Georgii Karaimov was born in 1917 in Odessa, as Georgii Marshak. His grandfather was a chazan at a local synagogue, and the family was observant. However, the grandson grew up as a young communist, and he shunned the synagogue. In 1921, during the first famine in Ukraine, his father Mark died. In the early 1930s, Georgii Marshak worked at a bakery in the city, and this job helped his family stay alive during the famine of 1932-33. In the second half of the 1930s, Marshak began a career in the Komsomol (Young Communist League), and by 1939 he was Secretary of the City Committee of the Komsomol, being responsible for working with the Young Pioneers (communist Scouts) and for the communist education of the youth in general. Following the Soviet annexation of eastern Poland in September 1939, he was sent to Lvov as the First Secretary of the newly established Lvov Komsomol Committee.
Marshak volunteered to enlist in the Red Army in April 1940. He was posted to Transcaucasia, where he served as a guard on the border with Turkey. When the Soviet-German War broke out in June 1941, he requested to be transferred to frontline duty. As a result, Marshak was attached to the newly formed 19th Army, under the command of Ivan Konev, and sent to the Smolensk area, where the Smolensk-Viazma Operation was going on at the time (July-September 1941). On October 10, the 19th Army was surrounded by the Germans. While attempting to break out of the encirclement, Marshak, who had been wounded, was taken prisoner. After many days of marching westward with other POWs, he fell unconscious, and was left for dead by the German guards. He then wandered around the local villages, was captured once more, and imprisoned in a POW camp in Orsha, Belorussia. In order to hide his Jewishness, he declared himself a Karaite and took on the name of his former Karaite neighbor from Odessa, Georgii Karaimov. The camp inmates were dying of starvation in enormous numbers, and Marshak-Karaimov made several escape attempts. The third attempt, in April 1942, was successful, and the group of escapees managed to join a Soviet partisan unit. As a partisan, Karaimov excelled in sabotaging German rail transport by mining railway tracks; he was nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, but was not awarded it.
In June 1944, Karaimov's partisan unit took part in the liberation of Minsk, and afterward it joined up with the advancing Red Army. Karaimov (who would keep this last name for the rest of his life) became a sapper in the 142nd Separate Motorized Engineering Battalion, which was attached to the 2nd Belorussian Front, and he went on to serve in this capacity until V-E Day in 1945. In February 1945, while fighting in East Prussia, Karaimov, as a member of a machine-gun platoon, thwarted an attempt by the Germans to cut off the Frauenburg-Elbing Highway, along which the Red Army was about to advance. He was nominated for the Order of the Red Star, but was awarded the medal "For Courage" instead. During the Battle of Berlin in late April, the sapper Karaimov safeguarded the crossing of the Havel River by the Red Army, and was awarded the Order of Glory, 3rd class.
In 1946, Karaimov was discharged from the army. He returned to Odessa and attempted to resume his administrative career – but, upon confronting the rampant corruption and thievery in the ruling elite of postwar Odessa, he quit this job. He then went through several workplaces, eventually settling down in the regional administration of the book trade.
In an interview given to the Holocaust Foundation in 19971, Karaimov was very dismissive of his Komsomol past, and even more so of the Stalinist regime. However, he praised the prewar Red Army, which had allegedly been free of antisemitism and any ethnic conflicts.
- 1. [YVA O.93/39028]