Zvi Szechter was born as Henryk Szechter in 1921 in the town of Żurawno, Poland now Zhuravno, Ukraine. After the Soviet annexation of the area in September 1939, Henryk continued his school studies, and in 1941, he applied to a teachers' seminary in nearby Drohobycz to become a teacher in math and physics. However, in June 1941, before Henryk had time to take the required examinations, Operation Barbarossa began.
Under German occupation, Henryk was used as a forced laborer. In 1942, together with the rest of Zhuravno's Jews, he was deported to the town of Stryi. In February of 1943, during a Nazi murder operation, Henryk and his elder brother Julek succeeded in escaping and were hidden by friendly Poles and Ukrainians in various villages of the area.
In August 1944 the area was captured by Soviet forces. For a while, Henryk found work as a teacher in a village school, but he soon received a call-up notice and was mobilized into the Red Army. After three months training, Henryk Szechter was included into the 100th Rifle Division, deployed on the 1st Ukrainian Front and sent to the area of Dębica, southern Poland. Because of his knowledge of Polish and German, Henryk was selected for reconnaissance. He participated in the fighting for Krakow. Immediately afterwards, his 100th Rifle Division took part in the liberation of Auschwitz, where Henryk was shocked by this death camp. Some days later, the regiment entered German territory, and Szechter's unit was billeted in the abandoned German city of Ratibor, Upper Silesia, for a period of rest. Henryk was shocked to read the inscription "Hier wohnen Juden" (Jews live here) on several of the city's empty houses. In one of the private houses of this ghost city, he found ten sacks full of Jewish holy books. He was not able to find out the aim of those who had collected these books. 1
After Poland, in the spring of 1945 Henryk fought in Czechoslovakia. For participating in the capture of the city of Troppau (Opava in Czech) in April 1945, he was awarded the medal For Courage. 2 He was wounded in January 1945. His final day of fighting against the German army took place on May 8, 1945.
All the members of his family, with the exception of his brother Julek, were killed by the Nazis.
In August 1945, when he was in Poland, Szechter was released from the Soviet army. He settled in Zabrze, Silesia. Julek joined him somewhat later, but only for a short time, before leaving for the Land of Israel. Henryk stayed in Zabrze after he met and married a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto. In 1950, the young couple moved to Israel.