Iakov Pantielev was born in 1923 in Pochep, western Russia, the youngest of eight children. His father, Khatskel (Yehezkel) Pantielev, was aware of his family's Sephardic origin (back in the Iberian Peninsula, their last name had been Paltiel). Being a very religious man, he gave his youngest son the name Heyshue-Yankif (a derivation of Yehoshua-Yaakov). However, the prewar Soviet documents give his first name as "Gesil", while all his relatives called him "Iasha". The elder Khatskel gave all his children dual names, which the Russian officials would sometimes find unpronounceable.
"In Soviet Russia, this only complicated life, often thwarting our aspiration to social equality with the Russians",1
Pantielev wrote in his memoirs. Thus, all of Khatskel's children would later undergo a long bureaucratic procedure to change the names listed in their Soviet documents.
In Pochep, Khatskel Pantielev made a living as a forester. In 1929, the family left their town for a suburb of Moscow. Khatskel tried to give his sons a traditional Jewish education, but all of them – except for the eldest son, Binia (Binemen-Mordke) – were reluctant to study Judaism, and his efforts were in vain. In Moscow, Khatskel worked at a machine-building plant. He adopted two other boys, the orphaned sons of his dead relatives, bringing the total number of children raised in the family to ten.
Gesil (Iakov) Pantielev graduated from school in June 1941, a few days before the outbreak of the Soviet-German war. His two adopted brothers, Boris and Lev, were immediately drafted into the Red Army, whereas the elder brother Natan (Note-Ayzik) was already serving in the military. Another brother, Arkadii (Avrohem-Nokhem) – a successful young administrative worker – volunteered for the army in August 1942. As for Gesil, he dreamed of being a pilot, submitting an application to a pilot school even before the beginning of the war. In July 1941, he received a call-up notice and was sent to a military pilot school in the Urals. To Iakov's chagrin, he was assigned to the school of navigators, rather than that of pilots. His studies there lasted three years: only in August of 1944 was Second Lieutenant Iakov Pantielev attached to the 20th Guards Regiment of Bomber Aircrafts of the 13th Division of Long-Range Aviation. On his way to the front, he passed through Kiev and Belaia Tserkov, where he saw, for the first time, "what the Fascists did".
As the navigator on an IL-4 bomber, Iakov Pantielev saw action in Hungary (in the Debrecen area) and during the Sandomierz–Silesian Offensive in Poland. He also flew on bombing missions over Breslau. On the night of January 18/19, 1945, his aircraft was hit by enemy fighters and, although it managed to land on a Red Army airfield, Pantielev was seriously injured and burned. He would spend the next four years at various hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, and he had to use crutches to walk during the first postwar years.
After the war, Iakov Pantielev graduated from the Timiriazev Agricultural Academy in Moscow and became a specialist in vegetable growing. He authored several books on horticulture and olericulture.
Both of his adopted brothers, Boris and Lev, were declared missing in action; Arkadii fell in combat in 1944; Natan came back with a permanent disability. The elder brother, Binia (Biniamin), worked at a military plant throughout the war.
In the 1990s, Iakov Pantielev immigrated to Germany. He died there in 2002, and is buried at the Jewish cemetery in Bremen.
The reconciliation between Iakov Pantielev and his father
Iakov Pantielev received a call-up notice for pilot school. On a July morning in 1941, he went by streetcar to the railway station where the young cadets were assembling. Suddenly, he saw his father Khatzkel. The relationship between the devout father and his Komsomol (Young Communist) son had been strained since the late 1930s – when, after his barmitzve, Iakov refused to continue his Judaic studies. Now, the father and the son embraced.
"From the first tram car, somebody called me, and I saw my father, who was taking his customary trip to the synagogue by the first tram. It is difficult to find the words to convey my feelings at that moment: it was joy mixed with pain, a simultaneous sense of guilt and love, all of which I felt toward my father… I made my way through the crowd to his side, and, not paying the least attention to anyone, I fiercely embraced and kissed him, this old bearded Jew, with the tassels of his tzitzes sticking out of his jacket. Prior to that moment, I had felt afraid and ashamed by my devoutly religious and strictly observant father, whose Biblical, patriarchal appearance did not mesh with the prevailing atheistic spirit of the Soviet-Komsomol world in which I lived. With tears in his eyes, he told me in a loud voice about the first bombing endured by him and the other residents of our block… For the first time in years, we were talking, freely and lightly, about the most mundane events and experiences"
Iakov Pantielev, Kto ia?, Moscow: IRITs "Fermer", 1997, p. 53
- 1. Iakov Pantielev, Kto ia?, Moscow: IRITs "Fermer", 1997, p. 84