Zvi Urbach was born as Avrom Hirsz Urbach in 1922 in Pabianice, a town 10 kilometers south of Łódź, Poland. Instead of calling him either by his Jewish first name or Herman, his parents and siblings called him Heniek. In the 1930s Heniek joined Beitar, the youth movement established by the Revisionist Zionists, and in the spring of 1939, he became the head of the Pabianice branch of the youth organization. With the beginning of World War II in September 1939, Heniek fled from the German-occupied part of Poland to the Soviet-occupied one. In the winter of 1939-1940, he lived in Lwów. During his stay in the Soviet Union as a civilian in 1940 and the first half of 1941, he lived in several places, including Georgia. In 1941 he settled in the town of Pervomaisk, north of Odessa, Ukraine. With the outbreak of war, Urbach was drafted into the Red Army by the Pervomaisk conscription office. In the Red Army he was registered as Herman ("German" in its Russian version).
Thus, Herman's military service began in Ukraine. He underwent his training (as an artillerist) in Dnepropetrovsk. However, as a foreigner, within a short time Urbach was dismissed from combat service and, together with other Poles, Romanians, and members of other nationalities, was transferred to a labor battalion. Interestingly, despite his Beitarist past and despite his complete skepticism about Communism, Heniek-Herman joined the Komsomol (Young Communist League) and became the secretary of the Komsomol organization in his company, as well as a platoon commander with the rank of sergeant.
In 1942 his 46th Military Construction Detachment took part in the major retreat of the Red Army in the South. Urbach recalled this retreat as the hardest and most humiliating part of the war: with the soldiers sleeping while marching forward, the hunger, and the incessant raids of enemy planes – bombers or attack aircrafts. In the fall-winter of 1942-1943, Urbach participated in the Battle of Stalingrad, for which he was awarded the medal For the Defense of Stalingrad. After the capitulation of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad, the Soviet offensive began. Urbach noted that"now, instead of digging trenches, we were building bridges for our army to advance.'' 1
From 1943 to 1945, Urbach and his unit, as part of the 2nd Ukrainian Front, advanced, constructing bridges along the way of the Red Army advance across Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia. In October 1944 he was awarded the medal For Battle Merit. The citation read: "Under conditions of artillery barrage and aerial bombing on the part of the enemy, he assured the achievement of all his assignments within the terms set by the Command and by this, he aided the timely passage of military vehicles and tanks to the frontline."
Urbach recalled that his only friend on the frontlines was Poldek Liberman from Lwów. The friends discussed what they would do after the war. Urbach planned to go to Łódź and try to find some relatives, and then they would join his sister Sara, who had settled in Palestine before the war. Poldek was afraid to return to Lwów after the war. Lwów, he said, most probably would be under Russian rule, and he did not want to live under the Russians. During the last stage of the war Poldek Liberman disappeared – he had defected from the Red Army. Later the friends met in Israel.
Urbach failed to find any of his relatives in Poland after the war – not one of them had survived. In 1947 he immigrated to the Land of Israel.
- 1. Zvi Urbach, Ben Yehuda pinat keren kayemet, 2009, p. 81.