternal grandfather was a crown or state rabbi (kazionnyi ravvin) in the nearby village of Rozhyshche. His father David began as a clerk at a sawmill, but later established a sawmill factory of his own, and in the 1930s, when the family moved to the larger town of Równe (now Rivne, Ukraine), David was the owner of two sawmill factories. The family was regarded as well off in both Bereźne and Równe, where they attended "the synagogue of the rich". In Równe, Chaim studied at a Tarbut gymnasium, where the teaching was conducted in Hebrew. He was a member of the Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair.
With the Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland following the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement of 1939, David Kutz's property was expropriated: the Soviets nationalized both his factories and his mansion in Równe. The family was resettled from the city to the small shtetl of Kostopol, north of Równe. Despite being a student at a technical school in Lwów, Chaim's elder brother Izi (Israel), was mobilized for construction work.
After the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, together with other young men, Chaim was drafted by the local recruitment office and evacuated to the East. The group succeeded in crossing the old Polish-Soviet border (which was hermetically closed for the residents of the "western" [i.e. annexed from Poland] areas). The draftees arrived in the Zhitomir Region (in northern Ukraine), from where they were taken by train to the Kharkov Region in (northeastern Ukraine). There the young people were sent to perform agricultural work. However, with the German approach came to this area in the fall of 1941, they were evacuated to Uzbekistan, in the Soviet Central Asia. In Uzbekistan, Chaim Kutz worked at a large depot for oil and petroleum products. That job gave exempted him from mobilization into the Red Army. However, since Kutz had left his family in German occupied Volhynia and realized what this must have meant for his parents and siblings, he was eager to fight the Nazis. Following his requests and to the chagrin of the manager of the depot, Kutz was drafted into the Red Army in August 1943. After some training, he was assigned as a radio operator to the radio and communication platoon of an artillery regiment. He fought in western Russia, in the Baltics, and then in Poland. He took part in the liberation of Cracow and Katowice, as well as in the prolonged siege of Breslau, Silesia (now Wrocław, Poland). He was wounded and, in 1945, was awarded two medals, the one For Courage and the one For Battle Merit. His highest rank was that of junior sergeant.
Efim (that is how his first name was listed by the Red Army) Kutz ended World War II not on May 8, 1945, but on May 10, 1945. On May 8 and 9, units of the German Army Group "Center", as well as some SS units, which from May 5 on had been engaged with the suppression of the Prague Uprising, refused to lay down its arms, despite the surrender of the Wehrmacht. The fighting in Prague and around it continued until May 11 and Kutz's regiment, which had been transferred from Silesia, took part in it.
Together with other Jews of Kostopol, in September 1941 Kutz's parents were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators. His siblings and cousins fled to the nearby forests and later joined Soviet partisans. His elder brother Izi fell fighting in the ranks of the partisans in 1943, but his cousin Mikhail Tsukerman survived.
After the end of the war, Kutz remained in military service. In 1945 and 1946 he served with the Soviet occupation forces in Hungary, but in 1946 his unit was transferred to the Northern Caucasus. In early 1947 Kutz was demobilized. He settled in Kiev. There he completed several courses of radio communications (including one for administrative workers). His highest administrative post was as the director of a post and telephone office. In 1975 his daughter Asya Gomelsky and her family left the Soviet Union for the USA.
In 1977 Efim Kutz emigrated to the USA, where he lived in West Hollywood, California. He was one of the founders of the Los Angeles Association of Veterans of World War II from the former Soviet Union. He also volunteered with the Jewish Family Service affiliated with the local Jewish Federation and was an active member of the Volhynian Society, an association of Jews whose families had originated in Volhynia. He was also a member of other organizations. Efim Kutz died in 2016.
Efim Kutz: an obituary from the West Hollywood City Council (abridged)
"WeHo Russian Community Leader Efim Kutz Dies at 94".
"Efim Kutz, known as the man who led the integration of the Russian-speaking community into West Hollywood, died on Monday. He was 94. Kutz is survived by his daughter, Asya Gomelsky, and his son, Igor Kutz, and their children and his grandchildren.
Kutz was born in 1922 in Volin [Volhynia], Ukraine. A biography of him states that his parents died at the beginning of World War II in a Nazi-occupied territory. […]
Kutz came to the United States in 1977 and worked as a manager at Executive Life Insurance. He also was active in the L.A. Association of World War II Veterans, a group largely composed of Russian-speaking veterans.
L.A. County Assessor Jeffrey Prang, a former member of the West Hollywood City Council, remembers Kutz as a mentor who helped him understand the Russian-speaking community, whose members were overwhelmingly Jewish. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end to its emigration restrictions led many Jews such as Kutz to flee that anti-Semitic country. In one ranking of U.S. cities by percentage of residents who speak Russian, West Hollywood is 27th, with 13% of its residents speaking that language.
'I found dealing with the Russians fascinating,” Prang said. They were Russian Jews who survived Stalin, then survived the Nazis. They survived everything and found themselves in the gay city of Southern California.'
Prang said that Kutz, who served as vice president of the WW II Veterans group, “was one of the top couple dozen people in West Hollywood history. He is probably one of the top two or three people in the Russian community.”
Prang cited Kutz’s ability to speak English and willingness to speak up for the needs of his community as important factors in making him influential.
'He provided access to everyone who needed something,' Prang said. 'We did so much for everyone else. For these people the demands were relatively modest.'
Prang noted that Kutz was one of the first people interviewed for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah project, a recording of testimonies in video format of survivors and other witnesses of the Shoah, or Holocaust. He said Kutz also was a strong advocate for the monument in Plummer Park that celebrates World War II veterans.
'I always told my deputies "whatever Efim wants, he gets’", Prang said. 'His laundry list is my laundry list.'”
From: WEHOville - West Hollywood News and Life