Fedor Babich (Pinkhus Guterman) was born in 1920 in the town of Peschanka, not far from Vinnitsa, in a family of petty traders. He had five brothers and sisters, and their grandmother lived with them. Pinkhus' father, Barukh, was originally from western Belorussia. He had attended a yeshiva there, but was eventually expelled. However, he continued to observe the Jewish traditions, despite not being very religious.
Until the age of eight, Pinkhus was educated in a cheder. In 1928, he was admitted to a Yiddish school, which he attended for six years. In 1934, the family moved to the Odessa region and joined a kolkhoz. At that time, Pinkhus had to take a yearlong break from his studies and work as a shepherd. The Gutermans lived modestly, and some of the older children needed to earn money to supplement the family budget.
In 1936, Pinkhus completed the 7th grade of school and moved to Kharkov, to enroll in the Jewish Machine-Building Technical School. For the first two years, he studied in Yiddish. After 1938, when all Yiddish educational institutions in the USSR were closed down, the language of instruction switched to Russian. In 1940, Pinkhus graduated from the Technical School, qualifying as a technician in cold metalworking. He went on to work at a machine-building factory in the town of Lubny (Poltava, Ukraine). Shortly thereafter, he was drafted into the Red Army.
At the time of the outbreak of the Soviet-German War, Pinkhus was serving in a special battalion of the Signal Corps. As the Soviet troops retreated, his unit became engaged in combat. They were eventually surrounded, and Pinkhus, along with other soldiers, was taken prisoner by the Nazis. He was transferred to a nearby factory, where the Nazis demanded that the Jews come forward. Although Pinkhus had heard about the mass extermination of Jews by the Nazis, he refused to credit these rumors until now. Realizing the danger he was in, Pinkhus concealed his Jewish identity and adopted the Slavic-sounding name "Fedor Babich," which he had seen written on some papers in the camp.
Conditions in the camp were dire, with the inmates receiving very little food. However, the local peasants supported them by supplying bread and potatoes, with the Germans' permission. The camp was later relocated to Kiev, and the POWs were sent to Babi Yar, to bury the bodies of the Jews who had been massacred there about three weeks previously.
The camp where Pinkhus was held was eventually disbanded. He found work in a kolkhoz in Lubny, but was later arrested after being denounced as a Jew. By a stroke of luck, he managed to escape. On another occasion, while working as a shepherd, he was suspected of being Jewish, and forced to leave that job, as well. He had to change residences and jobs several times, but was eventually recaptured and sent to Germany. Throughout his ordeals, he managed to hide his Jewishness, sticking to the assumed identity of Fedor Babich, an ethnic Ukrainian.
In Germany, Pinkhus initially worked in coal mines, enduring harsh conditions and meager food. While the Polish and Italian inmates of that camp received humanitarian aid from the Red Cross, the Soviet inmates did not, since the Soviet government had not signed the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War. Later, Pinkhus was transferred to Krichau, where, thanks to his technical education, he worked at a machine factory. This area was liberated by American troops in the spring of 1945.
On his return journey across Germany, Pinkhus passed through the recently liberated Buchenwald concentration camp, and he was deeply affected by what he had witnessed there. He saw the crematorium chimneys and learned the horrible truth about the mass extermination of Jews by the Nazis. Eventually, all the former Soviet POWs returned to the USSR, and were placed in a filtration camp, where they were investigated for suspicions of espionage and treason. Pinkhus managed to prove his innocence, and was reinstated in the Red Army, finally being discharged in 1946.
After the end of the war, he moved to Odessa and learned that his family had been evacuated after the German invasion. Tragically, his father, two sisters, and brother had been killed in a Nazi bombing raid on their way from Odessa. His mother alone had survived. Pinkhus married in Odessa, and in the 1990s he immigrated to Israel.