Ilia Solomin was born in 1921 in Minsk. He came from a traditional Jewish family. In October 1939, he was drafted into the Red Army. Solomin took part in combat from the first day of the Soviet-German war, June 22, 1941. His first military specialty was that of anti-aircraft range finder. In this capacity, he fought (and was wounded) in the area of Leningrad. In early 1943, after having been released from a military hospital, Sergeant Solomin became a code-breaker and in 1943, in this capacity, he took part in the Kursk operation in the summer of 1943. In the 796th Separate Artillery Reconnaissance Battalion, he served under the command of Lieutenant, later Captain Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In an interview in 2003, Solomin said about his commander: "I realized that he tended to be critical." Thus, although Solzhenitsyn disliked Jews, he made an exception for his wartime decoder. In his Two Hundred Years Together Solzhenitsyn wrote that "some Jews" fought bravely at the front, citing the example of Sergeant Solomin, whom Solzhenitsyn noted had "fought very well throughout the war." According to many accounts, Ilia Solomon was the only subordinate of Solzhenitsyn with whom the future writer and dissident established a genuinely friendly relationship.
All of Solomin's family, who were trapped in Minsk by the German occupation, were murdered. When the Soviet counter-offensive in Belorussia began, Solomin's unit happened to be passing close to Minsk. Ilia requested permission to visit the liberated city and to learn on the fate of his family.
That can explain the following episode that was described by Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn noted that once, while Solomin was fighting in Germany in 1945, he shot an old German civilian who seemed to Solomin to be the age as his own father when he was murdered in the ghetto of Minsk. "And I did not stop him" added Solzhenitsyn.
After the war Solomin did settle in Rostov-on-Don and began to study at a construction institute. In May 1947 Solomin was arrested by the MGB (a precursor of the KGB) and spent several years in a prison camp in the Gulag. His acquaintance with Solzhenitsyn probably also played its role in his arrest. During the war, Solomin was awarded the Order of the Red Star and the Order of the Patriotic War, as well as several medals. All of his awards were confiscated when he was arrested.
After his release from camp, Solomin was only allowed to work as an electrician. His rehabilitation came slowly. Eventually, he was able to graduate (by correspondence) from a construction institute. In the late 1980s, Solomin left the USSR for the USA, where he lived in Boston.
In 2005, after the publication of Solzhenitsyn's Two Hundred Years Together, Solomin called the author; their dialogue was short:
"- Alex, why did you write this book?
- I wanted to make peace between the two nations.
- But in such a way they can only quarrel."
In his 2003 interview Solomin recalled
"I'm originally from Minsk, and when our Army recaptured Minsk, it was only natural that I was eager to find out what had happened to my family. However, our battery passed not through Minsk, but in twenty kilometers [12 miles] from there. Solzhenitsyn asked [Major] Pshechenko to let me go. At first the latter did not allowed me to but an hour later his jeep suddenly rushed up to me and Pshechenko shouted: "Solomin! Quick! Come, you can look for your relatives!" When we arrived at Revoliutsionnaia Street, we saw my house in ruins. We roamed around the city, looking for acquaintances and finally found Liashenko, the woman who used to take of our courtyard. She told me that my father, mother and sister ...[had been murdered]. In regard to my brother I already knew that he had been among those who had been surrounded, which means that he was taken prisoner, and you can understand by yourself what it meant for a Jew to be in German captivity... I then realized that I was all alone in the world. So there is no need to explain in what state I was in when I came back to our battery. Isaich [Solzhenitsyn] hugged me, said something, then added: "when the war is over, come with me to Rostov."
From: Izvestiia, April 16, 2003.