Iakov Litinetskii was born in 1907 in the town of Litin, about 25 kilometers west of Vinnytsia, Ukraine. His father was a weighman at an estate mill. Iakov attended a kheider, and then went on to study at a Soviet school. In 1929, he volunteered for the Red Army. He began his training at an infantry school, but then, in 1931, he entered a pilot school in Orenburg (in the Urals, Russia), from which he graduated in 1933 as an Air Force navigator. By 1935, he was already a squadron navigator, holding the rank of captain. On the eve of the Soviet-German war, he was serving as the navigator of the 241st Aviation Division.
The division first engaged in combat on June 24, 1941, on the third day of the Soviet-German war, to the south of Leningrad (present-day St. Petersburg, Russia). In those days, an enemy tank column was advancing northward, to Luga, 100 kilometers south of Leningrad. Litinetskii took the decision to attack the column from the rear; in his assessment, the division had managed to impede the enemy advance. However, by July 15 the 241st Division had lost all of its aircraft, and it was transferred to the rear, tasked with mastering the more advanced Petliakov-2 planes. Then, the study was unexpectedly interrupted, and the Division was transferred to the defense of Moscow, equipped with obsolete U-2 bombers.
In January 1942, Litinetskii was returned to the Leningrad front as the navigator of the 3rd Guards Division of Ground Attack Aircraft, which was equipped with Il-2 planes. With this division, Litinetskii made his way from the Leningrad area in 1942-43, through Ukraine and Poland in 1944, to Berlin in 1945. He personally made 38 sorties, and was wounded twice. Throughout the war, Litinetskii was awarded three military orders – the Red Star, the Red Banner, and the Patriotic War, 1st class – in addition to several medals.
In his postwar memoirs, Litinetskii regretted the fact that, in the autumn of 1944, his division had failed to aid the insurgents fighting in the Warsaw Uprising.
"From the sky, we saw the city bleed before our very eyes. But Moscow did not give the order" .1
Iakov's younger brother, Lieutenant Lev Litinetskii, was killed in the Soviet-Finnish war of 1939-40.
After the war, Colonel Iakov Litinetskii continued his service in the Soviet Army. He died in 2004.
Do the Jews fight? A discussion at the front
"I remember one non-combat episode, when I unintentionally had to intervene in a conversation between the Agitator of the Division's Political Department and the pilots.
It was in 1944, not far from the Vistula River…The pilots were resting between sorties in a large tent. The divisional agitator, Major Batin, took advantage of the break for his conversation. I was standing near the tent entrance… And, suddenly, I heard the voice of a squad commander, Senior Lieutenant Sukharev: 'Comrade Major, explain why the Jews are not fighting!' Batin lowered his voice to a half-whisper: 'Comrade Senior Lieutenant, the navigator Litinetskii is standing right here; he is a Jew, he will hear you, it will be unpleasant.' And he fell silent, hushing up the matter.
I entered the tent and, in the ensuing silence, turned to Batin:
“Comrade Divisional Agitator… Why do you shy away from answering the question of Senior Lieutenant Sukharev? Tell the pilots why the Jews are not fighting. And if you find it difficult, I will answer it for you. For example, I am the division's navigator — a Jew — and I am at war; the deputy commander of the 70th Guards Ground Attack Aviation Regiment, Leva Leichitskii — a Jew — is at war; Totskii, the mechanic known to the entire division, is a Jew, and he is fighting, too; the Hero of the Soviet Union Aleksandr Letuchii is also a Jew, and he has always been fighting. All our pilots know the names of the Heroes of the Soviet Union, the ground-attack pilots Semen Gurvich and Genrikh Gofman — both are Jews, and both are fighting. Finally, the chief of the division’s Political Department, Colonel Boris Diner, who has sent you on an assignment to hold a conversation with our pilots, is also a Jew and a fighter. Are all of these names, which our pilots know well, insufficient to answer the question posed by Senior Lieutenant Sukharev?
Batin gazed at his feet, feeling at a loss for words. And some of the pilots clearly said: 'Knocked out!'."
Piotr Gorelik, Istoriia nad nami prolilas', St. Petersburg: Gelikon Plius, 2015