Eliyahu Akerman was born in 1923 in Gargždai, western Lithuania. His father Motl was a timber merchant. After his bar-mitzva, Eliyahu declared that he did not want to study anymore, that he preferred manual work. In 1936, to the chagrin of his father, he became a metal worker. For some time, he worked at a factory in Klaipėda (Memel). When Nazi Germany annexed this city in March 1939 and made it judenfrei, the factory moved to Kretinga in Lithuania. In 1939, the town of Gargždai suffered a conflagration, during which most of its Jewish section, including Akerman's house, burned down. According to local rumors, it was members of Hitlerjugend from the nearby (at that time German) village of Laugallen who set the Jewish street in Gargždai on fire.
In 1940, Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union. Since the Akermans had been economically ruined by the fire in 1939, it was perhaps because of this that they did not suffer the repression that the Soviets launched against "bourgeois elements."
Early in the morning of June 22, 1941, when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, Eliyahu, who was living in Kretinga, succeeded in fleeing from the town. At the border between Lithuania and Latvia, Eliyahu and some Jewish comrades joined retreating soldiers of the Red Army; the latter gave them some weapons and taught them how to use them. These lessons proved very useful because of various Lithuanian and Latvian pro-Nazi para-military formations, which were hunting down Jews. Accompanying some Soviet soldiers, Akerman entered Russia, where the Soviet military authorities took Akerman and his Jewish comrades for Latvians and drafted them into the Red Army. The new recruits were sent to the Gorokhovetskii training camps, where the training of the Soviet 201st Latvian Division was taking place. In his book of memoirs, Akerman wrote about the refugees from Latvia who, like himself and his comrades, met in those camps: "All of them were destitute, shivering with cold, full of hatred for the Germans, the Soviet authorities, and for God." 1 On learning that these new recruits were from Lithuania, the Soviets dismissed them from the Red Army (they were attached to the division as former Latvian citizens) with the order to wait for a new draft.
The redrafting of Eliyahu Akerman into the Red Army took place in January 1943, when he lived in Uzbekistan (in Soviet Central Asia). Eliyahu was assigned to the 16th Lithuanian Division that was being formed at that time. With this division, Eliyahu took part in the Red Army counter-offensive during the second stage of the Kursk Salient operation in July 1943. He suffered a serious contusion, but in a short time returned to his unit at the front, where he experienced another contusion, but a less serious one. He was awarded the medal For Courage for rescuing the wounded commander of his company during a battle.
In the summer of 1944, Akerman was transferred to the reconnaissance and counter-espionage department of his regiment. At that time, when the 16th Division was approaching the border of Eastern Prussia, he learned that his hometown had been liberated. Eliyahu received a short leave to visit Gargždai. He described his arrival in the town and the impression his visit made on some of its Lithuanian residents:
"… I could identify many familiar faces, but not one of them belonged to a Jew. Suddenly one of the Lithuanians cried: 'Look, this soldier is the son of Motl Akerman!' Everyone looked at me in amazement. Some of them lowered their heads, afraid of looking into my eyes. The secretary of the local council asked me to go for a walk with her. She saw that I was trembling with rage and tried to calm me down. We walked along Klaipėdos Street, on which we [my family] had lived. Our side of the street had been burned down during the prewar conflagration. Now the other side was also burned down. Only chimneys and stone staircases remained standing." 2
The secretary of the local council told him what had happened to the Jews of Gargždai and showed him two mass graves at the edge of town.
In 1945, Eliyahu was awarded the medal For the Capture of Königsbergfor his participation in that victory. He met Victory Day in Danzig.
After his release from the Red Army, Private Eliyahu Akerman settled in Vilnius. He married and the couple had two children. In 1978, Eliyahu Akerman left the USSR and immigrated to Israel.