To start with let us quote Grigorii Lesin himself:
"I was born on August 8, 1920, in Belorussia, in the city of Vitebsk.
My father, Isaak Hirshevich Lesin, born in 1879, graduated from a commercial school at the turn of the century, and before the revolution he had a lease on lakes [for fishing], and after the revolution he was a minor fish merchant and not very wealthy. He died in 1938. My mom, Liba Loseva, was ten years younger than my father, she originated from the town of Velizh, in Smolensk [sic, actually Vitebsk] Province. In additon to me, our family included my younger brother Iakov, born in 1923, and my sister Tsilia, born in 1926. My mother, my brother, and sister died tragically after Vitebsk was occupied by the Germans in 1941 ... In 1928 my father was purged as a bourgeois element – a nepman." (from the interview taken by Grigorii Koifman, published in: Artem Drabkin, Po lokot' v krovi: Krasnyi Krest Krasnoi Armii [Blood up to the Elbows: The Red Cross of the Red Army], 2010).
In 1928, during the liquidation of NEP [The New Economic Policy, inaugurated by the Soviet authorities in 1921], Grigorii's father was arrested and imprisoned in the city's prison. He was released only in 1930. 1928 was also the year when Grigorii started school. However, he recalled that rather than spending much time at school, he was busy trying to help his mother eek out a meager existence, Grigorii's father was arrested again, for several months, when the boy had completed seven years of schooling. During the day Grigorii worked, while in the evening he studied at a medical rabfak (worker faculty), which was equivalent to a high school. In 1938, Grigorii Lesin enrolled at the Vitebsk Medical Institute. When the Soviet-German war began, he had only completed his third year of study. Despite his exemption from military service as a medical student Grigorii, volunteered for a "fighter squad" (something between the army and the police) for guarding military objects, rooting out enemy spies, maintaining blackouts at night, and similar tasks. This service saved Grigorii's life, because on July 9, when Vitebsk was abandoned by the Red Army, his unit was also evacuated. All of his family remained and did not survive…
In the area of Smolensk Lesin and his former fellow student Semion Rozenblum, whom he happened to meet, were included in a regular Red Army unit and fought their first battle against the German army. The unit was eventually scattered by the Germans, and both Lesin and Rozenblum succeeded in making their way to Smolensk, where Military Physician 2nd class Dr. Magidson, who needed additional medical staff member, took them on as nurses for his field hospital. On July 12, the twentieth day of the war, Lesin began his regular service.
At the end of July, Lesin and Rozenblum as medical students were transferred from the Army to a medical institute in the Urals, where they completed the 4th and 5th years of medical study in the course of eight months. As Lesin recalled, the war-time learning process entailed a minimum of theory, and a maximum of practice. Lesin qualified as a surgeon. In May 1942, Lesin completed his studies. However, the graduation had an unpleasant aspect: the management of the medical institute demanded that all the students pay for their courses. This was in keeping with the practice that in 1939, prior to the war, the Soviet authorities had introduced payment for higher education. Although the sum was not large, neither Lesin, nor his friend Rozenblum had any money. As a result, they were threatened that their diplomas would be withheld. Fortunately, Professor Zetel-Kohan paid the required fees for both Lesin and Rozenblum, and they received the diploma. Both friends promised to repay the professor as soon as possible. However, they could not do so since she died a short time later.
In May 1942, Lesin was attached to a rear hospital as a military doctor 3rd class. However, Lesin insisted on being sent to the front. After seeing much action, in the summer of 1942, he was deployed as the head of a "medical point" and as a field surgeon in the North Caucasus, where a German offensive was taking place. Surgery under heavy enemy bombing during the retreat of the Red Army was Lesin's forte. From time to time, he had to leave his medical duties and to take part in fighting. Later in the year, when the situation in the North Caucasus stabilized, 22-year old Lesin was promoted to be the head of the medical service of an infantry division. From December 1942, he worked under easier conditions as the Red Army went over to the offensive. At that time Lesin was wounded, but did not abandon his duties.
In 1943, in the capacity of the head of the medical service of a marine brigade, Lesin participated in the famous defense of the "Small Land" – a bridgehead on the shore of the Black Sea. The losses among the medical personnel – doctors, nurses, and orderlies – were as great as those among the marines. During the Soviet capture of Novorossiisk in September 1943, Lesin remained at the operating table for three days of enemy shelling, without a break or drink water. Later, for this feat, he was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, 1st Class. Later, in the Crimea, he was shell shocked while he was performing an operation and became lost his ability to speak. After the capture of Sevastopol, Crimea, in 1944, Lesin was transferred to Georgia, to the border area near Turkey. His active service ended there.
He continued in the military after the war. Colonel of Medicine Lesin retired in 1976.