Genrikh Kats was born in 1924 in Poltava, central Ukraine. When the Soviet-German war began, he was only 17 years old (having finished nine classes of school); he managed to escape to Tajikistan (Central Asia), where he worked at a military factory. In summer 1942, upon turning 18, he was drafted and sent to an infantry school. A year later, in July 1943, Genrikh had his "baptism of fire" as a mortar gunner at the Kursk Salient. In August 1943, he was wounded for the first time. His second injury, in September 1943, was more serious. After a lengthy stay in hospital and three surgeries, he was attached to the 41st Infantry Corps of the 3rd Army. There, Katz was recommended for service in reconnaissance – and, in May 1944, he was assigned to a separate reconnaissance company of the 283rd Rifle Division.
Genrikh Kats was to spend the rest of the war as a reconnaissance man. Being tall and physically strong (as a youth, Genrikh had practiced boxing), he was attached to a squad tasked with capturing German "informers" in the enemy rear and bringing them to the division HQ. After several successful raids behind enemy lines, Sergeant (later Sergeant Major [starshina]) Kats became a platoon commander. In his reconnaissance raids, he managed to capture about 20 enemy "informers", to say nothing of the prisoners he took in combat.
In 1944-45, Genrikh Kats fought in Belorussia, and then in Poland. In 1945, he saw action in East Prussia. He was awarded the Order of the Red Star; two Orders of Glory, 3rd and 2nd class; the Order of the Patriotic War, 2nd class, and several medals.
Genrikh Kats died in Israel in 2008.
A "hidden Jew" in Kats's platoon
"The third [Jew in my platoon] was a former partisan, Leva Krasnov, who was posing as a gypsy. He had a gorgeous black forelock. But I guessed right away what kind of 'Gypsy' he was. Once, I asked him directly: 'Krasnov, you're a Jew. Why are you hiding this fact?' So, Lev told me that, at the beginning of the war, he'd served as a professional tankman. He was wounded and captured, but got lucky: he'd managed to escape before the Germans began their selection of prisoners, looking for Jews. He then spent a long time wandering in the occupied territories, before joining a partisan unit. Because of the rampant antisemitism in that unit, the dark-haired Krasnov began to pass himself off as a gypsy, and this identity was listed in his documents. He fought as a demolition man. His real name was Zilbershtein (or something like it). I continued to question him: 'Do your relatives know that you are alive, rather than 'missing'?''. Krasnov replied that his family was alive, but that he could not write to them about himself. His father was a deeply religious man, and he would never forgive his son for changing his surname and nationality. The next day, as Krasnov's superior, I took the liberty of writing to his family, informing them that Lev was alive and recounting the ordeals he'd gone through. Soon, I received a reply from his family, who were living in Gorky. They thanked me for the good news and asked me to tell their son that they were waiting for a letter from him."
Jewish identity at the front
"The Vlasovites [members of the collaborationist Russian corps commanded by the turncoat Gen. Vlasov, who fought on the German side] often tried to 'win us over' to their cause. Once, in Poland, they started broadcasting through a loudspeaker from the opposite bank of the river: 'Russian soldiers, the Yids are pushing you to death, while they themselves are sitting in the Kremlin! Are there any Yids among you? ” The river was about eighty meters wide, and our bank was high.
In a rage, I stood up to my full height and shouted at the Vlasovites: 'Yes! I'm a Jew!' They promptly shut up. The next day, a major whom I didn't recognize came up to me and ordered me to follow him to the corps headquarters. He brought me before the colonel, the chief of intelligence of the corps, an Odessa Jew. The colonel produced a bottle of brandy, poured me a glass, and said: 'Drink, Sergeant Major!' I did as I was bid, and asked him: 'So, you've just called me over for a drink?' The colonel smiled: 'I wanted to thank you for your wonderful reply to these skunks!'”